Courtney Ball

My Latest Shot at Being a Cowboy

Bucky and Buckmaster: Friends or Foes?

Last week I wrote about my childhood attempts to be a cowboy in Adventures on Old Gray. I got a chance to renew my cowboy dreams last night at the Linn County Fair Celebrity Donkey Races.

This came about due to my sister-in-law’s urging. It seemed like a funny thing to do when my brother Clint and I signed up a month ago. Then came last night’s race training. Training began at 6:30, with races to follow at 7:30. I was a couple minutes late, so when they handed me the liability waiver, I didn’t spend much time looking at it before I signed. I turned in my form and went over to Clint, who had arrived on time.

“Did you actually read the waiver you just signed?”

“Not really. I skimmed it.”

“It says these donkeys are specially chosen for their tendency to buck and duck.”

“Really? It really says that?”


After a brief wait while the two of us wondered what we had gotten ourselves into, the owner of the donkeys came out and began to explain how things would work. The fifty participants would be broken up into five heats of ten. They would assign us donkeys to ride during each heat. The first and second finishers of each heat would advance to the championship round. There would also be prizes for best costume, fastest team, slowest rider, and roughest ride.

Then he proceeded to instruct us on where we should sit on the donkey’s back, how to avoid being kicked, how to fall if we were bucked or ducked, and how to catch our donkey if it got away from us (avoid being kicked, basically).

He finished by listing off a series of medical conditions that might prohibit us from participating and told us we were required to wear helmets. Honestly, I suspected that most of this was exaggeration of worst-case scenarios, right up until the first heat began. (Clint and I were in the fourth and fifth heats.)

As soon as he said, “Riders, mount up!” chaos ensued. Most racers got bucked off before they even got a leg over the back of their donkey. There was a cluster of splayed bodies on the dusty track as the donkeys dropped their riders and took off in varying directions. One donkey dropped more than his rider, spraying the track with poop.

Two women did manage to stay on their donkeys, one of which ran to a corner and stood there for the rest of the race. The second stayed calm and simply refused to move unless its rider dismounted and led it with the rope.

A man in a gorilla suit (a la Donkey Kong, he explained) had a particularly rough go. To his credit, he tried to mount his steed several times, but each attempt ended with him in the dust.

All of this was hilarious to watch. The crowd loved it, but those of us left to ride in heats two through five began to sweat a little more. It was now clear to us that there had been no exaggeration during our “training”.

When it came time for Clint to ride, I took his picture and wished him luck, but things did not go well. He did manage to successfully mount his donkey, but it didn’t last long. After standing back up, he chased it down and halfheartedly tried a couple more times to get on. The race was only one lap, but the rider had to actually be on the donkey for his or her finish to count. I don’t believe Clint managed that.


Clint, attempting to lead “Rocket Man” to the starting line. Rocket did speed up after he bucked Clint off and Clint had to chase him down.

Being in the fifth heat, I thought I might watch the other races and learn a thing or two before my turn came. No such luck. Those donkeys appeared to have one mission, to keep people off their backs.

I patiently waited to be assigned my steed, praying for the one that preferred to stand still. By that point, I didn’t care much if I crossed the line first, so long as I kept from getting injured. The owner sized each one of us up and began to choose our donkeys. I was one of the last three, and he said to me and the other two guys, “Ah, just pick which one you want. These last three are all bad.”

I ended up with “Buckmaster”. Our wives and daughters watching the race thought that was funny, given that my nickname once upon a time was Bucky. I didn’t even put that together. All I could think about was how that little donkey got his name.

As we lined up at the start, waiting for the “Mount up!” command, the owner announced to the crowd that this would be a two-lap race rather than one, since we were the last heat. Then he walked down the line and checked in with each of us. As he approached, he looked me straight in the eyes and said (without the microphone), “He bucks. He bucks a lot.”

It was true. I got on but only managed to go about five feet before landing sprawled out on the track. On my second attempt, I went right over his back to land on the other side. Then he took off and I had to chase him down. From that point on, every time I even thought about lifting my leg to climb on, he started bucking.

A couple times I tried to stop and pet him, calm him down before jumping on his back. That didn’t work either. Mostly, we struggled with one another for two long laps, and I walked him across the line in last place.

At first, I thought I wasn’t dead last, because someone was behind me. But then, when I turned around to see who it was, I saw last year’s Fair Queen, complete with red ball gown and sash, riding side-saddle on her donkey as she calmly waved to the crowd. “Look at that, ladies and gentleman!” the announcer called. “Your Fair Queen’s comin’ in to finish lap number three! And that there fella just gave up!”

I guess I might as well just admit that I’m a city slicker from this point on.

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Courtney Ball

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