BENSON — When Linda and Lynn Drain adopted their first donkey in 2016, it was a life-changing move for the couple.
Not long after their first long-eared acquisition, a second donkey joined the family and in 2017, the Drains were competing in pack burro races. They now follow the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation racing circuit in Colorado, Arizona and California.
“Once we got our first donkey and started burro racing, we were hooked,” Linda Drain laughed. “We live and breathe donkeys.”
The Drains and their donkeys are snowbirds that live in Benson six months of the year, then return to their home in South Fork, Colorado, for six months.
They were among the 85 human-donkey teams competing in Tombstone’s second Desert Donkey Dash on April 17, a pack burro competition introduced to Tombstone by Robert Davenport, himself a pack burro racing enthusiast.
Linda’s racing partner is a white donkey named Misty and Lynn races with a gray-dun named Muzzy.
“It’s almost impossible to explain how much pack burro races have changed our lives,” Linda said. “Our veterinarian in Colorado told us about the sport, which is big in Colorado’s old mining towns. My husband and I are both runners, so it was easy to transition into pack burro racing.”
Misty, a 9-year-old female Bureau of Land Management burro, went through the inmate program in Florence. The Misty-Linda duo came in second in a 17.5-mile race in California the weekend prior to Tombstone’s Schieffelin Days event, and were the first-place female team in that race. Lynn and Muzzy won the 26-mile race in California last year.
During their six-month stay in Benson, the Drains and their donkey companions live at Forever Home Donkey Rescue & Sanctuary. The Drains help care for Forever Home’s donkeys while taking advantage of the area’s warmer climate.
“We’re able to continue training through the winter months here, which is something we aren’t able to do in Colorado,” said Linda, who noted that South Fork is at 8,200 feet and winters can get pretty severe.
“We train with our burros and without them,” she said. “The Colorado circuit is nine races and moves around to different towns with mining history. Races range between five and 29 miles.”
Colorado also hosts a Triple Crown competition, back-to-back races held in the historic old mining towns of Fairplay, Leadville and Buena Vista.
Linda and Lynn speak highly of the close camaraderie and friendships among racers and share the story of a miniature burro and her teammate who are making history in the world of pack burro racing.
Buttercup, a 33-inch miniature donkey and her running partner, Marvin Sandoval, won this year’s Triple Crown competition in Colorado, then went onto Inyokern, California, and won the 26-mile race there. They also won this year’s 13-mile race in Tombstone.
Buttercup and Sandoval live in Leadville, where the race there starts at an altitude of 10,200 feet and climbs up to 13,185 feet to the top of Mosquito Pass.
“Buttercup is badass,” Linda laughed. “She’s used to those high altitudes and is one small but mighty little donkey. She and Marvin leave their competition in the dust.”
The couple also praised Tombstone’s pack burro race.
“Burro racing got its start in 1949 in Colorado and the races have grown in popularity through the years,” Lynn said. “The record for the most human-donkey teams was 89 in Fairplay, and Tombstone had 85 teams competing this year.”
In 2012, burro racing was designated as Colorado’s Summer Heritage Sport.
“Donkeys are magical,” Linda said. “They have literally changed our lives. Instead of personalities, they all have their own unique donkeyalities. We had it good before the donkeys, but for us, they’re icing on the cake.”