Aidan Rice entered a bucking shoot and took his place atop a sheep. Grasping both hands full of thick wool, Aidan clung to the animal as it sprinted through the gate and into the arena.
Within seconds, the 6-year-old plopped to the ground.
"That was scary, but I want to do it again," said Aidan as he stood up and brushed the dirt off his pants. "It's a bumpy ride, but it's a lot of fun!"
Aidan was one of six youngsters selected to participate in a Mutton Bustin' event during the Battle of the Beasts bull-riding production. The event is held Saturday nights at the Carroll County Agricultural Center.
"Mutton Bustin' is one of our most popular events," said Lisa Williams, 35, of Frederick, a co-owner of the J Bar W Ranch that holds the event. "It's adorable to watch, and the kids just love it."
The event is included in the professional bull-riding event known as the "Battle of the Beasts" to involve children in the rodeo, Williams said.
To participate, entrants weighing less than 50 pounds put their name into a jar. Six contestants are chosen and announced before the start of the professional bull riding.
Last Saturday, Victoria Stanley, 6, of Thurmont; Trevor Fawley, 5, of Westminster; Mason Spearing, 3, of Railroad, Pa.; Zane Stull, 2, of Westminster; Cash Nightingale, 5, of Westminster; and Aidan Rice, 6, of Mechanicsville, Va., were picked.
When the event was announced, the mutton busters reported to the bucking shoots with their parents.
After strapping on a helmet, the youngsters rode the sheep.
Riders must stay on the sheep for six seconds. Each qualified ride is given a score. The rider with the highest score wins $25 and a spot in the championship ride March 31, the final bull-riding show of the winter season.
Although it sounds simple enough, it isn't, Williams said.
"The kids that ride the sheep are really brave," she said. "First of all, they are small children. They don't know the sheep, and they have to get out in front of a bunch of people they don't know and ride an animal. It takes a lot of courage to do that."
Riding animals isn't easy, said Kelly Duffin, the outgoing president of the Idaho Junior Rodeo Association, Inc., which started offering Mutton Bustin more than 20 years ago.
"Riding sheep isn't like getting the kids on a cow, because the cattle buck more," said the 40-year-old Idaho resident. "But it's tough. The sheep's skin is looser than cattle, and the wool moves when the kids hang onto it. The up side is that it teaches the kids balance."
Trevor won the event.
"It's like riding a bull," Trevor said as he tucked his prize money into his shirt pocket. "But you can't hold one hand up in the air, or you will fall really fast."
Despite the possibility of injury, once the children try it, they often want to repeat their performance. It builds confidence in the riders, Duffin said. .
"The first two times my son tried it, he struggled," Duffin said. "But when he scored for the first time, he felt 10 foot tall and bulletproof."
Some aspiring bull riders shared helpful hints on how to ride the sheep.
"You get really excited and ride the Mutton Buster," Victoria said.
And don't stand too close to the sheep, or it will kick you, added Trevor.
Riding sheep is all about holding on tight, said Zane. "You have to hold onto the sheep's neck until you hear the whistle, then you just jump off," he said.
When Zane's turn came around, he passed on riding the sheep. But later he decided to give it a try.
With a look of bewilderment, and maybe a little fear, Zane rode the sheep a few feet. His father whisked him off before he could fall.
Afterward, Zane decided that maybe sheep riding wasn't his bailiwick. However, his performance wasn't over. He offered the audience a demonstration in something he said he can do well - hat throwing.
When one of the rodeo announcers tried to coax the tot into showing the audience his prowess in hat tossing, Zane graciously declined.
But after the announcer turned around, Zane tossed the hat about 15 feet across the arena. With a big smile, he picked up the hat and tossed it again.
"Did you see that?" Zane asked. "My hat landed on top of that girl's head. That was so neat. I'm a really good hat thrower."
As the kids left the arena, the cowboys, who traveled from as far away as Brazil, gathered back in the chute to continue their bull riding.
"I don't know if I want to ride a bull," said Aidan looking toward the shoots. "But I want to ride that sheep again."