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The Legacy of Cleo Hearn

In the world of rodeo, where tradition meets daring feats, one name shines brightly: Cleo Hearn. His story intertwines with that of the Cowboys of Color Rodeo, a remarkable movement that has left an indelible mark on the history of rodeo.

a person riding a horse

Cleo Hearn, a trailblazer in the world of professional rodeo, emerged as a prominent figure in the late 20th century. Born in 1935, Hearn embarked on his rodeo journey with unmatched passion and determination. Despite facing racial barriers in the rodeo circuit, he soared to great heights, leaving a lasting impact on the sport.

Hearn has been a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association since 1959. Before his historic win at the Denver National Western Stock Show tie-down roping event, however, Cleo was not allowed to compete in rodeos due to the discrimination towards black men. Yet he didn’t quit, and his perseverance came to fruition when the audience and rodeo producers were forced to let him compete because his times were better than any of his competitors. It was this moment that inspired Hearn to pave the way for others.

The Cowboys of Color Rodeo, founded by Hearn in 1987, was a groundbreaking initiative to provide a platform for African American and minority rodeo athletes. This event not only celebrated the rich diversity within the rodeo community but also became a symbol of unity, breaking down racial barriers that had persisted for decades.
Hearn’s vision for the Cowboys of Color Rodeo was about much more than competition. It also was about creating a community, fostering talent, and preserving the cultural heritage of rodeo within minority communities. The event showcased the skills, strength, and resilience of cowboys and cowgirls of color, challenging stereotypes and inspiring a new generation to pursue their passion for rodeo.

Cleo Hearn’s legacy extends beyond his own achievements. He paved the way for countless aspiring rodeo athletes, proving that talent knows no racial boundaries. The Cowboys of Color Rodeo continues to thrive, carrying on Hearn’s vision and serving as a reminder that inclusivity and diversity are essential for the growth and evolution of any sport.

Written by Annie, a local expert guide for Fort Worth Crawling. After living in NYC for three years, this Fort Worth native is excited to return to her roots in Panther City. She enjoys traveling and the great outdoors and is passionate about the arts, community, tacos, and (of course) Texas beer. Join Annie for history and beer on Fort Worth Crawling’s Cowboy Pub Crawl!

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