Donkeys get a kick out of pack burro racing

Participants tell about the sport original to Colorado

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With a reputation of being stubborn, pack burro racers will tell you that donkeys are much more than hard (headed) asses. 

The sport of pack burro racing originated in Colorado as a remnant of the mining age when workers needed an animal to carry their wares. 

Clear Creek County’s Bill Lee got his start in pack burro racing in a similar fashion. As a storyteller who accumulated too many props, Lee started bringing along a donkey to carry his things. Before he knew it, he started running them.

Many racers, including Lee, think the donkeys enjoy having a job to perform. 

“They get used to doing different things,” he said. “I just think they are really a lot happier interacting with humans and having a job, so to speak.”

Lee rents his donkeys for others to use in racing so he can offset their cost. He says keeping any type of animal is not necessarily cheap.

Michelle Hancock has been a runner her whole life. When she discovered pack burro racing, she was hooked: adopting several donkeys and moving to Evergreen. She points out that in some ways, donkeys uphold their stubborn stereotype. 

“Sometimes the donkey will run really fast; sometimes it won’t run at all.”

As a teacher, Hancock gets to dedicate a lot of her summer to pack burro racing. 

“It’s like the highlight of my summer. It’s what I look forward to,” she said.

Pack burro races can range from 5 to 29 miles, and often take place on trails in the mountains and in other states. The season generally runs from May until early fall.

Linda and Lyn Drain run a Facebook page called Burro Buddies, and they offer burro training, boarding and rentals. Linda says they got into the rental side of things because of the size of their herd. 

“We have our own burros that we race, but because we have such a large herd we let people borrow them,” she explained.

Linda and her husband have been avid racers since they joined the sport in 2017. They have only missed one race (and they missed it for a different race), and Lyn recently won first place in a race in Arizona. 

Linda regards her donkeys as more than animals doing a job. She calls them her teammates and her family. 

Many owners work with their donkeys outside of racing, including them in weddings, nursing home visits, costume dress up and more. 

When the love of animals coincides with the fun of sport, it seems to produce a group of dedicated people, Hancock said.

“The community of pack burro racing is really incredible,” Hancock said, and the passion behind these athletes’ words speaks to that.

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