Mutton Bustin’ has children holding on for dear life

bpurser@macon.comOctober 8, 2013 

PERRY -- Seven-year-old Kate Kolbie of Dublin wrapped her long, slender arms and legs around a sheep Tuesday at the Georgia National Fair and hung on for dear life.

The 60-pound girl won the 3:30 p.m. “Mutton Bustin’ ” competition with an 81-point score that took into account the 7.38 seconds she stayed on the sheep and riding poise. She’ll have the opportunity to participate in the championship Sunday.

“It was bumpy,” said Kate, as she rotated and wobbled her body to show how she was jostled by the sheep.

Billed as the “toughest sport on wool,” the competition is based on an old rodeo tradition when children of those participating in bull rides were given the chance to ride a sheep during intermission, said Lance Bebo, an announcer for Tommy G Productions, an entertainment producer based in Pueblo, Colo.

Tommy Giodone, president and namesake, decided to turn the tradition into a competition and offers Mutton Bustin’ at fairs and festivals across the country, Bebo said. The promotion for the $10 per entry event is, “1 child, 1 sheep, 6 seconds.”

Leigh Ann and John Gates, of Warner Robins, were excited to see how their son, 6-year-old Aaron Gates would do. He tried the competition in the 2012 fair.

“Same time, same place,” joked John Gates. “We’re hoping he can make it the six seconds.”

Aaron did it -- taking second place in the same competition, called a “go-round.” He scored 78 points for his ride of 6.91 seconds.

Asked his secret afterward, the boy said, “Hold on to the fur.”

Maggie Travis, of Canada, had her camera ready when her son, 6-year-old Ethan Travis, came out of the chute on top of the sheep. He’d never ridden a sheep before.

“We’re city folk,” Maggie Travis said with a laugh.

She and her husband, who works at Robins Air Force Base, encouraged their son to try it after reading about the competition in a fair flier. She said the boy was immediately on board.

“Yes! I cannot wait to ride a sheep,” she recalled him saying.

After the ride, Ethan smiled broadly and gave a thumbs up.

He placed third in the competition with a ride of 5.91 seconds. He had the third longest time of several contestants.

The daily go-rounds are open to children ages 4 to 7 who weigh less than 60 pounds. Each child wears a helmet and a protective vest. A “chute boss” places the child on top of a sheep and gives the child riding instructions. Also, a person is in the ring to help protect the child. The worst occasional accident is a broken bone in a fall off a sheep, Bebo said.

If a child can remain on the sheep more than six seconds, he or she gets a score like a bull rider would get. The highest score wins a go-round. The top scoring contestant of each go-round may compete on the last day of the fair for a championship buckle.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.


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