ProRodeo Hall of Famer Paul Mayo passes awaySara Tadken
ProRodeo Hall of Famer Paul Mayo, whose style of bareback riding revolutionized the sport, passed away Jan. 24 in Stephenville, Texas. He was 78.
A two-time bareback riding world champion and 12-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, Mayo was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2010.
Mayo won world titles in 1966 and 1970 and was the bareback riding reserve world champion three times (1965, 1967 and 1971).
“He was just a happy-go-lucky guy in rodeo,” said his older brother, Don. “He liked to have a good time, and (rodeo) was just so easy for him. He was an ungodly natural athlete.”
Mayo qualified for the NFR 10 times in bareback riding (1965-71, 1973-74 and 1979) and twice in bull riding (1965 and 1971).
Don and Paul’s younger brother, Bob, also made multiple qualifications for the NFR in bareback riding. Don did it in 1961-63, while Bob made it in 1966-71. Don’s rodeo career ended when he was paralyzed in a car accident in July 1963 when the car he was in was struck by a drunken driver.
Paul, Don, Bob and Jim Houston are credited with altering the style of bareback riding in the 1960s, taking a position farther back on the horse and lying down on the horse’s back as it went over the peak of its jump, began its descent and kicked up its hind legs.
Paul became an expert at the technique – called the Mayo Style – and it’s still in use today.
“We went to a few amateur rodeos and we couldn’t jerk our knees far enough like we wanted to setting straight up,” Don said. “So we would get back a little bit and we found out the farther we got back, the more we could spur them. The first time in his life Paul got on a bareback horse at an amateur rodeo he looked like a world champion. He had watched me ride for a couple of years because I was older, and it was unbelievable. It looked like he had been rodeoing for 20 years.”
Paul grew up in Grinnell, Iowa, and his prowess in athletics began to shine through when he was a teenager.
“He was a state champion wrestler, which isn’t easy in Iowa, and then he went on and won the state rodeo titles in bareback riding and saddle bronc riding and he won national high school rodeo titles in all-around, bareback riding and saddle bronc riding,” Don said. “At that time, if you had a letter written by your high school principal on his letterhead and it said you were still in high school you could compete in RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association) rodeo. He entered Vernon, Texas, and won the bareback riding.
“They told him he couldn’t be in high school, that nobody rode that good. (They claimed) it was a phony letter. So, they made him buy an RCA card right there. I think he was 17. He bought a card and away he went.”
Paul also won the 1968 Linderman Award. To be eligible for the Linderman Award, a cowboy must win at least $1,000 in three events, and those events must include at least one roughstock event and one timed event.
Paul won the 1978 Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo all-around and bareback riding titles and the 1979 year-end Texas Circuit bareback riding crown.
“Paul had more friends than you could count,” Don said. “I think everybody liked him. He was a heck of a cowboy and a good friend to anybody.”
A celebration of Mayo’s life will be at 11 a.m. (CT), Feb. 6 at the Cowboy Church of Erath County in Stephenville.