The process to success is something I think differentiates each and every one of us competing in this sport. For this reason, I have chosen to overlook this topic for some time. Success in the sport means each one of us has a different method to our training and preparation and not any one competitor is better, worse, or more importantly, the same. This topic is something that makes us all unique in our journey for greatness. With that being said, without being too technical, I have decided to go over why we do what we do.

By Nellie Miller with Kolbie Johnson

The Perfect Circle      

My dad has been training horses his whole life. Long before my dad thought about barrel racing, me, or the two combined, he would train each horse how to circle around a barrel as part of the process of getting them broke. So, when I came along and wanted to barrel race, all of our horses already knew how to turn a barrel. We never anticipated Espuela Roan (“Reba”), my high school rodeo horse, or Rebas Smokey Joe (“Blue Duck”) turning into barrel horses. They were meant to be roped on and generally do anything you asked them to do. When I decided to barrel race, it came along very naturally for both the horse as well as myself.

The foundation of our training starts with a perfect circle. In the first 30 days on a horse we expect them to be able to give their head each direction, stop, back up, walk, trot and lope a perfect circle in each direction. This is where my dad’s patience comes in and is how he has started all of our horses. Sounds simple, and it is, but it takes a long time to perfect this first 30 days into an eventual winning barrel run. Each horse has a different personality and a different amount of natural talent, but one constant for us is the foundation.

Particular Expectations

 Both Reba and Blue Duck were 9 years old before I ran barrels on them. “Sister” (Rafter W Minnie Reba) came along faster than the others, but she was 7 before I made a winning run on her. Each and every horse my dad trained has been older before they began making winning runs. There are several reasons for this, and some I don’t even know myself. But long story short, it takes us a long time and a lot of riding to get them broke to our satisfaction. My dad is very critical and spends a lot of hours in the saddle working on each horse. Sometimes people don’t have the patience like my dad has to stick with a difficult horse.

It’s been proven that barrel horses can win at a young age, but personally we don’t feel the pressure to have one winning as a 4- or 5-year-old. Sometimes our horses might not even see a pattern until they are 5. We’re able to wait because we only participate in the rodeo side of the sport and aren’t in the futurity business. It isn’t necessary for us to run a young horse. As much as I would like to hurry the process along, an older horse is just fine, if not better, in a rodeo situation. Goals are particular to meet each individual’s expectation. I really appreciate an older horse’s maturity and development when I start taking them on the road.

I realize I am in a different situation than the majority of barrel racers. I have been fortunate enough to have my dad in my corner as a trainer for both myself and my horses. Although our method might not be identical or even similar to others, I think the most important part about this journey is to never stop learning and ride a lot. Hours in the saddle are never wasted.


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]

Write A Comment