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Sports You Didn’t Know Existed: Mutton Busting

Eirik Bjorno Staff Writer


Little League baseball is probably great for young kids, but for a more thrilling experience for your son; sign him up for mutton busting.

Country singer Merle Haggard gives you good advice in the song, “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” but if you put your three-year-old on the back of a sheep, they might be lost to it at a young age.

Mutton busting is something as simple as Sheep Rodeo for younger children. The objective is the same as in regular bull rodeo; the rider must stay on the sheep for as long as possible. An adult handler holds the sheep still while the child is placed on top, in riding position. As soon as the child is in position, the sheep is released and usually starts to run in an attempt to get the child off, while the kid tries to stay on for as long as possible.

There are no set rules for mutton busting, nor any national organization. Still, there is a weight limit for the rider to help protect the sheep. Most of the events are organized at a local lever, or in connection to larger bull riding events. Former rodeo queen Nancy Stockdale Cervi sponsored the National Western Stock Show in 1980, where the first evidence of the competition has been document- ed. There is no statistics available of the popularity of the sport, but based on the media coverage and anecdotal reports, I think it’s safe to say thousands of children participate every year in the U.S.

How do they ride them? Well, as in all of sports there is different ways of approaching mutton busting. Some choose to ride the sheep like adults ride bulls; sitting and holding the sheep close to the neck. Still the most efficient way to ride the sheep has proven to be to lie down on the back of the sheep. In that way they are more likely to slide off, rather than fall. The winners in each competition are often able to hang on for around eight seconds. An important side note is that girls tend to better at this age, as their coordination is further developed.

Not all mutton riders grow up to be cowboys or cowgirls, but seven-time all round cowboy World Champion Ty Mur- ray started out riding sheep, so you could be giving your child a good career start.

All participants in mutton busting are required to wear a helmet and a pad- ded vest, and the parents naturally sign liability slips. Falls, tumbles and scratches are all a part of the sport. Many supporters of mutton busting say that it teaches them to pick them selves up, when thrown to the grown, a valuable life lesson.

Unsurprisingly, there is no mutton busting in New York, and very few on the east coast in general. The Washington In- ternational Horse Show that starts Tuesday October 23, 2013 is hosting a mutton busting event for the youngest in the family. If you want your kid to grow up to be a cowboy, you should consider moving further south. If you, for any reason, can not move from New York I have a few tips for you to help prepare your child for its first mutton busting event: plan all vacations as a road trip in the south; or buy a BIG dog, so your child could start riding that.

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