On The Trail with Nellie Miller

by Siri Stevens

Annelle (Nellie) Miller gets home as often as she can. “This year I didn’t have to travel near as much,” said the mother of two. “We had a pretty good start in the winter so we could pick and choose where we wanted to go.” Nellie has fit motherhood into her NFR run perfectly. “They travel with me most of the time.” That family includes James Miller, General Manager of Red Bluff Roundup, and their two daughters; Payton is 6 and Hadley is 3. “Since they aren’t in school yet, they can go with me. My parents are a huge factor in this too – her dad, Sam Williams, trains her horses, and her mom, Roxy often goes down the road to help with the girls. She has two brothers, Clint and Wyatt.

Accepting her buckle at the 2017 WNFR - Hubbell
At the CNFR, 2007, riding Blue Duck, the first of two years winning the region with her UNLV team, where she was regional champion as well as Rookie of the Year - Hubbell

She competes on her horse, Sister, a 10-year-old blue roan mare, Sire: KS Cash N Fame/Dam: Espuela Roan. “I have so much confidence in her,” said the 30-year-old who is making her third appearance to the Thomas and Mack arena this December, with career earnings of $533,276. The duo won Cheyenne Frontier Days in spite of a run around the barrels in the hail. “I knew she was going to work no matter what. My main plan was to push her through that hail – my cowboy hat helped block it a little bit and luckily it wasn’t too big. We definitely felt it – honestly I don’t remember much about it, I was just trying to get through it.” Back home in California now, Nellie is doing mom stuff. “I’m riding a few horses and I’ll go to the Circuit Finals, but until December, I’m home. “ The road to her third WNFR qualification started when she was a little girl.
Nellie started riding about the age of ten. Roxy took it upon herself to take her daughter to some gymkhanas and once she started, the whole family pitched in. Sam is a self-taught horse trainer. “I’ve had a few mentors along the way; Tom Johnson, Bob Nelson and his wife, and I picked up a little bit from everybody, learning where I could from anybody.” Sam breaks all the horses they use on the ranch and roping trail. “I rope and my boy ropes too. Nellie started out roping and the barrels just happened,” he said. “You have great hopes for all of the horses you ride, but until you put them on the clock, you never know. Sister was a real good mare to break and ride – real confident. I was tying cattle out in the field when she was four – very willing and not afraid. To run at the PRCA level, you have to have a horse that can do anything. She tries hard every time. So does Nellie – she doesn’t weaken an ounce.”

Nellie rodeoed through high school, competing in team roping, barrel racing, breakaway roping, pole bending and goat tying, although goat tying was her least favorite event. She made the high school finals in barrel racing all four years, but only traveled to it three times. “My last year it was in Springfield, way far away, and the horse I was on was a real good horse at state level, but not at a national level, so we decided not to go. Her parents, Parents are Sam and Roxy Williams and brothers are Clint and Wyatt…Father Sam trained her horse Blue Duck which was a homegrown horse and started out as Sam’s roping horse.”
Nellie went on to college rodeo at UNLV in Las Vegas, winning the region and second at the CNFR. “I never made it in the roping, just barrels.” She had a great horse in Blue Duck AKA Rebas Smokey Joe (Registered name), half brother to Sister, and made the decision to start rodeing professionally on him. She filled her permit on 2008, but Blue Duck got hurt midyear and they went home. “He came back the following year and did OK and in 2010 we made the NFR.” Nellie has no words to describe her first trip to Vegas. “You never know until you experience it for yourself. It was a real learning experience. We struggled that week. We didn’t know what to expect.” The duo won second in the first round, and after that they were one out of the money every night for five or six nights, and then it went downhill.

Nellie at age 5 on her pony Snowball
Nellie, Payton and Hadley with their Junk Gypsy
Nellie competing at the High School Finals 2004, riding Reba, the mother to Sister and Blue Duck - JenningsRodeoPhotography.com

The bright spot in that year is she met James Miller, who worked for one of her sponsors. They got married one year later in Las Vegas. Payton was born in 2012 and they moved to California in 2013 for the position that James accepted as GM for Red Bluff RoundUp. Hadley was born and Blue Duck was getting older and Nellie was starting to work with Sister, but she wasn’t quite ready for life on the road. “She had a lot of potential and had what it took to be a rodeo horse, so when she came on, we hit the trail.”
The family lives in Cottonwood, California, two hours from the Oregon border. The small town has a lot of team ropers and barrel racers, but it’s not the California that people generally think of. “It’s rural and ranching.” Nellie was raised there, but James made the trip across the country from his home state of Florida. “I kind of joke about James – he hit California and had more friends than I did – and I lived here my whole life. He’s got a lot to do with the community and the town and it’s fun to be a part of all that.”
Both girls have ponies and they are already talking about barrel racing. For now, Nellie and Sister are at home making sure they are legged up for Vegas. “We raised Sister and have a whole family of horses related to her – I’ve been running her since she was six, and she’s consistent and always fires. She’s special!” Nellie’s secret to being on the road is simple. “I just try to do my own thing and if it works out that I win great and if not, that’s the way it goes. I don’t get wrapped up in beating anyone.”

Rounding the barrel at the 2017 WNFR – Steven Gray

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