Meet Nomi Milmaster, 11-year-old rodeo sensation
SportsBarrels and poles

Meet Nomi Milmaster, 11-year-old rodeo sensation

Jewish preteen is champion horseback rider and racer

Nomi Milmaster (Photo by Howling Wolf Phototgraphy via Joy Braunstein)
Nomi Milmaster (Photo by Howling Wolf Phototgraphy via Joy Braunstein)

Speeding around barrels and weaving through poles, 11-year-old Nomi Milmaster became a champion horseback rider and racer with the Western Pennsylvania Youth Rodeo.

Nomi has been horseback riding nearly her whole life, according to her mother, Joy Braunstein.
“As soon as she could sit up, she was on a horse,” Braunstein said. “She was probably riding independently by the time she was 3 or 4.”

Nomi’s rodeo career kicked off with barrel racing, a speed event in which the horse and rider run a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels.

“When she was little, we started going to watch shows, and she actually decided she wanted to ride on her own,” Braunstein said. “She figured out that she would really like to try barrel racing.”

Since then, the Jewish preteen has excelled at the event and also became experienced in pole bending, another timed event in which the horse and rider weave around six poles set in a line.

Decked in head-to-toe rodeo attire, including a Western-style hat and pointed cowboy boots, Nomi has earned a plethora of saddles, buckles and prize money for her successes.

Nomi trains up to seven days a week, traveling from Squirrel Hill to the family farm in Apollo, Pennsylvania, to practice with her two racing horses, Sadie and Dakota. She completes a series of drills to strengthen her skills, as well as the skills of the horse.

Through her training, she has become a top racer in the area for barrel racing and pole bending, and she has even tried her hand in other events, like goat tying, where a competitor rides to a goat, dismounts and ties the goat’s legs together as quickly as they can.

While Nomi’s training helps build the skills for competing in events, Braunstein said that success in rodeo is dependent upon more than the athlete. The horse’s capabilities, in areas like speed and balance, also play a significant role in the outcome of a competition.

“Nomi has two horses that she specifically takes to rodeo, largely because they know the sport and also because the ground at rodeo isn’t necessarily always the best,” Braunstein said. “Those horses are chosen because they’ve proven that they will hold up and stand up on any ground and take care of themselves, whereas other horses might slip, slide and fall down.”

Braunstein acknowledged that life as a rodeo competitor can be intense, requiring serious athleticism and concentration.

“I think it’s truly just like any other youth sport,” Braunstein said. “You get into an elite level, and it is all-encompassing. Nomi and I are in the middle of a conversation about what her goals are for the next year and what events she wants to go to.”

Two years ago, Nomi faced a setback in her rodeo career when she was in an accident during a competition. Nomi reached down to adjust the bridle on her horse when she was caught and dragged across the lot by a passing horse, her mother said. Nomi was left with serious injuries in her arms and a long recovery.

“It was almost a full year before she was riding as aggressively as she had been before,” Braunstein said. “That was a big hit because she was young, and she was probably in the top 10% of athletes her age at the time.”

But despite the accident, Nomi continues to make waves in the Western Pennsylvania rodeo community, frequently winning events in her age group. Braunstein said that throughout the season, the organization keeps a point system to track the athletes’ wins to determine the highest ranking for the season.

“For this rodeo year in her age division she won the season in barrel and she won the season in poles,” Braunstein said.

Nomi recently finished her term as rodeo princess, passing along her sash and crown as the 2024 season ended. In the role, presented by the Western Pennsylvania Youth Rodeo, Nomi represented the organization at events, helped raise money for the end-of-season “cowboy prom” and led her age group at the rodeo’s grand entry ceremony. PJC

Kathleen Gianni can be reached at

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