6-time All-Around Champion and recipient of the 2014 Western Horseman Award Larry Mahan, shares his experiences on the rodeo trail.
By SIDNEY R. THOMPSON, as written in April, 1968
Courtesy of Larry Mahan
FOR the second year in a row, Larry Mahan has won the title of All-Around Cowboy. He did it by pocketing a record $51,966 in winnings for the year, breaking Jim Shoulders’ 1956 record of $43,381. A three-event contestant, Larry won first place in bull riding, third in saddle bronc riding, and fourth in bareback bronc riding. At the National Finals, this unusual young man climbed aboard an unprecedented 27 animals in 9 days, winning $3,885.
Mahan, 24, first came to rodeo prominence in 1965 when he won $18,105 and the World Bull Riding Championship. The cowboy likes bull riding least of all, often wishing he did not have to get on them. But, as Ronnie Rossen, bull riding titlist of 1961 and 1966, commented wryly after Mahan edged him out of a third title in 1965 by $1,000 “He sure rides bulls too good not to!”
In the first six months of 1967, Mahan won over $28,000 in the three riding events–almost twice as much as any other rodeo cowboy– and was virtually certain to retain rodeo’s top tile for a second year. In addition, standing no further back than third in any riding event, he had an excellent chance to win an event championship as well.
That first year, when he was striving for his first rodeo title, Mahan realized that his biggest rodeo handicap was the long, dreary, often all-night drive to the next rodeo. The enterprising young man overcame this by buying a Cessna airplane and taking flying lessons. As a result, Mahan can contest at several concurrent rodeos, sometimes hundreds of miles apart, by flying back and forth to arrive in time for his scheduled rides at each one. While contesting at St. Paul, the champion was also entered at four other rodeos in different areas.
Over 3,000 cowboys vie annually for rodeo prize money competing in rodeos large and small across the country. Some are confident that this will be their year, but Larry Mahan is far from self-assured. When he was officially recognized as the 1966 All-Around Champion Cowboy by Colorado’s Governor John Love in a traditional ceremony at Denver’s National Western Rodeo in January,1 967, he still had trouble believing he had achieved this goal.
Idaho’s Dean Oliver, an expert calf roper, had snared the World All-Around title for three consecutive years. At the beginning of July, 1966, this formidable champion was $2,000 in the lead for a fourth crown with $17,499 won; Mahan was trailing seventh in both saddle bronc and bareback riding standings and was not even in the top 10 in bull riding. Then, in mid-July, the impossible began to happen and Mahan embarked on a red-hot winning streak.
Piloting his Piper Commanche 250, the aggressive 5’9″ rider won over $15,000 in a mere six weeks! When the Rodeo Information Commission issued the official standings on August 22, Oliver had increased his earnings to $25,375 but Larry Mahan’s had zoomed to $27,119.
“When I started getting close to the leaders in July, I still didn’t think I could stay lucky enough to go ahead,” he said. “I had the right horses and bulls at the right rodeos is what it amounted to,” he added.
That fall, Mahan started riding bulls better than he ever had. His name made the top ten in bull riding standings right after the Labor Day rodeos and he moved up to sixth place following a big win at Pendleton, Oregon. By this time, he was third in the bareback riding after big wins at Cheyenne, Pendleton, Sidney, Nampa, and Salinas.
At the final rodeo of the regular 1966 season in San Francisco’s Cow Palace, Mahan won $2,614, boosting his all-around prize money to $38,523, higher than any cowboy’s total in the previous ten years, but he did not yet regard himself as the champion.
“Even when I went to the Finals $6,490 in the lead, I wasn’t sure of it,” he reported. “I can’t have that positive attitude.”
Rodeo’s world series, the National Finals, is open only to the top 15 cowboys in each event. In 1966, for the first time since its 1959 inauguration, there was one cowboy qualified to contest in three of its gruelling events–Mahan.
Bucking stock at the Finals is the best in the nation and offers a tremendous challenge to the top cowboys. To draw and ride one bronc or bull each day is a test in itself, but when you’re faced with on bronc, one bareback horse and one ornery bull, you’re really up against it!
“I was dreading it,” said Mahan. “My riding arm got pretty sore at first, but, after the fourth performance, the soreness started wearing out. By the time it was all over, it wasn’t sore at all; I guess I got my second wind.”