Editor’s Note: This week, we hear the second installment on pack burro racing from Katrin Silva, an accomplished horsewoman as well as an impressive endurance runner. She writes about the burro races at the Leadville Boom Days celebration in the mountains of Colorado.
The starting gun (true to Boom Days, it was an actual gun) went off for the women’s race. Twenty-five of us and our cute asses took off down Harrison Street at breakneck speed.
Bella and Silver Jack were excited. They trotted so fast we could barely keep up. We turned onto a dirt road and headed up into the mountains. Nathalie showed me how to use an energetic burro for more efficient uphill running: loop the lead rope around your waist and allow the donkey to pull you.
Silver Jack is a great racing burro: he likes being in the lead, and he gets competitive with other animals. He was feeling fresh. Bella likes to follow him, so we kept running. We kept passing other runners whose asses showed less enthusiasm.
Burro racing can be frustrating for speedy runners because you will only be as fast as your ass wants to go. If the burro decides to slow down, so will you.
A good donkey-human relationship is crucial for success. Yelling, crying, pulling, dragging, or excessive pushing will do no good. Burros have strong personalities. You might be able to intimidate a horse or a dog into running, but never a donkey. The more pressure you apply, the more resistance you create. I have a similar pattern in responding to authority, which makes me appreciate this character trait.
Horse people have a saying: “You tell a gelding. You ask a stallion. You discuss it with a mare.” As a horse trainer, I have always gotten along with difficult mares as well as mules. They have taught me patience and persistence. These skills became useful in the burro race.
Meanwhile, Nathalie, Silver Jack, Bella, and I were holding our own somewhere in the middle of the pack.
That changed once we could see no burros in front or behind us. Silver Jack lost his drive. He slowed to a walk. We tried to persuade him to trot:
Nathalie hugged him.
I pushed from the back.
We told him what a good boy he was.
We told him there’d be lots of carrots at the finish.
I pleaded with Bella to show some initiative. She did not see the point.
We shuffled for a bit, then walked again. Bella went ahead for about ten feet at a time, then stopped to let her brother pass. He stopped again. We moved in this leapfrog fashion for miles, until a group of runners and burros caught up to us on the narrow trail around Bald Mountain. Silver Jack pricked up his ears. His ambition returned. We stayed ahead of the pack and soon pulled away.
A woman named Kiki and her adorable miniature burro, Jacob, stayed with us. Kiki tried to break away from us but Jacob, like Bella, prefers following other burros. So, we continued on together.
When we came to a wooden bridge across a river, Silver Jack refused to cross. Donkeys are prey animals, of course, and have evolved to be cautious. It’s impossible to blame them for it, but while trying to convince our two scared-y-asses that the bridge was safe and solid, we lost the lead we had built. The group behind us caught up and passed us.
Donkeys are herd animals, too and finally the instinct to follow overrode their fear. When one of the donkeys stepped on the bridge, they others, including Silver Jack and Bella, soon joined him.
After the bridge, Silver Jack and Bella realized they were moving toward home. We started running again, with Jacob and Kiki close behind. On the long downhill stretch back into Leadville, we struggled to keep up with our burro pair. Little Jacob, measuring 38 inches at the withers, followed at an all-out gallop with Kiki in tow. The six of us turned onto Harrison Street, where cheers and cow bells welcomed us across the finish line. Silver Jack, Bella, and Jacob placed 5th, 6th, and 7th respectively.
Not bad, not bad at all in a competitive field of more than 25 pairs Maple and his grandson were beaming. We hugged our donkeys, and each other. What a way to end the summer!
I made it to work the next day, unprepared and very tired, but basking in the burro race afterglow. This experience was worth every minute of the grueling drive home.
As a horsewoman and ultra runner, pack burro racing is my new favorite sport. It allows me to indulge in my two passions simultaneously.
Thank you, Maple, for your generous offer to share your donkeys. Thank you, Nathalie, for the crash course in burro racing etiquette and a fun day out on the trails. Thank you, Bella, for being such a trooper. I feel so very grateful to have met all of you and hope sincerely it wasn’t the last time.