It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Dreary and cloudy day in Las Vegas. It was a perfect day to stay inside, so I moseyed (yes, I said moseyed) to the Las Vegas Convention Center to take in all that is Cowboy Christmas.

Booths as far as the eye can see, rodeo fans by the droves, more merchandise than you can shake a stick at and every rodeo and Western product in the world filled the North Hall. Names like Wrangler, Justin, Resistol and Dodge could be found in the massive Convention Center, and people lined the walkways throughout the building as commerce kicked into high gear.

Miss Rodeo America 2011 McKenzie Haley signed autographs at the PRCA booth.

Whether it’s jewelry, jeans, hats, boots, equine equipment, ranch supplies or even Western movie posters, visitors could find everything their hearts desired at Cowboy Christmas. Both necessities and impulses were serviced, and it was a testament to the cowboy culture how successful and busy the place was.

I meandered (I was tired of moseying) through the North Hall, observing excited buyers crossing off their Christmas shopping lists and delighting in the joy of finding surprises at every turn.

For Tina Heng, of Nebraska City, Neb., her first experience at Cowboy Christmas was an eye-opener. What’d she think of her first trip to the spectacle long adored by die-hard rodeo fans?

“Wow,” she said, shaking her head. “I love it. I got some Christmas shopping done and had my daughters here with me. It was great.”

Heng’s friend, Joann Todd, is a veteran of 10 Wrangler NFRs and always makes Cowboy Christmas a stop on her list during the rodeo.

“It’s easier than ordering from catalogs, because you know what you’re buying fits and don’t have to worry about shipping,” Todd said. “It’s hard to find Western wear everywhere, so this is great.”

Throw in some good food – I had a tasty chicken burrito – and Cowboy Christmas has it all.

That includes the much beloved funnyman Flint Rasmussen. The eight-time PRCA Clown of the Year – who also won seven Coors Man in the Can awards – has a daily show at noon at Cowboy Christmas called “Outside the Barrel.”

The Tonight Show-themed show features Rasmussen’s wit and rodeo knowledge, and a number of VIP guests make their way onto the stage with the uber-talented cowboy who doesn’t mind being called a clown. Five-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Billy Etbauer was Rasmussen’s featured guest, with K.C. Jones of ProFantasy Rodeo joining them to talk about fantasy rodeo and singer Glen Templeton making an appearance despite fighting a case of laryngitis.

Fans stayed long after the show to shake hands and chat with Rasmussen, who greets everyone as a friend and makes them feel special. He couldn’t remember if he’d been doing Outside the Barrel for seven or eight years, but the PBR barrel man does know he relishes the opportunity to host the popular show.

“I love doing this and would love to do it more,” said Rasmussen, who worked more than 30 PBR events this year. “This is my way to stay involved with the NFR. You can’t beat the event and the whole 10-day experience.”

Rasmussen works hard to keep the show fresh and interesting, and the crowd responds. People come back year after year to see his show, and they all leave entertained, happy and ready for more shopping. The stadium-style seating and curtains of the Sheplers Showroom gives the show an intimate feel.

Rasmussen’s show has become a part of Cowboy Christmas, and missing out on it would be a mistake for visitors.

Fans filled the Las Vegas Convention Center on Day 1 of the Wrangler NFR.

Shortly after chatting with Rasmussen, my lower back discomfort escalated into muscle spasms and extreme pain. Now walking like John Wayne in The Cowboys, I made my way back to the hotel to find the relief of ice and Advil so I could be ready for the first performance.

Quite the auspicious start to the Wrangler NFR for me health-wise, but sometimes you just have to “Cowboy Up” and move on to the next adventure. Let the games begin!

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