June 13, 2024

Southwest Kansas cowgirl competes at pro level, to run barrels at Beef Empire Days Rodeo

(Courtesy of the Beef Empire Days)

INGALLS, Kan. — Emily Miller knew she’d get to where she is today, even though her high school friends and teachers didn’t understand what she was doing.

When the Ingalls, Kan. cowgirl, a professional barrel racer, was in high school, her dad had to go in front of the school board, explaining why his daughter was missing so much school.

She missed a lot of school days as she competed in high school rodeo but even then she was able to maintain a 4.0 grade point average.

And while she was on the high school rodeo road, she was learning to ride, learning good horsemanship, and winning.

And Miller has extended her rodeo career past college.

She graduated from Ingalls High School in 2010, then went on to Garden City Community College, then Southwestern Oklahoma State University, then the University of Oklahoma, graduating in 2016 with a degree in dental hygiene.

In 2012 she became a member of the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association, and she’s rodeoed professionally since then, while being employed at Stephens Family Dentistry in Weatherford, Okla.

And two years ago, she finished the rodeo year in seventeenth place in the nation.

Miller juggles working three days a week and rodeos on the off days, sometimes switching her schedule around to accommodate longer rodeo weekends. She’s grateful to her boss, who understands rodeo scheduling.

Miller, the daughter of Tom and Margaret Miller, was the first in her family to rodeo. She attended the Beef Empire Days Rodeo as a kid, participating in the mutton busting. The first year, she was a bit timid, but not for long. “I figured it out real quick,” she said. The second year, she hung on to her sheep during the mutton busting nearly too long. “The clown had to yank me of the sheep, because the sheep was going to run into the (Ram) truck that was in the arena,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let go.”

Her parents kept her accountable for her rodeo activities. When she was eight years old, she was competing in junior rodeos in Garden City. “I was having a lot of fun with my friends,” she said. “Of course, it’s supposed to be fun. But I wasn’t putting forth the effort I needed to at home, in the practice pen.”

So her parents devised a plan for her. “They got me a checkbook, and they said, ‘all right, Emily, if you can make enough money to pay your entry fees, then you can go to the next rodeo. But if there’s not enough money in your checking account balance, then you can’t go until you earn enough through your allowance.”

The plan worked. “Right then and there I was held accountable,” Miller said. “It taught me to step up my game.”

They also taught her the value of a horse. In barrel racing, the horse is a crucial part of the competition, and barrel racers need a good mount if they’re going to win money. In high school, her parents bought her a good horse, one she rode in college and on whom she won the National Inter-Collegiate Rodeo Association’s Rookie of the Year in 2011.

That horse was the last one Tom and Margaret bought for their daughter, telling her when she was ready for a faster, younger, and more sound horse, she would be paying for it herself. “It taught me to be smart, to see the business side of it, too.” She knew she’d have to look at a horse critically, to decide if the horse was a good fit for her.

She has two main mounts. Pipe Wrench is the horse she’s won so much money on the last few years. He got hurt at the Calgary Stampede in 2017 and again in a vehicle accident on the way to the Longford, Kan. rodeo last year. She’s giving him plenty of time to heal. “I’m not forcing it with him,” she said. “I’m letting him tell me when he’s ready.”

Her second horse is a six-year-old named Beau, which will probably be her mount for the Garden City pro rodeo. If Pipe Wrench isn’t back by then, she’ll ride Beau. He doesn’t have the maturity and expertise that Pipe Wrench has, but he has potential. “He has a lot of promise and talent,” she said.

She loves competing at the Beef Empire Days Rodeo in Garden City, because she runs into old friends, school mates, and teachers who might not have understood, at the time, what she was doing.

“When I went to high school, I was the only rodeo person and they didn’t understand why I was always gone on Fridays,” Miller said. “When I run in Garden City, there’s always somebody in the crowd I went to school with, or somebody I haven’t seen in a while. It means a great deal to me that they are happy to cheer me on. Now they see how all my hard work and sacrifices in high school have paid off by helping me become successful at the professional level.”

The Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo takes place in Garden City May 23-25. Performances start at 7 pm each night. Tickets range in price from $12 to $20 if purchased in advance. When purchased at the gate, tickets are $4 higher.

Family night is Thursday, May 24; tickets are $16 for two adults and their children (under nine years of age.) Friday night is Military Appreciation night; all active duty military and veterans receive a free ticket, with military ID.

Tickets are for sale at Crazy House and Baker Boot in Garden City.

For more information, visit the website at www.BeefEmpireDaysRodeo.com.