As a crowd gathered in the stands around a small arena at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, 6-year-old Simeon Weins stepped into a chute, hopped onto a sheep and prepared for a ride that would last only seconds.
The gate to the chute opened and the sheep dashed out, crossing the arena with Simeon in tow. The ride lasted about three seconds before the boy fell to the ground, unharmed.
Simeon was one of several participants in the Wool Riders Only Kids’ Mutton Bustin’, a competitive sheep-riding event for children and a regular feature at the Spokane County Interstate Fair.
Colorado-based Tommy G Productions – which produces events such as motocross, boxing matches, demolition derbies and bull riding – has held mutton busting competitions for more than 20 years at various venues.
The company held six Wool Riders Only mutton bustin’ events nationwide this year, including one at the Washington State Fair, said Clayton Cullen, operator of the mutton busting booth at the Spokane fair.
Cullen said the event draws a large audience every year.
“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “The kids and parents – they just love it. Once we get rolling, the stands will be packed. People come to fairs just to watch it.”
Wool Riders Only mutton busting is open to children ages 4 to 7 years, who weigh less than 60 pounds and are registered for the event by a parent or legal guardian. Entry fees are $10 to $12, and participants are provided with safety helmets and vests.
At the Spokane County Interstate Fair, Tommy G Productions will hold four Wool Riders Only mutton bustin’ competitions daily near the grandstand stage. The winner of each competition will advance to a final round held Sept. 16 in which they will vie for a trophy and cash prizes.
Emmy Weins, mother of Simeon, said four of her six children have participated in mutton busting.
“We came to the event one year and thought it was a strange sport, and we kind of just got hooked,” she said. “We love it. They make it fun for the kids.”
It’s the third year participating in mutton busting for Simeon, who is excited about participating in the competition next year.
“It was good,” he said.
Levi Nichols, who won first place at a Friday afternoon mutton busting competition, is looking forward to participating in the final.
“It was exciting,” he said. “My favorite part was falling off (the sheep).”
Katie Nichols, Levi’s mother, said they found out about mutton busting from walking by the event at the fair last year.
“It’s definitely one to spend money on,” she said. “The excitement factor is great.”