The Bizarre Sport of Ferret Legging

by RupertTaylor

Ferret legging is a contest of endurance and pain that seems about as loopy as it’s possible to get.

Britain has more than its fair share of crazy exploits masquerading as sport: in Gloucestershire spectators can watch contestants chase a wheel of cheese down a steep hill (fractures, sprains, and concussions add to the fun); in Cumbria men and women stick their heads through a horse collar and pull grotesque faces (applause determines the winner); in Leicestershire people from neighbouring villages battle in mud over a small keg (the rules are simple, there aren’t any).
But, the gold medal for sheer crackpot barmyness has to go to the folks who engage in ferret legging, an activity dear the hearts of Yorkshiremen, although some Scots make a claim to owning the copyright. A very wobbly clip on YouTube suggests the pastime has crossed the Atlantic to Richmond, Virginia.

The Rules of Ferret Legging

The essence of the event was described by Donald Katz in his 2001 book “King of the Ferret Leggers” (The story first appeared under Mr. Katz’s byline in Outdoor magazine in 1987).

Competitors tie up the ankles of their trousers and drop a couple of ferrets in at the top end: “The brave contestant’s belt is then pulled tight, and he proceeds to stand there in front of the judges as long as he can, while animals with claws like hypodermic needles and teeth like number 16 carpet tacks try their damnedest to get out.”

As a further refinement no undergarments are allowed so certain vital and dangly parts are within easy reach of the irritated rodents.

The winner is the one who is last to release the voracious little critters.

Contestants are required to be sober, presumably to ensure that they are fully in possession of their faculties before making the decision to compete. However, it is not clear why anyone not under the influence of intoxicants would even think for more than a second about joining in. So, the compos mentis requirement seems moot.

Also, any man of an age to be likely to start or add to a family has to have a note of approval from his significant other.

A very wobbly clip on YouTube suggests the pastime has crossed the Atlantic to Richmond, Virginia.

Cute companion or voracious predator?A Word about Ferrets

To those unfamiliar with the wee beasties, ferrets are basically a set of teeth at the front end of a foot-long furry body; think small dachshund with a rodent head. They have been called piranhas on legs.

Their main function was to scare the bejesus out of rabbits. In the days when protein was hard to come by for working people in Britain, ferrets were popped into rabbit warrens. The terrified bunnies scampered out of their bolt holes only to get entangled in the nets that poachers had placed over them. A whack and a pie followed.

Poaching was and is illegal, so men often carried their ferrets concealed in their trousers. This may or may not have been the origin of ferret legging; authorities seem a bit reluctant to put much faith in the connection.

There is a strong ferret lobby group that protests the little guys are as cute as all get out. Some folk keep them as pets and say they never so much as think of seeing their owners as a lunch item.


World Champion Ferret Legger

Katz wove his story around the legendary Reg Mellor, a retired coal miner. The 72-year-old at the time held the world record of five hours and 26 minutes. To give that context it took several years for anyone to break the one-minute barrier. Reg did not reveal the secret of his success, but they do breed them tough in the Yorkshire coalfields.

The record stood for 29 years until May 2010; that’s when 67-year-old Frank Bartlett, according to The Morning Star “managed to keep his ferret in his pantaloons for five hours and 30 minutes!” Mr. Bartlett, a retired school teacher, pulled off his feat as a fund-raiser but still it’s reasonable to wonder, given his level of education, why he didn’t choose some less potentially painful way of helping out a charity – pushing a garbanzo around a race track by means of a peashooter perhaps, or setting a record for continuous watching of reality TV, (scratch that last suggestion, the ferrets would be a better option).


Decline of Ferret Legging
Frank Bartlett’s exploit has attracted a fair bit of criticism. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have stepped in to demand the practise be halted because of its cruelty. Although strangely, it seems it’s the ferrets PETA wants to protect from harm.

Whether because of the pressure from animal rights groups or because British people have concluded that ferret legging is about as daft an activity as can be imagined the sport is said to be in decline.

And, it has to said that watching a man with ferrets in his trousers for five plus hours lacks the panache of, say, a five-day cricket match.

No doubt sanctioning by the International Olympic Committee as an official sport would revive interest and then everybody could once again enjoy the agony of defeat and the agony of victory.

Updated: on 02/22/2013, RupertTaylor
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WordChazer on 05/28/2013

'Entrousering'. Now, THERE'S a good British eccentric word!

Gardenbella on 05/27/2013

Only in Britain! Great article, thanks for sharing.

RupertTaylor on 02/22/2013

Ah Glenmorangie. I might feed Johnny Walker Red Label to a ferret to calm him down before entrousering the beast, but never Glenmorangie.

WordChazer on 02/22/2013

Rupert!!! Behave, goodness me. Chefkeem will think he's let in a rabble at this rate! No, it was finest Hardy's Legacy Chardonnay I was intent on wasting. Do not try the same tonight, as our best man left me his bottle of Glenmorangie to polish off, and I CERTAINLY do not wish to be cleaning that off the laptop tomorrow...

Angel on 02/21/2013

Oh Lord! I live in Richmond, Virginia! I thought Cow Tipping was a crazy thing to do. We used to go Cow Tipping as teenagers. Hey... nothing else to do on a Saturday night in the country. Sounds better than putting a ferret in my pants!

teddletonmr on 02/21/2013

Never heard of such a thing, Ferret Legging sober you say. Now there is a sport for someone with stones of granite or the lacking of, all together, I would think. Any who, thanks for the much-needed uncontrollable laughter, I now have more than a simple spot of tea streaming down my computer monitor.
Be well and welcome to the wizzley community. Mike

RupertTaylor on 02/21/2013

Sorry about the wine Paula. Hate to see good grog wasted. I hope it wasn't one of the fruitier Ukrainian Chardonnays; the vintages from around Chernobyl also glow so you can find your bottle when the lights go out.
As Mae West might have said: "Is that a ferret in your trousers or are you just pleased to see me."

WordChazer on 02/21/2013

Rupert's going to owe me a new keyboard after this! (And a bottle of wine to replace the one with which I am intent upon baptising my keyboard right now.)

To quote and old radio show I used to listen to in my teens:

'I've got a ferret up my trousers, have you got one up yours?'

Paul on 02/21/2013

I'm with Achim, as interesting as it sounds, I'd rather sit this one out. ;)

dustytoes on 02/21/2013

Hilarious er... sport? This page did make me laugh out loud, and I totally enjoyed reading about insane people who put ferrets in their pants.

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