Logan Medlin and Brady Minor are in two very different spots in 2020.
Medlin, of Tatum, New Mexico, is qualifying for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo ninth in the world, with $54,620.84 in season earnings. Minor, of Ellensburg, will miss his first NFR in eight years, finishing 23rd with $36,096.58. But they've certainly got one thing in common: the best 25 heelers in the world believe they both ride the best horses in the business.
Nita Win Playboy, Ridden and Owned by Logan Medlin
Medlin's Nita Win Playboy (who he calls Drago) is an 11-year-old ex-ranch horse who Medlin rode the bulk of the regular season, raised in Hereford, Texas, by Ronnie Mahaley and sold as a yearling through the Clovis Horse Sale to Rusty Henard, a rancher neighbor of the Medlin family.
"I had a stud horse that came from the same guy that I'd had for several years," Henard explained. "I had heard he had to take a bunch of horses to the sale, so I went up there just to look. I had no intention of buying that horse. But my dad and I went back there and looked, and I said I better buy him. But he was at the very end of the sale, and I knew we'd have to stay way up into the night. I thought he might be pretty cheap, but he was a good-enough looking colt that there were a lot of people waiting and I didn't get him bought as cheap as I'd have liked."
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When it came time to start Drago, he was broncy and even pitched Henard at a branding in Colorado.
"For a long time when I broke him and rode him he’d travel with his ears pinned flat back," Henard said. "He just traveled like that. It took forever to trot through the pasture with his ears forward. He was half mad you were riding him."
Henard started taking the horse to a few team roping jackpots and really got the feeling he'd make a big-time heel horse. And the watchy streak the colt had was a good-enough reason to sell him, Henard thought, as he didn't think he'd make a junior rodeo horse for his two daughters, Avery, now 13, and Kolbi, now 10.
"The Henards help us brand, and I always thought that horse looked cool and I liked the way he moved," Medlin said. "He's not just 100% bomb-proof, and he's a little bit quirky. I'd just sold my horse I won the College Finals on, and in the same trip, I went and picked up Drago."
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Medlin threw Drago to the fire right from the start. That was August 2015, and Medlin was afoot and set to heel for NFR header Brady Tryan in the Northwest—a big break for a kid who hadn't ever been to the last stretch of rodeos that included Ellensburg and Pendleton.
"He was greener than green, and so was I, and he was all I had," Medlin said. "I’d never been to Pendleton, and I just threw him in. I didn’t even have another horse with me."
This year, behind 10-time NFR header Charly Crawford, Medlin won the Wildfire Open to the World and the Oakley Independence Day Rodeo en route to his best regular season yet. And along the way, he turned the heads of the rest of the best heelers in the world.
"I had people text me congratulations and I didn’t know what they were talking about," Medlin said. "Jake Cooper sent me a screenshot of the Horse of the Year results. I wasn’t expecting it by no means. I was surprised."
Still a bit watchy, Drago works better if he's well used—a fact that paid off in a regular season mired by long drives between small rodeos.
"He’s not the kind who can go two or three weeks without practicing on. I’ll rope on him a couple times a week. I just kind of heel on him. I don’t school on him. Maybe five years from now I’ll be able to just ride him at the rodeos."
Leos Highbrow, Ridden and Owned by Brady Minor
Brady Minor's Sug is the third horse Minor has owned to win the Heel Horse of the Year title, joining Dugout in 2011 and Rey in 2014 and 2015. Minor's ridden Sug since winning RFD-TV's The American on him in 2017, and he's been on the short list for the title ever since.
"Not making the NFR this year, we had a real bad year and I haven’t won any major rodeos or jackpots," Minor said. "I didn’t expect him to be that high. I felt like he was a top five horse no matter what so I nominated him. It just so happened that three or four guys rode him at the end of the year at three or four rodeos. Clay Futrell won Redmond on him, and he won second at Salt Lake the same week and Levi Lord jumped on him and I think those guys gave him a vote and I was able to give him a vote, too. I didn't know what to expect."
Minor's brother, Riley, and his horse Bob, also won the Horse of the Year title, making them the first pair of brothers to win the Horse of the Year titles in the same year.
"They're both good horses and we didn't ride anything else," Minor said. "It’s unfortunate we didn’t win more. It's a good little ending. Both are getting old so hopefully they have another year or two in them. They worked pretty good the last couple weeks."
Notably, World Champion Tie-Down Roper Shane Hanchey even jump rode Sug in 2020, filling in for Joseph Harrison behind Wyatt Imus in Afton, Wyoming, heeling a steer in 5.4 seconds.
This magazine has covered Sug's story extensively over the years, but in case you missed it: Sug came to the Minor rig through Travis Woodard, who bought the horse from Kyle Crick.
"I thought he was a good colt and I bought him," Woodard said. "He was gentle and he was smart. I rode him for a couple years, and they used to have those college rodeos at the Lone Star in Stephenville, and you could go twice at this little Open rodeo. I didn't like my good horse at the time, and I was really really liking that colt. He wasn’t scared of the banner or the announcer or the music. I don’t think everybody else realized he was great until a couple years later, but when I started taking him there is when I realized he was going to be great."
Woodard made the National Finals Rodeo on Sug in 2016, and with that goal accomplished, Woodard planned to slow down his rodeo schedule and spend more time with his family.
"I had another horse I really liked at the time," Woodard explained. "So I decided I could sell him. I'd let Brady ride him at The American, and they ended up winning it."
That was 2017—the year the Minors won $100,000 at The American.
"I was going to have to pay $25,000 mount money," Brady said. "So I would have had to pay that if I didn't buy him one way or another. It's a good thing I did win that rodeo and was able to buy him, because I'd be regretting it now if I didn't own him." TRJ
2020 Purina Horse of the Year presented by AQHA Awards
The 2020 Purina Horse of the Year presented by AQHA awards were unveiled Oct. 12. The top three horses in each category are listed below.
Team Roping Heading
1. RK TUFF TRINKET "Bob;" ridden and owned by Riley Minor
2. GYPSY SAILOR "Sailor;" ridden by Charly Crawford, owned by Charly & Jackie Crawford
3. IMA FRESNOS DEE "Annie;" ridden and owned by Cody Snow
Team Roping Heeling
1. (Tie) NITA WIN PLAYBOY "Drago;" ridden and owned by Logan Medlin
LEOS HIGHBROW "Sug;" ridden and owned by Brady Minor
3. LITTLE HICKORY BOON "Ray J;" ridden and owned by Wesley Thorp