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Mutton busting: Child abuse or childhood fun? The New York Times gets in on the debate

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Is it child abuse to encourage a five-year-old to bear-hug a 150-pound sheep and instruct said five-year-old to hold on tight as the sheep busts a move? Or is it just character-building, rough-and-tumble fun?

The New York Times has now waded into the controversy surrounding mutton busting, a staple of many a rodeo and county fair -- including ones in Colorado.

To investigate, the Times dispatched a reporter to the Arapahoe County Fair in Aurora, where the mutton busting was in full swing. The reporter, Sarah Maslin Nir, brought back these quotes:

"I think it builds character," said Meredith Templin, a registered nurse whose son, J. T., 6, had begged to compete again after finishing second out of about 27 children at last year's Arapahoe fair. She lamented "this age where we sanitize our kids' hands every 30 seconds."

"I think that same mentality of parents being overprotective is the same as not wanting them to experience failure," she said.

"Growing up on the East Coast, you don't see kids in any kind of danger, ever, and these parents are purposefully putting their kids on these crazy little sheep," said Stacey Berry, 25, a Massachusetts native who is spending the summer in Jackson, Wyo., and who saw her first mutton-busting event this summer.

"It looks cute; it's a fun idea," she said. "But I think it definitely borders on child abuse."

"It's not that we're out there to put our kids out there to get hurt," said Amy Wilson, 37, who helps run the Jackson Hole Rodeo. Her husband's family added mutton busting to the rodeo when they took it over a few years ago.

"It's probably just like in the cities," Ms. Wilson said. "Just like a kid going out for basketball and getting hurt playing basketball, or going out for football and getting hurt playing football."

With whom do you agree?

More from our News archives: "Denver Zoo death: Of course there's a digitally animated version of the incident."


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4 comments
Spitfirecaity
Spitfirecaity

No child is forced to mutton bust. Any child that competes wants to and if a child doesn't they find another event in rodeo that they feel comfortable doing... I would much rather spend my time with the children who rodeo and mutton bust who Are happy and have respect and Responsibility than the kids who are being raised in urban settings now-a-days

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savePoudreH20
savePoudreH20

For whom does the planting of a small child on the back of a panicked and terrified  sheep "build character"--the child or the sheep?  It was probably inevitable that  narcissistic suburban parents who frequent rodeos would find a way to turn another form of animal abuse into kid sanctioned cruelty.  No mention in the article of the child who died last year mutton busting.  No mention of that at all.

Insert Name Here
Insert Name Here

I'm pretty agnostic when it comes to this. If your kids wants to get bucked off a sheep, more power to you. If the parent is making the kid do it against their will, I can imagine the experience leading to some unnatural hatred of sheep over the long haul...but child abuse? Come on. The most surprising aspect of this article is that this bastion of a liberal east coast rag wasn't going after the angle of sheep abuse.

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