When you set a goal, focus on that goal and work hard while taking care of yourself and your team, that goal is attainable. Just ask the Weatherford, Okla., professional cowgirl Emily Miller who qualified for her first ever National Finals Rodeo this year. Miller, who has always made both her horses’ health and her own well-being a top priority, took 2018 to rebuild her “team” after her main barrel horse got hurt in 2017, and she was just short of qualifying for the Finals. And now, with a young team, she is excited to head to Las Vegas in less than 30 days.
Miller admits that in the sport of rodeo it can be challenging to set a goal, but she does take the time to evaluate where she is, how her horses are feeling and performing and is realistic about her expectations.
“Extenuating factors always play a role in developing a game plan. Foxy was the horse I rode most the year last year, but I wasn’t able to ride her this winter or spring. There are so many different ways to qualify to the different rodeos, too,” she said. “I wasn’t setting too bad last year until the Fourth of July, kind of setting right on the bubble, 15th or 16th and then I had a terrible Fourth, and my horses got sore. We came home and got a game plan for this year. I had a better winter for sure, and that boosted me for the summer run.”
Foxy is just one of three horses that make up Miller’s team of barrel horses this year. Chongo, a 9-year-old, is her main horse, and Beau is her second back-up. Just like humans, Miller said each horse has its own preference of what it likes and what it doesn’t like. Some favor smaller arenas, and some excel in the bigger arenas, and they all have a preference as far as the ground and what they like and what they don’t like.
Chongo won a round in Denver, won a round in San Antonio, won a round in Corpus and won it all at Rodeo Austin in the first three months of 2019.
“That was huge! We walked out of Rodeo Austin, and that gave us a huge jump and was a huge confidence booster for my horse and me. I knew he was capable,” Miller said.
Miller took a break most of April and part of May to prepare for a trip north to Canada. She makes it a priority each year to qualify for the Calgary Stampede.
“Calgary is my favorite rodeo. The payout is great, along with the committee and everything; it is one of the best. How do I give myself the best chance to get back to Calgary like I did in 2017? That’s what got me to number seven in the standings that year. Now if I can duplicate that, that’s going to put me in the NFR,” Miller recalls as she walked through her plan for the month of June. “The ride style, size of arena, the ground conditions. It rains a lot up there, so if your horse isn’t a mudder, it’s probably going to be a waste of time because it rains every day. They handle it well, and the Canadians are great at handling the arena, but it is still mud.”
As Miller said everyone has a different route that works for them to win the most money, and each cowgirl and cowboy has to discover his or her route that best suits them and their horse. Calgary just happens to be on her route.
However, prior experiences had shown Miller that Greeley and Reno were not along her route. So, unlike so many in her sport, she chose to sit those two big rodeos out this year, instead focusing on Calgary and Ponoka and saving miles on her truck and trailer and the mental stress for both her and her horses.
“I always tried to set them up for success, no matter where we were,” she said. “A couple hundredths can make a huge difference in the placings, so I try to make sure that both the horse and rider are healthy. If that’s not the case, we either go home and regroup or I change horsepower.”
But now that she is preparing for the NFR, ranked seventh in her sport, Miller said that she is taking one day at a time and treating the 10-day rodeo like any other. She said her horses are healthy and ready and she is working to stay physically and mentally prepared as well.
Nutrition is a big part of keeping her horses at the top of their game, and a healthy horse that has a good feeling gut and digestive system is a happy horse who will perform at the top of his or her game. To make sure her horses stay at the top of their digestive health, they all get Vitalize® Alimend® each day. Vitalize Alimend is a natural product that provides 24/7 stomach comfort and relieves equine gastric issues commonly associated with training, traveling, and performance without altering stomach pH or hindering digestion. It includes a unique blend of: MHB3® Hyaluronan, H. erinaceous (Lion’s mane) extract, and AO-Biotics®, a precision prebiotic designed to boost animal resilience to challenges. It is research-proven to improve gut integrity and immune response.
“I love the Vitalize Alimend, and they eat it good on the road. They were just as full and healthy this summer when we got home from Canada as they were when we left. That speaks volumes to me for the nutrients and the program they are on. It kept them really healthy. If they’re not healthy, they are not happy,” Miller said.
In addition to the Alimend, Miller also gives Chongo the Vitalize Equine Recovery Gel. Chongo, who is more prone to ulcers, loves the recovery gel, which helps him ward off the ulcers and stay healthy. Vitalize Recovery Gel includes Amaferm®, a precision-based prebiotic that impacts intake, feed digestibility and nutrient absorption to help combat stress and support the animal’s own immune system and MOS to trap and expel pathogens, limiting their ability to do harm.
Between now and December, Miller will keep her team healthy and focused. They will stay on a routine and not dwell on too much other than their mental and physical well-being. She knows her team is strong, and with 10 consecutive nights of competition, she is thankful to have back-up horses she can rotate in if necessary. But for now, she’s planning on riding Chongo as much as possible.
“He’s the horse that got me here,” said the red-headed cowgirl who will be sporting back number 107 in the Thomas & Mack Center.
A goal can become reality with dedication, focus and proper care of one’s self and team. Emily Miller knows that plans sometimes change, but with the right amount of focus and preparation, anyone’s dreams can come true.