As the temperatures warmed in Greeley, Colorado, the 2020 home for the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, so did WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller and her horse Sister. Greeley saw snow on Tuesday and Wednesday (Sept. 8 and 9) prior to the start of the rescheduled RNCFR on Thursday, September 10. On opening night the low dropped to 38 degrees, but warmed to a high of 85 on Sunday, September 13 as the event came to a close.
Miller, of Cottonwood, California, has qualified for the RNCFR five times during her illustrious career, but this was the first time she took home the national title. It was a highlight for the cowgirl on what otherwise has been a tough year with the rodeos she normally competes at being cancelled due to COVID-19. Miller who is currently ranked 48th in the world standings will not be competing this year at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which will not be taking place in Arlington, Texas, so a win at the RNCFR is a great consolation prize.
“This pen here in Greeley really fit her being wide open,” said Miller, a mother of two, when talking about her 2017 AQHA Horse of the Year following her victory lap. “The ground was good and consistent all week long and this was really the first arena this year that fit Sister I am grateful to get the win today.”
Miller and Sister set the bar on opening night with a run of 17.28 seconds, which would eventually land the pair in third place in the first round which was won by soon to be first time Wrangler NFR qualifier Jimmie Smith in a time of 17.17 seconds followed by Prairie Circuit contender Michelle Darling in a time of 17.25.
It got even faster in the second round with Wrangler NFR qualifier Jessica Routier from the Badlands Circuit stopping the clock in 17.16 seconds to win the second round. Mountain States Circuit cowgirl and former Wrangler NFR qualifier Kelly Yates would finish second in that round in a time of 17.30 seconds. Miller and Sister finished sixth in the round in a time of 17.44 seconds.
Routier won the average in a time of 34.55 seconds on two runs with Smith right on their heels in 34.56 seconds. Miller tied for third with Canadian Brooke Wills in a total time of 34.72 seconds to advance to the semifinals.
The semifinals featured the top eight in the average and the slate was wiped clean. Miller and Sister made their presence known stopping the clock in 17.11 seconds, the fastest run of the weekend on what also proved to be the warmest day of the competition. The duo easily cruised into the final round and were joined by Jimmie Smith, Shali Lord and Jessica Routier.
Smith aboard Lena On the Rocks, an 11-year old palomino mare she calls Lena, was the first on the cloverleaf pattern in the final round but a downed third barrel would cost them any chance at the title finishing in a time of 22.51 seconds.
Lord, representing the Mountain States Circuit and very familiar with the Greeley arena having finished co-champion at the Greeley Independence Day Stampede in 2019, would set the bar in the final round stopping the clock in 17.43 seconds aboard the 11-year old stallion Freckles Ta Fame better known as Can Man. Routier and her 9-year old palomino mare Fiery Miss West “Missy” was hoping to duplicate their magic from the second round in Greeley but it wasn’t meant to be and they stopped the clock in 17.60 seconds.
Miller knew that her 12 year old roan mare registered as Rafter W Minnie Reba loves wide open pens and normally gets stronger with each run she makes in a given set-up and was hoping Sister had one more good run in her for the day. Sister didn’t disappoint her jockey turning in yet another flawless run and stopping the clock in 17.19 seconds.
“Sister gets stronger and stronger with each run and she performed so well for me today,” said Miller following the win. “I couldn’t have asked for any more from her. She is truly part of our family.”
Miller not only picked up $13,355 in cold hard cash but also a beautiful Montana Silversmiths belt buckle to go with her gold buckle, a $20,000 RAM voucher, a new Polaris Ranger, a Cactus saddle, a pair of Justin Boots and an Otterbox cooler. Unfortunately for Miller, the money won at the RNCFR didn’t count toward world standings in 2020.
A full recap of Miller’s first career RNCFR title will be in the October issue of the WPRA News, which will be available at www.wpra.com the first part of October.