Renae Cowley talks barrel racing accomplishments and goals with the Deseret News

July is 'Cowboy Christmas' and local rodeo athletes plan to take advantage of many Pioneer Day celebrations

For most people, July is all about Independence and Pioneer Day celebrations.

For rodeo athletes, it’s what they affectionately refer to as “Cowboy Christmas.”

That’s because there are so many rodeos this time of year that cowboys and cowgirls can win thousands of dollars, and earning prize money does more than enable them to make a living in the sport. The amount an athlete wins during a season determines who gets to compete for a World Championship in December at the National Finals Rodeo.

The rodeo season starts on Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30.

“We’re down to the last two and a half months,” said Utah bull rider Joe Frost. “But we’re only about half way, as far as how much money is available.”

That means from July to the end of September about half of the prize money available to rodeo athletes is still up for grabs. And that makes this time of year frenetic, exciting and full of possibility.

“I love this time of year,” said Frost, who is currently sitting at No. 3 in the rodeo standings. “There is a lot of money to be had right now, and we’re just lucky to get to be a part of it.”

For local athletes, some of the most lucrative and most iconic rodeos are happening with a few hours of home — a luxury they don’t take for granted. Frost and his brother, Josh Frost, who is currently just outside the cutoff necessary to earn a trip to the NFR (Top 15) at No. 19, will compete at the Days of ’47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City in Wednesday’s opening night performance. They’ll head to Spanish Fork's Fiesta Days Rodeo on Thursday and then to Ogden's Pioneer Days on Friday night.

For most athletes, there is a method to the madness.

“There is a whole algorithm and strategy to entering these events,” said barrel racer Renae Cowley. “You look at where they are located geographically; you look at the prize money; and, for me as a barrel racer, you look at the setup because my horse will do better in certain situations. And then you try to map out those arenas. … It just comes down to timing. You try to hit as many as possible.”

Frost said his strategy looks at similar aspects, although he is persuaded by the stock a rodeo offers as a bull rider.

“The main thing is obviously money,” he said. “But we’ll go to one closer to home for a little less money, as opposed to one halfway across the country for more money. …We try to go where you can get on good bulls.”

He said that some rodeos attract all the same bull riders at this time of year, so he may switch it up and go to something different or smaller just because he’s much more likely to win.

Last weekend, Cowley, who is a successful lobbyist when she’s not competing in rodeo, hit three rodeos in 72 hours in Nephi, Elko and Laramie.

“About 24 of those hours were driving,” she said, laughing. Unlike Joe Frost, who's made three trips to the National Finals so far in his career, Cowley is in her first season of barrel racing and has to win a certain amount of money to earn her Women's Professional Rodeo Association card.

“One day I’d like to win a gold buckle as a world champion barrel racer,” she said, noting she placed third in Elko and is “well on my way to filling that permit.”

She acknowledges that this time of year is chaotic, but like Frost, it only adds to the excitement and passion she feels for the sport.

“It’s definitely crazy,” she laughed. “But this is part of what I love about it.”

On Friday, the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo will celebrate being inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. The rodeo is one of 12 inductees this year and will be honored alongside Buck Rutherford, all-around cowboy; Enoch Walker, saddle bronc; Cody Custer, bull riding; Mike Beers, team roping; Tommy Puryear, steer wrestling; and Charmayne James and Wanda Bush, barrel racing.

Rodeo committee member Jeff Haney said that the annual celebration began during the Great Depression, and said it’s unusual for a rodeo committee to earn the honor.

“It was created to lift the spirits of the people in the city,” he said, and it is now a reminder of tradition and history.

“Even today, it’s a way to take a break from … the urban chaos of our lives, and sit outdoors, under the stars and let the rodeo take us back to the days when the Pioneers first came to Utah. …T his is just a tremendous honor.”

All three rodeos start Wednesday night and run through July 24, although none has a Sunday performance. For more information on the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo visit www.ogdenpioneerdays.com. For more information on the Fiesta Days Rodeo visit www.spanishfork.org/newsevents/events/fiestadays/rodeo/.

In addition to the Days of '47 rodeo, there is a Frontier Fun Zone at the Fairpark from 1 p.m. until 11 p.m. and it's free with a rodeo ticket or $5 without. It includes various rodeo related activities for children, including mutton busting, petting zoo, mini bull riding, live music and other experiential offerings. For more information on the Days of '47 at the Salt Lake Fair Park visit www.daysof47.com.