For The Love Of Horses: Dedicated Practice Takes St. John Cowgirl To All-Around Junior High School Rodeo Title


“She’s out roping now.”

Doesn’t matter it was mid-morning Friday, whereabouts of McKayla Miller is generally the same.

The 13-year-old practices roping every day unless she’s competing at a rodeo. Then, the St. John cowgirl can still most likely be seen throwing some loops at the calf dummy.

That is unless the energetic talented athlete is getting ready for another rodeo event. She competes in five events of the Kansas Junior High School Rodeo Association (KJHSRA).

All of this hard work and dedication paid off as McKayla was recently crowned the KJHRA all-around cowgirl.

Competing in seven rodeos throughout the past season, the title was presented at conclusion of the KJHRA Finals in Dodge City.

Obviously, McKayla’s not reserve when it comes to competition, but she’s a bit shy talking about accomplishments.

However, McKayla was first in barrel racing, second in both ribbon roping and goat tying, and third in breakaway roping.  Points were also collected in team roping.

Those high placings qualify her to compete at the National Junior High School Rodeo Association Finals in Huron, South Dakota, June 24-30.

Besides all of that practice time, McKayla readily credits other important ingredients to her arena successes.

“I have the best coaches anybody could have, my dad Mark and my mom Denise” she insisted.

Mark Miller is a horse trainer and top roper, while Denise teaches Kindergarten and is a champion barrel racer.

To be a winner in such tough caliber youth competition requires outstanding horse power, too. “I’m really fortunate to have a great horse,” McKayla admitted.

“Mom gave me her 12-year-old sorrel gelding Willie to run barrels, and he’s really fast,” the cowgirl credited.

It’s especially pleasing to Denise that Willy is a Miller family success story. “We started him, and have done all of his training,” Mom said.

Semblance of his rider the 12-year-old sorrel Paint gelding Hildago “does it all,” but McKayla rides him specifically in goat tying. “I also rope on Hildago, but my eight-year-old bay called Tadpole is my main breakaway horse,” the champion said.

Riding ever since a toddler, McKayla has been competing in rodeos since she was six-years-old.

Honored in 2017 as the KJHSRA Rookie of the Year, McKayla also qualified and competed successfully in three events at last year’s national junior high finals.

She’s anticipating this month’s national competition. “By practicing hard plus great coaches and horses, I hope to be top five in all of my events this time,” McKayla said.

Just how much time is spent practicing? Mom Denise confirmed, “She practices a lot, that’s for sure.”

The champion calculated, “We have six calves and I run them each two times on two different horses about every day.”

While they may not run that many steers, team roping practice is also on the daily schedule. “I’ll usually head for my dad here at home,” McKayla said.

Goats must be tied, too, and that’s generally done from the ground. “I don’t practice dismounting from my horse as much as I work on throwing and tying the goat,” McKayla admitted.

Practice isn’t necessary for the seasoned barrel horse, Willie, but daily riding exercise regime keeps him in top physical condition.

Now, this all sounds quite demanding for a five-foot-eight teenage girl who’ll just enter the eighth grade this fall. But, fact is that’s just the half of it.

McKayla is also a basketball player, a top notch point guard for her team in a regional teenage girls’ conference.

That requires practice and game time fit into an already tight schedule. “We had games over the weekend and practice was 6:30 this morning,” McKayla tallied.

“Sometimes I have a hard time getting out to the arena after that,” she softly admitted.

In reality, being an outstanding competitor in two sports sometimes creates a conflict.

“I really like rodeo and basketball, but it might be hard to do both in high school,” McKayla said. “I really haven’t put too much thought into it.”

Certainly, Mom assured, “McKayla is serious about competing, and we’re especially pleased that she also does quite well academically.”

Of course, McKayla will always have plenty of jackpot barrel racing and roping events to enter as well as amateur rodeo circuits. College plans and career are just too far out to consider much yet.

Until then, practice in the arena and on the court continues for the all-around champion that McKayla Miller definitely is.

Her 11-year-old brother Mace has competed successfully in rodeos, but these days is more interested in hunting and football.

Reserve KJHSRA all-around cowgirl was Kiley Slavin. Trey Adams was the all-around cowboy, and Mason Stueve the reserve. Rookies of the Year are Addie Weil and Wyatt Wikum.




By Frank J. Buchman


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