It was a December to remember for one Oklahoma cowgirl who embraced every opportunity the 10 days of her first National Finals Rodeo experience. Emily Miller, Weatherford, Okla., started her Vegas run ranked seventh in the world in barrel racing. After 10 great runs and a partner, Chongo, who gave his all, Emily moved up to finish the year third in the world. She was second in the average at the NFR, winning the first and fourth rounds.
“I don’t know if it gets any more exciting than that! I was running in my first NFR and won the first round,” she said. “It was wild!”
Emily and Chongo clocked a 13.63 time that first round. She said she couldn’t hear her time, but her friend Jana, who had accompanied her down the alley, was throwing her fist in the air, and she knew her ride had been pretty exciting.
Embracing the Experience
“It was always my goal as a little girl to compete inside that yellow arena. But we aren’t always promised those opportunities,” Emily said.
However, with hard work, lots of miles and a team of great horses, she did get the opportunity to compete among the world’s best barrel racers this December. Getting to that level and succeeding takes teamwork, and she gives her lead horse Chongo all of the credit for her achievements inside the arena.
“He does 99.9% of the work. I’m just hanging on or I’m afoot. And I don’t run very fast,” Emily said with a chuckle. “What he did for us in Vegas is pretty phenomenal. I’m proud of him.”
She did give her big gray horse one night off – the seventh round – and rode Foxy that night. Chongo had slipped the night before, and Emily felt it was best to let him rest and give Foxy the chance to run in Vegas since she is an instrumental part of their team too.
She competed hard in 2017, and finished 17th, just shy of qualifying for the NFR. She took some time to regroup, let her horses regroup and came back stronger than ever in 2019. Perhaps one of the things she most enjoys is the camaraderie of the sport.
“The other 14 women that were there are all phenomenal riders with great horses. I have the upmost respect for them. I know how hard they have worked to get there, the sacrifices they have made and yet they were all so helpful and supportive of me, especially as a first-time competitor. There is no other sport like that,” Emily said.
Long Days, Shorter Nights
Attending her first National Finals as a contestant was a case study in “time management at its finest,” according to Emily. Of course, she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything; however, she said if given the opportunity to compete again, she would definitely do some things differently.
“I knew I was going to be busy. I didn’t know just how busy,” Emily said.
Her days often began at 5 a.m. with a commute to go take care of her horses. She’d have morning practice from 6-8 a.m., and open ride time after that, followed by media interviews, signings, sponsorship events and other events directly involved with the NFR, like the Exceptional Rodeo.
“It was so rewarding to help those kids. My little girl, Mazie, was awesome,” Emily said.
Perhaps one of the most surprising uses of her time was commuting between her horses, the arena, and all the events. Even though she was in the same city for all 10 days, she said at least 4 to 5 hours a day were spent in a vehicle, getting between destinations.
Just as she spent a lot of time commuting, conversely the cowgirl didn’t spend much time eating. She said the “barrel racer diet” became her norm, and she drank a lot of coffee and usually ate about 2 or 3 each afternoon.
Emily acknowledges that she took one day to spend with her family, prior to the night’s rodeo. They did a zipline and had a nice lunch. But outside those few hours, her time was limited. With buckle presentations that didn’t start until 11 p.m., she often functioned on minimal sleep. However, she always kept her horses’ health top of mind.
A horse’s health starts in its digestive system, and if that is functioning and performing, then the horse is more likely to feel good and perform to its optimum. Emily makes sure her horses feel their best by giving them Vitalize supplements including Vitalize® Alimend® daily on top of their feed and when she is traveling, and especially when competing like during the NFR, she also administers Vitalize® Equine Recovery Gel. Vitalize Alimend is a natural product that helps heal and protect without altering stomach pH. It is a unique blend of: MHB3® Hyaluronan, H. erinaceous (Lion’s mane) extract, and AO-Biotics® and is safe for routine and continuous use in all types of horses. It provides 24/7 stomach comfort and relieves equine gastric issues commonly associated with training, traveling, and performance without altering stomach pH or hindering digestion. The Vitalize Equine Recovery Gel is a quick response gel that contains the ideal balance of vitamins, organic minerals, amino acids and antioxidants as well as MOS and Amaferm® for maximum support of immune function and stress recovery. It is a three-in-one gel to get horses back on their feet after trauma, illness, performance or stress.
Rodeo is a tough sport and one with a lot of variables. Of course, Emily’s ultimate goal is to continue to qualify to compete in the yellow arena again, but as she said, “The NFR chooses you; you don’t get to choose the NFR.”
After the long haul from Vegas back to Oklahoma, Emily said she turned Chongo out, and he was running and playing in the pasture.
“He took the trip better than I did,” she chuckled.
Chongo and Foxy have done their work for the year. They are on a break, but it won’t last too long. Emily is passionate about the sport, her horses and even the competition. Yet, she knows that resting is best mentally and physically for her and her equine teammates. They will ring in the New Year and start 2020 in Denver at the National Western. It’s always a goal to win, but she truly wants what is best for her horses. And, for them, the last month of 2019 will be a December to remember.