The Kentucky Derby. The Indianapolis 500. The Monaco Grand Prix. Certain places in the world are automatically and implicitly associated with the adrenaline-pumping excitement of competitive racing. In Central PA, a similar feeling is held for the tiny town of Falmouth. For 37 years, it has been home to the annual RUNNING OF THE GOATS!
A visit to its official website provides a wonderful recounting of the lore of this event:
Once upon a time in a tiny village called Falmouth, there were several old timers sitting around the Village Store discussing life’s misfortunes. It seems that John was a little down on his luck at the horse track. Seeing as they all had goats as family pets, prompted Glenn to remark that they might as well bet on goats. Well, that was all it took for Ken, the practical joker of the group, to get an idea! The next day, Ken placed an ad in the local newspaper, advertising a Goat Race in Falmouth and giving his friend Glenn’s phone number. Meanwhile, back in the village, life went on as usual. Except, people started calling Glenn’s phone number wanting to enter their goats in the race. Which didn’t make any sense to poor Glenn’s wife, who spent half of the day answering the telephone. But, being a good wife, she took everyone’s name and phone number and when Glenn returned home that evening, she gave him the stack of messages (entries). Now as the “good ol’ boys” got together that night, they decided the only way to save face was to hold a goat race.
Needless to say, the annual goat races have grown in size and stature since those humble beginnings, and C and I both knew that we had to be there to witness this history. Naturally, for an event of this magnitude, there is going to be some pomp. Thus, the day at the races began with the traditional “blessing of the goats” by a local clergyman, followed by a procession of the competitors.
The parade of goats was itself a competitive event, as awards were given here on a number of categories: Prettiest Goat, Best Dressed Goat, Smallest Goat, Biggest Goat, and Most Stubborn Goat. Champions, one and all!
With these formalities out of the way, the athletes were ready to take the stage. Per official Falmouth Goat Racing rules, the races were conducted over a number of heats, each with 3 to 4 goats (alongside their human handlers) competing. Operating under a double elimination format, each goat athlete had the chance to run in at least two races before his or her day was done. To get a feel for the drama, here is one race we recorded:
So exciting! Perhaps the best part of these races, however, is the downtime, when you are able to meander about grounds and meet the various competitors. For C and I, there was one celebrity we just had to meet: Marshmallow, winner of the “Smallest Goat” award!
We were also able to meet another unusually small farm animal who was in the crowd: Molly, the miniature cow. C and she became fast friends. Molly is, of course, a fan of goat racing, and was there to enjoy the competition. However, she was also there on official business as the official…uhmm…officiant of the afternoon game of Cow Plop Bingo.
In between these opportunities to pet a variety of animals, the grounds were also peppered with a handful of local vendors and entertainment. This included a music stage occupied by a country rock band, who serenaded us as we took advantage of the fried food that flanked us on either side.
Now, the goats are no doubt the stars of this event. However, even the Super Bowl needs a half-time show. At the Falmouth Goat Races, this intermission entertainment is provided by a demonstration of “Jet Set Flyball,” a competitive dog racing game that includes tennis balls and hurdles. To add to the stakes, the dog racing team took on a team of local children:
In total, that means we watched 3 different species race in one day. Pretty good! On returning home, however, I realized that the day’s events had laid a heavy burden on my mind. Specifically, deciding what activity should most be prioritized in Penelope’s future: (1) becoming a herder of goats, or (2) becoming a flyball racer. Only you, dear reader, can help us decide: