CHEYENNE – A year ago, Nellie Miller made the near 1,000-mile trip from Calgary, Alberta, to Cheyenne. A few days later, Miller won the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo barrel racing title.
She kept the same schedule this summer, save for a slight twist. She won’t mind the extra miles after Friday’s first slack performance of the 123rd annual “Daddy of ’em All.”
On the final ride of the day, Miller posted a 17.44-second ride on her horse, Sister, to take the go-round lead at Frontier Park Arena, clipping Kristy Maxwell by five 100ths of a second. The first round concludes Monday.
Miller entered Friday’s go-round with little to no practice time with Sister. Thus, the Cottonwood, California, native was somewhat concerned. It didn’t take long for those concerns to disappear.
Sister prefers the bigger setup Cheyenne offers.
“It’s a long ways from the gate to the first barrel, but Sister really likes to get going strong,” the 31-year-old Miller said. “She really thrives on setups like that, where she has to run a long ways. Sister always seems to thrive.
“There’s 140 girls here, and they’re all really great horses.”
So far, so good for the reigning CFD champion.
For most of the four hours it took to complete Friday’s go-round, Maxwell was in the lead.
But the 28-year-old had a scare of her own. As Maxwell woke up and went to go feed her horse, Buttons, she noticed blood dripping from her horse’s mouth. Buttons had been kicked in the mouth.
“She has a chunk (missing) out of her mouth,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell taped up Buttons’ mouth and made sure her horse was as comfortable as possible. Then came time for warm-ups.
“I was actually a little worried. She was really hyper warming up,” said Maxwell, who added her horse runs better when she is calm.
No matter, Buttons was up to the challenge and clocked in at 17.49 to finish second in the go-round. The duo might have gotten a boost as the arena was raked just before her run, which offered a smooth surface to run on.
“Her run felt really good,” Maxwell said.
Not a bad run for Maxwell’s first time competing in Cheyenne.
“She does better when the barrels are in the middle of the arena,” Maxwell said. “She’s a real steady mare.”
It’s been a rewarding summer thus far for Maxwell and her 8-year-old mare. It could end up being an even better one next week.
“I’ve felt like we’ve been on a lot of dirt-roading,” Maxwell said with a smile, “but maybe it’s all coming together.”
Halyn Lide of Stephenville, Texas, placed third after recording a ride of 17.55 seconds. Ryan Pedone of Decatur, Texas, took fourth (17.56.5); Meka Farr or Honeyville, Utah, finished fifth (17.60); and Kortney Kizer of Pep, New Mexico, ended up sixth (17.63).
Destri Devenport is no stranger to CFD. She competed in 2011 and 2013 before riding for charity horses the next three years. She returned to the Capital City on Friday, and the Escondido, California, cowgirl made a lasting impression on the rest of the field.
Atop of 12-year-old Buddy Rose, Devenport’s 17.73-second ride put her in a three-way tie for seventh place. When she first observed the arena, Devenport noticed the ground was pretty wet. She was slightly concerned.
“I was 11th on the ground, so I was just nervous,” the 28-year-old said. “But I was really happy with my horse. He handled the ground well, and he really made a good run.”
Devenport also had to get her horse comfortable in a much bigger arena than normal. Buddy Rose is from Mississippi, which features a number of smaller arenas.
“So, to come run in a big arena, he’s a real working horse,” Devenport said. “He really wants to turn, and I usually don’t have any trouble with him not wanting to turn, but it is always in the back of your mind that he’s never been here (or) felt this ground. It was just kind of how I needed to prepare to help him set up and be able to work like how I know he can.”
Work, he did. And Davenport felt nothing but pride as she crossed the finish line.
Sydney Frey didn’t let her age fool anyone. The 20-year-old just ran her race aboard her horse, Jax.
“I was pretty nervous, but I was trying to stay calm,” the Duncan, Oklahoma, native said. “It’s three barrels, so I’ve done that before. It’s a big arena.”
True. But she and Jax turned in an impressive run, finishing 12th in 17.77 seconds. Not bad for her first time competing at CFD.
“The first barrel’s pretty tough, so I set up my horse for my first barrel, and you have to get pretty far up in the arena, because it’s so far up there,” Frey said. “I hauled him back and let him run his race, and then just ride to the second and third (barrels) as hard as I can.”
Elaine Hollings was in a bind early when her horse, Fly, slipped coming out of the first barrel. But the Pavillion, Wyoming, native recovered and made up some time along the way to finish in a three-way tie for 25th in 17.91.
“I just hustled on, and he went,” Hollings said. “He handles ground pretty good.”
The 68-year-old Hollings is one the oldest athletes competing at CFD. No matter what time she posts, she leaves the arena with a smile from ear to ear.
“I’m just blessed to get to be here,” Hollings said. “He likes running here, and he’s done pretty good here before. I’m just happy that I have a time that’s respectable, and hopefully it’ll get me some money.”
Tyler Poslosky is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.