By Jolee Jolee Lautaret
Garden City, Kansas — When Emily Miller raced into the arena at Finney County Fairgrounds during the slack competition at the Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo in Garden City, Kan., on Thursday, June 9, she felt a little bit of extra pressure.
Miller grew up just 20 miles from Garden City in southwest Kansas and many of her early experiences in rodeo happened at Beef Empire Days.
“I rode my first sheep in the mutton bustin’ there,” she giggles.
Miller didn’t grow up in a rodeo family, noting that her parents were not “horse people.” She was introduced to barrel racing by her babysitter Jana Turner. Miller remembers going to watch Turner compete along with various other friends over the years.
When she finally got her WPRA card, things didn’t turn out quite so well when she made her debut at Garden City’s rodeo.
“It always fell right before the College National Finals Rodeo, so I never rode my good horse there,” Miller notes. “I never got a check there . . . people were asking me, ‘I thought you were supposed to be good at this!’”
Miller spent two years at Garden City Community College, earning her Associate’s degree before moving to Weatherford, Okla., to attend the University of Oklahoma’s Heath and Sciences Center to pursue a degree in dental hygiene.
Though busy with school, Miller continued to rodeo in the summers but ran into a string of bad luck in 2015. Her number one horse got hurt at the rodeo in Springdale, Ark., leaving her with a back-up horse that had very little rodeo experience. She reached out for help, calling Kylie (Ward) Weast, granddaughter of barrel racing legends Dale and Florence Youree.
“I called to see if they would lease Wolfie,” says Miller of the gelding who is registered Namgis D 15 of Namgis Quarter Horses’ string. Weast had piloted the gelding to numerous futurity wins. However, Weast let Miller know the gelding wasn’t available. “Instead, she suggested I come try a couple of their five year olds, including a full brother to Wolfie they called Pipewrench.”
Miller wasn’t looking to buy, however, and opted to try the rodeo trail on her back-up horse.
“I took her to two rodeos and she fractured a coffin bone,” Miller says. “I had two horses at Oak Ridge Equine and nothing to ride so I called Kylie back.”
Within a matter of days, Miller tried two horses, Namgis D 33 and Namgis D 35. Though she felt like D 33 was a better fit for her, Miller couldn’t pass up the sorrel they called Pipewrench, so named for the shape of his blaze.
“There was something about him,” Miller says, noting that WPRA World Champ Janae Ward-Massey, Weast’s sister, was riding the gelding at the time. “He’s a gorgeous horse and has a kind eye.”
Pipewrench was in her barn that night and she hit the road with the green horse, taking him to the remaining rodeos she had entered before her horses’ injuries.
“We struck out at the first two, though he worked good. It was just getting used to performances,” she explains. “Then we went to Sidney (Iowa) in the slack and he won it!”
“I knew then I had something,” says Miller, who is sponsored by Schneider Performance Pads.
Miller finished out her season, landing second in the Prairie Circuit. The position earned her a qualification to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo after year-end champion Kim Couch was unable to attend. She made a big splash in Kissimmee, Fla., earning over $15,000, second best among all WPRA barrel racers.
“I went to Denver and Fort Worth and hit barrels both rounds at Denver to made the finals,” she says. “I’ve always focused on the Prairie Circuit and not ventured out of the circuit much, both because I didn’t have the horse for that and also because of school.”
With her board examinations and graduation fast approaching, Miller put rodeo on the back burner after the two winter rodeos.
“I figured my horse is better outside and I needed to focus on school until I graduated,” she laughs. Other than the trip to Florida, which was only possible with help from her parents as she had to fly home immediately after to get back to school, Miller didn’t compete again until late May, after graduation.
“Finally!” she said of graduating; the cowgirl earned her degree with honors and has interviewed for a position already. “I am hoping I can rodeo until August, after the good Prairie Circuit rodeos in Dodge City and Lawton, and then start receiving a steady paycheck!”
Despite missing all winter and spring, Miller has quickly made up for lost time, earning nearly $800 before Memorial Day. She won Claremore, Okla., that weekend.
Then came the second weekend in June and a trip to her hometown rodeo.
Pipewrench stopped the clock at 17.27 seconds, two one-hundredths better than 2006 WPRA World Champion Mary Burger, to hand Miller the victory.
“It was such a relief,” she says. Miller notes that her grandmother Georgia Miller often came to Garden City to watch her granddaughter compete. She passed away from a stroke in 2015. “I know she was with me. It was pretty special to win it.”
Miller and her hauling partner loaded up and headed south for the 101 Wild West Rodeo held in Ponca City (Okla.). Competing that night in the first performance, Pipewrench laid down another top run.
“Our run in Garden City was great but his run in Ponca was outstanding,” Miller says. “It was just an easy ride, the timing was good. It was one of those fun runs.”
Miller left Ponca with a half second lead on the field; though the field would tighten the margin, Miller would still win the event.
“I was so tired,” Miller laughs. “I didn’t even stay up to watch the slack after the rodeo.”
Miller competed the following night in Coleman (Texas), electing to ride her five year old back-up horse. Though she hit a barrel, she was pleased with his performance in his first pro rodeo performance.
Saturday morning brought Miller to Weatherford (Texas) where she debated about which horse to run.
“I had drawn last on the drag and it’s known to get deep there,” she notes, adding that she elected to go with Pipewrench. “But the committee did a great job on the ground. Jana Bean won it and she was like 8th out and we won third.”
“It was our least pretty run of the week,” she laughs.
Finally, the weekend concluded on Saturday night in the final performance at the Gladewater (Texas) Round-up.
“The ground was outstanding and it’s such a cool arena,” she says, adding that it was her first time to compete in Gladewater. “It’s outside but with the walls, it has a coliseum feel. And it was pink night . . . it was such a fun rodeo.”
Miller turned in a 17.10 second effort in Gladewater to take the win by six one-hundredths over Tiany Schuster.
When the dust had settled, Miller had banked $7,465, nearly double her season total when the weekend began.
“He has definitely earned the week off,” laughs Miller of Pipewrench. Miller turns 24 on Friday, so the big paychecks were a great early birthday present. “I had a big bill for embryo transfers and breedings waiting for me when we got home, which wasn’t a great welcome home gift, but Pipewrench covered us.”
“It was such an exciting weekend,” she says.
For more information on Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.beefempiredaysrodeo.com. For more information on the Gladewater Round-Up Rodeo, visit www.gladewaterrodeo.com and for the 101 Wild West Rodeo, visit www.101wildwestrodeo.com.
Courtesy of WPRA