- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah (AP) - Most people are only familiar with pigeons as a city animal that flocks together, scatters when chased, and bob their heads as they walk around. But to many, pigeons garner much more respect through the sport of pigeon racing.

Father and son team Gordon and Jordan Smith has been racing and raising pigeons of all varieties in Utah County since 2001. Though Jordan is now 28 and living with his wife in Lehi, he visits his father’s home in Pleasant Grove every day to care for their 75 racing pigeons.

Pigeon racing is often misunderstood and little known. The process of an actual pigeon race is a complicated and subtle process when compared to the average person’s definition of racing and is based around the idea of returning, rather than getting somewhere. Racers meet up the evening before a race and put their birds in a trailer, which is then driven to a location several hundred miles away. The morning of the race the specialized trailer is opened and the timer is started. The pigeons then follow their natural homing beacons back to their “loft,” or pigeon coop, and their time is taken by a computer and chip attached to a bird’s leg. After handicaps for loft locations are taken into account, the winner is announced.

Jordan played professional baseball and combines his highly competitive nature with his love of animals in pigeon racing.

“I had them for about a year before we started racing them, about the time the Internet started getting big,” he said. “You start looking things up and you get to know it, and with my competitive attitude, you know, it looked fun. Ever since then its been addicting. You can’t get enough.”

Gordon agrees.

“These are athletes of the sky, there is no question about it,” he said.

Pigeon racers sometimes get a bad rap in a community or among animal rights activists, but the Smiths are quick to point out how well they treat the birds and the amount of respect they have for their winged racers.

Every day Jordan drives from his home in Lehi to his father’s home in Pleasant Grove to care for the birds. Every day it takes at least an hour of work to scrape and clean the bottom of the lofts, feed, give the birds exercise and to water them with various supplements to keep them healthy and rejuvenated after a race.

“We let these birds out, they are free to go anywhere the want,” Jordan said. “If they don’t like it they can go anywhere they want, but they choose to come back. I can tell you, living here is a lot easier than living under an overpass somewhere. They get free food here!”

Though the birds remain unnamed, Jordan recognizes nearly all of his birds and can look for any specific one among dozens and pick it out.

“I can sit out there for hours and look at them and hold them. It’s really rewarding when you get birds that have won, or you win some money in a one loft race, you’ve got something that’s valuable,” he said.

This all begins with trust, and as with any animal, it takes patience, lots of time, and care, especially with groups of usually skittish birds.

“Any animal has got to, you know, earn your trust, it’s just spending time with them and they get to know you,” he said. “That has a lot to do with coming home too. They like the owner, it’s hard to say or hard to put into words. I guess they just feel comfortable at home. Home is where the heart is, I guess.”

One of the world’s most famous pigeon handlers is boxer Mike Tyson. Jordan says his philosophy is similar to Tyson’s and when he’s had a bad day, simply going out to the loft and spending time with his birds is a stress relief from the everyday.

The Smiths originally got birds as a family to help Jordan train a hunting dog when he was 13 years old, and after realizing his fondness for the birds, both had a hard time getting rid of the pigeons and wanted more of them. Shortly after they began racing, it’s either been an “uphill or downhill battle ever since,” Jordan says with a laugh.

He believes that owning pigeons as a child made him who he is today by teaching him compassion for things that aren’t himself or a computer and for that reason is a strong advocate of pigeon racing.

“They are fun to work with,” he says. “It would be a great hobby for any kids.”

Jordan spends his Saturday morning relaxing in his father’s yard watching his pigeons come home from a race with his family. He plans to teach his son Ryatt to care for pigeons and race when he’s old enough, if he takes to it. Either way, he’s addicted to the sport and can’t see himself stopping anytime soon.

“I’ll do it until the day that I die,” he said. “Until I’m too old to even walk out there.”

___

Information from: The Daily Herald, https://www.heraldextra.com

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