As Fast as a Donkey

The insanity of the Tribunj donkey race

Tribunj houses and marine from airCroatian National Tourist Board

On the first Sunday of August in Tribunj, Croatia, a beloved, madcap event occurs — the Tribunj donkey race.

For more than half of the century, local men — and more recently, women — have once a year raced their donkeys around the old town of Tribunj on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast.


The vicinity of the town

Donkey before the raceCroatian National Tourist Board

Donkeys have long been an essential part of Croatia’s rural communities.

Especially in the centuries before mechanized transportation and farming methods, these sturdy sure-footed animals carried people and goods over steep rocky terrain and were used to help plow fields.

Three donkeysCroatian National Tourist Board

The donkey races began as a sort of homage to the animals. The story goes that in the early 1950s a group of young men on break from their studies returned to Tribunj for the summer. They organized a donkey race around the small island, out of nostalgia for the donkeys and as a fun way to pass some time.

Tribunj donkey race festivityCroatian National Tourist Board

And so a tradition was born. Every year since 1957—save for a few years during the war of the 1990s—the donkey race has taken place.

Men riding donkeysCroatian National Tourist Board

Tribunj from airCroatian National Tourist Board

Today, the race starts and ends at the main square of Tribunj, on a tiny island connected by a footbridge to greater Tribunj.

The race continues across the footbridge and around the main road of Tribunj, then finishes back on the island.

Three donkeys posingCroatian National Tourist Board

A total of 12 donkeys with riders compete in the race. There are three qualifying races with four donkeys each; the two fastest donkeys—six in total—move on to the final race. A race is also held for the losers of the first round.

Men and women in traditional clothesCroatian National Tourist Board

Traditionally, only men were allowed to race but since 2017, a separate race has taken place with women riders. Riders, who dress in traditional folk costume for the competition, must have been born in Tribunj to be qualified to race.

Woman racingCroatian National Tourist Board

Men posing with donkeysCroatian National Tourist Board

The main challenge of the race is that donkeys are notoriously stubborn animals. When they don’t want to move, it’s almost impossible to get them to walk, much less run. That’s part of what makes the Tribunj donkey race so well-loved.

Two men competingCroatian National Tourist Board

As the races start, some donkeys just don’t budge. Their riders dismount and try to push, pull or otherwise coax the donkeys to get started.

Other donkeys will take off all of a sudden, with their riders either left behind or falling off midway through the race. All of this happens to the laughter and shouts of encouragement from the crowd of spectators.

Beloved event in TribunjCroatian National Tourist Board

Man standing on a donkeyCroatian National Tourist Board

More than just a fun event, the Tribunj donkey race is a way for residents and visitors to appreciate the historic bond between humans and donkeys in Dalmatia.

Crowd supporting the raceCroatian National Tourist Board

In recent years, the race has been organized by Croatian Donkey, a group created to protect free-roaming Dalmatian donkeys.

The group founded and runs a donkey refuge on Logorun, an uninhabited island near the harbor of Tribunj. Proceeds from the donkey race go to maintain the island and ensure the welfare of the donkeys living there.

Credits: Story


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