Mutton bustin’ a training ground for young cowpokes
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BIG SKY – In the popular sport of roughstock riding, thrill and risk are relative, mathematically speaking. These animals are dead set on getting kids off their backs.
Consider this: A 170-pound cowboy clinging to a 1,800-pound bull is as terrified and determined as a 60-pound child gripping the wool on a 150-pound sheep. It’s big time.
Just ask Sebastien Barry, a two-time mutton buster who’s considered a wily veteran by ewe-riding standards. The cutoff age is 6, and Barry’s been in training since his first event last summer.
“Now I know it’s better to hang a little off to the side instead of trying to hold on straight down around the sheep’s neck,” said 6-year-old Barry. “My little brother Miles is riding, too. He’s 3 and a half. We practiced on daddy’s back on our trampoline at home in Florida.”
During breaks in the bull-riding action at this summer’s sixth annual Big Sky Pro Bull Riders event on July 29 and 30, the tradition of mutton bustin’ will continue its skyward trajectory. Mutton bustin’ is a favorite among PBR fans, according to Gretchen Fellerhoff-White, who has provided ewes from her Gallatin Gateway farm for the Big Sky PBR since its 2011 inception.
“The fans really understand the excitement,” said Fellerhoff-White, also owner of the wool hat company Ewe Hoo Designs. “The kids are always little buckaroos and it’s always amazing to see what buckaroo will win.”
Fellerhoff-White has been raising sheep for three decades, and chooses her ewes based on age and size. All are just over a year old, and weigh approximately 140-180 pounds.
She first saw mutton bustin’ at the White Sulfur Springs, Montana, Labor Day Rodeo, and when Big Sky PBR producers approached her as a stock contractor, she jumped at the chance.
Since the early ‘80s, as legend has it, kids have taken to the backs of sheep during breaks in rodeos to test their mettle by holding on as long as possible. Mutton bustin’, or wool riding as it’s known in some parts, is a test of sheer will.
It’s also a unique opportunity for young cowboys and cowgirls to gain roughstock riding experience, says Brenda Brown, whose horse-training business, Brenda H. Brown’s Performance Horses, is the official sponsor of the 2016 mutton bustin’ event.
“It’s a good place for them to get started and learn how to have some competition and have a good time,” said Brown, a reining and working cow horse trainer with more than 30 years under her belt. She plans to award trophies to mutton bustin’ winners and plaques for the other young competitors.
At the Big Sky PBR, kids ages 3-6 and weighing under 60 pounds will hold onto these plucky sheep as long as they can. Each young wrangler will get a chance to prove they’re the best in the west. Or at least in Big Sky.
As of press time July 6, a limited number of spots are open for each night of the Big Sky PBR. Email Ersin Ozer at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot, and visit bigskypbr.com for tickets.