Mutton busting remains popular at rodeo
On July 27 and 28, children under age 6 will be able to take their turn in the rodeo arena at the Marion County Fairgrounds to compete in mutton busting (sheep riding).
“There are some little bitty kids doing it,” rodeo chairman Larry Heiser said.
Heiser estimates mutton busting has been part of the fair for at least the past decade, and it has grown to be rather popular. The audience is always supportive and encouraging, and the idea is to have fun, he said.
“I like it ’cause it’s fun and easy to do, easier than steer riding and calf riding,” 6-year-old Kacen Smith of rural Goessel said. “It’s exciting.”
Kacen and his 4-year-old brother, Koy, compete in rodeo events all year as part of the Heartland Youth Rodeo Association. They also compete in mutton busting at several fairs during the summer.
Kacen plans to eventually work his way up the ranks to bull riding.
“It makes me nervous because it’s just so easy to get hurt riding bulls,” his father, Kirby Smith, said.
In mutton busting, a child 6 years or younger and weighing 50 pounds or less climbs on top of a sheep in a chute. When the chute opens, the child does whatever he or she can to hold on for six seconds.
Unlike in other rodeo events, there is no rope to hold onto. Wool can provide a good grip, as long as the sheep isn’t sheared too short, Heiser said.
“Some of the sheep will run, some will run and jump,” Heiser said. “Some will just stand there.”
A jumping sheep quickly dislodges its rider, he said. Riders are advised to wear a helmet — a bicycle helmet or football helmet suffices. Kacen also wears a protective vest for mutton busting in case he falls off.
“It doesn’t actually hurt,” he said. “I just kind of jump off and don’t get hurt.”
Riders who stay on six seconds are scored. If nobody rides the full six seconds, the winner is whichever rider stays on the longest.
The rodeo prefers to limit contestants to 10 per night, because they don’t want to wear out the sheep. Riders can sign up behind the bucket chutes before the rodeo. There is a $10 entry fee. There will prizes available for contestants, Heiser said.
Last modified July 20, 2011