A Real Life Cowboy Amongst Us

Last Updated 3/7/2024In Inspring Iredell

By Alexis Mason

In the northern half of the county resides one of the many real life cowboys that calls Iredell home. With an affinity for sports and a stellar work ethic, Eli Miller has already appeared on national television twice while competing in PBR events. At only 23 years old, Miller’s success comes with a hunger for excellence that he no doubt takes pride in.

As a young man, Eli Miller has always had an affinity for competition, something many athletes can relate to. In 2004, a connection from a member of his home church ignited a flame within him that grew into a career. That October Miller rode his first calf at a small local rodeo not far from his home. “My parents didn’t really expect me to do very well. They thought that I would fall off and be done. I did fall off, but I immediately asked to get back on to try it again,” shared Miller.

The fact that Miller is a first generation rider is something interesting to note. His father has always had a fascination with rodeo, exposing Miller to televised events and Miller's favorite childhood movie - 8 Seconds. Miller added, “As a kid we would always watch the PBR on TV. We were knowledgeable about the sport, but no one in our family had ever actually done it." He also explained that as a child, his family frequently spent time in places like Love Valley and Olin Creek where Miller enjoyed observing cattle.

Learning the Ropes

Miller slowly became more intrigued by all of the challenges bull riding had to offer. His father figured out the technical riding side of the sport after doing endless amounts of research in order to coach Miller. The pair were able to secure a bull riding simulator to place in their front yard to begin training. Local cattle owners also began to allow Miller to stop by and practice on live bulls. One summer, while at a training facility in Mooresville, Miller became close friends with two time PBR world champion, J.B. Mauney; also a product of Iredell county.

“My dad does the research and helps me with the riding aspect of things,” Miller states. “J.B. helps me with the mental side of riding. He makes me want to be better and we get along because he doesn’t sugar coat things.” Miller also expressed that Mauney shares a similar competitive nature that he can easily relate to and respect.

One may wonder what kind of wear and tear bull riding can have on the body. It truly is a dangerous sport, and it ultimately takes a particular mindset to be brave enough to ride. “You can’t think about it. You have to be a cowboy. You have to forget the pain and ride,” Miller said. Regardless of his mindset, Miller has suffered multiple injuries while riding. He has suffered a broken collar bone, a broken leg, a broken tailbone, a stretched ACL, separated ribs, and experiences pain in his hips.

The Path to Success

Through his injuries, Miller has also experienced success. In 2013 and 2014 Miller claimed the National Junior Bull Riders NC State Champion title, in 2015 he earned the North Carolina High School Rodeo Association State Champion title, in 2016 he was the Southern Rodeo Association Bull Riding Champion, in 2018 he was the Wheeling WV PBR Velocity Tour Champion, and in both 2018 and 2019 he secured a spot as a PBR Velocity Tour Finals qualifier. “The ultimate goal is always the same, to one day become the world champion,” Miller explained. “My current goal is to get on tour and stay on tour.”

For Miller the path to success is consistent with a strong mental attitude and plenty of training. According to Miller, he spends at least an hour everyday on the bucking machine located at his home where he is able to simulate riding a live bull. He also relies on local community members that allow him to practice bucking live bulls. Miller stated, “I’m not scared to get on any bull. I want to practice as much as my body lets me.”

The bulls that are ridden in the PBR are athletes just like the riders themselves. They suffer injuries, such as horn infections, that can put them out of commission during their careers. Also, the bulls become rather famous among the circuit for their unique bucking style, their demeanor, and their reputation. Many bull riders often look forward to their chance to ride some of the more popular bulls. “The bulls used in the PBR are bred at a high level. I would love to ride the bull, Bruiser, mostly because he’s got a reputation and nobody knows how much longer he’ll be around,” Miller included.

The PBR circuit allows their athletes to travel across the country to compete. Miller is one of the many athletes who have been all over the country to compete. Even after so much travel, Miller is adamant that he will always remain an Iredell County native. Miller concluded, “I’ve been across the country. I’ve been everywhere, but there is nothing like being home, and Iredell County is definitely home because it’s where my family is.”

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