By Jolee Jordan
Austin, Texas—Which elements lead to success in professional barrel racing? It’s a complicated recipe to be sure. A fast, athletic and willing horse is definitely needed. A capable rider. The wherewithal to get down the road. An effective time management routine. Support staff of veterinarians, farriers, friends and family who can help out when needed.
But one element is much more elusive . . . and maybe more critical to the mixture: timing.
Oklahoma cowgirl Emily Miller knows how important the right timing can be.
Back in 2015, Miller was going to school and rodeoing a bit. Her good horse got hurt and she was looking to lease something to finish out the season. She reached out to Kylie Weast, who trains for Namgis Quarter Horses out of Hondo, Texas but found the horse she liked was unavailable.
Not wanting to buy another horse at that point, Miller trudged on with a young back-up horse but soon that mare was on the injured list as well and Miller was headed to Weast’s to look at a pair of five year olds.
“I tried Chongo as a 5 year old in July of 2015,” explains Miller. “Kylie trains for Stan Sigman of Namgis Quarter horses. Chongo (Namgis D33) & Pipewrench (Namgis D35) were her futurity horses in 2014.”
Though Miller liked the lanky grey gelding, she bought the sorrel Pipewrench instead and was soon making her way to the winner’s circle. Pipewrench carried her to the Prairie Circuit Finals and a pair of Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeos (RNCFR). She won the RNCFR in 2017 and nearly made the Wrangler NFR, but was plagued with injuries to Pipewrench in the stretch run of the season.
With her main horse needing time to recuperate, Miller went back to the grey son of Bucks Hancock Dude and out of the mare named Track Goddess, a daughter of Eyesa Special.
“I bought Chongo the beginning of January 2018,” she says. “It honestly was just God’s timing. I had sold my backup horse at the end of November and he became available for purchase a little over a month later.”
“They’re two very different horses but their heart and try is definitely the same,” she says of the two geldings who share the same sire.
With Chongo along with a full sister to Pipewrench called Foxy, Miller finished 30th in the 2018 WPRA World standings and third in the WPRA Tour.
As the rodeo season launched headlong into winter, Miller stayed busy. Like everyone else on rodeo’s road, she was trying to take full advantage of the huge opportunities presented in the winter run, generally acknowledged to begin in Odessa and Denver in January and generally wrap up with the close of Rodeo Austin at the end of March.
While some cowgirls have had huge success, four cowgirls have won better than $50,000 already in 2019, others have had their struggles and timing was again a factor for Miller.
Though she had earned enough to be ranked 34th in the WPRA World standings as the end of Austin loomed during the final week of March, Miller had left some opportunities on the table and noted that she’d had a few “trying” weeks as she prepped for Rodeo Austin.
Like other major winter shows in San Antonio and Houston, Rodeo Austin follows a tournament style, calling it the Ride for the Brand tournament. Fittingly held in the month filled with “March Madness”—the name of college basketball’s championship tournament—Rodeo Austin began on March 16 with a round of 96 WPRA barrel racers competing in 12 performances of the Qualifying Round. The cowgirls qualified to compete through 2018 and 2019 WPRA World and Texas Circuit standings as well as the 2018 WPRA Tour.
WPRA regular season earnings record holder Tiany Schuster was in the spotlight in the Qualifying Round, running the fastest time aboard her great gelding Showmance.
“He finally ‘showed up’,” she joked, alluding to the fact that she too had some struggles during the winter. Schuster’s 14.88 second run was one of five sub-fifteen runs in the round and banked $5,090 for the Krum, Texas resident.
The fastest 16 from the Qualifying Round advanced to the two-perf Playoff Round held on March 28-29, 2019.
Miller was one of the five fourteen second runs in the opening round, winning a nice check worth $2,947 for her run of 14.99 seconds aboard Chongo, now nine-years old to move on to the next round.
“Chongo finished 5th in Rd 1 of Rodeo Austin, moving onto the playoff round!” Miller posted to Facebook following the run. “A shout out to the committee for an amazing rodeo and outstanding ground conditions! We’ve had a trying couple weeks, but after a vent session with Kylie, revisiting the drawing board with Tom (Miller), and remembering my “why,” I was sure thankful for this smooth (kinda), safe, clean run!”
The Playoff Round started hot in the opening perf with Arvada, Wyoming cowgirl Sally Conway throwing down with the rodeo’s fastest run of 14.73 seconds aboard her gelding Midge.
“It’s all Midge!” Conway said on Facebook. “He deserves every ounce of credit for his try and heart. I’m just grateful to be his person.”
With just eight spots open into the Finals Round, the competition was stiff. Conway led after the opening night and faced a number of challenges during the second half of the Playoffs.
Three-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Sydni Blanchard came closest at 14.74 seconds. It was a run fraught with drama as Blanchard’s mare Heartbreaker closed in tightly around the third can, tipping it precariously; the former College National Champ reached down and brushed it back to a standing position, saving the five second penalty to clinch her spot in the Finals in a crowd pleasing move.
Two million dollar cowgirl Lisa Lockhart built off the momentum from her first Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) Championship a week prior by advancing to the Finals as well. Lockhart is the defending Rodeo Austin champ, winning in 2018 aboard her mare Rosa. As in Kissimmee for the RNCFR, Lockhart called upon the black gelding Cutter, the newest winner in her stable of champions.
The Finals field also included Schuster, who was the epitome of consistency with a 14.89 to match her 14.88 from the Qualifying Round, along with Miller, Jessica Routier, Jill Wilson and Amberleigh Moore, who sewed up the final spot with a run of 15.05 seconds.
Again the slate was wiped clean, setting up the sudden death run for the championship in the Final Round on Saturday, March 30, 2019. The payoff steps up for the last run, awarding $9,400 to the winner.
Wilson drew first on the ground, sprinting around the pattern inside the Travis County Expo Center in a smooth 14.89 on her horse Blue Dean. The Snyder, Texas cowgirl finished with runs of 14.96, 14.98 and 14.89, saving the best for last.
Conway and Midge came next, carrying a ton of speed down the long alleyway. When the clock stopped, her 15.09 put her to second place in the early going of the round.
Schuster and Showmance ran third, the second team following Wilson to go to the left barrel first. Due to a bit of off-timing, the pair left all three barrels on the ground and Schuster waved to the crowd with good humor, still stopping the clock in an eye popping 14.59, but the 15-seconds in penalties took her out of contention.
Miller and Chongo ran right in the middle of the pack, hoping the timing was right for a major rodeo championship. The pair have won their share of one-go rodeos and gathered round wins at major rodeos like the All American ProRodeo Series Finals, San Antonio and Corpus Christi but could they push through all the way to the end and stay on top?
Before the Final Round, Miller took a marker and wrote “2019 Austin Champion” on her back number. With determination born of making that a reality, Miller and Chongo calmly eased up the alley to their spot, then bursting into the arena to lay down another smooth—and mistake free run, their best of the rodeo at 14.87 seconds. It was just enough to squeak past Wilson into the leader’s spot.
With the reigning WPRA Reserve World Champion Jessica Routier and Blanchard running into penalty troubles—Routier on a run that would have been 14.68 seconds—only Lockhart and Moore stood between Miller and the branding iron given to all Austin champs.
Lockhart and Cutter stumbled a bit at the first corner, pushing their time out to 15.04 seconds while Moore and her mare Paige went tight and flawless, making a gorgeous run that fell into third in what turned out to be a wicked tough barrel race at 14.91 seconds.
After clinching the big check in the Finals, taking the victory lap and accepting the spoils, Miller earned more than $13,000 in Austin, doubling her 2019 season total. The big win will move her up close to the top 15 in the WPRA World standings come April 1.
“Chongo, what a blessing. Thanks for the ride buddy,” Miller posted to Facebook in the wee hours following the win, also taking time to again thank the committee for great footing. “It was an amazing weekend filled with support from family and friends, as well as wonderful memories made with Austin & Rowan at the fair.”
“Thanks everyone for the calls and texts, I genuinely appreciate them. Thanks to my sponsors for their continued support!”
Wilson was the second high money earner with nearly $11,000 won, a total which should help her climb near the top 20 as winter now gives way to the big spring run.
For Miller, the end of winter means a little bit of rest.
“I will say, I’m looking forward to a few weekends that don’t have a 1000+ mile round trip involved lol! It’s been a busy winter.”
For more information on Rodeo Austin and the Ride for the Brand tournament, please visit them on-line at www.rodeoaustin.com.
- Tiany Schuster, Showmance, 14.88, $5,090
- Jessica Routier, Fiery Miss West, 14.94, $4,554
- Callahan Crossley, Brownie Bi Bogie, 14.95, $4,019
- 4ill Wilson, Lean Mean Blue Dean, 14.96, $3,483
- Emily Miller, Namgis D33, 14.99, $2,947
- Abby Phillips, Crown ta Fame, 15.01, $2,411
- Sydni Blanchard, Famous Heartbreaker, 15.02, $1,340
- Taylor Langdon, Dashin Louie, 15.02, $1,340
- Jill Tanner, Credit ta Fame, 15.02, $1,340
- Sally Conway, MP Hay Smith, 15.04, $268
- Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Ima Famous Babe, 15.06
- Amber Moore, CP Dark Moon, 15.06
- Lisa Lockhart, Prime Diamond, 15.06
- Teri Bangart, RCA Three Bugs Honor, 15.09
- Holly Wright, DP Dollys Resort, 15.09
- Sissy Winn, Flashy Red Flame, 15.12
- Tillar Murray, 15.12
Top 16 Advance to Playoff Round, Sissy Winn advances on tie breaker
- Conway, 14.73, $4,935
- Blanchard, 14.74, $4,113
- Lockhart, 14.84, $2,633
- Schuster, 14.89, $2,633
- Miller, 14.95, $1,316
- Routier, 14.98, $411
- Wilson, 14.98, $411
- Moore, 15.05
- Winn, 15.17
- Pozzi Tonozzi, 15.18
- Wright, 15.53
- Tanner, 15.71
- Crossley, 20.10
- Langdon, 20.12
- Bangart, 20.19
- Phillips, 25.12
Top 8 Advance to Finals Round
- Miller, 14.87, $9,400
- Wilson, 14.89, $7,050
- Moore, 14.91, $4,700
- Lockhart, 15.04, $2,350
Emily Miller, $13,663
Jill Wilson, $10,944
Tiany Schuster, $7,723
Sydni Blanchard, $5,453
Sally Conway, $5,203
Lisa Lockhart, $4,983
Jessica Routier, $4,965
Amberleigh Moore, $4,700
Callahan Crossley, $4,019
Abby Phillips, $2,411
Taylor Langdon, $1,340
Jill Tanner, $1,340