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Plum girl turns surgery rehab into championship run as barrel racer

| Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

When she was younger, it may have seemed unlikely that Makayla Miller would be able to enjoy the thrill of athletic competition. Now, she excels as a barrel racer, and plans on making it a lifelong pursuit.

Makayla, 12, an O'Block Junior High student, was born with a physical condition that caused her to walk high on her toes.

Toe-walking, as it is commonly called, threatened to keep her from an active life.

With the help of her parents, her doctors and a quarter horse named Luna, however, she beat the odds. Today she and Luna are training for the nationals in barrel-racing competition.

In third-grade, Makayla went through a medical procedure to address the condition. Her legs were put in casts, then braces, for more than half a year.

“Sometimes it was painful. Sometimes it was just bad,” Makayla said.

When the braces came off, doctors suggested she get active to strengthen her leg muscles. She had two options, according to experts: swimming or horseback riding.

Makayla, who had always loved horses, was thrilled at the opportunity.

“She had wanted a horse since she could say the word,” said her father, Bill Miller.

For her eighth-birthday, her parents bought Makayla a pony. The gift proved to be one that changed Makayla's life.

Within a few years, her body and ambitions outgrew the pony. She paired up with her current horse, Luna.

Together, the two took on barrel racing, which pits riders against one another to compete to see who can maneuver around barrels fastest.

Since then, she has trained at the Washington Township-based Victory Stables. Luna is also boarded there.

Makayla began competing with the International Barrel Racing Association last year. She emerged as the IBRA Youth Division 2D Reserved Champion champion.

Now in her second year of competition, Makayla has qualifed for the IBRA national finals in Cloverdale, Ind., Sept. 29 through Oct. 4.

There, she will compete against riders of all ages.

She plans to make horseback riding a lifelong pursuit. She plans to compete through high school and college. She aspires to become an equine veterinary technician.

Makayla already teaches fellow riders at Victory Stables.

The efforts of Makayla and Luna have caught the eye of fellow competitors.

She's beat out those older and with more experience. An adult barrel racer, who Makayla tied in a competition, still can't believe it.

“He to this day gets razzed by his buddies because he couldn't beat an 11-year old,” Bill Miller said.

Beth Miller credits Makayla's success to her determination, and also those who have taught her daughter how to barrel race.

“If it wasn't for Victory Stables, she wouldn't be where she is today,” she said.

Makayla has also had support from people such as her grandfather, George Ruby, and farrier Erik Mitcheltree.

The former has helped with costs. The latter, has provided his services for free.

Makayla credits her parents for their dedication to her pursuit.

“I love it,” she said. “I'm so thankful. I'm really thankful that they're supportive.”

There's one more deserving accolades for making Makayla's pursuit a success — Luna.

Together, she said, they have grown. Luna was only 3 when the Millers bought her. In the course of a year, she and Makayla, both added several inches to their height.

Their bond has grown to the point that, when Makayla on a rare day is not feeling well, the quarter horse knows and performs differently.

“If I'm having a bad day, she motivates me,” Makayla said. “She brightens my day.

Julie E. Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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