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REWIND: The cowboy who made cowboys cool

“The Beatles changed music and Larry Mahan changed rodeo.”

FORT WORTH, Texas — Maybe you can call it the “Yellowstone Effect,” but the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo can see a renewed interest in the western lifestyle and the “cowboy way.”

But it is the only life Kelly Riley knows.

My dad was a calf roper, my mom trick rode,” said the 73-year-old Riley, a rodeo competitor himself before filling his current role on the FWSSR Board of Directors.

Through the decades, he has seen a lot of cowboys come and go but one was larger than life.

“Larry Mahan has always been my hero.”

Longtime Fort Worth Rodeo announcer Bob Tallman took it a step further.

“Larry Mahan, a hero? He is a walking Jesus to me,” said Tallman. “The Beatles changed music and Larry Mahan changed rodeo.”

A 1974 WFAA story archived in the SMU Jones Film Collection captured the excitement following Mahan as he mastered the bucking broncs at the FWSSR in front of a packed Will Rogers Coliseum.

“My first youth rodeo was when I was 12,” Mahan told the reporter. “I rode a calf around won six dollars and belt buckle and that was the beginning.”

Just as hit television shows today have spawned curiosity and intrigue for the cowboy life, Larry Mahan created a similar buzz and cultural identity during his time on the rodeo circuit. Not only was he a six-time world champion rider in the 1960s and 70s, but his business acumen helped developed a distinct brand of cowboy, not only for himself, but the entire industry.

“He was the first guy to pay attention to marketing, to pay attention to wardrobe, to pay attention to other opportunities,” said Riley.

Taking home record amounts of prize money did not hurt. Mahan had his own plane “Old Goldie” he took to events across the country and a team of businessmen who helped him with the marketing and commercial side of the lifestyle.

“Mahan made a lot of other guys shine up, dress up standup and be proper,” Tallman said.

Mahan still lives in the North Texas area.

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