My Day with Boo Boo.
by Michelle Sander
Last weekend I entered into the world of pack burro racing. Looking around as the trailers started moving in, I saw that this was a tight knit group of folks passionate about their burros, some passionate to place top 5 and all passionate about keeping a part of Colorado history alive.
This is something that I feel passionate about too, finding a way to provide a modern day relevance to our animals that we owe so much too. Colorado was literally founded on the backs of burros…I kinda feel like we owe them a lot…a lot of gratitude.
I met my first wild burro at Canon City, back in the Fall of 2012. We were down there to meet the mustang mares that we were scheduled to adopt. As I walked through the pens of horses, varied in age and gender, trying to locate the pen with the residual gatheree’s from the Sand Wash Basin (SWB) back in 2008, I saw pens of burros. Their curiosity, intelligence and beauty struck me immediately…actually, it was their ears, all standing at attention and looking right at us, they’d turn subtly as we’d move down the alley. Ridiculous, hilarious, endearing, adorable I needed to meet them. We met the girls, met Regal G, he was an escapee off the range in SWB, was gathered and brought to Canon City just a couple months prior…yup, we’ll take ‘em all.
Then, we wandered over to the burros, I knew immediately that we needed one at the ranch and needed to give these little characters that look like they are straight out of a storybook, a voice. We left that day adopting the 10 SWB mares, Regal G and… Burrito. An incredible pink burro who had been halter trained through the WHIP (Wild Horse Inmate Program) training program at Canon City…a perfect birthday gift for my then 8 year old son. That love story began the day they laid eyes on each other. Now Preston is our self proclaimed ‘burro whisperer’…he loves and connects with them in a very sweet way. Burros are incredible with children…it’s absolutely magical to watch.
Learning more about burros in holding facilities, I found out that there is no long term holding for these guys, only short term and with an average life span of 40-45 years, that broke my heart. Yes, we took Burrito, then Chimi & Changa, and a few more through a wonderful program called the Platero Project, focused on training and rehoming older burros in holding…kind of like the TIP training program that the BLM offers to trainers willing to train and successfully find adopters for the horses.
I had heard of pack burro racing, but didn’t know too much about it…did some recon and thought, yup, one of these years I’ll try it. That goal became more of an immediate reality when I met Kim Zamudio, our incredible mustang and burro trainer at GEMS. She brought her skills of burro training to help us get the Platero Project off to a great start with Thelma and Louise…oh, yes, and Thelma just had a baby a little while before we met her. Went to Canon City that day for 2 john’s and ended up with 2 jennies and a baby, all of which stole our hearts.
Getting these guys prepped for ranch activities such as burro trekking, has been a goal for us, but knowing that I needed to know more about this pack burro racing everyone was talking about, Kim talked me into entering the shortest course on the circuit up in Idaho Springs.
I was super nervous, I am not a competitive person at all and the term ‘race’ was freaking me out. Kim kept assuring me that it wouldn’t be the case, but I needed to get past the start gun to realize this on my own. You see, for me the companionship with the animal that you are sharing time, space and an experience with was the most interesting part and competing against others to finish at the head of the pack wasn’t at all on my radar.
I had my boys, husband included, in tow, an incredible little support team. Kim’s husband Joe was taking pic’s of the event…I thought of which would be my burro rick-rolling me over because I was moving too slow. Kim and I were gathering our things keeping a look out for our donk’s, a gentleman named Ross Keller and his wife Kay, both very well versed in all things burro, were towing up a load for various people to use that afternoon. We saw them roll in and met our companions for the day. Having done a burro race before and knowing quite a bit about burro training, Kim was paired with a newbie mini donk from Longhopes Donkey Shelter in Bennett, CO…he was quite squirley at first, not sure if he had ever carried a pack saddle either, but ended the day quite the little experienced guy, perfect for adoption and continuation on the circuit and as a companion. Kim’s gentle, supportive approach was exactly what he needed to gain confidence and have a positive, fun experience. My boy was Ross’ experienced fellow, Guinness or Boo Boo (his nickname that I thought was the cutest thing ever and used from then on). He was a wise sole, reminded me a lot actually of our little man Burrito, I felt right at home. He was the sweetest boy, who showed me the ropes with confidence and with appreciation for the partnership.
That’s where a partnership begins…with respect.
I hung with him quite a bit before the race begun, introducing myself to him and getting to know who he was. There were weigh-in’s and a parade to the start, then the gun fired and we were off, moving at a steady little pace through town on the paved roads, then…straight uphill…we slowed quickly to a walk once the course changed to dirt and the hill really turned up. Kim and I had made a decision to stay together, the donk’s like having at least one more of their kind close by or else they get nervous about catching up or slowing down to meet the pace of the others.
It’s about the relationship, the companionship. The dirt road was a bit boring, but once we hit the single track and were off in the woods, that’s when the fun really began. A couple folks lost their donk’s, once those guys spook and take off, you better let go of that rope of you’re going down…oh, and important safety tip, never wrap the rope around your hand…that could get interesting real quick. I never had to worry about that with my guy, it was a mutual respect…well, and he’s REALLY, REALLY well trained not to bolt without you, except if you want to finish fast…”get ‘em” works well. Darting through trees, steep loose rocky downhills, tricky sharp uphills, jumping over downed trees, was all part of the adventure. That’s when I started realizing, this isn’t a race, this is an adventure with a partner…a friend. We followed Kim and her little donk, Dewey and had a blast. I thought to myself as we crossed the finish line, that we were just getting warmed up, we were just starting, it was too short and I didn’t want the adventure to be over. I let my man cross the line first, cause he did the work, he had to trust me, he had to work with me and my ineptness at times. He took care of me and by showing him the respect that he deserves at every moment that afternoon, that was the win. I have no idea where we ended up finishing that day out of the 45+ competitors, and it so doesn’t matter. I found the interesting part…what to do with those burros in holding facilities needing companionship, respect and a reason to live. Finding relevance in today’s society. Colorado is filled with adventure seekers, trail runners, hikers, backpackers, backcountry campers…all of those experiences enhanced with a burro companion! Incredible.
Boo Boo and I had a blast, his ears perked up and was fully present in our experience, being present…now, that’s the gift. Thanks Boo Boo.
So, more pack burro adventures in the future? You betcha! Getting our burros ready for pack burro racing and trekking adventures at the ranch, we’re also heading to Canon City to pick out some more, some older ones that are harder to adopt, because we know that once they see your respect, they will be a companion for life.
Whether charting your own course, on your own time with your burro or participating in an organized event, get out there! Oh and if you don’t have a burro, we can help with that. You can contact us at the Great Escape or straight to Canon City for adoptable wild burros or Longhopes Donkey Shelter for our domestic friends. There are so many in need, visit them and see which one you connect with…I promise, it’ll be something that you will never regret.