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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 1:41 am | Fair 53º


Wild and Woolly Mutton Bustin’ Steals the Show at Santa Barbara’s Fiesta Rodeo

Competing alongside professional cowboys and cowgirls, young buckaroos earn cheers — and laughs — while getting the slide of their lives


Rodeo fans were in a festive spirit Sunday afternoon as they came out to watch the final day of the Santa Barbara Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo.

The 94th annual rodeo was the perfect ending to the traditional week-long celebration of Old Spanish Days Fiesta. The crowd could not stop smiling and cheering as they took their seats at Earl Warren Showgrounds to watch their favorite performers compete for first place.

Sunday’s lineup comprised some of the most skilled rodeo competitors from the Central Coast, as well as throughout California. Not only are the cowboys and cowgirls talented, but so are the livestock athletes — the horses, bulls, calves and even the sheep.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association performance featured more than a dozen events, including professional tie-down rodeo, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, team roping, barrel racing, bareback riding and bull riding.

Among the highlights was the comeback attempt of Luke Branquinho, a five-time world champion steer wrestler. The 37-year-old Los Alamos rancher has been recovering from a string of shoulder surgeries, and Sunday was his first time back hitting the dirt in competition.

Unfortunately, Branquinho broke the barrier in the bulldogging event and the penalty left him out of the money. A consolation, though, was his son, Jameson, whose rodeo skills on display all week earned the youngster the Cinch Machado All Around Cowboy Award for ages 7 and under.

And there was the crowd favorite, Mutton Bustin’.

Mutton Bustin’ is a featured event every year, and gives buckaroos between 4 and 6 years old the chance to test their agility by holding on for dear life while a sheep sprints to reunite with its friends halfway down the arena.

It’s impossible for the crowd to hold back its excitment as each of the young contestants straps on a helmet with a face guard and a padded vest and eagerly — well, mostly eagerly — awaits his or her turn. The kids gear up for a wild ride and hop onto the woolly sheep that are almost three times their size.

The competition is scored based on time and distance. The riders try to hold on for as long as they can while seeing how far they can make it.

With the livestock not cooperating as they usually do, the Mutton Bustin’ was going to serve as an even bigger challenge to the young competitors.

“Dakota has been waiting for this event for so long, and each day she has been practicing by riding bareback on our horses, and even the family dog,” said Lynnai Kennedy-Ortega of Goleta, mother of Mutton Bustin’ participant Dakota Kennedy-Ortega.

Almost all of the buckaroos were quick to slide face first into the dirt, but just as quick to get up and reply “yes” when asked by the commentator if they would like to do it again.

As each youngster took a turn on the sheep, the crowd could be heard getting more excited through standing applause and an abundant amount of chuckles.

Carson Livermore, the 4½-year-old son of Katie Chackel and Logan Livermore of Solvang, has grown up around rodeo. This was his first time competing in the Mutton Bustin’, but his mom said he has watched it every year and was excited to finally be old enough to participate.

“Carson was so excited to be in the rodeo because he gets to compete beside the real cowboys and also join his grandfather in this year’s rodeo,” she said.

Chackel’s dad, Dave Chackel, won Sunday’s team-penning event with fellow riders Bill Keese and Dr. Chris Pankau.

This year, Carson was Noozhawk’s sponsored Mutton Bustin’ rider and, even though he only lasted a few seconds, he is looking forward to the chance to compete next year and, hopefully, beat out the other buckaroos.

“We are just so proud that he got out there and tried his best,” Chackel said.

The event was won by Annika Shaye Villa, 5, of Goleta, who managed to stay on for about 20 yards.

The crowd could not have seemed more thrilled, and as the day continued, sounds of guests singing along to classic tunes and cheering on their favorite riders filled the arena.

Earl Warren Showgrounds had a fun-filled weekend, starting with the sold-out Professional Bull Riders event on Thursday evening and the Wrangler Tough Enough to Wear Pink performances on Friday and Saturday.

“It’s a family tradition for us to attend the rodeo every year, and it always has such an amazing atmosphere,” Kennedy-Ortega said. “It is definitely an event that we all look forward to.”

Noozhawk intern Sheridan Taphorn 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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