2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo: Rafter W Minnie Reba

Courtesy of American Quarter Horse Association
2017 AQHA-PRCA Barrel Horse of the Year gets Nellie Miller a world championship

During the 10-day Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Rafter W Minnie Reba showed why she was voted the 2017 AQHA-Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Barrel Horse of the Year.

When the NFR opened on December 7, Nellie Miller and “Sister” were sitting third in the world standings by a margin of $119,841. Ten days later, they left the Thomas & Mack Center with $177,961 and a world-title gold buckle. The duo also won the average in 137.32 seconds on 10 runs. They won Round 1 to set them on the right track, then placed in six of the next nine rounds. They finish the year with $308,498 in earnings.

“I just have no words,” Nellie said Saturday night after Round 10. “This is just so great for my family. Rodeo is what we do. I mean, this is the biggest event that you can win.”

By “rodeo is what we do,” Nellie doesn’t just mean the competition. Her family – in dad Sam Williams’ name – also breeds and/or trains the horses they and many other barrel racers ride. Take Sister for example. The homebred 2008 blue roan mare is by KS Cash N Fame and out of Espuela Roan by Blue Light Ike. Sam also trained Nellie’s 2010 NFR mount, Rebas Smokey Joe, who is by Mr Bar Truckle and out of the same dam, Espuela Roan, as sister. He answers to “Blue Duck.”

Espuela Roan was a gift from family friend and NFR header Joe Murray back when she was a baby. “Reba” also was Nellie’s barrel and breakaway horse in high school, and brother Wyatt roped calves and team roped on her.

Nellie cracked out Sister, now 9, in late summer 2015. They hit the rodeo trail pretty hard in 2016, and finished 19th in the world.

Sam is a well-known and longtime California cowboy, who breeds, breaks, ropes on and patterns Nellie’s barrel horses. So she and Sister winning Salinas last year after Sam won it heeling for Joe Murray in 1980, and this year winning St. Paul 40 years after Sam won it roping with Tom Flenniken Sr. in 1977, are super special.

“Blue Duck was a real bronc, and Sister just wants to be your buddy,” said Nellie, who is mom to two little girls, Payton, 5, and Hadley, 2, and calls Cottonwood, California, home. “The similarities between them are because my dad trained both of them. Their foundation is the same. Dad does all the hard work, so when I get on them, they already know what to do.”

At 22, Blue Duck helped Nellie’s NFR cause this year when she needed him at some California Circuit rodeos. Blue Duck was such a bronc in his youth that Nellie didn’t swing a leg over him until he was 10. Sister has been a breeze compared to her brother.

“Sister’s best traits are her confidence and consistency,” Nellie said. “The best part of winning this award is that my dad finally gets recognized for all his hard work. When I win, I get the credit. But he has been behind the scenes the whole time, making these horses and coaching me.”

Sam also seems pretty humble about his involvement behind the scenes. Jade Corkill posted this on his Facebook page following Round 10:

“Very Happy for Nellie Williams-Miller! I had her horse at the top of the tunnel and when her Dad came to get her, I told him congratulations and how happy I was for both of them. He said thanks and kind of stared at me for a second and in a shaky voice mumbled “What’d Tiany do?” I said I don’t know but Nellie won it! He stared for real this time and says “The world?” Right then I realized he had no idea about that part. I’d give a lot for Nellie to have been in my spot when that moment hit him. You could see the life long journey turned reality in one blink. Just thought it was too great not to share. Also not too bad for a 47 rodeo count. Congrats again and to all the other champs as well!”