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Young Buckaroos Not Sheepish About Mutton Bustin’ at Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo

After a fast start, Noozhawk’s rider takes a slow slide into the dirt, then bounces up with a grin

Mutton bustin’ rides always look so promising coming out of the gate, but the riders usually end up heading for a fall soon after. One rider begins to lose his grip during Sunday’s competition at the Old Spanish Days Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo at Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Mutton bustin’ rides always look so promising coming out of the gate, but the riders usually end up heading for a fall soon after. One rider begins to lose his grip during Sunday’s competition at the Old Spanish Days Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo at Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Fifteen youngsters lined up in the rodeo arena at Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara on Sunday, ready to test their riding skills with one goal in mind: to stay on the back of a running sheep for as long as possible.

On a bright, sunny afternoon, rodeo fans of all ages packed the box seats and grandstand to celebrate the 92nd annual Old Spanish Days Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo.

Among the performers were cowgirls and cowboys who competed in the Mutton Bustin’ event for children between the ages of 4 and 6 who weighed 60 pounds or less.

Mutton bustin’ is a familiar competition in rodeo — and a crowd favorite. Unlike with most of the other harrowing events featuring bucking steers, fast horses and often black-and-blue cowboys, the mutton bustin’ “bronco” is a woolly sheep weighing as much as three times more than the kids wearing protective helmets and padded vests.

Noozhawk sponsors a mutton bustin’ rider each year, and on Sunday it was Aaden Bell of Goleta.

Dust flew as the 6-year-old shot out into the sandy arena on his rambunctious sheep. Dressed in tan cowboy boots, jeans and a plaid shirt, and having temporarily traded his cowboy hat for a helmet, the soon-to-be first-grader at St. Raphael School held on tight as the sheep dashed forward.

Aaden tumbled to the ground after a few seconds and several yards, and his “steed” trotted away toward its mates at the other end of the arena — without even a backward glance.

Noozhawk’s rider, 6-year-old Aaden Bell of Goleta, didn’t win Sunday, but he’s got the cowboy nonchalance going for him. Click to view larger
Noozhawk’s rider, 6-year-old Aaden Bell of Goleta, didn’t win Sunday, but he’s got the cowboy nonchalance going for him. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Then, he popped up quickly with a grin on his face, walking off to meet his family to cheers from the crowd.

“He is fearless,” said Laura Cheung, Aaden’s mom. “It was awesome to see him ride, and fun because it’s something different. He has never done anything like this before.”

Aaden said he hung on for dear life and kept his eyes open the entire time as the sheep sprinted forward.

The competition is judged by distance traveled, and most kids fell off quickly, although one boy and one girl each made it all the way to the other end.

Lucia Smith, a Carpinteria 6-year-old who won the 2014 contest while riding for the Noozhawk brand, also tumbled into the dirt when her sheep decided to take a sharp right turn out of the gate.

Owen Gloeckler, 5, of Nipomo, won the event and, with it, a first-place commemorative silver belt buckle from Jedlicka’s Saddlery.

Aaden may not have won the buckle, but after the wild ride, when asked how he felt, the young cowboy said “great” with a wide smile on his face.

His dad, Don Bell, was in the arena cheering for his son during the event.

“It was exciting to watch him race,” he said. “This was a great event.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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