A PINT-SIZE COWBOY hangs onto his hat at a Nevada rodeo, frolicking with other big-hat kids during a “mutton-busting” competition at the Elko County Fairgrounds.

At summertime rodeos all around the West, grown-ups compete in bull-riding and bronco-riding. Sometimes the kids get in on it, too, with mutton-busting — riding bareback on a sheep — at this Nevada rodeo and elsewhere.

Kids as young as 3 don a helmet and get onto a sheep’s back, clinging to its wool as the sheep runs out of a chute and into an arena. Most kids fall off in less than 10 seconds, but all of them are winners to rodeo organizers and their parents, getting awards such as free-pizza coupons, ribbons or belt buckles — along with more than a few hugs.

In Washington state, some rodeos/fairs go for kids’ mutton-busting, including the Washington State Fair in Puyallup (Sept. 6-22), where it’s a daily “Wool Riders Only” event. Any child age 4 to 7 and weighing less than 60 pounds can go for a wild little ride, with a crowd to cheer each one on.

Who knows, maybe they’ll grow up to be cowboys and cowgirls.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times NWTraveler editor. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.