DENVER (KDVR) — Pack burro racing, the official summer sport in Colorado, is happening all summer long, with two races this weekend and more to come.

People run alongside their donkeys in races that exceed marathon distances through challenging trails in the mountains. It’s been the official summer heritage sport of Colorado since 2012.

The donkey wears a saddle, although it is against the rules for anyone to ride on it. However, according to the Western Pack Burro Association, the runner can carry the donkey.

“You can pull them, you can push them, you can even carry them,” the group’s former president Eric Lynn said. “Back when this was, probably 20 people in the sport, the board put that in there … it was kind of a funny joke.”

Donkeys vital to Wild West mining towns

Running with the burro while it’s packing is a tribute to the sport’s historical origins. Lynn said the donkeys were vital in the founding of a lot of mining towns in the Wild West.

“One of the things they did to show the heritage of the sport is that they want the pack burro to carry a pick, a pan, and a shovel, so they carry those things on their saddle,” Lynn said.

Once civilizations started building infrastructure and had roads to mines, Lynn said the settlers started letting them go. Now there are thousands of feral donkeys in Colorado and nearby states.

“Rather than seeing these animals going to slaughter or something like that, it’s great to see people adopting these animals and training them and loving them,” Lynn said. “Every burro you see running is a success story because they have been rescued.”

But the donkeys don’t always run. If it isn’t sure what the human is trying to get them to do, or even if they are the slightest bit uncomfortable, Lynn said they literally stop dead in their tracks to assess the situation.

“Donkeys aren’t the easiest animal to work with because they’re thinkers. A donkey figures the safest place to be is where he is standing,” Lynn said.

‘The Last Ass Over the Pass’

This can get frustrating for runners. After all, he said the sport revolves around the donkey; without the burro, it’s just racing.

That’s why they created “an award for ‘The Last Ass Over the Pass.’ It’s usually the very last person and, that poor guy, they call it draggin’ ass … He is usually dragging his donkey.”

Nonetheless, Roger Pedretti, the current media relations officer for the burro association, said that each race is nonstop adrenaline.

“The bonds that you form with the animals are lifelong,” he said. “I have a burro that’s 28 years old and he can still run 5 miles with no problem. They’re really very intelligent animals.”

According to Lynn: “Once you and that donkey pair up and you guys start running at the same pace and that donkey gets attuned to you and your commands,” it’s kind of a magical moment.

Pack burro racing season underway in Colorado

The racing season has already started.

As Pedretti put it: “This is the 75th year of haulin’ ass.” And it’s growing every year, with people from all around the world coming to watch races in Colorado.

This weekend, the Clear Creek Pack Burro Race Series begins with an 8-mile race in Georgetown on Saturday and a 6-mile race on Sunday in Idaho Springs. Runners are preparing for the bigger races later this season, including a set of three races that make up the Triple Crown Series.

The series starts in Fairplay.

“It’s the last Sunday in July. That’s the granddaddy of them all, the world championship race,” Pedretti said.

“Just show up and be on the sidewalk when the gun goes off and you never know what you’re gonna see when 90 donkeys and their runners take off,” Pedretti said.

Anyone is welcome to watch the races, which are tracked on the Western Pack Burro Association website.

Conveniently, a lot of those races are in conjunction with the local town festivities, so there will be plenty of entertainment around for those who wish to see the donkey derby.