Mutton Bustin’ at the Spokane County Interstate Fair had all the makings of a real-life bull riding competition in miniature.
Young cowboys and cowgirls, a number of them wearing tiny boots and 10-gallon hats, walked up to the bucking chutes.
And announcer Clayton Cullen, a professional bull riding event producer, had spectators in the packed bleachers roaring for the kids.
But the event is all about wool riding, not bull riding, Cullen said. He added that joke never quite lands for him either.
Many of the riders fall hard and fast out of the gates as they grasp for a wool handhold on the bellies of their sheep. Despite a fresh dusting of dirt on their helmets and padded vests, they all tend to spring up after their rough landings and run off to cheers from the crowd.
Holding on to a sprinting sheep for 1.3 seconds made 5-year-old Toby Lipton’s day.
“It was fast,” he said, bouncing up and down with a full smile.
His sister, Ariana Lipton, 7, held on for a fraction of a second longer but came away with a couple of scratches.
“They were talking about this the entire week,” their dad, Zach Lipton, of Spokane, said. But “I think I was more fired up than they were.”
The family had been waiting for their chance at Mutton Bustin’ glory since watching the show last year.
While waiting to ride, the kids practice by taking turns hugging their dad’s dangling arm and trying not to fall. Both kids got big two-handed high-fives from their dad when they finished riding.
Most of the Mutton Bustin’ shows, which ran four times daily except for Sunday, were close to full with 30 to 36 children registered. The kids had to be 4 to 7 years old and weigh less than 60 pounds.
“Most of the kids have never done it before,” said Cullen, the announcer.
Helpers at the bucking chute slide the kids into position, put their feet in place and make sure they’re not holding on to the sheep’s neck – or else they’re likely to flip forward.
“Then we tell ’em to hold on,” Cullen said.
The top rider from each of the 38 shows qualified for the Mutton Bustin’ championship Sunday afternoon.
Anna Haywood, 5, of Clayton, Washington, took first place in the last round to qualify on Sunday.
She held on for six seconds before falling off as her sheep came close to a fence.
“It was good,” she said, beaming after running off the dirt field.
Although one rider held on for 8 seconds, Haywood had the higher score because she remained on top of the sheep and in better control for longer.
In the championship round, Caityln Gayno, 6, of Colbert, took first place with a score of 84 and won $75. Carson Cook, 7, of Moses Lake, earned second with a score of 83 and Charlie Dix, 7, of Spokane, captured third with an 82.
Cullen said he’s looking forward to upcoming bull riding competitions he’s producing at AT&T Stadium in Texas and Madison Square Garden in New York. But putting on Mutton Bustin’ at fairs throughout the summer is special to him because of the kids.
“It’s fun. That’s why I do it,” Cullen said.
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