If you think you’ve heard or seen everything when it comes to horse sports, think again. We came across this video of a pack-burro race in Colorado:
But lest you picture these hard-working animals being ridden at a gallop along a well-groomed track, what sets this sport apart from other horse races is that it’s not only the four-hooved creature that is doing the running. In pack-burro racing the humans must run alongside the burro, or lead it, or as is the case in the video, run behind.
Pack-burro racing isn’t some weird fringe sport either; it’s actually the Official State Summer Heritage Sport of Colorado, and was designated as such in 2012. The sport made its official debut in 1949 and is inclusive, allowing men and women to compete equally like in other equestrian events. In fact, the first ever female competitor of a pack-burro race was in 1951. Her name was Edna Miller and she made history by being the first American woman to compete in a marathon – burro or no burro.
According to the state website, the origins of the sport are embedded in the history of the 19th century Gold Rush: “it is said that at that time, two miners found gold in the same location, and raced each other back to town to be the first to stake a claim to the find. Neither miner could ride their animal because of its load and so they ran alongside their burros.”
While greed played a role in developing the sport, it has become a major tourist attraction for Colorado and attracts people from all over to watch and participate. The rules of the race are simple: each burro must carry a 33-lb pack that includes a pickaxe, pan and shovel, and be led by a person. Donkeys, mules and even miniatures have competed in the races, with courses that are on uneven and often difficult terrain making it a challenge for even the most experienced runner. In fact, courses can be altered at a moment’s notice if weather affects the route. Avalanches, flood waters, you name it, any of these natural phenomena will force organizations to devise alternative strategies to keep a race on track.
Brad Wann, the media relations officer with the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation, told a local paper that rumours of donkeys being stubborn asses are greatly exaggerated. “They’re not stubborn, they’re cautious,” he said. “They’ll follow you off a cliff if they trust you … it’s a psychological game.”
He also explains that because donkeys and burros naturally want to run in a pack, the human runners must adjust what would be a steady pace for a regular marathon to adapt to the animal’s pace. “If you hold that donkey back too much, you’re going to break their spirit for the whole race,” he told a reporter.
These races aren’t for the faint of heart. One held in Fairplay, CO, is 29 miles and according to Wann, it’s the second-oldest marathon in America and one of the highest altitude races in the world. And there’s even a Triple Crown, where the winner must cross the finish line first in three consecutive pack burro races in the state.
The pandemic has unfortunately played havoc with a lot of live events this year and as a result, the 72nd Burro Days Celebration, set to be held in Fairplay July 24-26 this year, had to be cancelled because of COVID-19. Organizers promise it will be back in 2021 – dare we say, ‘kicking ass?’
So if you’re looking for a sport with equines that doesn’t involve riding and you love to run, this might be for you!
(See also this great video posted by Trail Runner Magazine):