Mini bull, bronc riding events fill the gap for youngsters too old for mutton bustin’
August 30, 2018
The young man in the chute is intent on making sure everything is set just right before he nods for the chute gate to open. As he does his final check to make sure everything is tight, he nods his head and the gate flies open.
The bucking horse barrels out of the chute, crow hops several steps, and makes a few little bucks before the whistle sounds and the cowboy plows to the ground. The young cowboy gets to his feet, picks up his hat, dusts it off, and heads back to the chutes while the crowd goes wild.
This familiar scene is played out over and over at rodeos across the country for as long as we can remember, but what is unique about this particular ride is this cowboy is only 8-years-old. Too old for mutton bustin', but too young for junior rodeos, mini bull and bronc riding events are starting up in several states to give youth as young as 4 or 5 an opportunity to try the sport and see if they like it.
Donnie Hayes with Rocky Mountain Mini Broncs based near Hayden, Colo., said he got started in the mini broncs when his own children became interested in rodeo. "When I was a little kid, I remember little buckaroo rodeos in Vernal, Utah," he said. "They bucked out little ponies and even had little riggins specially made for the children to use. I have always loved the sport."
As a board member of the Rocky Mountain Bronc Riders Association, Hayes began to notice how many young kids came to their events, and decided they needed an event they could compete in. "My own children, Keenan and Kaitlynn, had a bet going when they were little to see which one of them would become a stock contractor first," he said. "Then someone gave them a pony that would pull a cart, but bucked if you tried to ride it."
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Hayes still recalled the white pony and how hard it could buck. "We had it in the chutes at the Routt County Rodeo, and it was a total surprise. No one knew it was there. A 9-year-old boy came out of the chute on that saddle bronc pony and the crowd went wild. When we saw the crowd's response, it made us stop and think we might have something here."
From there, the Hayes children formed the Rocky Mountain Mini Bronc Association, with their dad guiding them through the venture. "People started giving us rescue ponies that were basically unrideable," Hayes said. "We also get ponies from the Pine Ridge and Wind River Indian Reservations. Those ponies can really buck."
The children set up a business plan, and started booking shows with the help of groups like the Colorado Association of Fairs and Shows. "Mini bronc riding is kind of like overgrown mutton bustin'," Hayes said. "We bring all the equipment. We started out with saddle broncs, but later went to barebacks because of liability issues. We have a saddle maker who makes the smaller bareback riggins for us."
During an event, Keenan and Kaitlynn talk to the children and their parents to determine how much experience they have so they can fit them to the right horse. "If the kids come from a ranch and are more experienced, they get to ride our top mini broncs. For less experienced, more novice kids, we have tamer mini broncs," he said.
The children learn how to ride broncs safely in a controlled group. "The idea is to provide these kids with an opportunity, and plant the seed. We also hold clinics and coach these kids along. From our group, we have had three of the kids go on to nationals, and four made it to the Heartland Finals," Hayes said.
BRING ON MINI BULLS
Jon Flack fought bulls for 15 years for a stock contractor in the San Luis Valley. After he retired, he started the Circle A Family Rodeo in Greeley, Colo., and holds mini bull ridings for youth as young as 5-years-old. "When we decided to start a mini bull riding event, I had a lot of friends with connections that helped me find some mini bulls. It seemed like they would just pop out of the woodwork. We buy some at the sale barns," he said.
A lot of the mini bulls Flack has are breeds like Lowline, Corriente and Zebu. "We can use any breed, as long as it stays small," he said. "Some of these bulls will weigh as much as 1,000 pounds. Some of them, like the Lowline bulls, are heavy, but look like little solid blocks."
As mini bull riding started taking off, Flack noticed some contractors are breeding small bulls and small cows to produce mini bulls. "Some of them are thick and stocky, but look like a dwarf," he said.
Flack bucks out his prospects and puts them into age groups based on how they buck. "Some of these bulls will just walk out of the chute, while others can really buck," he said. "The idea of it is to serve as a confidence builder for the beginning competitors. It allows them to start young. If they have the gumption to do it, we try and have something available for them to get on," Flack said.
During a mini bull riding event, Flack said they can use standard bucking chutes, although they have smaller chutes at the Circle A Family rodeos. "With the smaller chutes, the gates swing in to pinch the bull in tighter so he can't move," Flack said. "But most of our stock is well-broke to a chute, so they will stand pretty well for the kids."
Even the vest, helmet and bull ropes come in a smaller size suitable for little kids. At most events, they have to ride the bull 6 seconds once the chute gate opens. The awards are different at each rodeo. Flack said hosting mini bull riding events gives him a lot of satisfaction and the ability to give something back to the sport he loves. "I just do it for the kids. I like helping the kids get started if they want to ride bulls," he said.
Rocky Mountain Mini Broncs and Humps 'n Horns Mini Bucking Bulls are on facebook. For more information, Hayes can be reached at (970) 846-9233, and Flack can be reached at (970) 590-5654. ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.