At the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo, Mutton Bustin’ is Prep for a Next Generation
This story was reported for Marfa Public Radio
The Big Bend Ranch Rodeo sees working cowboys from across the region head to Alpine to compete in various events. But the rodeo is not only about showcasing the skills of working ranchers. It’s also about passing ranch culture and traditions on to the next generation.
Between professional ranch teams competing at sorting cattle and branding them – family members get their turn in the big ring. Six-year-old Hallie Wood struts towards the chute where other little kids have gathered.
The big event is mutton busting. This is when kids between the ages of 4 and 7 get their chance to ride wild livestock. But she won’t be riding a bucking bronco; she’ll be riding a sheep.
“You stick your spurs into the wool, and you hang on really tight. And then you don’t fall off,” says Hallie, who is wearing a pink cowboy shirt and bootleg jeans, her blond hair is pulled back in pigtails.
In the chute, a pack of eager parents and noticeably less enthusiastic kids wait their turn. Hallie watches as each kid suits up with a helmet and protective vest. They look like tiny hockey goalies.
More than a few mutton busters come back from the arena in tears. But that doesn’t deter Hallie. “I like whenever the sheep falls over on me,” she says.
Finally, Hallie’s up.
She walks with her dad to the pen at the center of the stadium, where she’s placed on a sheep’s back. As soon as the sheep is let out of the pen, it jerks sharply to the right. She keeps holding on. The sheep struggles to get free. Hallie slips to the ground. She’s dragged through the dirt. The sheep escapes her grip and runs free. Hallie’s dad picks her up and dusts her off.
When she gets back to the chute, Hallie looks a little shaken, but there are no tears. This is the life she knows. “I want to ride horses, and push cattle, and I want to do the same things as my dad,” she says.
Moments later, the event’s winner is announced: Hallie Wood.
Another cowgirl is born.