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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Smallest Cowboys Become Woolley Riders At Navajo Fair
by Alysa Landry - The Farmington, New Mexico Daily Times
credits: photos by Rebecca Craig/The Daily Times

SHIPROCK — The number 92, pinned to the back of Cauy Betony's shirt, flapped recklessly as the boy clung to a sheep, grimacing as he endured six long seconds atop the animal.

But the sheep didn't stop.

Instead, Cauy found himself careening around the rodeo arena Friday at the Shiprock Navajo Fair's junior rodeo, a bullfighter in full pursuit.

"It was fun," Cauy said after the ride, though his eyes were wide with anxiety and determination as he grasped the saddle horn during the ride, the clock ticking past the mandatory six-second mark and continuing until the bullfighter reined in the sheep.

Cauy, 4, was a contestant in the annual woolly riding competition held at the Shiprock Navajo Fair. At about 3 feet tall, the boy needed assistance to mount the sheep, a common occurrence in the woolly riding competition.

But he was professional after the ride, methodically removing his gear and stowing it in a duffle bag.

His proficiency in the arena and behind the scenes is not surprising, said Cauy's father, Phil Betony. Cauy is the youngest of Phil's four sons, and the boy grew up watching his father, brothers and uncles ride.

Phil competed Friday in the bareback riding contest.

The family traveled to Shiprock from Tonalea, Ariz., to compete. The athletes planned to participate in a second rodeo Friday in Kirtland, and Cauy wasn't schedule to ride in Shiprock, Phil said.

"I told him he would ride tonight, but he threw a fit," Phil said of Cauy. "So he rode."

The ride earned Cauy his first belt buckle, a shiny silver piece bigger than his hand.

"I want to show this to my mom," he said after receiving it.

Woolly riding, also known as mutton busting, is a sport geared toward the smallest cowboys and cowgirls. Competitors follow the same basic rules as bullriding, except they ride atop a fluffy mound of wool.

The fall from a sheep is much shorter than from a bull, Phil said.

"Cowboys who know they want to start early do woolly riding," he said. "If they find out they're good at it, they keep going."

Other athletes begin later and start on regular rodeo animals, but Phil said the woolly riding experience gives a cowboy or cowgirl an advantage.

"You grow into it," he said.

Phil also started rodeo at an early age, learning woolly riding at home. He never competed in the soft sport, however.

Cauy, who walks and talks like a cowboy, would blend in with the other athletes at the rodeo if it weren't for his height. Friday's competition was one of his first. He started riding only a couple of months ago, his father said.

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