A traditional event at British fairs and holiday camps, the donkey derby is a horse-race in which the sleek and noble thoroughbred is replaced by the awkward yet determined burro. The course is short and without jumps (donkeys not being known for their jumping ability), and the event tends to be held in a park, playing field or other stretch of grass. The riders are amateurs, sometimes local children with their parents running alongside to hold them up. Straw hats on the donkeys are optional, but to be encouraged.
Although the day may be modelled along the lines of a proper race meeting, the goal is not to win but to make it to the end and raise lots of money for charity; since the riders are not expert jockeys, it is more important that their mounts are even-tempered than fast. Usually there is betting of some sort, from a tombola or raffle to a bookmaker such as you get at a grown-up racecourse, but no one goes home rich (or bankrupt). Afterwards, other children may be given the chance to ride the donkeys for a small fee.
The event stands as a symbol of the cultural importance of horse-racing, and the affection of the British for the humble donkey. Everyone of a certain age has ridden the good-natured beasts at the seaside on childhood holidays, and in later life many support donkey sanctuaries which protect them from hard-hearted foreigners and enable them to live out their old age in peace.
Held throughout Britain on summer days, donkey derbies also take place in other parts of the world, including the US where they are also called burro races. But in their celebration of the small and humble animal, they are particularly close to the heart of the British.
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