Posts Tagged ‘Burros’

‘Chasing Tail’ at Independence Film Fest

September 26, 2008
Videographer Viviana Madronero-Rivero and Buena Vista filmmaker Curtis Imrie on the set of 'Chasing Tail.'

Videographer Viviana Madronero-Rivero and Buena Vista filmmaker Curtis Imrie on the set of 'Chasing Tail.'

Among a few short films to be screened today and tomorrow at the Independence Film Festival in Pueblo is “Chasing Tail,” a 7-minute “trailer” for a long-form documentary by filmmaker and pack-burro racer Curtis Imrie. The film stands out as the only film made in the Arkansas Valley region, and features not only Imrie but other area residents as well.

I’ve known Imrie well enough to have watched this film being made over the past three decades. It contains footage from his early adulthood, on through to this past year, when a donkey he owns, Mordecai, was selcted as the mascot for the Democratic National Convention in Denver. It was this latest chapter that struck the imagination of videographer Viviana Madronero-Rivero of Gato Productions, who helped him sort through an ice chest full of footage about his life.

“Curtis spent literally years of his life collecting video to eventually make a film that could vividly demonstrate the evolution of a human life, from the early years and the youthful mistakes all of us make, to the choices along the way that seem mundane at the time, but end up defining who we are long-term,” Viviana says.

“To many people, racing donkeys in remote mountain towns might seem like a joke. In the context of a human life, it is the direct antithesis of an average American life with a house in the suburbs, 2.5 kids and an all-consuming career aimed at financial and material acquisition. But for people like Curtis, it is a way of life that provides joy, clarity and happiness,” Viviana says.

For those unable to attend the 7 p.m. today or 2:30 Saturday screenings in Pueblo click here.

A push comes to a shove

September 10, 2008

We keep a small herd of Angus-composite beef cattle on a 640-acre

We keep a small herd of Angus-composite beef cattle on a 640-acre “school section” lease here in the Wet Mountains. These cattle are raised to very high standards using no antibiotics or growth hormones. They live on high-altitude grass and forage, mountain spring water, natural sea salt and minerals and nothing else. They are not fed grain and not kept in close confinement. This year we are in the position to offer some of these cattle for sale. We have animals available for pasture-harvesting by the local meat shop, as well as certified calves and cows and heifers bred to our certified Angus bull. Contact me through the comments on this blog for more information.

In recent years I’ve been playing with using my large-breed “saddle” donkeys to help me with the cattle, convinced they can do some types of work just as well as a horse. For the most part we’ve done pretty well.

Recently two of our heifers got through the fence onto Bear Basin Ranch so today I saddled Laredo and went over there to move these two strays back where they belong. I opened the gate on the upper end of our pasture, then rode around until I located the heifers, one solid red and the other solid black. They were downhill from the gate and against the fenceline. I figured between Laredo and my dog Sam it would be a cinch to keep them pinned against the fence and drive them uphill to the gate. The only problem was, these heifers wouldn’t budge.

Laredo actually bumped both of them and they would hardly move. Finally I drove Laredo harder toward the black heifer. We were both surprised when she turned, lowered her head and drove it into Laredo’s shoulder. There was a feeling of being off-balance, then he spun out of it and bolted downhill. I managed to get him under control in short order and avoided getting tossed.

We did eventually get the heifers moved back through the gate, but I have to admit the unexpected shove did get my attention. As I rode away the heifers were headed back toward the main herd.

Burros, saddles and gear

September 2, 2008
This is a britchin holding a rading saddle in place on my neighbor Patti's mule.

This is a britchin' holding a riding saddle in place on my neighbor Patti's mule.

I’ve noticed from the “stats” provided by WordPress, that some people have been coming to my site looking for basic information about burros and pack-saddles and other burro gear. I would like to provide answers to these types of questions, so if you have any just ask them in the comments and I will answer them based on my experience.

For the person googling the difference between a donkey and a burro, there is none. The word “burro” is Spanish for donkey. Out West we almost always refer to these animals as burros. Of course, a cross between a donkey/burro and a horse would be a mule.

Quite often people will refer to my larger donks as mules, and I’ve given up on correcting them.

As far as gear goes, when I first got into pack-burro racing back in 1980, one of the first things I realized I needed to buy was a pack-saddle. I bought a Colorado Saddlery Burro Pack Saddle for $175 in 1981, and it is the same one I’ve used in countless races over 27 years. I’ve also used it on a lot of training runs and pack trips on animals of various sizes. All the leather is still original and in good shape, and I don’t think a person can go wrong with one of these saddles for basic packing or pack-burro racing.

One problem in saddling donkeys/burros and mules is that these animals generally have a less pronounced withers than a horse, and thus the saddle tends to slide forward, especially on a downhill.

Pack saddles usually come with a “britchin’ ” (breeching) which is the rigging used to keep the saddle from sliding forward. While this style of rigging is the only way to go when packing a heavy load, many pack-burro racers instead use a crupper, which runs under the tail to keep the saddle from sliding forward.

While a crupper allows more freedom of movement in the rear end, and eliminates the chaffing that can be caused by a britchin’, some say it can put undue pressure under the tail at a point where a lot of nerve endings come together.

I’ve run a number of tests using both a crupper and a britchin’ and I’ve decided a britchin’ is the only way to go for packing heavy loads, and also on a riding saddle.

However, in pack-burro racing, where the animal must trot for very long distances and the burro is only carrying 33 pounds, it’s nearly impossible to get a britchin’ rigged exactly right so it doesn’t chaff the rear flanks. I’ve gone back to the crupper for training and racing, and have not noticed any ill effects. It is important that the crupper not be adjusted too tightly, and that it be made of good quality leather. The better ones contain flaxseed as a stuffing.

Speaking of ‘Grass’

July 3, 2008


“Grass” is a movie I recommend for anyone interested in pasture-based agriculture, donkeys, or for the misguided who might think war in Iran is a good idea. The movie was made in 1925 by explorer Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and chronicles the annual 48-day migration of the 50,000-member Bakhtiari tribe of Persia (which is now Iran) — and their 500,000 animals — through deserts, icy glacial rivers and a snow-covered 12,000-foot mountain pass that is scaled barefoot because cotton shoes don’t work very well in the snow.

The migration makes the Fairplay Pack-Burro Race look like a half-mile stroll on the beach, and the Democratic National Convention look like a board meeting at the Denver Post. When the grass runs out for their animals, the tribespeople simply fold their tents, round up their animals and trek hundreds of miles in search for greener pastures. There is no 16-week Runner’s World training program or special diet. They don’t even give up smoking, though one wonders what exactly is in those pipes, especially given the film’s title.

This silent black-and-white story is told without any of the special effects of today’s movies, and is narrated only by titleboards between scenes. Horses, mules, cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys — thousands of donkeys — are driven over some of the most rugged terrain on Earth. Among films prominently featuring donkeys, it rivals “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” On their backs are the tribes-people’s belongings, including some live cargo such as chickens, dogs, young goats and even children in cradles. It is an amazing documentary and one of the most incredible films I have ever seen.

Three clips from the movie are available on (click on the thumbnail above for the first one), but you can also rent it from

How I got my ass painted in Westcliffe

June 30, 2008

I had the pleasure of getting my ass painted recently at an art workshop sponsored by the Sangres Art Guild and taught by local renowned artist Gerald Merfeld, owner of the Brookwood Gallery in Westcliffe. I was invited to model with my partner Redbo the saddle donkey. The workshop was held at Merfeld’s studio southwest Westcliffe. Ten students of varying experience attended and worked from live models in different media (watercolors, oils and acrylics) for an intense five days, with instruction and demonstrations at times from Merfeld. Redbo and I did two hourlong morning poses, one standing, and one in the saddle. The standing pose was difficult for the painters because Redbo kept trying to eat Gerald’s luscious grass and would not hold still. Meanwhile I got a great biceps workout trying to keep his head up. However, he was great once I put the saddle on for the second pose. It was much easier for me — I got to sit down. But holding the “looking off into the sunset” pose for that timeframe was not as easy as it looks. All in all it was a great time and I got to meet some interesting people, as well as reacquaint with a couple of the artists that I happened to know from other endeavors over the years.

This time there’s no printing bill

June 26, 2008

Years ago, I published a small magazine called Mountain Athlete that focused on mountain sports. The magazine grew and we soon had a few loyal advertisers, a far-flung staff of sorts and a distribution system that consisted of the Wetmore (Colo.) Post Office and my own truck. It was great fun, except for the printing bill. Someone was making money off the rag, and it wasn’t me. I imagine that’s why I finally quit publishing the thing.

Afterwards, I commonly heard comments from people saying they missed the magazine. The truth was I missed it too. Recently I’ve been faced with the question of what I want to be when I grow up — I’m 48 — and how to have fun doing it. Why not publish something using my own writing skills?

Since the Mountain Athlete days my interests have evolved and grown into an ecclectic mixture of ideas that basically revolve around trying to live a full and healthy life here in Colorado. I like to explore people, animals, lifestyles, food and nutrition, friendships, books, music and the backcountry. I bring up issues. I write essays and I take photos. I tell stories.

E.B. White wrote: “The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.”

I’m starting this blog with hopes that it’s welcomed by those who find it. Where this leads, we’ll have to wait and see.