Competitors gauge the competition from the sidelines.

 Racing up the arena, a child holds on while onlookers cheer. Photo

Racing up the arena, a child holds on while onlookers cheer. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

The bleacher capacity reaches standing room only as a steady stream of country rock music wafts across the crowd and out into the fairway at the Washington State Fair. Inside the miniature rodeo arena a large John Deere tractor grooms the dirt for the first run of the show. Behind the scenes a gaggle of cowboys and girls are suiting up, slipping on boots and strapping on helmets. As showtime nears the first rider lowers into the chute. The gate opens, the animal bolts, and the show begins.But it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t your average rodeo. It’s not a bull that comes busting out of the chute, but a wooly, 180-pound sheep. And the riders, well, not a one stands much more than four foot tall.Welcome to the rough and tumble world of mutton bustin’, a miniature counterpart to the professional bull riding it seeks to replicate. Kids clutch the body of a sheep, who in turn takes him or her on a fast-paced, fleece-filled ride across the arena. Much like bull-riding, each kid tries as best they can to hang on the longest; and just like bull-riding, most don’t make it more than several seconds, inevitably winding up in the dirt.”I was thinking just to hold on,” said Jaylah Rose, 7, after her ride. Jaylah managed an average run, but faced one of the more dramatic endings. Instead of merely falling off, she held on and the sheep rolled over her before picking itself up and darting away. “I’ll ride horses, I’ll ride other things, but I’ll never ride a sheep again,” she says with a surprisingly buoyant tone.The fair features several rounds per day, put on by Tommy G Productions out of Colorado. Any child aged four to seven who weighs 60-pounds or less can take the ride, with parental consent of course. Winners from each round are invited to come back for a championship round on the last day of the fair, the 21st. The winner of the show will be invited to travel to California for the World Championship, which will pit winners from other fairs around the country against one another. Check out our slideshow of the action.

A child prepares for his run. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Holding on for dear life, a kid rides out the fury of his wooly steed. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Upended by a sheep after falling off, a child winds up in the dirt. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Jaylah Rose, 7, is rolled over by her wooly steed on Friday.

A girl is helped out of the arena by an employee after her run.

The crowd cheers a rider.

Little hands grab for fleece after falling off of a sheep.

Kids wait their turn in the chute.

A ride is moments away from ending for this child.

Hanging on for dear life, a child clutches his sheep as it races across the arena.

Sandals are relocated and put back on after a run.

Parents watch as a child begins his ride.

Bracing for impact, a child falls into the dirt.

An employee goes to help a child up after her run.

A child dives off his sheep.

A child is all smiles, and mud, after his run.

A sheep is quick to ditch its rider, leaving him behind in the dirt.

Karli, 5, races past as the crowd looks on. Karli went on to place third in her round.

Crowds cheer a competitor.

After a successful run, a pint-sized competitor receives a hug from her older sibling.

A lone sheep stands out in the arena before a show begins on Friday at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, WA.

Helmet on and ready to ride, a little girl poses for a picture for her parents.

Loaded into the chute, the sleep awaits a rider.

Gate open, a sheep bolts into the arena with rider attached.

Ejected from the sheep, a child hits the dirt, ending his run.

Twins Karli and Grady, 5, pose for a photo with their father, left, and grandfather, right, before their run.

Standing on the chute, Grady recieves some last-minute encouragement from his grandfather.

Grady is recovered from the dirt by an employee after being spilled into the dirt.

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