By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (Aug. 14, 2017) – Hannah Miller ’14 made her way back to the grandstand in Naples, Italy, after checking off another completed amateur harness racing event when to her surprise, the Springfield, Illinois, native heard someone shouting her name.
The interdisciplinary studies alumna turned to find two young girls eagerly waiting to talk to her. The older of the two explained that her younger sister followed all of Miller’s races and wanted to be just like her when she grew up.
“I almost got teary-eyed. This is what I do it for,” Miller said. “When I started racing, I didn’t realize that girls hadn’t really won Amateur Driver of the Year or competed overseas for the United States. If people can see a girl getting out there and doing it, I hope I can inspire at least one person.”
Harness racing is a form of horse racing in which the horses race at a specific gait (a trot or a pace). They usually pull a two-wheeled cart called a sulky where the driver – in this case, Miller – sits.
It’s a male dominated sport, which is part of what makes the 25-year-old remarkable. More so, she’s just really good at what she does.
Miller became the first woman to earn National Amateur Driver of the Year in 2015 after setting the amateur racing record for victories in a single season (32). She matched that record in 2016 and was chosen to represent the United States last September in the amateur World Cup in Budapest, Hungary, again becoming the first female to earn the opportunity.
She finished runner-up by a point, marking the best performance ever by a U.S. competitor in the international event.
“I barely race against any other girls. Sometimes I get comments from people who think ‘maybe she can’t handle a horse.’ I have had to prove myself, which I think I’ve done now, and people realize I can,” she said.
As Miller tells it, as soon as she came out of the womb she was at the barn or racetrack. She is the daughter of Erv Miller, a renowned horse trainer, and sister of professional driver Marcus Miller. Her aunt and uncle own a stable as does her boyfriend, where she works at from time to time.
Her parents used to skip Illinois winters to train horses outside of Orlando, so when Miller graduated from high school, she was thrilled she was accepted into her “dream school,” UCF, where she could pursue her bachelor’s degree while still train on her family’s horses.
“I had such an amazing experience at UCF. Any time I can talk about it, I do,” she said. “It’s just a great school, and I am proud to say I am a UCF Knight.”
Now, she is stationed in Jackson, New Jersey, and spends her time racing three to four events a week. Races are typically a mile long and involve 10 horses and drivers who reach speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour.
“When I’m in a race, there’s a horse breathing down my neck, there’s a horse to the outside and I’m surrounded the entire time by horses,” she said. “You have to make split second decisions. It’s dangerous. You have to be on high alert, look for things that could go wrong.”
She often rides horses that her family and she own, and thanks to her success, she gets more and more offers to ride horses owned by others in the racing world.
A couple years ago a friend nicknamed Miller “Hurricane Hannah,” and it seems to suit her. She is a force with no intention of letting up.
She has her sights set on breaking her single season record and wants another shot to compete at the World Cup.
“I love what I do and I love the horses. The adrenaline rush I get on the track, I’ve never had before,” she said. “It happens every time I race.”