Dear Rodeo, Should I Sign My Kid Up for Mutton Busting This Summer?

Mutton busting

In summertime, most parents send their kids to camp, take them to a lake, or throw them in a few pools.

But there are some who hoist their kids on a sheep, say “Hold on, son,” and watch him ride off for six seconds of rodeo glory in the world of “mutton busting.”

And I want in.

Mutton busting is a crowd-pleasing rodeo sideshow and the kid’s version of bull riding. Competitors are lowered onto the back of a 150-lb sheep, grab little fistfuls of wool, and hang on for dear life as the sheep sprints off into the arena.

The crowd laughs and coos at the adorable yet impressive spectacle. Whoever hangs on the longest wins, and it’s awesome.

San Antonio Rodeo Mutton Busting:

If you’re between four and seven years old, weigh less than 60 pounds, and have a couple of country-ass parents, you can be a mutton buster too.

But before I submit my 4-year-old’s application for this month’s California Mid-State Fair, I needed to do a little research to find out just how bad of a decision this was going to be.

Mutton busting certainly has its detractors. Critics worry about traumatizing the sheep and injuring the kids. Alameda County in northern California’s bay area banned mutton busting in 2019.

And my kid’s grandmothers would probably never forgive me for subjecting him to something that looks so inherently dangerous.

I thought it looked dangerous too… until I saw footage from only nine years ago when mutton busting kids wore cowboy hats and western shirts instead of today’s helmets and protective vests.

Mutton busting, no protective gear:

According to Fatherly, research shows that “kids develop increased resilience, self-confidence, executive functioning capabilities, and risk-management skills” when they’re free to engage in activities that risk physical injury. And while they didn’t list mutton busting as a specific example, I’d throw it into the category of the kind of “rough and tumble play” that today’s over-protected kids need.

My kids are stoked when they take a “horsey ride” on my back around the house, so I can only imagine the size of their grins should they successfully ride an actual animal in front of thousands of cheering fans. And I can tell the grandmas that they wore a helmet the whole time.

As if I needed any more reason to be all in on mutton busting, the sport might just have its first celebrity endorsement.

According to Culture Map Houston, former bull rider and country music superstar, Cody Johnson, performed at the Houston Rodeo earlier this year minutes after his daughter rode a sheep in the mutton busting competition. CoJo knows….

So, while I don’t think I’ll pull the trigger on mutton busting this year, I might just queue up these YouTube videos for my kids and plan a family trip to the nearest rodeo where I can point to the mutton busters and tell my sons, “That could be you one day.”

And from now on, in my house I’m a sheep, not a horsey. And I don’t offer rides; it’s called “training.”

Cojo at the Houston rodeo, 2018:

More mutton busting background:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock