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An Overview of the Mutton Busting

A chance for little kids to get a taste of adventure, a feel for what it’s like to be a cowboy.


What is Mutton Busting

Nobody expects to break or ride a sheep, but it has a benefit. It’s a chance for little kids to get a taste of adventure, a feel for what it’s like to be a cowboy. They might get bruised and they’ll definitely get dirty, but it’s an experience they will never forget. Mutton busting is the sport of bareback sheep riding. Kiddie competitors challenge themselves and the sheep to see who can hold on the longest as they try for a qualifying time in the rodeo arena. Mutton busting is similar to bull riding, except that the contestants wear more protective gear and are closer to the ground. A sheep is held still, either in a small chute or by an adult handler, while a child is placed on top in a riding position. Once the child is seated, the sheep is released and usually starts to run in an attempt to get the child off. Often small prizes or ribbons are given out to the children who can stay on the longest. There are no set rules for mutton busting, no national organization, and most events are organized at the local level. However, children who begin as mutton busters could go on to be top Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) money winners or, at least, tops on the hometown rodeo circuit. The vast majority of children participating in the event fall off in less than 8 seconds. Age, height and weight restrictions on participants generally prevent injuries to the sheep, and implements such as spurs are banned from use. In most cases, children are required to wear helmets and parents are often asked to sign waivers to protect the rodeo from legal action.

The practice has been documented as having been introduced to the National Western Stock Show in Denver, at least by the 1980s when an event was sponsored by Nancy Stockdale Cervi, a former rodeo queen. At that event, children ages five to seven who weighed less than 55 pounds could apply, and ultimately seven contestants were selected to each ride a sheep for six seconds. There are no statistics about the popularity of the sport, but anecdotal reports suggest thousands of children participate in such events every year in the U.S. Supporters consider the event both entertaining and a way to introduce young children to the adult rodeo “rough stock” riding events of bull riding, saddle bronc, and bareback riding, and they may liken its rough-and-tumble nature to the way youth sports such as football are played.

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