Guide to Mutton Busting: A Unique Sheep Riding Hobby

Young girl on riding a sheep for mutton busting hobby

Guide to Mutton Busting: A Unique Sheep Riding Hobby


To develop the next generation of rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, Mutton Busting, a unique sheep riding hobby was created for young children and prospective bronc riders in North America.

Mutton Busting has gained a lot of popularity among locals in America and is now one of the shoo-in recreational activities at state and county fairs, livestock shows, and rodeos.

What Is Mutton Busting | Sheep Riding?


Mutton busting is an activity similar to bull riding, where children between the ages of four and seven weighing below sixty pounds ride a sheep and try to hold on without falling, for as long as possible.

On average, most children fall off within eight seconds, just enough time to get the crowd entertained.

How to Participate in Mutton Busting


In a Mutton Busting event, an adult handler places the Mutton Buster on a sheep in a chute and makes sure the child is balanced before releasing the sheep. The sheep runs in an attempt to get the child off.

Spectators watch and cheer as the child attempts to hold on to the speeding sheep, and an adult handler maintains a close distance to help the child up when they inevitably fall off the sheep. The majority of the participants usually fall off the sheep within eight seconds.

What is the Mutton Busting Age?


As no nationally recognized official rules exist, the age limit is not set in stone for every Mutton Busting event. Each organizer reserves the right to determine the age limit of the rodeo. Most sheep riding events require the participants to be between the ages of four and seven.

While seven is the most common age limit (Most Mutton Busters retire from the sport at age seven), some Mutton Busting events allow participants who are eight years old on rare occasions as long as they weigh less than 60 pounds.

What Equipment Is Required for Mutton Busting?


All participants of the sheep riding competition are required to come in long sleeve shirts, long pants, and sturdy shoes to minimize the impact of their fall from the sheep and also reduce the risk of injuries due to contact with the floor and the stampeding sheep.

However, while that is the recommended mode of dressing, two pieces of equipment required for any participant in a Mutton Busting event are the Mutton Busting Helmet and the Mutton Busting vest.

Mutton Busting Helmet

The Mutton busting helmet is a protective gear that mutton busters wear on their head to prevent head or face injury during the Mutton Busting competition. The helmets usually have a metal face guard to prevent injury to the face.

Usually, rodeos provide the Mutton-Busting helmet to the participants. However, some rodeos allow participants to come with their protective helmets. Most helmets are permitted except the racing-style helmets with a point in front.

Mutton Busting Vest

The mutton busting vest is a special protective vest that mutton busters wear around their chest area, covering the upper part of their body. Typically, when the participants fall from the sheep during the event, they land on the upper region of their body.

Therefore, with the thick Mutton Busting vest usually made of high-density foam, they are protected from the impact of the fall.

What are the Rules for Mutton Busting?


There is no national organization in charge of Mutton Busting. Since most of the Mutton busting events are organized locally, the rules hugely depend on the organizers. However, some general rules apply to all Mutton Busting events. The rules are:

  1. Weight – To ensure no injury to the sheep, all Mutton Busting events limit the participants’ weight. Each participant must not weigh above sixty pounds. Some rodeos set their limit at fifty-five pounds.
  • Age – Generally, the rule does not allow participants above seven years of age. The age range for Mutton Busting is between the ages of four and seven. Some sheep riding events allow children participants who are as old as nine years old.
  • The Use of Protective Gear – The child participant must wear protective gear to ensure their safety during the sheep riding event.

Protective gear includes helmets with metal face guards on the front to prevent injury to the head and face and a protective vest to protect the body during a fall.

Apart from the protective vest provided by the rodeo organizers, the participant must wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, and sturdy shoes. No sandals or flip-flops are allowed.

  • No Spur Allowed – A spur is a metal tool used by a rider to direct a horse or any other animal being ridden to move forward or toward a direction the rider wants. This is banned in Mutton Busting to reduce injury to the sheep.
  • Registration – Only a parent or the legal guardian of a child may register the child in the Mutton Busting competition.
  • Parents’ or Guardians’ Consent and Waiver of Liability – Before a child can participate, their parent or legal guardian must give consent and sign a waiver to protect the rodeo in case of injury to the child.
  • Re-rides – Usually the game starts when the child is saddled onto the sheep and the sheep is released. It stops when the child falls off the sheep. However, there can be calls for re-rides when the sheep falls while the child is riding.
  • Adult Rodeo Handler – There is an adult rodeo handler who places the child on the sheep, releases the sheep, and then maintains a close distance from the speeding sheep. The handler immediately picks up the child after they fall and removes their protective helmet and vest.
  • The Winner – The winner of the Mutton Busting competition is a child that rides the sheep without falling for the longest possible period.

History of Mutton Busting


The first documented sheep riding event was sponsored by former rodeo queen, Nancy Stockdale, sometime in the 1980s. The event held at the National Western Stock Show in Colorado featured Mutton Busters between the ages of five and seven with a weight limit of 55 pounds.

Seven participants contested in the competition and were required to ride a sheep for six seconds. Mutton Busting started as a casual pastime for kids who were not old enough to ride horses or bulls.

However, with thousands of children participating in Mutton Busting events in the United States every year, this unique sheep riding hobby has now developed into an entertaining spectator sport with a significant following.

What Does Mutton Busting Training Look Like?


For an ideal Mutton Busting training session, Mutton Busters go to a sheep pen and train live on sheep. However, Mutton Busting training features a lot of improvisation due to the difficulty in getting sheep specifically to train for this event. It’s not a hobby you can practice easily at home.

A man from Fort Bend County once made the headlines for inventing a homemade simulator to help his son practice Mutton Busting because the Homeowners Association would not allow him to get a sheep.

According to several Rodeo Houston Mutton Busting contest winners in 2017, they practiced for the sheep riding event on their father’s backs. Their goal while training was to hold on and keep their balance.

A common thing among Mutton Busting competition winners was how they tucked their feet firmly under the sheep to provide extra balance. While training, Mutton Busters focus on perfecting their balance which is essential if they want to hang on to the speeding sheep without falling.

Additionally, Mutton Busters work on their grip while training. The grip is crucial for holding on to the wooly skin of a stampeding sheep at full speed.

Is Mutton Busting Cruel?


Mutton Busting is not without its controversy. Animal supporters are vehemently against it with the belief it promotes animal cruelty, and believe the event is pointless as the sheep riding hobby is a massive risk to both the child participant and the sheep.

However, fans of the sheep riding hobby insist that enough precautions have been taken to ensure that all the participants are within the required safety limits while providing excitement to the audience. To protect the Mutton Busters, a dress style is recommended.

In addition, rodeos mandate the use of a protective helmet with a metal faceguard and a high-density protective vest to reduce the impact of the sheep rider’s fall. There is an age, height, and weight limit (usually 60 pounds) to protect the sheep. Spurs are also banned from the event.

Gloves and protective goggles are recommended to prevent dirt from entering the participant’s eyes.

The City of New York banned Mutton Busting in 2012, citing health concerns, as it refused to give permits to the Professional Bull Riders organization to host the event. In 2019, Alameda County in California also banned the sheep riding hobby.

This is an ongoing debate amongst opinions from both sides.

Mutton Busting, A Local Hobby


From a pastime to a favorite spectator sport, this unique sheep riding hobby has gained wide acceptance among locals as thousands of children continue to participate in the rodeo event in county and state fairs across the United States.

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