Looking back on my first couple of years of rodeoing, it shocks me at how little I knew about rodeo. I had a great horse and had quite a bit of success in college and around my home circuit, but I was totally unprepared for the “real” rodeo experience. On my first big trip away from home, I received a big education that will stay with me forever. I think about what happened quite often and still have people ask to hear the story, so I thought it would be good to write it down for everyone. This is my rookie story for all of the past, present and future rookies out there. 

When I took off for the Fourth of July, I had some money won from my circuit rodeos, and my horse “Blue Duck” (Rebas Smokey Joe) was coming on strong. I felt great about leaving on the trip and was eager to get out there and see what I could do. I did well over the Fourth of July, placing at a couple big rodeos. I was feeling pretty good about myself when I landed in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the second week of the trip. There are a few runs during my career I will never forget, and the run I made at Colorado Springs is one of them. It was the best run I had ever made up to that point, and I knew the second I crossed the electric timer’s line that I was going to win it. I left that rodeo feeling like a million bucks and just wanted to get to the next one so I could try it again.

We left after the rodeo and drove through the night. When the sun started to peek out early that morning, I woke up to the truck coming to a stop alongside the road. The girl driving said, “There is something sticking out of the window.” When I heard those words, I had that horrible gut feeling that it was not going to be good. When I got out of the truck, I saw that it was my horse’s hind leg sticking out the drop down window with blood all over the side of the trailer. At that moment, I remember thinking it was all over. I was just getting started, and now it was all over. 

There were three of us rookies on the side of a two-lane road and we had to figure out how to get this horse out of the trailer. Looking back on it, I think we did a great job of not panicking. Luckily Blue Duck was in the stud stall and it had an escape door on the back, so we were able to open and slide it out from under his leg.  I will never forget the way that horse acted when we got him out of the trailer. He wanted me to help him so badly and I had no clue what to do. I didn’t even know how to give him a shot of Banamine.  To this day, I feel so guilty about the price that horse had to pay because of my inexperience.

When all of this happened, I was 19 and it was like my world had ended. I thought everything was over at that point. Now when I look back on it, I think how silly I was for thinking that way. Nothing is ever over, it just keeps rolling on and hopefully you figure out how to roll with it. Things definitely could have turned out much worse, and I actually appreciate having that experience because it taught me a lot. Blue Duck and I went on to make the National Finals Rodeo two years later (2010) and had a great career together in spite of that horrible accident.          

I think about that accident a lot. There were a lot of things I could have done different during the course of that trip, but I am never bitter about what happened. You learn from these things or you let them ruin you. All of us have had a rookie year—whether it was good, bad or ugly, they all look different. The one thing every rookie year has in common is that you learn a lot. Mine wasn’t a fairytale, but I like to think my rookie year prepared me for all the great things that happened in the future. There is life after the rookie year, and my rodeo career definitely was not over on the side of a two-lane highway in Utah.


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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