Celebrating our nation’s independence began July 4, 1776 when our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence.
Who knew that the celebration would grow into the busiest and most lucrative time of year for cowboys and cowgirls as they travel across North America giving people a chance to include a rodeo in their festivities.
This year, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association sanctioned 32 rodeos that paid nearly $3.7 million over the holiday, known as Cowboy Christmas. The week officially started on June 29 and finished July 5.
There were some rodeos in Canada that counted as part of the celebration so not only were contestants warming up the U.S. highways, they were also traveling across the border to the North.
The Ponoka Stampede in Alberta, Canada was the highest paying rodeo included in Cowboy Christmas at $447,885. Even though they aren’t celebrating the Declaration of Independence, the rodeo usually coincides with our Fourth-of-July. This year, Ponoka started June 25 and ended July 1. The big winner there was saddle bronc rider Cody DeMoss from Heflin, La., who was also the big winner of the week.
DeMoss collected $17,720 in Ponoka and earned a total of $22,791 to increase his lead in the world standings to nearly $20,000 over two-time world champion Taos Muncy.
Second high money winner was reigning and two-time tie-down roping champion Tuf Cooper from Decatur, Texas, who earned . Cooper had the bulk of his success in St. Paul, Ore., Greeley, Colo., and Prescott, Ariz., averaging over $5,000 at each of those rodeos.
He also earned checks in Red Lodge, Mont., Ponoka and was the champion at the Molalla (ore) Buckeroo Rodeo. Cooper’s schedule was pretty easy according to him. He started in Ponoka, on June 29th, was in Greeley, Colo., the next day. July first found him at Livingston, Mont. Next was a short trip to Red Lodge, Mont., and Cody, Wyo. From cody he went to St. Paul and Mollala, Ore., then back to Greeley for the finals in the afternoon and over to Oakley City, Utah that night. He finished Cowboy Christmas in Prescott, Ariz., on July fifth.
Some people thrive on the challenge of getting to as many rodeos as they can over the Independence Day celebration. Others plan their schedules carefully figuring out the easiest way to travel. Cooper did some of both, he got up at the right times at the right places, was able to ride his own horse at all but one and drove most of the time. The three-time world champion is no stranger to pressure and thrives on a challenge.
“The worst part about Cowboy Christmas is that it’s over,” Cooper said. “It’s absolutely the best opportunity in the world. There are so many great rodeos over that week. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
Much of Cooper’s success came aboard an 11-year-old mare named Topaz. Topaz is owned by Circle Star Ranch and was trained by James Barton in Texas.
Travel is a necessity for rodeo contestants and how they get from place to place varies. One thing is consistent for all contestants during Cowboy Christmas, the time spent getting from place to place far outweighs the time spent at a rodeo.
Every night at the Cody Stampede, there would be a group of cowboys that competed at Red Lodge, Mont.; then made a fast trip to Wyoming. Red Lodge’s rodeo started two hours earlier than Cody’s, giving contestants plenty of time to make the 63 mile trip in a perfect world.
That worked for the most part, unless there was a re-ride or something to slow Red Lodge’s rodeo down. And considering the roads between these two towns go through the mountains and are two lane highways it was often a photo finish. Bareback riders, saddle bronc riders and bull riders came to Cody already taped up and nearly ready to get on. A lot of the time, the livestock was already loaded when they arrived.
That was the case for Chuck Schmidt who got bucked off in the saddle bronc riding at Red Lodge, made the quick trip to Cody to compete at his last rodeo over Cowboy Christmas.
“I’ve had a terrible Fourth,” Schmidt said. “I hadn’t won a dime until I got to Cody.”
Schmidt had plenty to smile about after getting off of his last horse. He rode Frontier Rodeo’s Tip Off for 87 points to win the rodeo. That was worth $8,657 and moved Schmidt to fifth place in the world standings. He is hoping to qualify for his second Wrangler NFR, he was there in 2011.
The Fourth of July was full of misfortune for NFR qualifiers bareback rider Steven Peebles and bull rider Josh Koschel. Peebles had the winning ride at Livingston, Mont. Just after the eight seconds was up, his hand came out of the rigging, he flew off the back of the horse and landed hard on his back. That broke some ribs, which punctured an artery. Peebles’ traveling partner Brian Bain took him to the hospital in Livingston, then he was transported to Bozeman and eventually to Billings. His lungs were filling up with blood fast and it was Bain’s insistence on getting him to the hospital that saved Peebles’ life.
Koschel tied for first in the long round at the Greeley Independence Stampede and qualified for the finals on the Fourth. That was where tragedy struck. Koschel came off early and the bull stepped on his leg, fracturing both the tibia and fibula near the ankle. Koschel was just 15 miles from his home in Nunn so much of his family was on hand to see the accident. They were also at the hospital for his surgery.
Other cowboys felt the full effects of Cowboy Christmas and the Justin Sports medicine team was busy keeping them together. They had staff and volunteers at Greeley, Colo.; St. Paul, Ore.;Prescott, Ariz.; Springdale, Ark.; Cody, Wyo.; and Oakley, Utah.
It’s a busy time of year for rodeo that barely slows down for the rest of the summer. So here’s to the communities that play host to these events and all of the sponsors and fans that support them.