FOR outback towns on the Christmas rodeo circuit, this time of year is as much about cowboys as carols.
The Australian Professional Rodeo Association has 13 events scheduled between now and the end of January.
Tiny communities in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia will swell with visitors in what is an annual boon for local business.
"Equine flu knocked us around but every year since then things have been picking up," said rodeo association administrator Steve Hilton.
"The Christmas run is a really busy time for rodeos and earlier in the year the crowds were up at Mt Isa and Warwick."
Mt Isa Rodeo, one of the biggest and best known, attracts 25,000 visitors each August and added an estimated $2.5 million to the Queensland town.
A similar analysis for Kyabram, 200 kilometres north of Melbourne in the Goulburn River Valley, says the local rodeo contributed $419,000.
Kyabram Agricultural, Historical and Pastoral Society secretary Janelle MacDonald said 40 per cent of visitors surveyed at the 2012 event were from out of town and most stayed for two nights. "It's great for the accommodation and food businesses," she said.
"Every little bit helps, especially with the way the fruit is going."
Big family day out
About 450 rodeos are held each year. Organisers of the rodeo in Deniliquin, or "Deni", in NSW on December 28 are hoping visitor numbers will match the 3000 recorded in 2012.
On New Year's Day in Nebo, 100 kilometres outside of Mackay in central Queensland, bull riders will compete for $1000 in prize money. Many top competitors rush between events.
But with rural economies fickle and bull-riding and other events often attacked by animal welfare groups, the business of rodeo isn't always easy, Mr Hilton says.
Most are run to benefit local charities and Rotary has typically been strongly involved. Mr Hilton says he has been surveying affiliates and they report raising a combined total of at least $6 million a year for good causes.
Mr Hilton and his fellow enthusiasts hope rodeo will become recognised as a sport that can help children develop skills such as discipline.
In Kyabram, rodeo organisers target children and families as their key customers. "Unless you've been to a rodeo, you don't really know what you're missing," Ms MacDonald says.
"We run it as a family-oriented event. You watch the faces of kids and they absolutely love it."