By Jolee Jordan
Kissimmee, Florida — Exactly one year ago, Emily Miller was just settling into her first appearance at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) after receiving a last minute phone call to replace another contestant who was unable to compete.
With just a couple of days to prepare and to make the journey from Oklahoma, Miller made the most of the opportunity, winning a go round, second in the average and advancing to the finals round en route to more than $15,000 in earnings.
A year later, some things have changed but one thing has not: Pipewrench loves the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, home of the RNCFR.
Pipewrench is Miller’s seven year old gelding, named because the marking on his face looks like a wrench. There were no last minute heroics in 2017 as Miller earned her spot in Florida early. She clinched the year end championship in the Prairie Circuit, holding off a tough field that included 2017 WPRA World Champion Mary Burger, back in October during the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo.
Truly the backbone of professional rodeo, the circuit system was designed in the late 1970’s as a way to include those competitors who couldn’t haul full time around the country, offering them a regional opportunity for championships without having to give up full time jobs or family commitments.
The country is divided into 12 circuits—or regions—and each has its own finals rodeo at the end of the regular season. Only the year-end champions and the winners of the circuit finals rodeos move on to the RNCFR.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017, the RNCFR is the National Championships of professional rodeo, a lucrative opportunity for cowboys and cowgirls to fill their Wranglers with cash. In its third season in Kissimmee, the RNCFR has many perks for contestants including a $1,000 stipend for all who compete as well as free stalls and hospitality during the rodeo. The entire community rolls out the red carpet for the contestants and their families.
The 26 contestants in each event compete in two full go rounds and the field will be narrowed to eight based on the two-head average. The eight-lady finals on Sunday, April 9 will be a clean slate, sudden death to the title through two more rounds, a semi-finals of the eight followed by the finals for the four fastest from the semi-final round.
The champion here will receive a ton of loot from pro rodeo’s top sponsors including a $20,000 voucher toward a new RAM vehicle, a Polaris RANGER UTV, a pair of Justin exotic boots, a new Cactus Saddle, and a buckle from Montana Silversmiths. The payout is equally impressive thanks to Experience Kissimmee, Osceola County and all their partners, and all monies won here count toward the WPRA World standings, a new addition for 2017.
Already ranked in the top 50 of the WPRA World standings, Miller warmed up for the RNCFR by winning the ABC Pro Rodeo in Lubbock, Texas last week. Unlike a year ago, when Miller was still in school and juggling her time in the arena with studies, this year the dental hygienist—who graduated with honors in May—has the whole week off to enjoy her Central Florida working vacation.
“I got this week off and Monday, so I can make it home but back to work Tuesday.”
Competing in the opening performance of the 2017 RNCFR on Thursday morning in front of a packed house of elementary school kids, Miller ran into familiar territory at the top of the leaderboard.
Miller and Pipewrench stopped the clock at 15.46 seconds, fastest of the first performance.
“Yes, he does good. It’s a good place for him to like,” said Miller of her horse’s affinity for Silver Spurs Arena. On Facebook, she accepted the kudos graciously. “That’s Pipewrench, I’m just the lucky jockey.
“It’s nice to just enjoy Pipewrench and running barrels without having to rely on him to pay bills. So looking at it from that point it’s not so bad!”
It was a stacked field of competitors that included the first ever contingent from the newly created Mexican Circuit. In fact, Luisa Herrera of Chihuahua made history as the first Mexican cowgirl to compete in the RNCFR; she was the first to run on Thursday after earning her spot in the same manner as the rest of the competitors, by winning in her home circuit in Mexico.
Currently second in the opening round, and right on Miller’s heels, is two-time WPRA Reserve World Champ Lisa Lockhart and her young horse Rosa. The pair put up a smooth run of 15.48 seconds while representing the Montana Circuit. California Circuit cowgirl Nellie Miller is third with 15.52 seconds.
The second half of the first round will compete on Friday night; the second round will be contested through two performances on Saturday before the field is set for the finals on Sunday.
For more information on the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR), visit them on-line at www.rncfr.com and www.prorodeo.com. For continuing updates on the ladies barrel racing, stay tuned to www.wpra.com.
1st Go (In Progress)
Name, Horse, Circuit, Time
1. Emily Miller, Namgis D 35, Prairie, 15.46
2. Lisa Lockhart, Rosas Cantina CC, Montana, 15.48
3. Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, California, 15.52
4. Ari-Ann Flynn, Tobys Poco Misterio, Texas, 15.53
5. Ashley Baur, Great Lakes, 15.67
6. Sabra O’Quinn, Southeastern, 15.71
Courtesy of WPRA