Burros Like to Run!!
by Sheri L. Thompson, DVM
Most people view donkeys as lazy stubborn creatures. If you observe donkeys in the wild, they aren’t sedentary creatures. They exercise all day long, as they move about grazing, usually at a walk. They trot while playing, if excited, and when approaching water holes. And yes, they do run. They gallop as part of courtship, run when playing, and chase each other. Donkeys, especially young ones, will trot or gallop away from their dam or another donkey then return. They will run from or toward an object, simply just to run. In the wild, donkeys are very trim athletic animals. Their hooves are kept trimmed by travel over rocks. So, is burro racing humane? Is it natural? Is it more humane than keeping a donkey confined in a small area all of its life and allowing it to get obese with overgrown hooves and a matted hair coat? It is the same argument as with other animals. What is better for your dog? Is it better to overfeed it and not exercise it or to take it running with you or hook it up to a sled to run as part of a team? Most dogs love to run and most donkeys enjoy an active life. There is an overpopulation of many wild animals, including donkeys. Wild donkeys are captured and adopted. They adapt to a domestic lifestyle amazingly well and excel at burro racing. There are many different viewpoints on the ethics of owning and working animals. I respect everyone’s individual opinion. I am an advocate for caring for an animal in such a way that the animal receives proper nutrition, has shelter, companionship, means of exercising, and is not abused in any way.
Whenever humans are caretakers for animals, there are always a few people who don’t act in an ethical manner and/or care for their animals properly. In general, burro racers take exceptional care of their donkeys. The human and the donkey are a team. In addition to racing their donkeys, they often provide other stimulating experiences for their donkeys, they ride, drive, and show them, etc. They keep their feet trimmed, groom them, and spend a lot of time with them, and thus are quickly aware of any health concerns. Donkeys seek human attention. Often when I am training one of my horses or mules, my donkey will approach and stand nearby or try to get my attention. This summer, she started coming over and standing close whenever I apply fly spray to one of the other equine. She accepts the fly spray without her halter on. They are very smart social creatures and form close bonds with humans. When they have a bond with humans, they appear to enjoy doing activities with people. They are willing participants. If they don’t want to go, you can’t make them do anything. If you doubt this, sign up for a burro race and see if you can make the donkey do something it doesn’t want to do! Try pushing a donkey. If they don’t want to move, they will freeze in place. Occasionally, they will lie down and refuse to get up if they are really concerned about something. Burro racers use a pressure and release method to train their donkeys. This is the same method used by a female donkey to train her foal. Often there is over breeding of animals. Burro racing donkeys are purpose bred. They are generally bred responsibly for conformation, health, viability, and athletic ability.
In all burro races, cruelty to the burro is prohibited. The Western Pack Burro Association states that “any contestant mistreating his animal may be disqualified. No needles, electric prods, narcotics, clubs or whips, other than the halter rope, may be used”. The halter rope can be used with a pressure-release technique. Jack chains may also be used with a pressure-release technique. A jack chain is a chain or strap which is used to apply pressure over the muzzle, under the chin, or through the mouth. They are often used to control jacks or jennies that are much stronger than a human, to prevent them from getting loose where they might injure themselves, another donkey, or a person. The Western Pack Burro Association has a guideline encouraging veterinary checks before every race.