By Neal Reid
Emily Miller Wins Round 1 at First Career Wrangler NFR
People can stop calling Emily Miller a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo rookie.
The 27-year-old from Weatherford, Okla., fought off a first-time qualifier’s nerves and guided her horse, Chongo to a Round 1 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center on Thursday night. Miller and her 9-year-old grey gelding stopped the clock in 13.63 seconds to top the leaderboard by .07 of a second ahead of 13-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Lisa Lockhart and add $26,231 to her 2019 earnings.
Winning Round 1 in her first Finals appearance was a mind-boggling experience for Miller.
“I’m about to cry, I’m so excited, honestly,” Miller said. “It’s a dream come true. Any time you get to run with this caliber of women and this much horsepower, it’s surreal.
“To get the win tonight is pretty neat. You know it’s going to be amazing (to be here), but to actually experience it is unbelievable.”
Miller admitted she was nervous after arriving at the Thomas & Mack Center for the opening round, but a good friend helped calm her down during opening ceremonies.
“I was pretty nervous tonight in the parking lot and just getting ready, but the grand entry was great for me, honestly,” said Miller, who moved from seventh to fourth place in the WPRA World Standings with $134,376 thanks to the win. “I’m good friends with Ivy Conrado-Saebens, and she was right next to me during grand entry. She said, ‘All right, are you ready for this?’ It was a ton of fun, settled my nerves and reminded me this is just another rodeo.”
Miller was all smiles talking about her talented horse, whose registered name is Namgis D 33.
“Chongo, he’s spectacular,” said Miller, who won a RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo title in 2017. “That horse is such an athlete. Honestly, I struggled with him for a long time, because he was so athletic. I was over-riding him and not giving him the space he needed to do his job, so it took us a little while.
“I took him back to Kylie Weast, who trained him, and she helped a lot. It kind of took just dumbing it down and letting him do his job. He knows what to do, and I’m so proud of him. It’s so neat to get to bring him here, because he deserves it.”
Lockhart’s runner-up finish in Round 1 put $20,731 in her pocket and catapulted her to the top of the world standings list with $177,082. The two-time Wrangler NFR average champ was riding her 8-year-old black gelding, Cutter, for the first time at the Thomas & Mack Center and will take a $1,472 lead over regular-season money leader Nellie Miller into Round 2 after Miller finished fourth in 13.90 seconds.
Stevi Hillman finished third in the opening round in 13.75 seconds, while reigning World Champion Hailey Kinsel settled for a time of 18.66 seconds after knocking over a barrel and heads into Round 2 in third place in the world standings with $158,867.
Emily Miller, who works as a dental hygienist when she’s not running barrels, is riding a wave of confidence heading into the second round on Friday night.
“You want to just get by the first round, and that’s always been my mentality,” she said. “To get the win tonight, gosh, we’re off to a good start. It’s exciting, and I just need to keep doing what I did tonight.”