Empty Saddles: Larry Mahan

by Gail Woerner

Larry Mahan was the all-around world champion in 1966-70 and 1973. He also was the bull riding champ in 1965 and 1967. He qualified for the NFR a combined 26 times from 1964-75 in bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding. He was inducted in the inaugural class of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1979.

Justin McKee, rodeo announcer and Cowboy Channel cowboy minister, was Master of Ceremonies for the send-off for Larry Mahan and friends, on May 16, in Cowtown Coliseum, Fort Worth Stockyards. Justin told the audience it was definitely not a funeral. It was a collection of Larry’s friends who were going to talk about the man and share stories about him because he was someone who had made rodeo bigger and better, in his own way. Larry Mahan changed the world of rodeo. His mentors were Jim Shoulders and Casey Tibbs, and at 6 years old he rode a calf and won $6 and a buckle. He knew what he was going to do with his life – RODEO! But although he admired Jim & Casey he had his own agenda.

He was determined, tough, charismatic, and versatile. He won many World Championships and conquered the sport to his satisfaction. He also did other things – he was in the clothing world, he sang, he had a band, he loved horses, and taught many a young man how to not only learn how to ride roughstock, but he taught them manners; how to do many things it takes to go down the rodeo road when just starting out. But the one thread through the entire program was that he gave back, gave to, and tried to make the Western way of life better. And he did.
Red Steagall was up first and sang a song he wrote on an airplane returning home from the National Finals Rodeo when Larry won the All-Around, and it was about Larry.

Next in line was Bobby Steiner who said when he was 13, he met Larry for the first time. Bobby’s dad Tommy Steiner was producing rodeos and he heard his dad and other cowboys talking about this new cowboy from Oregon, they knew he was going to be the next top cowboy.
Billy Bob Harris was a personal friend of Larry’s and didn’t talk much about rodeo but told how Larry was one of those people who was always the center of attention – which everyone in the audience could agree with.

Next was a video of Tanya Tucker singing a song about cowboys like Larry.
Bobby Brown, roughstock rider, said, “Nobody could do what Mahan did. Today we have television and rodeos seen daily but when Larry was rodeoing that wasn’t possible. Before television, Larry got the attention that television allows so many of the competing cowboys to become known. He was tough physically and mentally.”

Donny Gay saw Larry Mahan on ‘Hamp’ a bull owned by Korkows, in 1968. He said, “I wanted to be just like him. He came to our house by his plane, a Comanche 250, spent the night, we took a load of stock to Rusk, TX, to their rodeo. He won the bareback, the bronc riding and the bull riding. He gave me his chaps and I wore them proudly. When I started flying, he told me, ‘Donny, when you step up on that airplane you take that cowboy hat off, and put on your pilot hat.’ He was my hero.”

Pam Minick said she met Larry in 1971, in 1973 as Miss Rodeo America they ran into one another often, and became very good friends. He was best man at Pam’s wedding to her first husband. She went to see Elvis with Larry in Las Vegas, and Larry was invited backstage to visit with Elvis. She also said, “Larry knew how to give back, he did so many things that improved not only rodeo but the people in and around rodeo. His legacy was to give back.”
Ty Murray fed Mahan’s horses when he was 13 years old. He said, “Larry impacted my life more than any one did – he took me under his wing when I was just 12. He was my Superman!”

Trevor Brazile said although he didn’t get to rodeo at the same time Larry did, they lived nearby later. He came over to Trevor’s place to rope calves not for himself, but Larry had a young man working for him and he wanted Trevor to give him some pointers. Trevor also said, “I don’t think there was anyone in any other sport that could measure up to Larry Mahan.”

Cody Lambert said Larry took rodeo to another level. He said Larry had a bumper sticker on the back of his saddle that said, “This is not a dress rehearsal.” He said he and Ty, who were good friends, often repeated that saying when they were competing for the big bucks.
Cody also said, “Larry would call after he had been to my place and tell me he was so impressed with the relationship I have with my son.”
Brooke Graham sang a song she had written about her grandpa but sung it with Larry in mind.
Rudy Gatlin said he always called Larry “May-horse” instead of Mahan because he was part man, part horse. He said, “Larry loved those horses.” Then he sang Larry’s theme song, “Rodeo O de O”

Former Texas Ranger Brantley Foster told that he had a son named Brandon that had a brain tumor. When Larry met Brantley and met Brandon he was working for the Wide World of Sports but he would call Brandon about every week and they just talked. Brandon died when he was just 18. Ranger Foster had many other stories about Larry, but “he didn’t want to talk about those,”

Chris Cox, well known horse trainer, said he met Larry in 1985. He said, “Larry loved horses, we talked a lot about horses and how they change our lives – horses are so forgiving. But they never forget.” He looked at the audience and said, “I’ll bet you never bought a horse from Larry Mahan. He never sold a horse he loved them so much.

Sonny Burgess ended the stories by singing, “Mamma, Don’t Let Your Boys Grow Up to be Cowboys”.
Justin ended the Celebration with a Prayer. A good send-off for a cowboy who made rodeo step up, who made too many friends to count, loved rodeo and horses, and gave to and back for the rest of his life. He will be missed.

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