A Visit with Western Folklife’s Kristin Windbigler

Kristin Windbigler is the new executive director of the Western Folklife Center and the event it runs, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. We visited with her via email about the organization and this year’s production, the 34th annual gathering which runs from January 29 to February 3 in Elko, Nevada.

Cayuse Communications, the family of six sites including NickerNews, BestHorsePractices, and HorseHead, are regular sponsors of this wonderful mid-winter event.

This year’s NCPG theme: Basques and Buckaroos: Herding Cultures of Basin, Range, and Beyond.

The weeklong winter event features workshops where visitors can learn about Basque cooking, Dutch oven cooking, two-step dance, cinch making, rawhide braiding, and hat making, to name a few. There are also special events to connect more closely with favorite performers, like poet Paul Zarzyski and musician Dom Flemons.

Kristin Windbigler

Excerpts from our visit with Windbigler:

NickerNews: Why do you think you were chosen to lead Western Folklife and the Gathering?

Kristin Windbigler: I was raised on a little place in a remote community located in the rugged ranching and timber country of Humboldt County, California. I come from gyppo loggers on both sides of the family, but there is a ranching thread in the weave, too. I’ve been around cattle and livestock most of my life.

I have attended the Gathering for nearly 20 years and as a participant since 2005 when I made my first of seven films for the Deep West Video program. I joined the board in 2013 and most recently served as its vice chair. I fell in love with the Gathering that first year I attended because I saw my own culture—the life I grew up in—recognized, examined, celebrated and lauded.

The Western Folklife Center and the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering explore and give voice to the traditional and dynamic cultures of the American West, and I couldn’t be more thrilled and humbled by this opportunity to grow the organization.

NN: What are you interested in having evolve at the Gathering and what you are interested in maintaining as more or less the same?

Performers at the NCPG

KW: I’m not going to mess with the magic, but I would like to make it all more accessible and also to new audiences — that means both people who live the life as well those who have an interest or love for the West and life spent close to the land (and those certainly aren’t mutually exclusive!).

I hope to nurture the deep connections everyone makes at the Gathering as well as foster new ones by using technology to bring the organization’s far-flung community together year round. Read more about that here.

NN: Are there more workshops than in the past and if so, is this an intentional pattern of introducing more ways for members to engage in ranch culture? Are more and more members “from away” (ie, not ranchers but wannabe ranchers)?

KW: Much of the 2018 Gathering planning was already underway when I came onboard in June, so I can’t take any credit for the incredible offering of workshops—that all goes to the Western Folklife Center’s talented programming staff.

It is very much part of our mission, though, to provide a venue for artists to pass on their crafts and skills. The Gathering has a long history of fantastic workshops, and I’m so thrilled you are interested in making people more aware of them.

You are correct in noticing there is an increase in the number we’re offering in 2018, but that’s just because Gathering participants (ranchers/cowboys included) enjoy the hands-on offerings.

Wylie Gustafson will perform at the NCPG

The Gathering isn’t solely about stage performances with featured artists, but also about actively engaging with many Western artforms (including cooking, gearmaking, visual art, poetry writing and recitation, open mics, etc.). We appreciate that there are different ways of doing this, so we like to provide lots of options.

All kinds of people take these workshops, and I would not say they’re intentionally geared toward any particular audience as often as they are designed for both beginners AND skilled, advanced students. I think it’s worth pointing out that I know several highly skilled gearmakers who did not grow up in this life, but came to it later because they were interested or had a passion for it. Anybody who has the desire to learn is welcome.

NN: The Western Folklife staff is almost all women – Serendipity? Strength? Weakness?

KW: I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. A person’s gender doesn’t have much to do with what they can accomplish. I don’t have any brothers and my dad got a lot done on our place with the help of my mom and two little girls.

I grew up building fence, bucking hay, and packing fuel and saw oil in the woods when he was falling timber for the neighbors. He told us we shouldn’t ever apologize for being small or not as strong, but we did need to learn to make good decisions and use our brains to work efficiently, especially when we needed to make up the difference on a task that required brawn. That said, this job doesn’t require much lifting.

Duckworth: a Montana Company that Walks the Wool Walk

At Cayuse Communications, we gravitate towards companies that put people and the planet over profit. That’s another way of saying sustainability and environmental concerns impact what we review and don’t review. In addition, we applaud companies that make things in the U.S.

At the Outdoor Retailer, we chatted with Robert ‘Bernie’ Bernthal, founder and president of Duckworth, a Bozeman, Montana company.

Duckworth is the only company to take American wool from the “sheep to shelf.” It shears Montana sheep, sends the wool to be processed in North and South Carolina, where it’s knit, cut, dyed, and sewn into an array of Duckworth garments. The company has doubled its sales over the last few years.

Often chlorine bleach is used to process wool so that it won’t shrink. Duckworth has a patent-pending process that avoids using bleach while still making it machine-washable and maintaining its integrity.

“People are very interested in transparency, especially millennials,” said Bernthal, explaining his company’s interest in providing its backstory and source verification. “I think especially as we as a society become more disconnected, the story of where things come from is interesting.”

Where did Bernthal come from?

He worked in Switzerland (for Swatch watches), Germany (for the ski and board company, K2) and California (for the surf industry) before settling down in Bozeman, where he’s lived since 2010.

Duckworth clothing comes in a variety of blends, from 100 percent merino wool to about 40 percent wool in the Vapor Wool which also has recycled polyester and modal.

I found Vapor V-Tee extremely comfortable and super easy to care for. It’s more breathable than cotton or cotton/polyester blends and feels softer, too. This is a slim-fitting tee that feels divine on your skin. The length is not too long and not too short; it works well tucked in or left out.

I enjoyed the fitted fit of a Vapor small. It seemed flattering; although the (sheep herding) dogs and horses did not communicate their two cents directly, I think they approved.

New Horse Professionals Expo in Maine

Well-known horse trainer Chris Lombard is working with the non-profit Healing Through Horses to direct the inaugural Horse Professional Demonstration Expo at their facility in New Gloucester, Maine. It will take place all day, September 30.

Visit their facebook page here. 

Visit their website here. 

Healing Through Horses is a non-profit counseling service that offers Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) in a private indoor horse facility in New Gloucester, Maine. Horses are known for their unique blend of gentle disposition and compassionate power. EAP is animal assisted therapy that incorporates human interaction with horses as guides. Used for decades, it is a proven form of therapy that effectively employs a horses’s innate ability to connect and bond with people in a non-judgmental manner. Horses are sensitive, compassionate and gentle animals. They are able to perceive the needs of humans and act on those needs with unconditional love which makes them a perfect partner in a therapeutic setting.

Admission is just $20 for the day and children under 8 get in for free. There will also be a food booth and The Village Store is close by for lunch.

There will be three different venues holding demonstrations simultaneously. “Think of it like a mini, one-day Equine Affaire. There will be equine professionals from all types of specialties – dressage, jumping, centered riding, natural horsemanship, driving, farrier/hoof care, dental, veterinarian, holistic medicine, energy work, performances, body work, saddle fit, animal communication and more,” said the Healing Through Horses site.

Chris Lombard

Presenters include:

KRISTENE AUBIN (Equine Dentistry)
SANDRA BEAULIEU (Performance/Trick Training)
JUDY CROSS STREHLKE (Centered Riding)
SAYRE ENGLISH (General Training and Horsemanship)
MICHAEL FRALICH (Equine Assisted Therapy)
ASHLEY HUTCHINSON (Saddle Fit/Massage/General Training and Horsemanship)
NIKALINE IACONO (General Training and Horsemanship)
DR. DAVID JEFFERSON (Equine Veterinarian/Chiropractics)
ADRIEANNE JOHNSON (Holistic/Herbal Horse Care)
RON JOHNSON (General Training and Horsemanship)
DR. TOM JUDD (Equine Veterinarian/Chiropractics)
JAN LAMONTAGNE (Dressage)
DEBBIE LITTLE (Youth Horsemanship/General Training and Horsemanship)

Judy Cross-Strehlke

CHRIS LOMBARD (General Training and Horsemanship)
GWYNETH McPHERSON (Dressage)
LOUISE POPPEMA (Animal Communication)
MICHAEL POULIN (Dressage)
KRISTIN PRETORIUS (Hoof Care)
STACEY SCOTIA (Holistic Horse Care/General Training and Horsemanship)
SUSAN WALKER (Hoof Care)
DAVID WHITAKER (Hoof Care)

Cayuse Communications applauds On Pasture

Cayuse Communications, the family of sites owned by Maddy Butcher and including NickerNews, BestHorsePractices, and HorseHead, is a big fan of On Pasture. It’s a website, run by Kathy Voth and Rachel Gilker, women with a wealth of experience in the ag world, and is dedicated to “translating research and experiences into practices you can use now.”

Sounds great to us. We also like the position they’ve taken to support rural and agricultural communities.

OnPasture wrote in a recent newsletter:

This past week, On Pasture joined the Western Landowners Alliance, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, Family Farm Alliance, and Partners for Conservation, along with a host of businesses and organizations working across the West in signing a non-partisan statement of principles to guide lawmakers and communities in creating a healthy working lands and communities. We think these are sound principles, no matter where you live and work, so even if you’re not in the West, you might consider supporting the work of these organizations, or consider ways you can adopt the principles where you work and live.

Here is the statement:

We urge Congress and the Administration to advance the following principles to achieve rural economic health and a productive agricultural sector, provide for our human needs, and protect the landscapes in which we live and work.

The long-term economic health and resiliency of our nation is directly dependent on responsible management of our natural resources – including productive public and private lands, and abundant water supplies.

Across the West, communities and organizations are working together to restore and manage forests and rangelands while creating local and regional jobs. Together we are committed to the care and stewardship of our natural resources and are investing in our country’s future. We believe the rural West can play a vital role in solving some of America’s biggest challenges, including protecting working lands, and maintaining the cultural values of both cooperation and independence.

We believe that:
• Working lands, human communities, and wild places are all important and interdependent. Their health must be protected and advanced together.
• Ecosystem productivity, social equity, and economic well-being go hand in hand. Good public policy builds on and reinforces these linkages.
• Large-scale resource planning that is cross-boundary and inclusive, and science- and place-based, is essential.
• The cooperative management of private and public lands is good for business, public health, and species conservation.
• Voluntary, market- and incentive-based programs are key tools for landowners to participate in conservation, diversify their operations, and help keep landscapes intact.
• Hope for rural America lies in collaboration, common sense and non-partisan solutions that ensure sustainable working lands and diverse new economies.

Keep up the good work, OnPasture.

Wool: The Cool Summer Option

Editor’s Note: We hear from guest columnist Amy Skinner who reviews a top by Ramblers Way Farm.

Ramblers Way, founded by Tom Chappell (of Tom’s of Maine), and run by family members, creates and sells clothing designed and made in America and sourced responsibly through the Global Organic Textile Standard. RW clothes are made of super fine merino wool as well as pima cotton.

Skinner writes:

I live in North Carolina, which means it’s hot. I ride outside all day in the sun, heat and humidity, and sometimes my clothes don’t last through the day before I have to change into less sweaty ones.

Finding the perfect shirt to ride in is hard, as a shirt has many requirements to fill:

  • It needs to help keep me cool.
  • It needs to be comfortable.
  • It needs to be durable.
  • It needs to move with me while I ride.
  • And while it doesn’t need to be fancy, it should be cute and presentable.

I ride in tank tops a lot, but many of them slide around and have straps that slip when I’m riding, a negative feature that drives me crazy.

Lots of tops also don’t last due to poor quality material. All it takes is one snag on a vine when I ride through the brush and that shirt is toast.

I get frustrated with companies that seem to make more inferior clothing for women than for men. As if we all sit around posing for pictures and shopping indoors! I need clothes that stand up to real life and can take a beating.

I wore my Rambler’s Way wool camisole on a trail ride with my boyfriend. It looked cute enough for a date ride, and it was super-comfortable too. It withstood trotting and loping in a field with no slippage. The straps stayed in place, and despite being a black shirt, the wool was breathable and kept me cooler than a cotton tank top. It wicked away the sweat brought on by 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity.

You’d think that wool would be hot to wear, but it breathes better and stays drier than cotton. I stay cooler and don’t end up wearing a wet, sweaty shirt.

Ramblers Way top comes in multiple colors

This wool shirt wasn’t the least bit itchy. Rather, it was super comfortable and soft. The material is really durable, and didn’t snag or tear on trees or vines as I rode through eye-level brush.

The top also looks great under nice blouses or long sleeve shirts. It covers everything it needs to cover, but flatters the form. It looks great with jeans or dressed up with clothes for going out. It’s packable, too.

Rambler’s Way prides itself in making quality clothing in a sustainable way. In fact, some of their manufacturing is right here in North Carolina. The sheep are also raised in America.

This camisole has made it into my regular circulation of riding wear, and washes easily along with my other shirts. I just line dry it instead of putting it in the dryer. Super easy.

Herd Improvements

Dog work is like horse work. The more you learn, the more you realize there is so much to learn. Dogs, horses, and humans all benefit from Dwell Time. Read more here.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working with an accomplished herding dog trainer, Ann Chernoff Allan. She’s had great success with her Australian Shepherds in trials and shows around the country. She also uses her dogs daily to move livestock around her Colorado acreage. I was thrilled to meet her and happy that she agreed to volunteer some time to help me with my dogs, using her sheep.

My dogs are Peeko, Monty, and Kip.

  • Peeko is a healer mix with a crippled front leg. Despite her permanent injury, she’s quick, agile and has done a great job helping me move cows. Ann felt, however, that her injury would be too aggravated by working with sheep. She’d have to sit out these sessions.
  • Monty is a young border collie mix. He’s lightning fast (much faster than speedy Kip and Peeko) and seems to have a keen sense of typical border collie strategies when moving stock: he likes to monitor the perimeter and push cows back to the group. Unlike Peeko, he does not like to heel or push the cattle from the rear.
  • Kip is an Australian Shepherd acquired as a puppy in Iowa. I was told she was 100 percent Aussie. When I sized up Ann’s dogs (all purebred Australian Shepherds), I had my doubts. So did Ann. Her dogs are bigger and stockier.

A simple Wisdom Panel DNA sequence test got to the bottom of it:

Kip was no purebred. According to the test, completed by swabbing the inside of her mouth with special brushes, then sending them off to Mars laboratories, Kip was three-quarters Aussie. The remaining quarter of her lineage had lines from terrier, herding, guard, and sporting breeds.

Read more about the Wisdom Panel tests here.

Read Monty’s Wisdom Panel results here.

Read Peeko’s Wisdom Panel results here.

There was one more helpful result in Kip’s findings: like her buddies, Kip tested negative for the Multidrug Sensitivity gene mutation. The genetic variant, which can cause dogs to fall into comas or die when given certain drugs, is especially common among Aussies. Phew.

Now to get to work!

My dogs are enthusiastic herders. They have all-day energy and love to move cows, people, and each other. So it was a shock when they cowered at the sheep. “No way. Take me home,” they seemed to say as they scuttled between my legs.

These were new creatures. These creatures were making eye contact and emitting new sounds.

Like many horsemen and women I admire, Ann values dwell time and giving animals opportunities to think for themselves. She knows that in the moment and after the moment, the dogs are thinking. “Give them time. They will be different next week. You’ll see,” she said.

We returned the following week.

“Oh, yeah, I got this,” the dogs now seemed to say. In an undisciplined, rookie fashion, they now approached the sheep with vigor. Ann’s job would be to help me and my dogs learn how to nurture instinct, retain spirit, and craft sound brains and bodies into something disciplined and effective. All without the least bit of micromanaging.

The dogs would learn quickly. My challenge was to keep up with them. Ann taught me, for instance, that rewarding my herding dogs by letting them reconnect with sheep was far better than any treat. That’s good to know. I’m not much of a treat advocate, anyway. Check out this slideshow on toxic and dangerous foods for dogs.

Stay tuned for ongoing reports.

Hauling Ass, Part II

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.

Read Part I

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.

We begged.

We pleaded.

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.

Boot Review: O My Olathes!

Editor’s Note: We welcome guest columnist Jim Thomas to our pages. The Best Horse Practices Summit presenter runs Bar T Horsemanship in Pittsboro, North Carolina. He has started scores of BLM wild horses, competed in multiple Extreme Mustang Makeovers and travels and conducts clinics year round.

Jim Thomas reviewed a buckaroo boot by Olathe Boots of Mercedes, Texas.

Thomas writes:

Here at the Bar T Ranch, we’re known for our Sunday Mini-Clinics. It’s a time to meet and greet potential clients in a setting of fellowship, horsemanship and good food.
This is our chance to “put on the shine!” For the small price of a covered dish, we welcome anyone to this teaching and sharing experience. For our first Mini Clinic of the year, we had 22 horses and riders signed up, plus an additional 20 or so auditors. I’d need to be on my best behavior and ran through my host-with-the-most list:

  • The facility was looking great
  • The horses were in top shape
  • The homemade ice cream was prepared

It was just me that needed the spit-and-polish look. I considered my new pair of Olathe boots.

But first, let me explain my boot-wearing program:
Upon purchase, all new boots are designated as Sunday boots. Sunday boots are only for church, nighttime dinners, and sterile environments.

Saturday boots are for the sale barn, trips to town, and clinic presentations.

Weekday boots are work horses that have earned the right to be worn every day in dry, dusty, wet, muddy, slimy, manure-y, and snowy conditions. Yet they still have to clean up well.

To earn a spot in the weekday rotation, the boot must fit well, look fantastic before and after a hard day’s work, and hold up under all the stresses. It must be easy on-and-off, easy in-and-out of the stirrup, and comfortable to boot (pun intended).
That’s a tall order. These boots must also fit sized-14, narrow feet. It’s not an easy task, so my weekday boot roster is short.

My current weekday boots are Anderson Bean, which like Olathe is a brand under the umbrella of Rios of Mercedes out of Mercedes, Texas. I know that right out of the box, I have a quality boot with true fit, good looks, durability, and long wear.

That’s what I was looking for in the Olathe, along with the option of a custom design. I’ve been looking for boots that rise above the rest of the boot world, without going the totally unaffordable, custom-made, $1000 route. The Olathe fit the bill and looked to be a contender.

So, here’s where Olathe and the Mini Clinic meet:

  • I wanted to make the best impression for my first mini-clinic of the year.
  • I was going to bring out my newest boot – my Sunday boot, my church boot, my nighttime boot.

Was I ready?

  • Had this boot passed the comfort test?
  • The “What a Great Looking Boot” test?
  • The “Cleans Up Good” test?

The Mini Clinic was not my first wearing, but I promise you, the boots had not seen anything beyond carpet, wood floors, cement, and asphalt. The chance had to be taken. On they went.

The boots were a hit. Compliments flowed faster than a spring run-off.

Here’s what I liked:

  • Good Comfort for a boot not sized by a mold
  • Summertime has me in light socks. The boot fit well with a little room for thicker socks in the winter.
  • Easy on/off without a bootjack.
  • Spur shelf works well. I just drop my spurs over the top without unbuckling and the ledge is prominent enough to hold a loose spur.
  • Buckaroo heel is not my favorite for walking but it’s very stylish and holds the stirrup well.
  • Oil-tanned finish with its deep distressed appearance really gives it a bold look and repels water better than a duck’s back.
  • Made almost entirely of leather except for a rubber heel cap and a thin layer of rubber above the sole for shock absorption.
  • Leather sole for easy slip in-out of the stirrup and smooth gliding on the dance floor.
  • Uppers are a bright Tennessee Orange that peeks just below the cut of my jeans while riding. That’s statement in itself.

I spent the eight hours on my feet and another four in the saddle with no discomfort.
These new Olathes will be my Sunday boots until my old Anderson Bean’s fall off my feet. But rest assured, I have no reservations about these boots making the cut.

Let Your Horse-Owning Voice Be Heard

This just in from Best Horse Practices Summit presenter Dr. Sheryl King:

King writes:

As horse lovers you know that our industry is under-recognized both for its size and its economic impact. In the words of Rodney Dangerfield: “We Don’t Get No Respect.”

We can take steps to change that and preserve and protect what we love. The first step is to be counted.  The American Horse Council is conducting a nationwide Horse Industry Economic Impact Survey. My home state, Illinois, has raised significant funds and will participate as a focus state. Any horse owner in any state is asked to participate.
As an industry, we need to verify our size and our strength.  I am asking you to please complete the survey.
Secondly, I am asking you to please forward this link to every horse lover you know and to every person or business that relies on the horse industry.
The survey will only remain active until July 31, so you need to act fast!
Thank you from the bottom of my horse loving heart.

Dr. Sheryl King

Hauling Ass: My first pack burro race

Editor’s Note: This week, we hear 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.

Colorado’s State Sport? Pack burro racing, of course!

By Katrin Silva

Pack Burro Racing is, in fact, a sanctioned sport. It involves running with an ass in tow on mountain trails, for distances between 10 and 30 miles. The rules are specific: burros (not mules, not ponies – asses only) must wear a pack saddle with 33 pounds of mining gear, including a pick, shovel, and gold pan.

Runner and burro must work as a team and cross the finish line together. Runners may push, pull, drag, or carry their ass, but they may not ride it.

Katy, a fellow ultra runner I’d met from Sydney, Australia, found this niche phenomenon particularly fascinating. She had heard that burro racing is not a strictly BYOB sport. It might be possible to rent a burro, she said.

Who wouldn’t be tempted by Bella and her cute keeper?

I was curious, too. I’m a cowgirl at heart and I train horses for a living, but had never worked with a donkey.

Intrigued though I was, I had planned to leave by noon at the latest. I would, of course, resist any temptation to run a burro race all day, then drive back to New Mexico really late. No way, I kept telling myself as Katy and I walked to the pack saddle weigh-in. I’d just to check things out. Really.

Downtown Leadville was teeming with burros of all colors and sizes, tied to horse trailers, to trees, and to lampposts. The ratio of cowboy hats to sun visors and cowboy boots to running shoes was 50/50.

The humans were busy with brushes, hoof picks, ropes, and packs. Donkeys were braying, pawing, and circling.

Two silver grey burros caught my eye. They stood like islands in a storm, while a grey-haired man and a young boy fed them hay and brushed their sleek coats.

I complimented the man on the excellent condition of his animals, and their calm demeanor. I patted the donkeys, a nine-year old brother-sister pair named Silver Jack and Bella. They were clearly the pride and joy of their owner, Maple. “Like a tree,” he said.

Maple couldn’t run today because of an injury, but his friend Nathalie was going to race Silver Jack. I mentioned my background with horses and expressed my interest in burro racing. Maple looked at me thoughtfully.

“No one is running with Bella today. Would you like to?”

He didn’t know, couldn’t know, that he had just offered the equivalent of a whiskey shot to a horse-a-holic. I bit back the enthusiastic “Yes!” that wanted to escape my lips. What was I thinking? The race didn’t start until 11 a.m. and would easily go on until late afternoon, depending on the burro’s mood.

I am a responsible woman. I wanted to get home in time to have dinner with my husband and to get ready for work the next morning.

Katrin and company

“I would love to, but I can’t. I have to be at work in the morning.”

Maple and his grandson looked disappointed.

“Well, we’re going to find some breakfast. You think about it,” said Maple.

Tied to a fence post, Bella munched on some grass. I stroked her exquisite ears. I scratched her neck. She nudged me, which I took to mean “Come on, run with me!”

I walked down the block to the cardboard table that served as burro race headquarters. Katy had found a burro and was signing up for the 15-mile women’s race. Her excitement was contagious. Before I knew it, there was a pen in my hand and a registration form in front of me. Forty dollars and a signature later, Bella and I were signed up as team Number 19.

Maple looked pleased and not surprised. He introduced me to Nathalie, and we proceeded to saddle our race partners. Silver Jack and Bella are inseparable, so our strategy was to keep the four of us together and move at a steady pace.

Maple expertly tied our numbers and all our gear securely to the saddle, then it was time to line up for the start.

Part II coming next week: Stop, Go, Gallop!

© Copyright NickerNews Blog - Theme by Pexeto