An interview with rodeo cowboy legend Larry Mahan

Maverick cowboy talks about the 'cowboy way'


With his hat in hand and bowed head at the opening of the 2014 Cripple Creek Rodeo held over the weekend of June 13-15, Grand Marshall Larry Mahan stood in the arena at the Teller County Fairgrounds and recited the famous “Cowboy Prayer” by Clem McSpadden as competitors prepared their hearts and minds for the first event.

“As cowboys, Lord, we don't ask for any special favors. We ask only that You will let us compete in this arena as in life's arena.”

A lifetime of rodeo has etched its mark on this humble man who is truly considered by millions to be a rodeo cowboy legend. Because of his athletic ability and celebrity, Mahan has been instrumental in bringing the extreme sport of professional rodeo to the mainstream audience and is considered to be one of the great champions of professional rodeo.

Mahan began competing professionally in 1964 and in 1965 won his first World Championship in bull riding. By 1966 he won the first of five consecutive All-Around World Championships, going on to win a record-setting sixth World Championship in 1973. To this day, Mahan remains the All-Time Leading National Finals Rodeo qualifier in rough stock (riding broncs and bulls) events.

Although no longer rodeoing, Mahan remains relevant in today’s rodeo scene and is considered a living legend. Showing a sincere interest in the individuals who approached him, Mahan could be seen throughout the Cripple Creek Rodeo weekend giving full attention as he listened to each person relating how his life impacted their lives, their father's lives, or siblings and children's lives.

Mahan's Facebook page,, currently contains 125,000 likes and is filled with entries that reflect his perspectives on subjects ranging from rodeo, horsemanship, life, politics, religion and the preservation of the western ranching lifestyle.

“We don't ask that we never break a barrier, draw a steer that won't lay, draw around a chute-fighting horse or a bull that is impossible to ride.” Clem McSpadden

Mahan shared some of those philosophies with the Pikes Peak Courier as well as his thoughts on the town of Cripple Creek and its CPRA designation as "Best New Rodeo in Colorado."

Mahan was born Nov. 21, 1943 in Salem, Oregon and was raised in America’s Pacific northwest. As a young man, Mahan said he became hooked on the sport after participating in “about 11 or 12 calf riding events.”

“It’s a seed that you have to nurture and grow. (Rodeo) is not a team sport and requires a lot of self discipline. You have to get into shape - not only physically but mentally. And you have to know how to win - or lose,” Mahan said.

When Mahan is asked about how much the sport of rodeo is physical and how much is mental he answered “It’s 100 percent physical and 100 percent mental.”

Transferring his lessons learned from riding broncs and bulls to life in general Mahan says that at the end of the day - win or lose - “You look in the mirror and don’t have anyone else to blame.”

“You have to have a good hold of the reins (of life) and not run away. I’m a big believer that we have control over one thing in life and that’s choice. It takes a lot of hard work for someone who wants to reach their full potential. They have to be the one to develop their own passion and develop their athletic abilities,” Mahan said.

With 1,200 rodeos (making it to 975 finals) under his belt, Mayhan retired from competition in at the age of 33 in 1975 after having escaped major injuries.

“I was blessed. I rode over 6,000 horses and bulls. Broke a few bones, but I don’t have any aches or pains although I still do a lot of stretching,” Mahan said.

“All sports are entertainment. People want to see someone lay it on the line. In the (bronc and bull) riding events, the danger is so great that people have lost their lives.

“But life can be over in a moment. You have to have the passion to have the opportunity to live that passion,” Mahan said.

“Help us compete in life as honest as the horse we ride and in a manner as clean and pure as the wind that blows across this western country.” Clem McSpadden

Mahan also shared about what he has learned in his 71 years working with horses and the art of horsemanship.

“One thing I know for sure; horses know more about being a horse than I do,” Mahan said with a laugh, adding that it takes patience, partnership and unconditional love in order to communicate with a horse.

“Horsemanship requires communication skills. I want to direct their thinking. In learning, they need repetition - like children - to create muscle memory.

“You hear a lot of old horseman say that ‘horses never leave the moment.’ If a horse feels something, they react to it. You have to have total control of your mind and body. It’s all about controlling (the horse's) energy and directing that energy. To me, that’s the challenge,” Mahan said.

With regards to Cripple Creek’s western culture and heritage, Mahan talked about the city’s place in history and its future.

“When you think of the history of this area - the changes over 100 years (ranching, mining, tourism) - it all started with the big move to the west and what people had to do to survive out here.

“(Today), for a community of people to get together (to put on the rodeo), that is a huge undertaking. I can see good things coming from (the rodeo event).

“The beauty of this area is absolutely incredible. It’s almost like the top of the world. My take is that we’ve become such a technological people, we have to find a way to escape. In Cripple Creek there is a lot of entertainment. It’s a good escape. It’s a fun place to come to and relax and re-group.” Mahan said.

“So, when we make that last ride, that we know is inevitable, to the country up there - where the grass is green and lush and stirrup high and the water runs crystal clear and deep, You will tell us, as we enter that Arena, our entry fees are paid.” Clem McSpadden

Mahan in married to wife Julanne and has three children; Lisa Ty and Eliza. He is an eight-time World Champion Cowboy whose awards include six All-Around World Championships and two World Champion Bull Rider Gold Buckles. Mahan is a member of numerous halls of fame, including: National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PCRA), Texas Cowboy, Oklahoma City National Rodeo, Pendleton, Cheyenne, Ellensburg and St. Paul. He is a member of the Professional Bull Riders Ring of Honor, PRCA Legend of Pro Rodeo and was awarded the Ben Johnson Memorial medallion.

As a 30-year member and breeder with the American Quarter Horse Association, Mahan is an avid team roping and cutting competitor and member of the Western Dressage Association. Mahan also has credits as a songwriter with an album “King of the Rodeo” which was released in 1978. He has also starred in a few movies, among them “The Great American Cowboy” which won an Academy Award in1973. Mahan also has a western clothing line which includes hats, boots and western apparel. When not on the road for numerous appearances, Mahan shares his time between ranches in Texas, Oklahoma and Guffey, Colo.

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