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Burro racing thrives in Colorado's high country

Posted at 8:07 PM, Aug 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-08 22:07:52-04

LEADVILLE — Since 1949, pack burro racing has been capturing the excitement of Coloradans in the state's high country, it's a sport that acts as a window to the past while blazing a trail into the future.

For almost 75 years, pack burro racing has been a thriving sport in the more mountainous regions of Colorado, where it is said to have found its start.

According to Dave TenEyck, a board member for Leadville Boom Days and a longtime pack burro racer, the sport was founded when merchants from both Fairplay and Leadville devised a way to promote tourism to the two towns.

The idea was to draw folks in with a glimpse at the not-too-distant (at the time) past by having competitors reenact the frantic race that gold prospectors made each time they found that precious metal.

Prospectors had to rush back into town, burro in tow, often working hard to outpace their fellow prospectors in order to stake a claim on their find.

So now, and since 1949, competitors in the race have to run the distance next to their burro who MUST HAVE a saddle, gold pan, shovel, and pick slung across their backs.

After several years of running the race together, Leadville and Fairplay parted ways, starting their own races. Following successes, other towns began to follow suit and then other states did as well.

Now there are quite a few burro races across the state of Colorado and beyond.

Burro racing reached such heights of popularity, or at least historical significance, that in 2012 the sport was recognized by the state as the official summer heritage sport in Colorado.

The pack burro race in Leadville, which this year included well over 80 competitors and their running partners (that would be the burros) racing courses of 15 or 21 miles, is part of the town's Boom Days, a festival that serves as a celebration of the Old West.