| News |

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

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

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."

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.