Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Champion Barrel Racer Nellie Miller shares her story on rodeo, barrel horses and life.

I grew up riding and around rodeo. My dad rodeoed, team roped and steer roped, so I grew up around it, but I didn’t really start barrel racing until I was 12. As a young kid I wasn’t really into it until I got the right horse. Then I started winning, and of course that was fun so I kept going.

My dad, Sam Williams, has definitely been a big part of my success. He’s always been a great horseman, and he’s always enjoyed training. Ever since I can remember he’s always had colts, young horses or outside horses—he just really enjoys that part of it. He’s always trained his own horses, so when I started coming along he had horses for me to get on that he trained. It happened to work out that the way he trained them was pretty good for barrel racing. Any horse I got on could turn a barrel just from the way he started them.

Dad does his ranch work on all of our colts. We think it’s good for them to do something else and not always barrel race on them. Dad trained [2017 world champion Rafter W Minnie Reba] “Sister” and rode her for probably the first five years, so she got all the ranch horse training just like all our horses. We can go out in the field and rope a calf, doctor it and brand on her. We team rope on her—she’s done it all.

I took her over later, around the time she was 6, but Dad still helps me if I need a tune up or need him to jump on her and tune her up a bit.

Making of a Champion

When we bred Espuela Roan (“Reba”) to get Sister, we bred to get a barrel horse. Sister is by the Dash Ta Fame son KS Cash N Fame and is a half-sister to Rebas Smokey Joe, who’s by Mr Bar Truckle. He took me to my first National Finals Rodeo in 2010. They are both out of the same mare.

Rebas Smokey Joe, whom I call “Blue Duck,” was kind of a fluke, because we weren’t really thinking of barrel racing when we bred Reba to get Blue Duck. It happened to work out that he was fast. After we had so much success with him, we bred Reba again and got Sister. Reba was my high school rodeo horse, and we did every event on her. My brother roped calves on her, we team roped on her, pole bended, barrel raced; we did everything on her. She was good at everything; she was just that type of horse, but she didn’t really have the speed. When we did breed her, we bred her to more of a running horse, and that’s when we got Sister.

This year pro rodeoing has been full of both challenges and successes. One of the most challenging things was trying to do what’s best for my family. I have two little girls, and one just started kindergarten this year, so trying to balance my family life and still rodeo professionally is a challenge for me.

Aside from that, we had a really smooth year. There weren’t many accidents, and Sister stayed healthy most of the year. Nothing really big in that department happened, so that made it
go a lot smoother.

One of the things that stood out to me throughout this year was how well Sister handled the pro rodeos. When I was running Blue Duck, I never won first at a big rodeo. When I started winning these big rodeos on Sister, it was like ‘Wow, this horse is really something else.’ Blue Duck won a lot for me, but we could never win first, because he lacked that little extra something special. When Sister won Reno and a few other pro rodeos, that stood out to me. It’s a different feeling to win first at a rodeo.

Looking Ahead

This year, Sister and I are going to rodeo again and see how it goes. I don’t generally go a lot in the winter, because being from California the winter rodeos in Texas are pretty far away. Being gone for so long is hard, so we pick and choose during the winter. Then, in the spring and summer we go pretty heavily. That’s generally the game plan, so hopefully it works out for us again.

This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of Barrel Horse News.