New Zealand's Biggest Sheep Race Was Led By a Black Goat - Atlas Obscura
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New Zealand’s Biggest Sheep Race Was Led By a Black Goat

The most difficult part of the race, it turns out, can be getting the sheep to start running.

Sheep lined up for the main event.

Sheep lined up for the main event. (Photo: Adam McGhee)

Everyone knows about Spain’s gory, theatrical Running of the Bulls. But those in the market for something less dramatic may want to check out New Zealand’s fluffier equivalent: the Running of the Sheep.

As the Waikato Times explained last year, the small town of Te Kuiti claims to be the sheep capital of New Zealand. Each April, the town’s farmers celebrate the community’s wooly assets by loosing hundreds of livestock in the town center, where they stream through the streets.

Unlike humans, sheep won’t necessarily take off at the pop of a starting gun or the drop of a flag. They will, however, run after their friends. The beginning of the Running of the Sheep is an exercise in suspense, as the athletes mill about, baa, and chase each other in circles until something inspires them to make a go down Main Street.

This year, attendee Adam McGhee reports, an interloper led the way. After 15 minutes of non-action, a small black goat raced down the road, “immediately followed by a wet mob of frenzied sheep.” Bystanders, charged with keeping the sheep on course, quickly moved barriers into position. The sheep sprinted past festival stalls and thousands of human fans, leapt over traffic signs, and nearly trampled a news crew.

The weekend festival also includes a Shearing Championship, a sheep-counting contest, and, according to McGhee, lots of corn dogs. All told, the sheep make several runs over the course of the day, in various states of sheared-ness, before finally heading out of town all together. “Until next year,” McGhee reports, “they are on the lamb.”

Sheepdogs herd stragglers out of town.

Sheepdogs herd stragglers out of town. (Photo: Adam McGhee)

Thanks to reader and contributor Adam McGhee for the tip!

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.