Bustin' up at the Carlton County Fair: Children ride sheep at third event
Over 30 kids signed up to ride a young sheep in Sunday's Mutton Bustin' event.
For Jordan Klejeski, 6, the secret was to hold on really tight.
"It's just like riding a bull, except the sheep didn't buck," Klejeski said. "But it was about to run into a fence at the end!"
Jordan was one of 32 children who took part in the Carlton County Fair's Mutton Bustin' event on Sunday, Aug. 22. The fair was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the fair's return in 2021 marks the third year Mutton Bustin' has been held.
During the contest, children have the opportunity to ride a young sheep for as long as they can while said sheep makes its way down a fenced-in stretch of sand. The event was open to children under 65 pounds, to keep things light on the sheep.
"We started mutton busting three years ago because we wanted to have an event for the kids to be involved in," said Carlton County Fair board member Heather Wright. "Here at Carlton County Fair, we’re very strong in our livestock and exhibiting. We wanted to find something where we could get the kids involved at a young age to continue getting them excited about livestock and participating in the fair."
Wright had heard of the event from other fairs and talked about it with her fellow board members for a few years before deciding to try it out. It was a hit.
"We start registration every year an hour early and we're usually full within 10 minutes," Wright said.
The first year, all the sheep came from her farm. Today, it's a mix of sheep from her farm and another local farm. For the littlest participants, Wright brings her 4-year-old sheep, Rona.
"We bring her out for the really small kids so that we give them a really positive experience and they're comfortable and enjoy it enough to come back next year," Wright said.
For older kids, volunteers prepared them with hockey helmets and masks in case they get flung into the dirt or rammed into the side fencing. That's what happened to first-time rider Kaleb Lehto, 8. He had a goal to make it halfway down the fencing, but his sheep had other ideas.
"It was really fun," Lehto said. "I didn't make it down all the way, but I still liked it."
NovaLee Martinez-Dahl, 6, also had a pretty wild sheep.
"You have to hang on to the fur under the neck," Martinez-Dahl said. "You've got to dig in there and hold on until you can't."
A seasoned mutton buster, this was Martinez-Dahl's third year riding in the event.
"She gets excited for it for weeks before the fair, then when the time comes, she gets real nervous. But she did really well this year, even though she had a really wild sheep," said her mother, Jade Dahl.
Martinez-Dahl added one more golden sheep trophy to her collection at home. Every rider gets a trophy regardless of how long they hold on.
As for Klejeski, he managed to hold on to his sheep's neck all the way to the end of the line and was the first rider of the day to do so.
"It was pretty fun," Klejeski said. "I want to do it again."