Kids and sheep frolicking together — how cute would that be?

Dick Brown has been involved with the Litchfield Fair for more than 40 years, and the fair hosts plenty of kids and plenty of sheep every year. Still, Brown had no idea what a cute, intriguing, even exciting combination the two could be until he saw a TV report about children riding sheep at another fair.

“I saw it on TV and thought it would be something fun for the older kids,” said Brown, 61, superintendent of the Mutton Bustin’ contest at this year’s Litchfield Fair. “We have pig scrambles for the little kids, but we had nothing for the 7- and 8-year-olds.”

Pig scrambles involve putting children into a show ring with piglets and watching each child try to catch one. At the Litchfield Fair, the event usually includes 10 children and five pigs.

But if a child is too agile or too strong, then that would be unfair for the piglet, wouldn’t it?

So three years ago, the Litchfield Fair hosted its first sheep-riding contest, with children ages 7 and 8. The idea was to have the kids ride the full-grown sheep — not lambs, mind you — until they fall off.

“Wherever they fall off, we mark that with a traffic cone and let the next one go,” Brown said.

The rider who gets the farthest wins the $20 prize. All the riders get T-shirts.

The riders are well protected, Brown said, as the fair provides helmets, knee pads and elbow pads.

Still, parents should make sure their little mutton-busters are also decked out with sturdy shoes and long pants.

“The kids can get scraped up, so you don’t want them wearing shorts and flip-flops,” Brown said.
What about the sheep? Is this cruel in some way?

“No, because if the sheep doesn’t like it, he’ll just lay down,” Brown said.

The fair already has seen some pretty good mutton-busters. Brown said in the past two years, the winners have ridden their sheep about 150 feet. The event has become popular with fair spectators and draws 15 to 18 riders each year.

The Mutton Bustin’ contest may not be rooted in a specific tradition. As far as anyone can tell, there is no real need to have sheep broken in like wild horses.

However, it offers a reminder that living in an agricultural area allows for encounters between humans and animals that can’t happen in the big city.

You probably won’t see a child milking a goat or feeding a pig as you drive down a street in New York City.

And you definitely won’t see a child riding a sheep.

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