By Jolee Jordan
Kissimmee, Florida—A year can be a long time to wait.
A year ago, Emily Miller took the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) by storm, taking full advantage of a last minute position to earn more than $15,000.
However, Miller made what she called a “rookie mistake” during the eight round, semi-finals on the final Sunday. Hoping to save her horse for the second run in the finals, Miller didn’t push Pipewrench quite enough and finished fifth, one spot shy of qualifying into the finals with a chance at a National Championship.
With a determination born of frustration, Miller went on a tear across the Prairie Circuit in the months that followed, winning enough to clinch the title in the Prairie Circuit to ensure she would have another chance in Kissimmee.
The RNCFR is the championship event of pro rodeos circuit system, designed with part-time competitors in mind by allowing them a chance to rodeo closer to home and still battling for year-end titles. Born thirty years ago, the RNCFR was invented to offer a national title for those same contestants and only two per circuit qualify to compete.
The RNCFR is a tournament style rodeo with two full rounds determining which of the 26 contestants will compete on the final Sunday in the semi-finals. Eight competitors earn a spot and the final day is two rounds, both sudden death, with the four best from the semi-finals making it to the final round.
Miller earned her spot on Sunday after finishing seventh in the average and picking up a check for fourth in the opening go round.
The semi-finals round kicked off with Ari-Anna Flynn; the Arkansas cowgirl won the Texas Circuit Finals to earn her spot. She set the bar high for the field with a run of 15.29 seconds. California cowgirl Nellie Miller and Sister came next, stopping the clock at 15.55.
Tiany Schuster has set the WPRA on fire in 2017 and she showed exactly why in the eight round. After floating by the first barrel a bit on her first two runs, Schuster got the lanky gelding Show Mance dialed in on the third try and the time reflected the big improvement. Schuster put up a 15.18, the second best run of the rodeo at that time.
New mom Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi came next in the drawn order; the Mountain States Circuit Finals Champ rode her mare Steeley for 15.66 seconds just two weeks after giving birth to her daughter Tinlee. Grandma and Turquoise Circuit champion Lori Todd came next but her 15.67 fell one one-hundredth short of the fourth spot at that point.
Montana Circuit Finals champ Carmel Wright won the RNCFR two years ago in its first appearance here in Florida. She came back with a vengeance aboard her young horse Luna in 2017 but fell short of earning a chance at a second title when the clock showed 15.75 seconds.
Riding her good gelding Pipewrench, so named because of his face markings, Miller followed Wright and hustled through the pattern in 15.51 seconds, good enough for third and guaranteeing her spot in the finals.
The final cowgirl to have a chance to advance to the final round was Badlands Circuit champ Jana Griemsman. Griemsman and her mare Brandy had lit the Silver Spurs Arena on fire on Saturday, winning the second round with a rodeo best 15.09 seconds. Their magical run ended in tragedy, however, as Brandy suffered a catastrophic injury on a major slip in the second turn. Barrel racers and fans everywhere felt their hearts sink as Griemsman pulled the gritty, tough mare to a stop in the alleyway.
There are no words to soothe the hurt of losing such an incredible equine partner but the WPRA sends prayers to the entire Griemsman family on this horrible loss.
With heavy hearts, the four finalists had just about an hour to collect themselves and catch their breath as the rodeo continued on to the finals.
There is plenty of pressure packed on as all monies won here in 2017 count for WPRA World standings, offering a huge chance for advancement to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with a good showing here. In addition, for the ladies of the WPRA, the winner earns a spot in the prestigious and lucrative Calgary Stampede.
With positions drawn once again in the final round, Miller earned the top spot and the chance to try to put the pressure on the field. Seven year old Pipewrench made his way through the pattern flawlessly, posting his fastest time of the rodeo at 15.27 seconds.
Flynn was next aboard Poco Misterio, and the big buckskin made another consistently smooth run for the Arkansas cowgirl. Her time was 15.41 seconds.
Nellie Miller drew third and her roan mare Sister also made another solid run, this time stopping the clock in 15.41 seconds, tying Flynn for second place.
Emily Miller’s dreams hung on one final cowgirl to beat, one of the toughest on the road in 2017 in Schuster. With her big, long legged gelding eating up the ground on the final trip around Silver Spurs, everyone waiting to see what the scoreboard would show. Interestingly, it was another 15.41, leaving Miller as the champion with a three way split of second behind her.
“I actually changed bits and carried a bat today,” Miller explains. “I wanted to make sure I kept the barrels up the first two rounds. Today it's all clean slate so I asked him for everything he had, both runs, and he certainly delivered!
“Last year, I felt like I almost did the opposite and rode more conservative in the semis. With this kind of competition you definitely can't hold back.”
Miller becomes the fourth Prairie Circuit cowgirl to win the RNCFR and third in the last seven years, showing how tough barrel racing on the plains can be. She earned $13,646 along with a new saddle, buckle, boots, Polaris Ranger and $20,000 Ram voucher towards a new vehicle.
Miller came into the RNCFR ranked 50th in the WPRA World standings but the earnings here will bump her up close to the top 15. She’ll give Pipewrench a well earned break and come back for Guymon, Okla., in about a month.
She’s also considering options for the summer; a dental hygienist by trade, Miller works her “real job” four days a week.
“It's nice to just enjoy Pipewrench and running barrels without having to rely on him to pay bills,” Miller noted following the first round in Kissimmee. But having a full time job does make it more difficult to go rodeoing.
“Sounds like we will be headed to Canada for Calgary,” Miller says. “I've never been to Canada so that would be exciting! But nothing is set in stone right now.”
Meanwhile, Schuster didn’t get the title at the end but as she’s done all year, she raked in the dough. She won $19,523 in Florida, more than any other barrel racer and pushed her season total to more than $110,000, extending her World standings lead. For perspective, the regular season earnings record, set just last year by Mary Burger, is $190,977.
Both Flynn and Nellie Miller were already ranked high in the standings and the $14,025 and $6,634 they won respectively will solidify their positions inside the top 10 of the standings. Both Griemsman and Wright will also move up in the standings thanks to their big earnings here; both cowgirls will be pushing the top 10 when the new standings are released on Monday.
Name, Horse, Circuit, Time, Earnings
- Tiany Schuster, Show Mance, Texas, 15.18, $7,581
- Ari-Ann Flynn, Tobys Poco Misterio, Texas, 15.29, $5,686
- Emily Miller, Namgis D 35, Prairie, 15.51, $3,791
- Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, California, 15.55, $1,895
- Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Steele Magnolias, Mountain States, 15.66
- Lori Todd, Wranglers Bedrock, Turquoise, 15.69
- Carmel Wright, Fortunes Last Xtrem, Montana, 15.75
- Jana Griemsman, Chase It With Brandy, Badlands, 16.83
- Miller, 15.27, $7,581
- t-Schuster, 15.41, $3,791
- t-Flynn, 15.41, $3,791
- t-Nellie Miller, 15.41, $3,791
Emily Miller, $13,646
Nellie Miller, $6,634
Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, $3,412
Other Money Winners
Tracy Nowlin, DJG Madison, Prairie, $6,254
Lisa Lockhart, Rosas Cantina CC, Montana, $1,327
Amberleigh Moore, Cp Dark Moon, Columbia River, $948
Calli Van Tassell, Lil Pep of Gold, Wilderness, $948