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Kiddie Cowboys Not Baa-a-a-d

Sheepback Riding Steals the Show at Simi Valley Days Rodeo


SIMI VALLEY — Keep your chin strap tight, grab a handful of wool, and hang on for dear life.

That was the advice handed out by one of the 50-pounds-and-under set who rode sheepback Sunday in the "Mutton Bustin' " competition at Simi Valley Days.

The contest for preschoolers was part of the weekend rodeo for the five-day event, a fund-raiser for the Simi Valley Kiwanis Club. Organizers estimated this year's Simi Valley Days raised at least $30,000 for local nonprofit organizations.

Most of Sunday's program featured rodeo standards: calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping and barrel racing. But the eight tiny bareback-sheep grabbers, who clamped their legs tight as their woolly steeds wobbled around trying to shake them off, were clearly the crowd pleasers.

"It's not going to be used to something on its back," said Michelle Loop, 23, of Simi Valley, who organized the contest. "But it's not going to buck like a bull. It's a sheep. It's just going to run away from the pressure until the kid falls off."

Tucker Butler, 8, of Simi Valley won with a time of 21 seconds. His nearest competitor, Jesse Garcia, 5, lost his grip after 2.1 seconds. The others thudded to the ground just inches after the sheep left the gate.

They all left to cheers from the crowd, and despite wearing bicycle helmets, most left crying, rubbing their heads and thinking they might want to do it again.

"Kind of yes and kind of no," said 8-year-old Michael Johnson of Simi Valley, explaining his ambition to someday be a rodeo star. "I would because it would be a lot of fun; I wouldn't because I would get hurt a lot."

Second-place Jesse said he'd also like to be a cowboy and proudly displayed his battle scar, a two-inch scrape to the chest, from a strategically placed sheep hoof.

The 140 professional cowboys who competed on somewhat bigger, feistier animals over the two-day rodeo said they too get their share of injuries.

Chad Waldhauser, of Ramona, near San Diego, won the bareback bucking bronco contest, and said he's had his share of broken bones but nothing serious. Rodeo clown Mike Hayhurst, 38, of Barstow said he's had to have stitches a few times.

Hayhurst, like all the cowboys here Sunday, hits the rodeo circuit on weekends. Monday through Friday he is a fourth-grade schoolteacher at Henderson Elementary School in Barstow. To get his class to complete assignments he sometimes promises them rodeo stories or videos of his latest adventure.

"Fourth-graders at Henderson love seeing their teacher get hit by a bull," Hayhurst said.

Ventura County riders also participated, including Brandi Copenhaver, 26, of Simi Valley, who rode her quarter horse, Chance, in the barrel race.

Copenhaver, who is a surgical nurse when she's not riding, said she enjoyed competing in her hometown. Other competitors said the rodeo, although one of the smaller ones they attend, was still a fun venue with an enthusiastic audience.

"This is a pretty decent little rodeo," said Waldhauser, who competes at rodeos almost every weekend.

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