PAOLA — Lainey Hager, a Paola 7-year-old, had one of the rides of her life at the annual Mutton Bustin’ competition at the Miami County Fair rodeo arena.
Hager slid sideways on her sheep and refused to let go. She rode the sheep out to the right side of the gate, where it circled and then headed back to the far end of the arena before she finally let go of the rope.
She received a score of 75 for her performance, which most years would have brought her home a first-place trophy and a belt buckle.
Hager was one of 77 riders to compete in the annual Mutton Bustin’ competition. Due to the temperatures predicted to top 100 degrees, the field was limited to keep the show from going over two hours to protect not only the children and the fans, but also the sheep.
This year was the most competitive one in the history of the competition in Miami County. It took a 79 to bring home the title and that score went to a ride by Cade Hensley, Paola, 7. Hensley swung an arm in the air the whole time for style points.
First, second and third place in the 6- and 7-year-old division were separated by a total of two points. Jace Slyter, Paola, 6, sported a cowboy hat and rode his sheep from one end of the arena to the other and got a score of 78 for runner-up.
Grant Lewis, Spring Hill, 6, had one of the gutsiest rides of the evening. He was determined and held on from one side of the arena to the other. His sheep ran straight for the far gate and then got low to send him over the top and toward a post. Lewis quickly raised a hand to keep his head from hitting the post. He got a score of 77 for third place.
The race for the buckle in the 4- and 5-year-old division was a close one as well. The difference between first and second was one point.
Brantley Graham, Osawatomie, 5, placed first with a score of 78. Bo Suchocki, Tallahassee, Fla., 5, was runner-up with a 77. Crosby Owens, Lawrence, 5, placed third with a 74.
Thirteen riders in the 6- and 7-year-old division received a score of 70 or better.
Blake Elmore, Paola, 6, got a score of 76. He was fourth. Hager was fifth with her 75.
Harlow Carter, 7, Osawatomie, and Rhett Madden, 6, Fontana, both posted scores of 74. Logan Ward, 6, Spring Hill, and Charlie Knudsen, 6, Spring Hill, each got a score of 73.
Ellie Yates, Centerville, 6; Knox Owens, Lawrence, 7, and Mark Mermis, 7, Louisburg, each had a score of 71.
Oakleigh Locke, Paola, 6, had a score of 70. Talon Locke, Paola, 5, posed a 73 in the 4- and 5-year-old division.
Wayland Bonecutter, Paola, 6, rode out of his cowboy hat during his ride in the competition.
Miles Ford, Parker, 5, also had a heck of a ride, losing his cowboy hat while holding on tight to the rope.
Paxton Shay, Spring Hill, 6, went out on a fast sheep too and lost his hat, but leaned way back to stay on for a good ride.
Callie Hart, Paola, 6, waved her left arm, putting on a show for the crowd during her ride.
Allen Brewer, Paola, 7, did his best Indiana Jones performance with his Harrison Ford style hat for the event.
Konnor Foster, Osawatomie, 6, had one heck of a ride. He got sideways, but still held on tight and even rode for a few seconds while under the sheep.
Charlie Knudsen, Spring Hill, 6, brought cheering section with him for the show. He put on a super hero show with his Spiderman helmet.
Jaxon Russell, Osawatomie, 6, was another one of the tough riders in the competition. He got sideways on the sheep and would not let that stop him from putting in a full ride.
Other participants in the 6- and 7-year-old division were Blake Elmore, Paola; Lawson McDowell, Bucyrus; Haylee Crawford, Paola; Max Macoubrie, Louisburg; Gentry Marsh, Osawatomie; Sequoia Goodwin, Paola; Maggie Moyer, Wellsville; Laney Bowden, Wellsville; Alex Abel, Osawatomie; McCade Chadwick, Paola; Jase Van Dewynkle; Waylon Baska, Wellsville; Max Waters, Louisburg; Jacs Johnson, Bucyrus; Lane Crisco, Paola; Jacelyn Shipley, Osawatomie; Briar Scherman, Paola; Liam Russell, Osawatomie; and Logan Ward, Spring Hill.
Keith Crawford, Paola, 5, sported the ever popular mullet for his ride on the sheep.
Malorie Puckett, Paola, 5, wore a beautiful multicolored unicorn helmet during her performance.
Henson Carter, Osawatomie, 5, put on a heck of a show on his ride. He fell off while waving his right hand in the air. Even after he fell, Henson held onto the ride and went with his sheep for several seconds. He still got up with some rodeo arena dirt and smiled for the crowd.
Emery Dehann, Paola, 4, got sideways, but held on and had a heck of a ride.
Other contestants in the 4- and 5-year-old division were: Halle Elmore, Paola; Ledger McDowell, Bucyrus; Cooper Hickman, Paola; Taelyn Ford, Parker; Casen Hickman, Paola; Everleigh Shay; Etta Wright, Paola; Regan Cannon, Paola; Brantley Pope, Osawatomie; Ivan “Silver Bullet” Russell, Paola; Braxton Pope, Osawatomie; Mavrick Gross, Osawatomie; Maci Marsh, Osawatomie; Declan Bowen, Paola; Oliver Moyer, Wellsville; Jackson Van Dewynkle; Ellery Kirk, Paola; Shaelyn Way, Paola; Beau Brown, Paola; Easton Degraffreid, Paola; Leo Leonard; June Slyter, Paola; Wyatt Sterk, Paola; Maddix Brown, Paola; Connor Mermis, Louisburg; Avery Russell, Osawatomie; Skylar Ward, Spring Hill; Devon Huckaby, Osawatomie; Jaxn Minden, Paola; Fletcher Huckaby, Osawatomie; and Liam Russell, Osawatomie.