Of all the things you can do with a toddler, “mutton busting” just might be the weirdest.
The sport is about as simple as it is obscure: Take willing kids, age 6 and under, strap a hockey helmet to their heads, put them on the backs of live sheep and see how long they can hang on. In the small town of Puyallup, Wash., and dozens like it nationwide, this kiddie rodeo of sorts makes for a particularly strange form of entertainment.
Tommy Giodone is the man responsible for the sport of mutton busting. He travels the country putting on these shows and says he’ll launch 10,000 kids into the ring this year alone , up from 2,500 a few years ago.
“It’s the toughest sport on wool,” Giodone said.
We watched toddler after toddler after toddler wound up face down in a pile of dirt, most of them with the same stunned expression before bursting into tears. Many of the parents at this particular show didn’t seem too worried about their children getting injured.
“Kids heal,” parent Tara Anderson said. “There’s no point in over-protecting them and raising a bunch of sissies. They need to be boys.”
The parent-to-child pep talks were a little sketchy. Nervous mom Kera Barenda helped prep her daughter, Ella, to ride.
“I’m kind of scared,” Ella said.
“I know, me too,” her mother said.
After falling off a sheep, one little boy simply got up, brushed himself off and washed his mouth and face with water.
“That’s what real cowboys do, buddy,” said his father, beaming. “Nice job, come on, you did good.”
Five-year-old Dylan Pidrutti, her face streaked with grit and determination, had the white-knuckled grip of a champion at this show. After being awarded her medal, asked what her secret was, she said proudly, “I was hanging on tight.”