For the 16 youngsters that competed in the mutton busting competition Saturday at the Barton County Fair, a career in the sport is probably not something their parents are encouraging. But for Lorraine McClaine, mutton busting has become an important sideline.
Twenty-years into her part-time business operating her mutton-busting event business, Lorraine McClaine recalls the first time she saw the event at a rodeo in the Dakotas. While on a sheep buying trip, she heard about the event where kids were strapped to a sheep and rode around a rodeo ring like bull riders, and had to see it for herself. She was hooked, and began to see an opportunity.
“We started out volunteering to help with the event,” she said. “We found out we needed insurance, and so we started doing it as a business.”
Today, Kids Ranch Rodeo, her company, does 40 to 50 shows each summer. They travel the fair and rodeo circuit throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Over the next four weeks, the company will do a show every day. They have two rigs that run and they will sometimes do two shows in a day. Next Saturday, they will have one show in Ulysses and one in Hays, she said.
McClaine may have a monopoly on the traveling mutton-busting circuit. She has inquired everywhere and done several internet searches, and she can’t find anybody else doing what she does. That doesn’t take into account all the volunteer organized local events, but as lawsuits mount from serious injuries to the kids competing, those uninsured events may fade away into the past. “There are some million dollar lawsuits out there against volunteers,” McClaine said “If you volunteer your sheep, you are in effect saying that no kid is going to get hurt by it, and you are still responsible. I’m not condemning them, but there are a lot of people who do it to save money.” She said she knows of children who have been severely injured and even one who was killed during an event.
To ensure as much safety as possible, she only uses her own sheep.
“We raise them for mutton busting only. If they don’t mutton bust good, they are in to town like the next week,” she said. “We raise them big and strong, and they have to have kind of a little wild personality.”
She also makes sure she has trained employees in the ring. A key handler is the rodeo clown, who holds onto the little ones who have never ridden before, and helps them experience the thrill of the ride, while avoiding the spill. The rodeo clown is always in the arena. She hires different kids throughout the season. On Saturday, a farm kid from Norton was helping out she said. But even with precautions like these, there is still room for chance. Just ask Garrett Dunn, the youngest of three Dunn boys competing Saturday.
Dunns mutton busting champs
The Dunns live in St. John. Saturday morning their mom, Caroline, was busy cheering them on and videotaping their rides. During his first-ever ride, 3-year old Garrett took a tumble when his sheep stumbled over its feet and ended up sprawled on the ground. The rodeo clown holding onto him flew over both the animal,and Garrett, ending up sprawled face first on the floor. Garrett also fell, and became tangled in the sheep’s attempt to get back on its feet. After some initial tears, Garrett was back on his feet, shaking off the fall and chasing around his older brothers.
The Dunn family has been competing for three years now. Preston and Ian confirm they’ve been practicing on dad to perfect their skills for hanging on.
“I think dad is easier than a real sheep,” Ian said.
When he’s too big for mutton busting, Preston says he may be ready for some bull riding. His mother, Caroline Dunn looks skeptical, but according to Mcclaine, more kids are doing just that.
“We have a lot that have done mutton busting, then move on to steer riding, and we have a lot of them that are now riding bulls,” she said. “It’s kind of like t-ball for baseball.”
To qualify in the competition, mutton busters had to ride unassisted. Only a small handful of the kids at Saturday’s event opted for a solo ride. The two oldest Dunns competed last year, and went on to the next level, but didn’t make it past their first ride. This year Preston , sporting a number 14 taped to his back, came in first. Taylor McCaffery, number 10 came in second, and Ian Dunn, number 12, came in third.
All three now have the opportunity to compete with the winners of all McClaine’s other events at the Midwest Mutton Busting Finals coming up October 19 and 20 at the Lancaster Events Center in Lincoln, Neb., McClaine said. It’s part of the lineup of events at the Women’s Professional Rodeo, sponsored by the National Women’s Rodeo Association.
“They really go all out.,” she said. “Everybody gets belt buckles, and everybody gets T-shirts. A lot of prizes get given away.”
The humorous sheep riding event has drawn curiosity and attention from overseas, McClaine said. International mutton busting fame may soon be hers. Last month, a film crew from Germany followed her on her circuit for several days, shooting footage which they plan to turn into a documentary about strange and unusual sports.
In addition to the mutton busting competition, McClaine also puts on the Kids Ranch Rodeo event. Kids compete in an obstacle course/relay competition that includes riding a hobby-horse, milking and branding a cow and loading it onto a trailer. The cows, of course, are not real, but the fun is, and that is what keeps the return requests coming in for McClaine.
*****Check out video of Preston Dunn’s first place ride on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ooz9MPK7hOE&feature=plcp *****