Holiday Cheer?

No world championship gold buckles have ever been awarded in July. But just sit down with bareback rider Kelly Timberman and team roper Shain Sproul, and they'll tell you how much the Fourth of July run — also known as Cowboy Christmas — can do for world title prospects.

Timberman rolled through the week last year, winning more than $24,000. He eventually made his Wrangler National Finals Rodeo debut first in the world standings and held off reigning world champion Will Lowe to win his first world title.

Meanwhile, Sproul pocketed just $300, barely enough to cover an entry fee at one of the handful of rodeos he entered. Although he qualified for his third consecutive Wrangler NFR, he wasn't able to make a serious run at a world championship.

"It's always a boost, but not a determining factor," said Timberman (Mills, Wyo.). "With the competition out there, what separates you during Cowboy Christmas is the luck of the draw. There's a lot of money that can be won this week, but there's still a lot of year left. You still have to perform to your level all year long to win a world title."

With the sheer number of rodeos taking place — more than 50 in a two-week period starting after the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo and ending on Independence Day — one's prospects can change by the day. One minute, things are great. Then, things go dry.

Sproul is hoping for the opposite.

"We just had our first clean run of the week," said Sproul who, with partner Kinney Harrell, enjoyed good fortunes at the Navajo Nation 4th of July Celebration in Window Rock, Ariz. "We didn't do so well in Prescott (Ariz.) and Pecos (Texas). But this week, if you don't like one rodeo, you can always drive to another one the next day."

More than just the lure of a big payday or several, the atmosphere lends itself to a lifetime of memories. Long after Timberman hangs 'em up, he'll first think of time with his friends during Cowboy Christmas.

"Some of the best times you have as a rodeo cowboy are traveling with buddies over the Fourth of July," Timberman said. "It's a big holiday for the whole week. Everywhere you go, the rodeos are packed with fans. It's all red, white and blue, and everyone has a great display of fireworks and atmosphere. It's always a great time to rodeo."

The potential of the period can easily get a cowboy off track, sending him to more rodeos than he can feasibly handle. They also have to choose wisely and not get too far over their heads.

"You have to be a little business savvy," Timberman said. "It can make or break you quick this time of year. You have to determine of you can afford to go or if you want to save. I like to pick my rodeos well ahead of time and go where the great contractors are."

Timberman has Ponoka, Alberta; Greeley, Colo.; Cody, Wyo.; and Dickinson, N.D., on his plate of holiday rodeos, seeing great horses from such contractors as Harry Vold, Ike Sankey, Chad Burch and Greg and Duane Kesler.

As a team roper, Sproul doesn't have the same kind of strategy in picking rodeos. It's more of a personal preference to where's he's had good success in the past. Except for last year.

"I've more or less been to them all over the Fourth," said Sproul, a native of Benson, Ariz., who's in his ninth year in ProRodeo. "We picked the most convenient ones and those where we can run all our steers without turning anything out. Some of it is out of our hands."

Sproul and Harrell, who head to Montana rodeos in Red Lodge and Livingston after their start in the Southwest, are ranked in the top five in their respective team roping standings. For Sproul, it represents one of the fastest starts in his career. Now if he can only have July keep with tradition as one of his best months.

"July has been one of my best months," Sproul said. "We're in a good spot as far as our position. It's the most I had won to this point. I'd say we're more than halfway to what we need to make the Finals."

And their success in Window Rock might have been the spark they needed.

"I sure hope so," Sproul said. "You can't go far on $300."