Top Cowboys, Cowgirls to Compete in Abilene

Kansas barrel racer having phenomenal year

Emily Miller rides her six-year-old palomino Benny at the 2017 Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days. The Weatherford, Okla. cowgirl, who grew up in Ingalls, Kan., will compete in Abilene on Thursday, August 3. Photo by Hubbell Photography.

ABILENE, KAN. (July 31, 2017) – Some of the biggest names in pro rodeo will head to Abilene this weekend.

When the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo kicks off on Wednesday night, it’ll bring nearly 400 cowboys and cowgirls from across the nation to town to compete for over $80,000 in prize money.

Current PRCA world champions Tyler Waguespack, Gonzales, La., (steer wrestling), Zeke Thurston, Big Valley, Alberta, (saddle bronc riding), and Sage Kimzey, Strong City, Okla., (bull riding) will be in town to compete, and seven of the ten 2016 Abilene rodeo champs will return to defend their title. Returning are Marcus Theriot, Poplarville, Miss. (all-around and tie-down champion), Tanner Phipps, Dalton, Ga. (bareback riding), Colby Lovell, Madisonville, Texas and Travis Graves, Jay, Okla. (team roping), Taos Muncy, Corona, N.M. (saddle bronc riding), Jane Melby, Burneyville, Okla. (barrel racing), and Sage Kimzey, co-champion in the bull riding.

One of the contestants on the list includes a Kansas cowgirl, Emily Miller. Born and raised in Ingalls, west of Dodge City, Miller is having the best year of her pro rodeo career.

Miller is ranked tenth in the world standings, and if things continue as they are, will be headed to her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification this December.

A first place finish at the Ram National Circuit Finals rodeo in Kissimmee, Fla. in March, put her on the path to competing nearly full time.

The 25 year old graduated from Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford, Okla., as a dental hygienist, then got a job with Stevens Family Dentistry in Weatherford.

She never intended to rodeo full time, but after her win of over $13,000 in Kissimmee in April, she hit the rodeo trail a bit harder. Miller still didn’t plan on shooting for the WNFR, but when she was invited to compete at the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede in July, she knew she had to rodeo with Vegas, the home of the WNFR, in mind. “That was a game changer,” she said, of the chance to compete at Calgary. In Calgary, she finished in the top four in the barrel racing, as third high money winner in her event.

Miller will compete in Abilene on Thursday night, and even though she’s chasing the dream of every cowboy and cowgirl: to compete for a world title at the WNFR, she’s staying close to home. In March, before the rodeo success started, she promised to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding, and she’s keeping to that promise. So instead of rodeoing this fall at the big events in the Northwest, she’s staying close to home.

Even with her success in barrel racing, Miller has a good perspective. Most cowboys and cowgirls must compete at as many rodeos as possible to make the WNFR, but Miller is letting what happens, happen. “I feel like I’m at a pretty good place,” she said. “I have a great job, and I don’t have to count on my horse to make a living. It’s nice to go to these rodeos and do well, but if I don’t go, it’s ok. I’m not going to wear myself out going.”

These last few weeks have been busy. Since June 29, when she started driving the new RAM truck she won at the RAM National Circuit Finals, she’s put on 7,000 miles, going to rodeos.

The many miles have shown on her horses. Miller has three of them: Pipe Wrench, Jet and Benny, and she owns them all. Pipe Wrench slipped and strained her back during Cheyenne Frontier Days, and at Salt Lake City, Jet was hurt. So both horses are at home, resting, and Miller plans on riding Benny in Abilene.

She is smart about her horses and rodeo competition, she said, since she’s not a “trust fund baby.” “When I was younger, my parents made me buy and sell my own horses. They would give me a horse, but if I wanted to upgrade, I’d have to sell the old one and buy the new one.” What she likes to do is find a “project” horse and put the training and seasoning on them. “I like to get horses that haven’t been to the NFR with somebody else, then hope I’m the one who gets them there, and then can sell them for a lot of money.”

It’s a great plan, but “I get pretty attached,” she laughed. “I don’t ever sell anything.”

And even though she’s had a phenomenal rodeo year, she treats rodeo as a business. “You have to rodeo smart, and make it feasible. I want to have fun at it, but I’m not throwing money away. I need to be successful wherever I go.”

Miller has competed in Abilene twice and has never won money there, but the homemade cookies served to the cowboys and cowgirls bring her back. “I enter that rodeo just for the cookies. I’m not going to lie,” she laughed.

A total of 398 contestants in seven events: bareback riding, tie-down roping, team roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, and bull riding will compete in Abilene. Performances are nightly at 7:30 pm on August 2-5, with slack, the extra competition that doesn’t fit into the evening performances, at 8 am on August 2. Slack includes tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, and barrel racing and is free to the public. The August 2 evening performance is bull riding, saddle bronc riding, and barrel racing.

Tickets are $10 in advance ($7 for children ages four through ten) and $13 at the gate. They can be purchased online at and at various local retailers.

For more information, visit the website at or call the fair office at 785.263.4570.