Sometimes even squeezing in a weekly local jackpot while balancing a full-time job can be a struggle for the everyday barrel racer. But what about qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo and keeping a string of top-level rodeo horses fit and ready to win? It’s all in a day’s work for dental hygienist Emily Miller. The Weatherford, Oklahoma, cowgirl qualified for her first NFR in 2019 and took Las Vegas by storm, winning two rounds and taking home a total $157,653.85 from the Finals to ultimately finish third in the 2019 The Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world standings.
The key, she says, is precise scheduling for every single day and a true passion for what she does—in the dental office and in the arena.
“It’s tricky; it takes good organizational skills and whatnot. I’ve got to plan ahead, and it was easier to do it in the past because I knew what rodeos I was going to, what was coming up, what was on the books, the route I was going to take,” Miller said. “I love [being a dental hygienist] too, and that’s what a lot of people don’t get. They’re like ‘Why would you keep working?’ But I’m passionate about it just as I am about barrel racing. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Things have gotten even more hectic than usual for Miller since the outbreak of COVID-19. She’s spent more time in the office than she has planning for a big rodeo run.
“I’ve been in the dental office a lot. We’ve been so busy; we’ve had six or seven weeks of patients to reschedule,” Miller said, noting that the day of this interview was her first day off in a while. “Weatherford is not a very big town and one of the dentists who’s been there a long time passed away in a freak accident, and another one retired, so not only do we have all of our patients who haven’t been seen the last couple months but all of the patients they had who were scheduled who aren’t getting seen now.”
She admits her plans are still largely up in the air as far as making a push for a second NFR qualification, which is also the case for most rodeo competitors right now.
“I’m not going to lie, I am way behind the 8-ball with getting back to rodeo right now,” Miller said. “Any time you try to make a plan it blows up in your face, because a rodeo gets cancelled or a slack gets changed or a rodeo gets postponed. You’re not making the same trips you usually make. I’ve honestly almost quit trying, and I literally just call and enter anything, and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t.”
It’s uncertain times like 2020 that make Miller is even more thankful for her day job.
“I am happy to be making a steady paycheck at the dental office, because there is no guarantee for any of us in the horse industry right now,” Miller said. “This was part of the plan, and my parents not growing up in the horse industry were pretty adamant, like ‘You cannot rely on this; I don’t care how good you think you are.’ You’ve got to make sure that if something does crash like it has this year, that you’ve got some other way to put food on the table and keep the lights on.”