GREENFIELD — The rules were simple — or so they sounded.
Climb on the donkey, jaunt around the little track, and the first to cross the finish line with legs wrapped around their steed would be declared the winner.
It’s that last bit that’s tricky, participants in the inaugural Hancock County 4-H Fair Donkey Races quickly learned Wednesday night.
The 50 community members who participated took turns trying their best to clamber onto the backs of bucking donkeys as they trotted around a sand track.
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Though not a graceful sight, the races had the crowd of hundreds that packed the Multipurpose Arena roaring with laughter and the participants smiling through their bruised pride.
Leaders of the Hancock County Agricultural Association were quick to label the evening a success as fairgoers stopped them to tell them how much they enjoyed cheering on the bravest among them. Many said they were eager to see the event on the fair’s annual lineup, officials said.
Ten at a time, racers ran five heats. At the end of each, a first-place, second-place and worst rider were named. The winners moved onto a final championships contest, while the worst riders participated in their own special run that left the crowd laughing harder than ever.
Each race started the same way, with the participants lining their donkeys up at the starting line, standing beside them, holding tightly to their reins.
And then — almost instantly after the announcer shouted “go” — chaos erupted.
All at once, racers tried to mount their rides, which sent the donkeys moving forward in confusion, a whirlwind of legs and dust.
The donkeys kept walking as their riders chased after them, though some animals simply stopped in their tracks, planted their feet and refused to move.
Racers tried with all their might and patience to hop onto the animal’s back, only to fail and fall to the ground.
But there were no hard feelings; joy filled the faces of every racer. With an announcer egging them on, and the crowd laughing and cheering beside them, it was easy to find a way to grin through it all, they said.
Watching their fellow racers struggle was a bit of a learning experience for those waiting for their turn on the track. They learned which donkeys seemed to be the most stubborn and which were more cooperative.
Kevin Bob was named the overall winner of the night after riding a donkey named Cisco in his two races.
“He’s the best one,” Bob told the crowd with a laugh while accepting a trophy from the ag association members running the event.
Jason Hudson, part of a team made up of members of the Charlottesville Fire Department, quickly realized the rule about riding the donkey across the finish line to win could be taken literally. As the racers in his heat struggled, Hudson simply walked the donkey around the ring, climbed on at the last moment and won.
“They said you had to take off and finish on the donkey,” he said. “And that’s what I did.”
Participant Conner Cross was labeled the worst rider of the evening after he spiritedly lost his first race and went on to win the loser’s contest.
The 19-year-old formed a team with some buddies only a few hours before the event was set to begin. He admitted he wasn’t sure at the time what he was getting himself into.
And that worst rider title? He’ll now wear it with honor, he said.
Josh Phares, who slates fair-week events at the multipurpose arena each year, said he was pleased by the turnout. He’s sure the association will bring the event back for another run next year, thanks to the great feedback.
“We’re hoping word will spread so we can get even more people next time,” he said.