Nellie Miller and Rafter W Minnie Reba at the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Photo by Kenneth Springer

World champion Nellie Miller lists four things she considers important to be successful and develop horsemanship when learning to run barrels. 

By Nellie Miller with Kailey Sullins

I’ve always been fortunate, because I grew up with my dad teaching me all of those necessary horsemanship and foundational skills to become the best horseman I could. It’s hard when you don’t come from that type of a background to know who to go to for help or how to even get into the sport, but it’s worth it when you go the extra mile to learn. 

1. Horsemanship is the Key

My biggest piece of advice for a beginner, whether child or adult, would be to learn basic horsemanship. It’s more important than learning how to run barrels right away. Just get a good, solid foundation on horsemanship first rather than focusing on running barrels. I don’t think the person teaching you to ride has to be a barrel trainer. Seeking a knowledgeable horse person is the best first step. Then, you can advance your horsemanship into running barrels. A basic foundation of riding correctly will help you for your entire lifetime, so when things go wrong you have something to fall back on and you can fix issues. 

2. Don’t Give Up

It’s important to remember that it doesn’t happen overnight. I think we all get a little used to having instant success or instant gratification, and life and barrel racing is just not that way. It’s important to remind people not to give up too early. It takes a lot of time, experience and know-how to get things to come together, and I believe people quit too early, honestly. They get out there and get a little discouraged and quit a little too soon. If they would stick with it, I think it would eventually come together for them. I think part of my success is because I’ve been competing since I was 12 and riding even before that. I was always going to jackpots and rodeos—it’s just what I wanted to do all the time. I lived it, breathed it and wanted to run barrels all the time, and that gave me a lot of experience going forward. Every obstacle and every step forward you will be able to handle better, because you’ve done so much prior to that. 

3. Always Strive to be Better

You should always be looking for a way to better yourself. Always look for ways to improve. No matter what horse you’re riding or what situation you’re dealing with, always strive to get better. Even if it’s a 4D horse, you should always be aiming to get into the 3D, and so on. You have to make a personal decision to want to be the best you are capable of being, which is always accompanied by a desire to get better. That’s more important than trying to go buy a new horse. A lot of being successful in this sport is being open-minded, seeking advice and not only seeking it but actually using it to your advantage. 

4. Self-Awareness When You Need Help

A lot of people get held back because they’re afraid to ask or they’re afraid to admit they might be doing something wrong. That’s the first step, and it takes being very self-aware that you might have shortcomings with your horsemanship or need help with your riding or training. I don’t see any shame in asking for advice, and I wish more people would ask for help when they need it, because as horsemen we never stop learning and should never stop striving to improve. 


Nellie Miller is the 2017 WPRA World Champion and rode her home-raised and -trained 11-year-old mare Rafter W Minnie Reba (KS Cash N Fame x Espuela Roan x Blue Light Ike) - affectionately known as "Sister" - to the title. Miller has amassed $625,517 in Equi-Stat recording lifetime earnings. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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