Whither Mutton Bustin'? How the Culture of Self-Esteem Is Ruining An American Tradition

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

We can all agree that Mutton Bustin' is a good thing. But are liberal parents threatening the sanctity of this fundamentally American rite of passage? Yes. They are.


The practice of dressing a weeping 6-year-old up as a turn-of-the-20th century Cavalryman and sending him out to be thrown into a patch of dirt by an enraged sheep before a delighted crowd of thrilled spectators happily intoxicated on the aroma of man's dominion over nature and cheap beer is, obviously, a cherished and important tradition, and a necessary part of any upstanding young person's development into a productive member of society.

I recently had the pleasure of introducing young Grover Buckley Wallace Dylan Pareene to the rodeo for the first time. Not, alas, as a participant—it's hard to find a good one on the Upper East Side, and besides, his mother would "bust" me, as it were—but as a spectator, delving into the rich collection of Mutton Bustin' clips on that grandest expression of the sheer thrilling variety of American capitalist creativity, the YouTube. I took his inquiries as to the safety of the busters—none older than he—as healthy sportsmanship, and I assured him that bones may—and do—break, but rich moral character is the sturdiest stuff known to man. While a particularly nasty fall undertaken by a strapping young lad of around four stone briefly spooked him, the lesson was, on the whole, rather well-received. (And it should serve him well at riding camp, next summer.)


But before I could click or he could toddle away, he noticed a particularly dispiriting spectacle: a boy who lasted not four seconds on his sheep receiving a belt buckle reading "Champion." It was a garish, shiny thing, and it was all the more galling when a more skilled lass who rode her bucking beast a full 12 seconds received the very same buckle. That's one failure-in-training undeservedly rewarded, and one future titan denied. When everybody wins, everyone's a loser.

That the long arm of the liberal self-esteem police has reached as far as Mutton Bustin' is sobering, yes, but hardly surprising. While the sport thrives in the unspoiled frontier of the great American West (on my occasional, interminable Acela rides down the eastern seaboard to Washington I often daydream of my eventual retirement to a marvelous ranch in Montana), those heroic Real Americans are victims of the same Nanny State forces that plague the rest of us. New Mexico, after all, is barely a stones throw from California (but be careful with that stone—you wouldn't want to hit some limousine liberal's precious, perfect baby), where the vapid self-esteem movement was birthed, and a generation of Americans coddled into sissidom. Even the parents of little cowpokes need to sign liability waivers before sending their children out to be thrown from a sheep, these days. Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be trial lawyers.

In our parents' days, the only child who'd receive a shiny belt buckle at a rodeo would be the child who actually won that rodeo, and afterward his award would be melted down to help to war effort anyway. But today we mustn't dare to hurt little Jimmy's feelings by telling him he lost—ye gods, the stress of it! He might fall into a shame cycle! He may eventually need costly therapies! Or he might actually grow up into a man of character and conviction.

If we're raising a generation that can't handle being told they're not the best, how can we possibly face the true threats of the 21st century? The children of Iran certainly aren't afraid of sheep.


Alex Pareene is a senior fellow at The Foundation for Enterprise and the director of The Jack Acid Society. He is the author of Birthright: Why a "Post-Racial" America Means a Post-American World and, more recently, a biography of Gouverneur Morris.