When people think of the rodeo, things that come to mind might include bull riding, carnival games and various fried foods on sticks, but the traditions of today’s rodeos have come a long way from their roots. Rodeos have morphed from lively competitions between 1820s California ranch hands into a collection of unique sporting events that span as far as Canada, Argentina and Australia.
But for rodeo fans who would prefer not to travel should look no further than their doorstep because Sam Houston State University has its own Rodeo Team, Rodeo Club, and pro-turned-teacher, Rodeo Coach Miller.
Edward “Bubba” Miller, as many rodeo athletes do, got his start at a young age.
“Most kids wanted to be pro football players, but not me,” Miller said. “I rodeoed as a kid in Junior Rodeo, then in junior high, high school, at the collegiate level, then moved on to rodeoing professionally.”
He began with bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, but as a pro, he rode mostly bareback because he found joy in the style he excelled in.
Miller forged a successful career for himself, even ranking highest in bareback riding in both the Texas Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the PRCA Copenhagen Champion Bareback Rider 2000.
Established in 1936, the PRCA is the highest-paying rodeo organization in the world, sanctioning rodeos in 37 states and three Canadian provinces. It hosts eight events, like steer wrestling and barrel racing, and offers 10 championship awards. But while rewards are high, every competition comes with its complications.
“The most challenging thing was being gone so much, traveling across the country and being away from family,” Miller said. “When I had my son, that’s when I decided to retire.”
Retire from professional riding, that is. Miller briefly coached high school rodeo before returning to his alma mater here at Sam in 2008, when the coaching position opened. Today he keeps busy with his jobs as a certified farrier, an ordained pastor of Branded for Christ Cowboy Church just north of Huntsville, and of course coaching SHSU rodeo.
As the only rodeo coach at SHSU, Miller divides his time among 80 students and 10 events. In competition under the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA), which acts like the NCAA of rodeo, each event is divided into the men’s’ and women’s’ teams.
“There’s men’s rough stock riding, which includes bareback, saddle bronc…and bull riding, then the timed events are tie-downs, steer roping and steer wrestling,” Miller said. “The women compete in barrel racing, breakaway calf roping and goat tying.”
Without a specific rodeo “season,” Miller and his students train year-round for competitions near and far. Located at the center of the Southern Region of NIRA, the teams don’t travel long distances until advancing to higher competitions. But the time and effort pay off. For the last three years, both teams ranked in the top seven in nationals and were the Region Champs of 2016.
Part of this success is due to the dedication of those involved, but part can be traced back to the diligence placed in recruiting student athletes.
“Currently we have students from across the nation – from 14 different states and Canada,” Miller said. “We look for those who’d be an asset in the classroom and the arena.”
While the rodeo teams are associated with the SHSU Department of Agricultural Science and Engineering Tech, not all students involved are Agriculture majors, but rather span nearly every field of interest.
“[What makes my job worthwhile], besides having the greatest job in the world, is knowing I have the opportunity to influence students in a positive way,” Miller said. “I look for three things in students: success in the classroom, success in the arena, and success as a person, whether that be in clubs or whatever they’re involved in. They have to be driven, determined, and disciplined.”
The Rodeo Team’s next competition will be held on February 24 and 25 at Texas A&M in Kingsville at the Robstown Expo. Center and other events will follow in March and April. A full schedule is posted on the SHSU Rodeo Team’s Facebook page.