Woolly Ridin' Provides Fun For All

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A child hanging onto a fleecy sheep with bare hands is an event, albeit a short one, called mutton bustin'. At the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo, 40 lucky children get to try it.

"Mutton bustin' is also known as woolly ridin'," said Pat Johnson, rodeo coordinator for the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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Little cowboys and cowgirls wear protective helmets when they compete to see who can stay on the sheep the longest.

Because no ropes are used, Johnson said, "You need sheep that have not been shorn recently so that the children (age five to seven) have fleece that they can grab onto to stay on the animal."

The sheep used for the mutton bustin' event weigh in between 80 and 100 pounds.

Official Town of Payson Historian, Jinx Pyle said, "All that happens is you put a sheep in a chute you put a kid on him, there's no rope and they hang on with both hands."

Pyle said sheep weren't always what the children rode at Payson's rodeos for the simple reason they didn't have sheep here.

"Payson was a cow town... They would turn kids out ridin' pigs with a rope, a cersingle, around its middle just like modern bull riders."

The greased pig contest was another early event. A pig would be oiled and then set loose for children to chase and try to catch.

For children growing up on a ranch, mutton bustin' served another purpose.

"Any kid that wanted to learn to ride, that was the way to do it if they had sheep. They would just get on a sheep and try to ride it," Pyle said.

Entry forms for the 2005 mutton bustin' contests are available from Emily Moore at Chapman Auto Center in Payson. Each of the four performances -- 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday -- has space for 10 children to compete. The age range is five to seven. Every child who participates will get a buckle and a bandanna. The winner at each performance will receive a $50 gift certificate from event sponsor, Justin Boots.

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