Two Feet or Four

I took a vacation to a dude ranch in Montana recently and spent a week riding a horse and moving cattle. It was an incredible experience. The scenery in Montana is breathtaking and the abundance of wildlife inspired me and my travel companions to start an informal game of Animal Bingo (nobody won since we never really kept score). I am really a runner at heart so taking a vacation that did not involve Body Glide and race bibs seemed unusual. During the trip I thought about ways to combine a passion for running with an appreciation of four-footed companions. I found several ways you can do just that.

First, there are pack burro races, a sport whose roots go back to the 19th-century miners in Colorado. In a pack burro race, a runner has to lead a burro by a 15-foot rope over a prescribed course. The runner is not allowed to ride the burro and the burro must carry a pack saddle with 33 pounds of traditional mining gear, including a pick, gold pan, and shovel. Race distances are between 4 and 29 miles. The runner and the burro are a team. If the burro won’t move, the runner has to figure out how to work with the animal to get it going. The runner may push, pull, drag or carry the burro, though I am not sure how you carry a burro. The Western Pack Burro Association, which organizes these events, prohibits any cruelty to the burros, including the use of needles, prods or whips. A team can be disqualified if the runner cannot control their burro. According to the WPBA’s “Burro Racing 101” tips, to do well in burro racing it “helps if you can run a decent 10K or finish a marathon.” Don’t have a burro for the race? No worries – there are people out there that will let runners borrow one of theirs for the race. As strange as it seems, burro racing even has its own “Triple Crown”: the 29-mile Fairplay race; the 22-mile Leadville race; and the 12-mile Buena Vista race. The WPBA web site has pictures of past races. All kinds of runners take part in the races. It looks like it would be fun to watch one.

Another option is the sport of Ride and Tie. I learned about this event from an interesting mother and daughter I met at the dude ranch. The Ride and Tie is an endurance event involving teams of two people and one horse. The teams run 20 to 40 miles on trails and cross-country. There are usually 10 to 50 teams competing in an event. In a Ride and Tie, the people alternate who rides the horse and who runs. When the rider reaches the agreed upon transition point (or tie), they tie up the horse and start running. When the runner catches up to the horse, they untie it and ride to the next tie point, passing their teammate as they go. There are mandatory ties where the horses have to be checked by a veterinarian. It sounds a bit like a mash-up between Leap Frog and a Ragnar Relay but with a horse. There is strategy involved since you have to decide who will run which legs of the race, depending on the running ability of the people, the terrain, and the condition and speed of the horse. It usually takes 5 to 6 hours to complete a 25-mile course or 7 to 8 hours for a 40 mile race, though more competitive teams are faster. Horses and runners are sharing the same course and the start of the race can be crazy as horses and runners take off. Like burro racing, if you don’t have a horse, the Ride and Tie Association can help match you up with a teammate.

Finally, if you would rather test your running skills against those of a horse, then head to Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales where they hold the Man Versus Horse Marathon each year. The race started from a debate at a local pub in 1979 whether a man could beat a horse over a long distance. The debate led to a race in 1980 with 15 horses and 50 runners over a 22 mile course. So far the race has been won by horses every year except 2004 when a British runner won and 2007 when a German runner did. The race has become increasingly popular and most recently included 600 runners and 50 horses. They also increased the distance slightly to 23.6 miles. If traveling to Wales is not possible, there are a few similar races here in the US including a Man Versus Horse race in Indian Wells, California with 10-mile and 26.2-mile courses.

As for me, the only horse that I could ever outrun would be one that stopped to eat every few feet. And while I am intrigued by the thought of competing in a Ride and Tie race, I would have to significantly improve my riding skills to do one of those. For now I will stick to what I know I can do – running marathons in a pair of Saucony running shoes.

P.S. Do you have a dude ranch on your bucket list? Check out the Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge. They offer both horseback riding and fly fishing adventures. Situated in the Gallatin Mountains and overlooking Paradise Valley, the lodge is the perfect spot for some R&R. Plus the lodge is only 17 miles from Yellowstone National Park, widely recognized as the first national park in the world.
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