The scores of finance bros and curious onlookers who crowded into Madison Square Garden for the arena's annual dabble in rodeo over the weekend did not get an authentic picture of the tradition. They had overpriced pints of light beer and Cracker Jacks; some, I'm sure, had worn plaid and cowboy hats and taken on ironic southern twangs. They looked the part.
But thanks to the city's iron-fisted Health Department, there was no mutton-bustin'. And without mutton-bustin'—the age-old tradition in which 6-year-olds ride sheep until they fall off and everyone laughs—rodeo is not really rodeo.
The Professional Bull Riders have hosted the Madison Square Garden Invitational for the past six straight years. According to Sara Broun, a PBR publicist, they always "have this fight with the city about whether we can even host" the mutton-bustin event. If she sounds indignant there, it's only because she knows the joy that a 60-pound child careening off of a very angry sheep brings to people. And she knows that it's a joy worth fighting for.
Alas, the New York City Health Department does not know the joy of mutton-bustin'. This year, they refused to give PBR the proper permits for the event, citing "health concerns."
"The city Health Department is wholly unversed in the sport of ‘mutton-busting,'" the agency's statement said, "and without sufficient time to examine its potential hazards, we deferred to caution."
Scare quotes for mutton-bustin'! You can't square quote mutton-bustin'. You also can't add a "g" to mutton-bustin', according to only us. These are things we hold sacred. If you went to the MSG Invitational this weekend, you should make every effort to get your ticket refunded. You didn't see a 6-year-old kid get tossed from a ewe, so you really didn't see much at all.