By Jack Nowlin
Young bareback riders wandered around behind the bucking chutes at the Junior World Finals presented by Yeti on Friday, either preparing for their ride or pausing to watch other competitors. It was the first day of competition for the rookie bareback division and most of the 20 contestants had a sense of nervous excitement about them.
Milaeh Deaton, meanwhile, sat on the ground, leaning against a fence panel. She waited patiently for her horse to be loaded into the pen while her dad, Cole, provided updates.
“Milaeah, I found your horse,” he said at one point.
Milaeh nodded, but chose to remain where she was rather than go check out the horse herself. After all, the 11-year-old from Gillette, Wyoming, had more pressing things on her mind other than her latest bareback ride.
“I was thinking, ‘After this, I might want to go get some ice cream,’” Milaeh said matter-of-factly. “And I want to go to the Venetian. There’s a few other things I wanted to do.”
Earlier, Milaeah had stood on the stairs behind the chutes watching some of the junior bareback riders compete inside the Wrangler Rodeo Arena. By the time the junior division had finished, outside of a couple re-rides, Milaeh was on the ground thinking of ice cream.
“I don’t like watching my division,” she admitted, “but I like watching the older ones. I don’t like knowing what the horses are going to do. I like having it all come at me at once.”
It’s a mature viewpoint, especially considering Milaeh has only been competing in the event for a year. Add in the fact that she is the only female competing in any of the roughstock events at this year’s Junior World Finals and it’s even more impressive.
But Milaeh’s parents, Brooke and Cole Deaton, have learned not to underestimate their daughter.
“I thought she was crazy when she first told me,” Brooke said. “I said, ‘You want to ride bareback?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, mom. I can do it’
“She always wants to try something once, experience different things and be well-rounded. She said, ‘Mom, this will be a part of being well-rounded.’”
The well-rounded Milaeh is also a gymnast (she missed her home meet to be in Vegas) and competes in pageants.
“I’m a Level 4 competitive gymnast and I’m also a Campbell County pageant queen – Young Miss Princess,” she said. “Next year hopefully Little Miss Wyoming will be open and I can do that.”
No one who knows Milaeh doubts she’ll succeed. After all, she qualified for the Junior World Finals with slightly more than a year of competition under her belt. She won a qualifier in Gillette to advance to the High Plains finals in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, where she punched her ticket to the Junior World Finals.
“I was watching (rodeo on) TV at my aunt and uncle’s cabin and I said, ‘I really want to try that!’” Milaeh recalled of her introduction to bareback. “I really like the adrenaline, it’s like my favorite thing ever. I got on my first horse and I was like, ‘This is so fun!’”
At first, Brooke was hoping Milaeh’s latest passion was a one-and-done affair. Obviously, that proved not to be the case.
“She went out there and gave it a try and I asked her if she was done with it,” Brooke said.” She said, ‘Oh no, now I just have a better idea of what to expect.’ She wanted to keep going from there and she has not stopped. She has worked hard and we are in total support of her.”
As for being the only girl competing in roughstock at most rodeos, Milaeh said it has its benefits.
“Actually it’s really fun,” she said. “At the (High Plains) finals we were all taking our pictures and all the boys were mixed up. So I went over and placed them in order and made sure they smiled. Yeah, I like being the only girl.”
Friday, Milaeh was the final competitor in the rookie bareback division. As her horse entered the alley and was loaded into the chutes, Cole came over to help Milaeh finish preparation for her ride. She stretched as her dad made one final check on her horse.
“I think I was more nervous about her ride than she was,” Cole admitted. “But as long as she’s having fun, I’m having fun.”
Cole and Milaeh went through a final checklist before her ride. He then helped her over the chute and on top of her brown-and-white painted pony. Milaeh worked to get comfortable as she received instructions from her dad and arena officials.
She grabbed the rope with her left hand, laid back and nodded her head. The gate swung open and her horse burst out of the chute. As the horse raced to the middle of the arena. Milaeh started to drift off to the right side but she never lost contact.
The 8-second buzzer sounded and Milaeh remained on top of the horse, her hand caught in the rigging. The pick-up men and pony muggers raced in to free her, but then her left leg got hung up. Apparently, after waiting so long for her ride, Milaeh decided to make it last.
She scored 51 points for her efforts; definitely not the score she was hoping for, but it was enough to place her ninth in the first round.
And how was Milaeh going to celebrate?
“I think I’m going to go get some chocolate ice cream,” she said with a smile.