A Rodeo Champion Carries on Tradition and Inspires the Next Generation

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Celebrating Chicago's Black history by highlighting impactful stories from unique perspectives. Sponsored by AARP Illinois.

Mike Latting knew that growing up with horses in the backyard of his childhood home in suburban Chicago wasn’t normal, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way. The son of a rodeo cowboy, Latting remembers spending his weekends at rodeos and his weekdays learning rodeo skills from his father.

“Before my dad got home every day, it was my job to have the horses saddled and ready to ride so we could practice, and that was just thrilling for me — it was greatest feeling in the world,” says Mike Latting.

His father, Thyrl, always wanted to be like the cowboys in western movies, but as a young African American boy in the 1950s, he didn’t see many cowboys who looked like him on the big screen.

“There have always been Black cowboys, they just didn’t make it into the dime novels,” says Latting.

“They were the guys on the cattle drives who stayed with the cattle when everyone else went into town. For my dad though, he was the kind of guy who, you couldn’t tell him what to do or what not to do.”

With encouragement from his parents and with money he saved to buy his own horse, Thyrl Latting persevered and fulfilled his dream of participating in rodeo events including bull riding and steer wrestling. By the time he started his own rodeo company, Latting Rodeo Productions, Inc., he was ready to pass on his love of rodeo to his son, Mike.

“Growing up, I was under the impression that everything revolved around horses and bulls,” says Latting. “I really wasn’t tall enough to play basketball or fast enough to play football or run track I guess, so riding bucking horses was my niche, and my dad made sure I had the opportunity in front of me to hone my skills.”

Mike would compete in high school, traveling to Iowa because Illinois didn’t have a rodeo team, and became the Iowa High School Bareback Riding Champion. He would then go on to compete throughout college and would eventually be named among the top 15 contestants in the International Finals Rodeo.

After he graduated college, Mike joined his father at Latting Rodeo Productions, Inc., and to this day, he puts on general market rodeos and Black-themed rodeos for audiences throughout the United States. The two also shared a passion for careers in education, and Mike is also a retired middle school principal.

Through this work, he continues to live out his family’s legacy, while also passing along the tradition to African American youth interested in the rodeo, many of whom he’s coached, including some who have won championships themselves.

“I want these young men to know that you don’t have to be from any background or any place, as my father and I proved, but if you really want something and you’re ready to give it your all, you can truly achieve anything.” says Latting.

To learn more about Latting Rodeo Productions, search “Latting Rodeo Productions, Inc.” on Facebook.

And to learn more about how you too can “create the good” in your own community, go to www.createthegood.org.

To listen to an interview with Mike Latting and for more stories like this, subscribe to the “Creating the Good with AARP Illinois” podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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