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