By Jolee Jordan
Red Bluff, California—It’s been nearly a century since the Red Bluff Round-Up Association formed with the purpose of hosting a rodeo in the northern California community. Through fits and starts, the rodeo underwent several incarnations before finally finding its niche.
Today, Red Bluff marks the beginning of the lucrative West Coast spring run and offers its competitors a share of a nearly $300,000 total purse.
But until this year, the All Around champion each and every year had been a cowboy. With the ProRodeo Hall of Fame inducted Round-Up’s century celebration looming, that fact changed when a local cowgirl brought her WPRA World Champion mare Sister to town, throwing in a rope horse and her rope too.
2017 WPRA World Champion Barrel Racer Nellie Miller is very familiar with the three-day rodeo—it’s held just about twenty minutes from her home in Cottonwood. She’s been coming here since she was a little girl cheering on her dad Sam Williams in the team roping.
But Miller had never earned a title here in Red Bluff, though she came close in the barrel racing in 2018, finishing second to champion Jessi Fish by just seven one-hundredths of a second.
Earning an All Around title seemed even more far-fetched. Prior to 2018, there was only one women’s event, barrel racing, so ladies would have to pick up an event from the PRCA’s traditional roster of events, such as team roping, to meet the two-event requirement. Ladies had done so in the past but faced the additional roadblock that only PRCA-sanctioned events were considered by committees when determining All Around championships.
Miller’s march through the glass ceiling began with WPRA breakaway roping slack on Thursday, April 18. Thirty-three cowgirls signed up to compete in the second annual Round-Up WPRA breakaway roping, chasing their share of the more than $5,000 total purse and enjoying the new wave of breakaway roping popularity. Several, including Miller, competed in both WPRA events.
Each cowgirl roped once in the slack with the top times advancing to a short-go held across the three performances. Miller drew a runner but patiently chased him down the long arena, stopping the clock at 7.2 seconds to move on to the next round.
Fallon, Nevada cowgirl Noel Lambert grew up in northern California but moved east for work and for love (husband Sterling is a steer wrestler who also competed in Red Bluff). Lambert took the opening round win with a fast time of 2.5 seconds.
On Friday, the barrel racers took over Frank Moore Arena and Miller seemed on a mission to capture the most elusive title in rodeo lore — your hometown rodeo.
With Sister flying to the first, Miller scooted through the pattern in a blistering fast 17.09 seconds, good enough to lead the first go throughout a large portion of the slack.
But with amazing ground conditions and over 120 of the WPRA’s best barrel racers entered, the leaderboard withstood several big shake-ups as the first round drew to a close. In the end, Idaho’s Jennifer Barrett tied for the round win with WPRA World Champion Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi while Miller split third with former WPRA Rookie of the Year Jackie Ganter.
After only seeing five 17.0 second runs in the last seven years, Red Bluff’s huge arena witnessed five during the 2019 slack as Oklahoma cowgirl Ivy Hurst took the second round lead in the second slack section on Friday morning. Riding her outstanding lefty, Diddy, Hurst’s 17.09 was more than three tenths to the lead as the performances kicked off on Friday night.
The Red Bluff Round-Up accepts all barrel racing entries and offers two full go rounds of competition. The first round was completed on the Friday morning slack and the top 36 times advanced to the three performances throughout the weekend. The remaining cowgirls ran their second round back in the slack.
Thanks to her top four finish, Miller moved on to the final day of the Round-Up, Sunday, April 21st, the annual Tough Enough to Wear Pink (TETWP) Day in Red Bluff. The TETWP campaign was launched by Round-Up Director Jolene Kemen back in 2006 and has since raised around half a million dollars for Dignity Health St. Elizabeth’s in Red Bluff for cancer treatments and preventive care.
Sadly, Kemen passed away at the age of 66 back in January. She was honored during the opening night’s performance for her many years of service, which included not only the TETWP campaign but also helping organize the PRCA’s youth rodeo camp in Red Bluff along with hundreds of other details throughout the year.
A third-generation member of the Round-Up Association, Kemen was a trailblazer, becoming the first female to serve as Round-Up Director beginning in 1996. Miller’s performance and record-setting title was a fitting tribute to the Director who will be sorely missed by the Round-Up for years to come.
Miller was back in the arena on Saturday, rope in hand. She made a smooth run at 4.5 seconds, sitting good in both the go round and average. With 11.7 seconds on two-calves, she sat second behind Kelsey Nonella with one perf to rope.
Jane Wood was second gunner on the final day, working with a 4.6 from round one. Wood, a student at the famed Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, grew up in northern California, graduating high school from Campolinda High School in Moranga, not far from the Bay Area.
Wood etched her name into the history books after stopping the clock at 5.5 seconds. With a two-head total of 10.1 seconds, she withstood the challenge from Lambert, who’s 8.0 left her tied for Reserve Champ with Nonella, to win the second installment of the Round-Up’s breakaway roping.
Fellow Cal Poly cowgirl Katie Rice earned the short round win with her time of 3.8 seconds from Friday night’s performance.
Wood earned $1,069 for her 10 seconds of work while Lambert picked up an event best $1,248 and Nonella won $942.
Miller finished fourth, pocketing $598 for the average check as well as second in the short go.
Stepping back into her barrel saddle on that long Sunday afternoon, Miller would pick up not only one, but two cherished buckles in her hometown rodeo while competing in the event that made her a household name.
Running third on the final day, Miller and Sister laid down yet another picture perfect run, stopping the clock at 17.29 seconds. Good enough for fourth in the go round, Miller waited to see what the rest of the field could accomplish as each lady took her shot at the champ.
As it turned out, the last runner came closest. Ganter had tied Miller in the opening round so a 17.28 would give the Texan the title and quash the hometown crowd’s hopes. While Ganter made an outstanding run from 12th, her time of 17.33 seconds was just an eyelash too long.
Miller claimed her first win in Red Bluff with a two-head total of 34.38 seconds, while Ganter was second at 34.42. Jessie Telford, who was super consistent with runs of 17.28 and 17.27, won third.
“It’s a real honor,” Miller told the Wrangler Network just after the win. “We have a lot of family and friends here, so it’s neat to win it in front of everybody.”
“She was pretty fired up today. The crowd gets her going. (Red Bluff) is one of the few times I can actually hear the crowd. I don’t usually pay attention to it, but they’re so loud here when we run, it’s so much fun.”
In total, Miller walked away with $7,216 in barrel racing earnings and $7,814 total.
She earned a second Red Bluff Championship when the rodeo committee awarded her the All Around title as well, a first for the Round-Up. She earned more than $4,000 more than second placed Rhen Richard, who competed in the team roping and tie down roping.
“For 98 years of rodeo, it’s a pretty big feat,” Miller told the Wrangler Network. “It was a really good win and with it being my hometown, people are really excited about it.”
“You need to take your opportunities when you can get them, and this was definitely one of those times for me,” she continued, mentioning her two daughters, Hadley and Payton. “I want to be a good example for them in that way. That’s what I want for them.”
Already ranked first in the WPRA Barrel Racing World standings thanks to a second consecutive victory at RodeoHouston last month, Miller will go over $70,000 for the season at just six rodeos and will maintain her position as World leader. She will also go to the lead for another California Circuit championship.
Miller picked up valuable points on the WPRA’s newly announced Wrangler Network Tour as well, in both events. Bonus money will be offered to the top point earners at the conclusion of the Tour in the barrels as well as the breakaway roping as part of a new three-year contract extension with the WPRA’s longtime partner Wrangler.
The next Tour stop for barrel racers will be this coming weekend at Clovis, California while breakaway ropers are on hold until the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo the first weekend of June.
All Wrangler Network Tour stops are live streamed at www.wranglernetwork.com and on the Wrangler Network’s free mobile app.
- Jennifer Barrett, Beduinos Prospector, 17.04, $2,932
- Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, 17.04, $2,932
- Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 17.09, $2,105
- Jackie Ganter, Howes A Tycoon, 17.09, $2,105
- Jessie Telford, Famous Cool Whip, 17.28, $1,353
- Kellie Collier, Famous Dallas Jazz, 17.28, $1,353
- Cheyenne Wimberley, KN Fabs Mist of Fame, 17.34, $902
- Danyelle Williams, Sonny (Grade), 17.36, $601
- Angelina Carrion, Playboys Shiny Fool, 17.38, $451
- Stevi Hillman, Cuatro Fame, 17.41, $301
- Ivy Hurst, Top of Roc, 17.09, $3,157
- Tanya Jones, Rockin A Lil, 17.21, $2,706
- Telford, 17.27, $2,255
- Miller, 17.29, $1,954
- Jolee Lautaret-Jordan, Down Home Daisy (Grade), 17.30, $1,503
- Wimberley, 17.31, $1,203
- Williams, 17.32, $902
- Tyra Kane, Majestic Knight, 17.33, $526
- Ganter, 17.33, $526
- Hillman, 17.41, $301
- Miller, 34.38, $3,157
- Ganter, 34.42, $2,706
- Telford, 34.55, $2,255
- Wimberley, 34.65, $1,954
- Williams, 34.68, $1,503
- Pozzi Tonozzi, 34.70, $1,203
- Jones, 34.71, $902
- Lautaret-Jordan, 34.78, $601
- Barrett, 34.81, $451
- Hillman, 34.82, $301
Total Money Won
Nellie Miller, $7,216
Jessie Telford, $5,863
Jackie Ganter, $5,337
Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, $4,134
Cheyenne Wimberley, $4,059
Tanya Jones, $3,608
Jennifer Barrett, $3,383
Ivy Hurst, $3,157
Danyelle Williams, $3,007
Jolee Lautaret-Jordan, $2,105
Kellie Collier, $1,353
Stevi Hillman, $902
Tyra Kane, $526
Angelina Carrion, $451
- Noel Lambert, 2.5, $591
- Jordan Gutsch, 2.7, $489
- Morgan Busby, 3.0, $387
- Kelsey Nonella, 4.1, $285
- Jane Wood, 4.6, $183
- Stevie Rae Willis/Zandi Eguires, 5.0, $51 each
- Katie Rice, 3.8, $226
- Nellie Miller, 4.5, $170
- Jolee Lautaret-Jordan, 4.9, $113
- Cierra Erickson, 5.2, $57
- Jane Wood, 10.1/two calves, $886
- Noel Lambert, 10.5, $657
- Kelsey Nonella, 10.5, $657
- Nellie Miller, 11.7, $428
- Katie Rice, 12.0, $275
- Stevie Rae Willis, 12.3, $153
Total Money Won
Noel Lambert, $1,248
Jane Wood, $1,069
Kelsey Nonella, $942
Nellie Miller, $598
Katie Rice, $501
Jordan Gutsch, $489
Morgan Busby, $387
Stevie Rae Willis, $204
Jolee Lautaret-Jordan, $113
Cierra Erickson, $57
Zandi Eguires, $51