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

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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