Max Tan Smith Sr. and grandson Max Tax Smith III, also known as Trip,
share some rodeo time hanging out on the fence.
Some call it 6 seconds and a sheep.
Others call it fun, dangerous, bull riding training.
Mostly, it’s called Mutton Bustin’. It’s when a small child, age 6 and under and 60 pounds or less, tries to stay on top a ewe sheep long enough to win a trophy at the Sallisaw Lions Club IPRA Championship Rodeo.
The rodeo will be held at 8 p.m. each night, Aug. 3, 4 and 5 at the Sallisaw Rodeo Arena. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for kids age 6 through 10. Kids age 5 and under get in free.
In Mutton Bustin’ the sheep are usually older and heavier, at 160 to 180 pounds, than the kids, but very seldom do the sheep or the kid suffer from this popular event.
Max Tax Smith Sr. of rural Sallisaw provides the female sheep, the ewes, for mutton bustin’ at the Sallisaw rodeo, and many other rodeos in the area including those in Muldrow and Fort Smith.
Smith said he’s never had a kid or a ewe seriously injured.
The kids all ride with helmets, and other safety equipment.
Smith said, “They have bull-riding helmets for the kids now. And when a kid shows up in a helmet, wearing a vest and chaps, well that’s a professional mutton buster.”
Smith should know. He’s been providing the sheep for mutton bustin’ for over 17 years, with one short break for other activities. Smith raises sheep, goats and strawberries on his farm south of Sallisaw, and is also the guiding spirit behind the Sallisaw Farmers Market every Saturday and Wednesday in downtown Sallisaw.
Smith is pretty proud of his mutton bustin’ ewes.
“If I raise ‘em, they’re wild,” Smith said with a chuckle about his sheep. “I got one that nothing can ride. She goes out 20 to 25 feet and spins like a bull, and then it’s over.”
Smith said he’s sure that some of rodeos top bull riders started out riding his sheep. Ryan Dirteater of Hulbert, number 22 in PBR standings, most likely started out on a Smith sheep when he was younger.
“I don’t name ‘em,” Smith said about the ewes. “If you name ‘em they lose money. But this one, she’s the leader of the pack. I bought her in 2010 and called her Fuzzy, because she was fuzzy. She’s not big, but you put that feed out on the ground, and all the others leave her alone. I’m gonna retire her next year.”
Smith said he and the sheep travel to rodeos almost every weekend. He got into the mutton bustin’ business when his own small children were busy in FFA raising sheep and other farm animals. When his children were done, he had to do something with those sheep. Thus his mutton bustin’ business was born.
Now he has grandchildren, and some of them want to be mutton busters, especially Max Tan Smith III, also known as Trip for triple. Trip will be celebrating his fourth birthday on the same weekend as the rodeo.
“He likes to ride sometimes,” Smith said. “He’s rode a couple times.”
So Smith is prepared for the future, with both sheep and a mutton buster, grandson Trip.
“It just keeps growing,” Smith said about the rodeo sport for those age 6 and under, and all those who love to watch it.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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