These young competitors get an early start to rodeo riding
The top land speed of a sheep is 20 mph.
The top speed when a human child is gripped tightly to a sheep’s back is, seemingly, slower, although it’s unclear whether such a thing has ever been studied.
Whatever the speed, Trace Menotti, 5, is determined to ride on the back of a sheep at this year’s Galveston County Fair & Rodeo. Trace plans to be one of the dozens of young county residents participating in this year’s sheep-riding rodeo event known as mutton busting.
“It’s his choice,” said Clay Menotti, Trace’s father and an agriculture teacher at Dickinson High School. “He watched it last year and was really excited about it and he’s super into livestock. He’s really into the farm animals.”
Trace watched the mutton busting competition at the event last year, and as this year’s event drew closer, declared he wanted to join the competition.
How do you prepare a 5-year-old to bust mutton?
“That’s a pretty good question because I don’t really know,” Menotti said. “I guess we can just practice hanging onto something.”
Mutton busting, or bustin’ as it’s advertised by the fair and rodeo organizers, was an apparent creation of the 1980s. It was first documented at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, where it was sponsored by a former rodeo queen. The competition has become a crowd-pleaser at fairs and rodeos across the country.
As a rodeo event for young people, the appeal is simple. Sheep are soft and low to the ground, and not too liable to buck and stomp the way other animals are prone to do.
The competition is about distance and style, said Daryn Hinze, the rodeo coordinator for the fair and rodeo. Competitors, while wearing safety gear, are put on the back of a sheep and told to hold on for dear life. The distance ridden goes a long way to deciding the winner of the competition, but form plays a part, too, Hinze said.
“There are some people that buy their own sheep and let the kids practice,” Hinze said. “But it really doesn’t require anything.”
The prize for the best buster is a rodeo buckle.
The event has been going on in Galveston County since the early 2000s, Hinze said.
“It’s a way to get the smaller kids involved that they obviously can’t do at the big rodeo,” Hinze said. “It’s a really big deal for the parents and grandparents. It kind of brings more people to the rodeo and exposes them to the rodeo. It really doesn’t require anything but the kid having to want to.”
The criteria that a child must meet before getting on a sheep isn’t that rigorous. They must be between ages 3 and 7, and agree to wear long sleeves, long pants and closed-toed shoes. The rodeo will provide the necessary helmet and vest. There’s also a $20 entry fee.
Potential young busters also must pass an unofficial psychological examination before mounting their steeds. The fair’s safety waiver for mutton busting includes a warning that appears to be added after years of tears or fears from some contestants.
“If the Mutton Bustin’ Chairperson determines that a child is emotionally and/or physically unable to safely ride and there is a legitimate concern of serious injury to the child and/or sheep, then the said Chairperson reserves the right to disallow the ride,” the waiver states.