The show must go on — at least when it comes to mutton bustin’.
The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, set to mark its 80th year this month, was canceled because of coronavirus-related concerns. But mutton bustin’, a popular activity typically held during the rodeo, will go on almost as usual.
Kids ages 4 to 9, weighing less than 50 pounds, can take a wild ride on the back of a sheep — and try to hold on for as long as possible — Saturday at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
After it was announced that the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo was off, mutton bustin’ organizers including Richard Gillit planned a way to “host at least one Western activity.” The mutton bustin’ event is a separate entity from the rodeo.
“The kids have a blast doing it,” Gillit said. “We wanted to have something for the kids to do.”
The venue will be limited to 175 people at a time and attendees will be encouraged to social distance. That restriction makes this year’s event different from its normal attendance. Gillit says the event has previously drawn at least 600 children who compete over two days.
But it will still provide a taste of the real thing.
Gillit started volunteering 10 years ago as a mutton bustin’ “scooper,” meaning he was in charge of scooping up a child who fell off a sheep. He had never seen anything like it.
By now, it’s something he loves to be part of. He owns three cowboy hats and only wears them during the rodeo.
“I’ve never been a rancher or a farmer, but it’s something I can do and it’s so much fun,” Gillit said. “I look forward to it.”
He’s betting a lot of people around the Pikes Peak Region feel the same way.
Each kid is supplied with a safety helmet and vest for their ride, but some children come with their own mutton bustin’ equipment that’s embroidered or bedazzled. Others have never tried to ride a sheep before.
Gillit says it’s something any child can do.
“A city kid can do it, a country kid can do it,” he said. “They get to be a fake cowboy or cowgirl for a little while.”
Because mutton bustin’ is registered as a Rocky Mountain State Games sport, competitive youngsters have the chance to win medals during Saturday’s event. But winners aren’t determined simply by how long they stay on the sheep.
“It’s not just they stayed on the sheep for 3 seconds or 20 seconds,” Gillit said. “We look for what’s most exciting. It’s how you hang on until you can’t anymore.”
Exciting could mean a sheep dragging the rider on the ground. As long as the child hangs on, it counts.
“We have a blast doing it just as much as them,” Gillit said of the riders. “We love seeing kids having fun.”