Cowgirls and cowboys in the making show their chops at Routt County Fair’s Mutton Bustin’ competition |

Cowgirls and cowboys in the making show their chops at Routt County Fair’s Mutton Bustin’ competition

Kelbee Mazanares, 7, of Hayden, falls off a sheep at Sunday's Mutton Bustin' contest at the Routt County Fair.
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The best way to hang on to a bucking sheep, according to mutton buster Cavit Gregory, is to grab on tight “like you’re giving a hug and you’re not ever gonna let go.”

Yampa Valley Electric Association hosted two bouts of Mutton Bustin’ contests at the Routt County Fair. Both Saturday’s and Sunday’s first place winners received a belt buckle. Children age 4 to 8 and lighter than 70 pounds competed to see who could stay on a sheep for the longest time. Routt County Fair Royalty and local 4-Hers helped put on the event.

Sunday’s champion, Ryan Becker, was a first-time mutton buster. He had fun at the event, but at age 8, his first time will also likely be his last time as he ages out of mutton bustin’. He’s already moving on to (slightly) bigger things, earning third place in the fair’s Mini-Bronc Bustin’ contest.

Children had different techniques. Each of them clung to the sheep, arms and legs wound tight and head braced for the impact of the eventual fall.

“Some of ‘em hang on from the front. Some of ‘em hang on the back,” said fair board member Don Hayes. “I don’t think one is any better than the other. It’s what makes the child most comfortable.”

The event has happened for the past 17 or 18 years, Hayes estimated.

“We’re not damaging sheep or kids, and everyone is having good fun,” he said.

Each mutton buster wears a protective helmet and vest in the ring. Hayes said they work to keep the sheep safe, too. Each one sees one run. Between 25 contestants and the five or six re-rides granted through the competition, about 30 sheep are used in the contest. This year’s contest sheep were on loan from the Villard Ranch in Moffat County.

Gregory, who won second place, might be a bull rider one day. Like Becker, he’s already riding mini broncos. He said bull riding is pretty similar to mutton bustin.’

“It’s basically the same thing because you’re sitting on an animal, and you’re riding,” he said. “The different thing is you’re holding on with your hands.”

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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