Get ready for cowboys, mutton busters and clowning around Folsom
By: Rachel Zirin & Bill Sullivan
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Editor’s note: The following is the third segment in a four-week series on the preparations and the running of the 58th Folsom Pro Rodeo that rides into the city at the conclusion of this week. This week, the Folsom Telegraph looks at a couple of the special acts of the annual event.

The Folsom Pro Rodeo rides into town this week for its 58th annual affair. From barrel racers to bull riders, ring of fire performers and high flying motocross daredevils this event brings its fair share of thrills. Along with the high octane acts, comes a few that bring many smiles and memories for all ages. We’re talking about a couple of the things that make a rodeo special, the art of mutton busting and the antics of the rodeo clown.

We’ll start with the young competitors, better known as mutton busters.

Each evening of the Folsom Pro Rodeo, a group of young brave cowboys and cowgirls test their skills by riding sheep. While it sounds easy enough, fact is, it’s not the easiest task to tame.  However, it’s a crowd favorite with a full roster each and every night.

Mutton busting at the Folsom Pro Rodeo is open to 5- and 6-year-old children. Each night, more than a dozen brave youngsters come into the arena to take one of their earlier tries at becoming a real rodeo star. Regardless of how long they stay on the striding sheep, it’s a crowd favorite and every contestant is cheered on regardless of how they finish.

Ask any participant prior to the competition and they will tell you mutton busting is easy and they will be able to hold on for a long time. In reality, few hold on for more than a few seconds and many fall off almost immediately, but that’s what makes the event one of the more popular at the rodeo as brave little kids trying to show the adults that they’ve got what it takes to be a cowboy and cowgirl. Ask them the trick to doing well, it’s two words: “hold on.”

There is a good chance, that many of today’s bull riders, barrel racers and even professional rodeo clowns likely got their start in the rodeo as a mutton busting contestant. There is another chance that they were following in the footsteps of the generations ahead of them as this is an activity that is full of family tradition year after year.

It’s also not uncommon for siblings to compete with one another in this sport. This year, Folsom’s Goodell family has three brave five-year-olds competing. Sam Goodell, Ford Goodell and Rosie Goodell, which encompass two brothers and a cousin, will be among many on the roster.

“It’s so rewarding to see the excited little ones get out there in front of the crowd,” said Sharon Williams, of the Greater Folsom Partnership. Williams has been escorting the little ones out in front of the crowd for decades at the Folsom Pro Rodeo. She has seen the bravest of kids and some of the most stubborn. 

“There are some that are determined they are going to hang on the longest from the moment they way in,” she said. “And there are some that are ready until they get out there and they dig those heels in and just decide it’s not their thing. I enjoy this every year.”


Clowning around

Professional entertainer Matt Merritt will be making a special stop in Folsom for the Folsom Pro Rodeo this year and he is sure to entertain.

Traveling from Olin, North Carolina, this professional rodeo clown has seen it all. Merritt has been in the business for more than 16 years and has traveled to Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada and 48 states in the U.S.

Merritt said during the rodeo, there are many animals and people competing and a lot of time, something will go wrong and there will be down time.

“My job is to fill those dead spaces and entertain people,” he said. “I tell jokes, do a skit or act, or dancing. It can be many different things. It’s a lot of fun, but it can be challenging. You got to keep it fresh!”

Last year, Merritt entertained crowds as the Rodeo Clown, and he is back for another great year. During an interview with the Telegraph, he said he had heard of the Folsom Pro Rodeo and how big it is with huge crowds, and he wanted to come see it for himself. He was surely impressed with Folsom as he is here for another year.

To prepare for his profession, he said he goes on Wikipedia a lot to research along with local news.

“I will look up and research anything that will make the audience feel special,” Merritt said. “If you live in Oakland, I will do something with the Warriors. If it’s in Chicago, I’ll do something with the Cubs. I look for things that relate to where I am going. It is unique everywhere I go.”

Merritt said he is looking forward to the energy of the crowd and the opportunity to have fun.

“My job is unique in that where the crowd can make or break how I feel,” he said. “It’s my job to show them a good time. It will be a good time.”

Merritt’s favorite event during the rodeo is bull riding because of the inherent danger of it.

“I have been around it so long, so I see the details that go into it,” he said. “There is a lot of technicality in it and to see it done right is awesome. In bull riding, the crowd seems to be really into it also. It is human nature that if you see someone doing something dangerous, you get excited.”

This year, the Folsom Pro Rodeo is part of a full patriotic week of celebration in the City of Folsom. It all begins on Friday, June 29, with the Folsom Family Round Up. This is an event where everyone is invited to come out and enjoy the shade at the Folsom City Lions Park for a free event featuring up-close and personal fun with the stars of the Folsom Pro Rodeo.

Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday nights, the Dan Russell Arena comes to life with the gates opening at 6 p.m. Rodeo action begins at 7:30 p.m. with fireworks on each of the nights.  Monday night will bring the Northern California Junior Rodeo Association to Dan Russell Arena.  This event will feature free admission as the rodeo stars of the future strut their stuff on the same arena that the pro riders do. 

When it comes to seating, there isn’t a bad seat in the house at the Folsom Pro Rodeo. Fans will have the opportunity of sitting ringside to the bucking chutes and not missing a minute of the action in the Corral Club for $49.50, which includes no-host beverage/food service. Reserved rodeo tickets are $26.50. General admission is $21.50 for adults or $15.50 for children (12 and under) and seniors (over 62).

Family value “buckaroo” packages are available online which includes four general admission tickets, four sodas, four hotdogs for $65 ($96 value). For more information, contact the Folsom Chamber of Commerce at 916-985-2698 or go to where you can learn all the details and even purchase tickets in advance.