Horse hero

Staff Writer
Hays Daily News
Nitro (the gray gelding to the right) carried cowboy Blair Jones to a co-championship at the 2019 Phillipsburg Rodeo. The horse, owned by Dru Melvin, will be back to carry more steer wrestlers during the 2020 Phillipsburg rodeo, to be held July 30-August 1.

PHILLIPSBURG – One of the champions from last year’s Phillipsburg rodeo will be back to defend his title.

But this champion doesn’t have two legs, he has four ..…and a mane and a tail.

Nitro, a gray steer wrestling horse owned by Dru Melvin, was the horse that carried Blair Jones to a tie for the steer wrestling title at the 2019 Kansas Biggest Rodeo.

Last year, Jones, of Colby, turfed his steer in 3.6 seconds to split first place with Dennell Henderson.

It was the second time for Nitro, who weighs 1,300 pounds and stands 15.1 hands, to compete in Phillipsburg. He’d been there with Melvin in 2018, as well.

Steer wrestlers often share horses, and last year, Laine Herl, Goodland, Kan., also won money in Phillipsburg, riding Nitro, tying for seventh place. Richard Coats and Melvin rode Nitro in Phillipsburg.

The horse, who was born in Montana, was purchased from Linn and Trula Churchill of Valentine, Neb. Churchill, a former National Finals Rodeo qualifier, as is Melvin, let Melvin use the horse for practice. Melvin traveled with Nitro as a backup horse. But it wasn’t long till he realized Nitro had it in him to be his primary horse.

Last year, Melvin was traveling with Jones, Herl and Coats, when Jones’ horse had a suspensory issue and was out for six months. Jones asked Melvin if he could ride Nitro, and Melvin agreed. In the sport of rodeo, and especially in the steer wrestling, cowboys often share horses, with mount money paid to the owner if a cowboy wins riding a horse he doesn’t own.

Sometimes the high-performing horses have quirks, and Nitro has a few, but not many, Melvin said. The horse doesn’t like lots of attention. “He’s not one that wants you to walk up to him and pet him on the head. He wants to be loved, but doesn’t want to be loved on. He’s a little standoffish.” But the horse has a huge heart. “He’s going to give you his all, every chance he gets. He can run, he’s fast, and he’s tough.”

Last year, Jones did well the first weekend of August, winning over $6,000 while steer wrestling on Nitro in Phillipsburg, Abilene and Dodge City.

Having a horse like Nitro makes a steer wrestler’s job easy, Melvin said. In the steer wrestling, there are five “minds” to factor in: the steer wrestler, his hazer, their horses, and the steer. “So many things can go wrong, that if you can take your horse out of the equation and know he’ll do well, all you have to do is worry about what you can control, yourself. If you mess up, it’s on you and nobody else.”

Nitro isn’t registered by the American Quarter Horse Association, meaning he’s a “grade” horse. Because of that, he’s not eligible for the AQHA Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year award, but that doesn’t matter to Melvin. “As long as they do their job well, that’s what matters. And he may not be special to anybody else, but he makes my job easy, and that’s all that matters to me.”

Nitro will be back for the Phillipsburg rodeo, with Melvin, who competes on Wed., July 29 during slack.

The 91st annual Phillipsburg rodeo runs July 30-31-August 1 at the rodeo grounds north of town on Highway 183. Mutton busting is at 7:15 p.m. each night, with the rodeo following at 8 pm. Tickets are $12-$19. The public is encouraged to buy tickets online so as to not to have to social distance while standing in line at the rodeo grounds’ ticket office. Tickets can be purchased online at www.kansasbiggestrodeo.com and at Heritage Insurance Group in Phillipsburg (685 Third Street). For more information, visit the website or call 785.543.2448.