By the time her fellow mutton-busting contestants had landed hard on the ground Thursday night, nine-year-old Helena Decasas was showing no signs of letting go of the runaway sheep on which she'd been placed.

By the time her fellow mutton-busting contestants had landed hard on the ground Thursday night, nine-year-old Helena Decasas was showing no signs of letting go of the runaway sheep on which she'd been placed.

Perhaps it was sheer determination, or fear of getting her pink shirt dirty in the mud, that kept the Grants Pass youngster hanging tight during the event on the first night at the Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo at the Jackson County Fairgrounds and Exposition Park in Central Point.

But long after the other mutton busters brushed off their jeans and looked for the remaining rider, a volunteer headed out to pluck the long-legged girl from back of the rain-soaked animal.

"I just held on as hard as I could," she said, after taking first place. "It kind of felt weird but it was fun. I've always watched people do it and I always wanted to do it but I didn't know I was gonna win."

Her 6-year-old sister, DJ, had plenty to say about the event, in which 10 kids rode a bunch of sheep who "did not want the kids to stay on."

"I thought my sister was not gonna win," she said. "I thought none of those kids were gonna win."

DJ, nearly a foot shorter than Helena, said that one of the problems was the speed of the sheep that the youngsters tried to ride.

"He was so fast! And then, while he was running, he bumped into the wall so I would fall off," she insisted.

Alhough she and her sister help raise lambs, DJ said neither she or her sister had tried to ride sheep before.

"When my dad said he wanted me to mutton-bust, I thought that means you get on a horse and it would buck you off," she said. "I don't know why they call it mutton-busting."

Mutton busting, in fact, is a rodeo tradition, the purpose to see which rider can stay on the longest. The mutton busting kicked off the three-day rodeo, alongside other such kid-friendly events as pony rides and face-painting.

Finishing second only to the girl wearing pink, Camiren Torrey of Sams Valley rode his sheep in unusual fashion — hanging onto the side.

"You have to hold on for dear life and just stay on," the 7-year-old said.

His second time mutton busting, he said he was happy enough to take second place. When he slipped to the side of the sheep, he realized things could get serious.

"I got stepped on! I fell on my front and my back," he said. "When I fell on the side, I thought 'UH-OH!' Then I locked my fingers even tighter."

Asked if he planned to ride bulls, "No way, I'm gonna cow wrestle."

Jim Miller, coach of the Crater Future Farmers of America, helped students coordinate the sheep needed for the three-night event. He said the mutton busting was a popular event.

"My kids were all excited about coming and helping, putting these kids on a sheep," he said. "It's hilarious to watch. I think it's a lot of fun."

Peyton Heesch, age 6, agreed with the fun factor, though he was eager to show off the sheep prints left on his back his first time mutton busting.

"I got stepped on," the Eagle Point boy said with a serious look on his face, lifting his T-shirt to provide proof.

"It was really, really hard to stay on that sheep. I was trying to stay on so I could win but they were really fast. It looked just like colors all around me."