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Mutton Bustin’ Delivers Thrills, and Spills, at Santa Barbara Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo

Most kids quickly hit the dirt during popular event as 93rd annual rodeo wraps up its Old Spanish Days tradition


The Santa Barbara Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo’s youngest riders might be small, but their radiant smiles — and the dust they kicked up and the fanfare they drew — were larger than life.

Thousands of fans gathered Sunday afternoon at Earl Warren Showgrounds to celebrate the 93rd annual rodeo held in conjunction with the community’s week-long Old Spanish Days festivities.

The day’s lineup included some of the most talented rodeo competitors and livestock in the region, along with the popular Mutton Bustin’ event featuring pint-sized cowboys and cowgirls riding woolly sheep weighing as much as three times more than their cargo.

In Mutton Bustin’, youngsters between the ages of 4 and 6 who weigh 60 pounds or less cling to the back of a sheep for as long as possible. It’s not as simple as it sounds.

The kids strap on a helmet with face guard and a child-sized protective vest, then they’re lowered onto the sheep and launched out of a chute. Once the gate springs open, the sheep bolt down the arena, aiming to rejoin their mates about 40 yards away.

The competition is judged by distance, but typically the riders only make it a few yards before tumbling to the dirt. The sheep hardly notice, barely breaking stride on their sprint.

Championship prizes await at the finish line for those who can ride out the rough and tumble.

Noozhawk sponsors a mutton bustin’ rider each year, and the name of 6-year-old Joshuah Holguin of Santa Barbara was drawn from a hat containing the names of nearly 50 applicants.

It was Joshuah’s first time holding on for dear life to a “steed” weighing about 180 pounds — 145 pounds more than he does.

Joshuah fell off after a few seconds and about 10 yards, but was proud of his accomplishment.

“It had a lot of fur” was what the Santa Barbara Community Academy first-grader said as he walked to meet his dad, Joe, who was in the arena applauding enthusiastically for his son during the event.

The elder Holguin said Joshuah had been looking forward to the wild ride all weekend.

The buckaroo was accompanied by a large cheering section. Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins sat in the grandstand to support the newest member of the rodeo circuit.

In preparation for the big day, Joshuah trained at home to refine his technique.

“He practiced riding on his older sister,” said his mon, Nicole. “This is my first time at the rodeo and seeing the mutton bustin’. It’s exciting to watch him.”

After the fast ride, when asked how he felt, Joshuah said “good” with a grin. He smoothed the front of his dusty, plaid long-sleeve shirt and traded his protective helmet for his tan cowboy hat — looking forward to trying again next year.

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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