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Above, nine-year-old Hunter Whitten hangs on tight to a bucking bull; top, Hunter and Tucker Whitten, age 6. / September 22, 2021
Hunter and Tucker Whitten, ages 9 and 6, will be traveling to Reno, Nev., in November to compete in the International Miniature Bull Riding Association World Finals.

Miniature bull riding is a rodeo sport that involves a young rider staying mounted on a miniature bull while the animal attempts to buck off the rider. It is bull riding on a smaller scale, as both the bull and the rider are smaller than in a professional rodeo. All competitors are under age 17.

The sons of Mecklenburg County FFA teacher Amy Whitten and husband Jacob, the Whitten brothers advanced to the world finals by competing in qualifying events in Gordonsville, Powhatan, Isle of Wight and other locations. They practice at home riding metal barrels shaped in an oval that simulate how a bull moves.

The sport is equally fun and scary, say the boys, but Hunter adds, “It makes me happy.”

Jacob Whitten said the chance for his sons to participate in the IMBA World Finals is “a once in a lifetime event.” He and Amy are hoping the community will rally behind to support the boys. The world finals are Nov. 9-13.

The Reno trip will run at least $5,000 for airfare, hotel, food, and entrance fees. To raise money, the family is selling Boston Butts for $35 each, ready for pick up on Oct. 9. You can place an order by calling Jacob at (434) 738-3835.

The family has also set up an account at Benchmark Bank, titled the Whitten Boys Rodeo Fund, to accept contributions from anyone who would like to donate directly. “Every penny that we make will be used towards getting our favorite bull riders to Reno,” Jacob promises.

On Thursday, ahead of an upcoming weekend rodeo, Hunter offered a quick tutorial on miniature bull riding. He said Tucker participates in the walk trot competition and he rides the bucking minis. Tucker is required to stay on his animal at least six seconds to earn a score, for nine-year-old Hunter, the requirement is eight seconds. You do not earn a score if you do not finish your ride.

Competitors are judged on the way they ride and stay on the bull, he explained. “You get more points if it bucks.” Riders can use a flank strap placed just in front of the hind legs of the bull to encourage bucking.

Hunter said he first fell in love with riding bucking animals while watching his uncle who rode bucking horses. Before miniature bulls, he first had to demonstrate the ability to stay on top of sheep. It is a rite of passage for most bull riders, but much different than trying to stay on a 1,200-pound miniature bull.

The sport is considered somewhat dangerous. The boys wear chaps, helmets, and mouth guards for protection while they compete. Hunter is quick to say that the bulls are not mean. “They’re bred to buck. They wait for the gate to open, and they go wild.”

The IMBA was formed in 2017 to promote the mini bull industry and give young people a stage to showcase their talents and potentially groom the next generation of professional bull riders. Hunter says he sometimes thinks about being a professional rodeo rider, but is not certain about that.

Always the FFA teacher, Amy Whitten sees miniature bull riding as one more opportunity to get kids excited about agriculture. They could be involved in breeding, raising and training the miniature bulls.

To qualify for IMBA world finals, a rider must compete at IMBA-sanctioned events and finish in the top five of their age group of that series and be a member of IMBA in good standing.

Top young mini bull riders from all over the world will compete head-to-head on the top mini bulls at the IMBA World Finals. The winner is crowned Mini Bull Riding World Champion.

Amy thanked the community ahead of their support for her sons. “You all have watched them since they were little bitty boys riding sheep to these not much bigger boys riding bulls. Thank you for supporting the boys through this crazy dream.”

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