Ferret legging is an endurance test or stunt in which ferrets are trapped in trousers worn by a participant. Also known as put 'em down and ferret-down-trousers, it is a sport that seems to have been popular among coal miners in Yorkshire, England. Contestants put live ferrets inside their trousers; the winner is the one who is the last to release the animals. The world record is five hours and thirty minutes.
The sport may have originated during the time when only the relatively wealthy in England were allowed to keep animals used for hunting, forcing poachers to hide their illicit ferrets in their trousers. Following a brief resurgence in popularity during the 1970s, ferret legging has been described as a "dying sport", although a national ferret legging event was held in Richmond, from 2003 to 2009.
Description and rules 
In the sport of ferret legging, competitors tie their trousers at the ankles before placing two ferrets inside and securely fastening their belts to prevent the ferrets from escaping. Each competitor then stands in front of the judges for as long as he can. Competitors cannot be drunk or drugged, nor can the ferrets be sedated. In addition, competitors are not allowed to wear underwear beneath their trousers, which must allow the ferrets free access from one leg to the other, and the ferrets must have a full set of teeth that must not have been filed or otherwise blunted. The winner is the person who lasts the longest.
The sport is said to involve very little "native skill", simply an ability to "have your tool bitten and not care". The former world champion, Reg Mellor, is credited with instituting the practice of wearing white trousers in ferret legging matches, to better display the blood from the wounds caused by the animals. Competitors can attempt, from outside their trousers, to dislodge the ferrets, but as the animals can maintain a strong hold for long periods, their removal can be difficult.
The ferrets are occasionally put inside the contestants' shirts in addition to their trousers. An attempt to introduce a female version of the sport—ferret busting, in which female contestants introduced ferrets down their blouses—proved unsuccessful.
The origin of ferret legging is disputed. The sport seems to have become popular among coal miners in Yorkshire, England, in the 1970s, though some Scots claim it gained popularity in Scotland. According to Marlene Blackburn of the Richmond Ferret Rescue League, ferret legging originated in public houses "where patrons would bet on who could keep a ferret in his pants the longest." The sport may alternatively have originated during the time when only the relatively wealthy in England were allowed to keep ferrets used for hunting, forcing the animal poachers to hide their illicit ferrets in their trousers to avoid detection by gamekeepers. This was also done by poachers and hunters to keep the animals warm in the cold weather.
The pastime gained attention in a humorous article written by Don Katz, entitled "King of the Ferret Leggers," in the October 1987 issue of Outside magazine. Katz described ferrets as "having claws like hypodermic needles and teeth like number 16 carpet tacks". James Howard of The Fresno Bee said Katz failed to explain why anyone would want to participate in a sport such as ferret legging, but the article "offers a glimpse into the human need to challenge the edges of human endurance". Smoky Mountain News's Jay Hardwig commented that Katz' article is "proof that [...] Outside runs some of the best features in the business." In 1995, Katz claimed that he still hears from people about the ferret legging article, "It was one of those things that I wrote in one morning, but people pass it around like a Victorian poem. It's got a cult following."
In 1972, the ferret legging record stood at 40 seconds. A few years later, the record had risen to over one minute, and eventually to 90 minutes. In 1977, Edward Simpkins from the Isle of Wight set the new world record of five hours and ten minutes, although he only had one ferret in his trousers during the first four hours and two for the last seventy minutes. Simpkins sustained two large bites during his record-breaking attempt, but continued to play a game of darts undeterred.
Retired miner Reg Mellor, from Barnsley, set the new world record time of five hours and twenty-six minutes on 5 July 1981 at the Annual Pennine Show at Holmfirth, Yorkshire. He had practised the sport since his youth, but had received no recognition until he set the new world record. Mellor, who had hunted with ferrets in the dales outside of Barnsley for many years, had grown accustomed to keeping them in his trousers to keep them warm and dry when out working in the rain. Mellor's "trick" was to ensure that the ferrets were well-fed before they were inserted into his trousers.
In 1986, Mellor attempted to break his own record before a crowd of 2,500 spectators, intending to beat the "magic six-hour mark—the four-minute mile of ferret legging". After five hours, most of the attendees had become bored and left; workmen arrived to dismantle the stage, despite Mellor's protests that he was on his way to a new record. According to Adrian Tame of the Sunday Herald Sun, Mellor retired after that experience, "disillusioned and broken-hearted," but with his dignity and manhood intact. Mellor had hoped to organise an annual national competition held in his home town of Barnsley, and offered a prize of £100 to anyone who could beat him.
Frank Bartlett, a retired headmaster, and Christine Farnsworth, broke Mellor's record in 2010. The pair managed five hours and thirty minutes, raising £1,000 for the Whittington Community First Responders.
Ferret legging has existed for centuries, but the sport made a brief resurgence in popularity during the 1970s. According to a 2005 report published in the English Northern Echo newspaper, whether due to a "lack of brave contestants or complaining wives", ferret legging is now "a dying sport" that is being replaced by ferret racing, in which the animals race through a plastic pipe. Although the sport is now uncommon, annual competitions were held at the Richmond Highland Games & Celtic Festival in Richmond, Virginia from 2003 through 2009. Ferret legging wasn’t listed as a competition at the event in 2010, 2011, and 2012. In 2007, the Manitoba Ferret Association held a ferret legging competition in St. Vital Park, Winnipeg, to raise money in support of the organization's shelter for homeless ferrets. Marlene Blackburn, who works with the Ferret Rescue League to ensure that no ferrets are harmed in the sport, claims that during the years the competitions have been held in Richmond no contestant has ever been bitten, although some may get a few scratches. According to Kelly Yager of the Manitoba Ferret Association, the animals actually like small, confined spaces. Jay Lugar, spokesman for the Richmond Highland Games & Celtic Festival, said ferrets are "generally very harmless, fun-loving creatures." Reg Mellor, however, commented that at their very worst, they can be "cannibals, things that live only to kill, that'll eat your eyes out to get at your brain".
Christopher Borrelli of The Blade describes ferret legging as a "remarkable" sport in which you get "more agony of defeat than thrill of victory," and Louis Mahoney of the Richmond Times-Dispatch said it is "sure to bring a laugh." Cracked listed it as the fifth "most baffling" sport in the world. The Atlanta Journal's Scott Bernarde commented that anyone who has tried ferret legging "will agree that falling off a mountain isn't all that bad." American sportswriter Rick Reilly of ESPN tried ferret legging as part of his quest to find "the world's dumbest sport" for a book published in 2010.
Mellor made a brief appearance in the 1976 television documentary presented by actor and wrestler Brian Glover entitled It's no joke living in Barnsley, in which he demonstrated ferret legging. During his appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in May 1996, actor Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) spent much of the interview with Leno talking about ferret legging, which he identified as "a new Australian Olympics event." In November 1992, the J. Walter Thompson advertising firm produced television commercials for the California State Lottery that compared keno with ferret legging. One of the commercials concludes that keno "as you can imagine, is lots better than a ferret in your trousers."
See also 
- Fox 1998, p. 7
- Barrett 2006, p. 114
- Fox 1998, p. 13
- Banham 1995, p. 157
- Elsom 1976, p. 154
- Kershaw, Ronald (31 December 1980). "Mr Mellor sets scene for a Yorkshire test of the ferret-legging custom" (subscription required). The Times. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
- Wainwright, Martin. "The capital of ferret-fancying? It's not where you'd think". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- "Countryside day may be annual event". Northern Echo. 4 January 2005. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
- Tame, Adrian (19 January 2003). "Ferreting out my hero". Sunday Herald Sun. p. 75.
- Young, Patricia (29 May 2004). "This activity nothing to sneeze at". Guelph Mercury. p. A2.
- Mackaness, Charlotte (9 December 2006). "Ferreting Out The Facts". The Daily Telegraph. p. 18.
- "China's Olympics snit, etc.". The Washington Times. 18 September 1993. p. D2.
- Smith, Tammie (23 October 2008). "Big Guys Toss Anything - Competitions are among the events at Richmond Highland Games & Celtic Festival". Richmond Times-Dispatch. p. D-1.
- "Ever met a ferret legger?". Yomiuri Shimbun. 20 October 2002. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
- Katz 2001, p. 9
- Williams, Michael; McMullen, Cynthia (28 December 2003). "Is that a ferret in your pocket, or ... ?". Richmond Times-Dispatch. p. G-1.
- Wansell, Geoffrey (31 March 1983). "Hob and Jill Make a Comeback" (subscription required). The Times. p. 12. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
- Greene, Jerry (31 December 1995). "Feeling Bowled Over? I Have A Cure - Sort Of". Orlando Sentinel. p. C1.
- Nycz, Brent (19 November 2008). "Ferret Legging: Not Just for Brits Anymore". Fordham Observer. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
- Wasson, Bill (29 October 2006). "Intimate sport of ferret legging / At annual Highland event, contestants put animal down their pants, then wait, pray". Richmond Times-Dispatch. p. B.1.
- George, Isabel (9 February 2002). "They've been companions to royalty and poachers, prized for their hunting skills and even used to lay underground cables. Now ferrets are being cast in a new role - as pets. And they're surprisingly good at that.". The Guardian. p. F3.
- "Recognition by squirming is his goal". The Ledger. 8 September 1981. p. 5C. Retrieved 20012-12-28.
- Eaton, Lynn (4 October 1994). "A fesnyng of ferrets: Not only poachers love the ferret. Lynn Eaton calls in on the capital's one-man rescue service". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-08-14.
- Wineke, William (1 July 2001). "Ferreting Out The Fascinating". Wisconsin State Journal. p. F3.
- Cavanaugh, Katherine (27 October 1997). "Smart money is on Wayne company's sound idea - Audio to go". The Star-Ledger. p. 57.
- Katz 2001, p. 3
- Howard, James (23 November 1997). "Outside Takes Readers Inside Good Writing". The Fresno Bee. p. G2.
- Hardwig, Jay (28 January 2004). "Recommended Diversions". Smoky Mountain News. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
- Mulvoy, Mark (3 July 1995). "To Our Readers". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2009-08-14.
- Katz 2001, p. 4
- Kemm, Kelvin (11 August 2006). "South Africans are going to make the soccer World Cup shine". Engineering News (Creamer Media). Retrieved 2009-08-14.
- Hattenstone, Simon (14 August 2008). "In Praise Of The North". The Guardian.
- Gould, Philip J.; Laue, Ralf (2004). Book of Alternative Records. Metro Publishing. ISBN 1-84358-126-4.
- Gordon, Jim (16 July 2002). "A 'sport' unlikely to draw spectators". Post-Tribune. p. A2.
- "Ned Creighton eyes the lawmakers". Kingman Daily Miner. 4 April 1983. p. 2. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
- Katz 2001, p. 6
- Wainwright, Martin (7 April 2010). "The capital of ferret-fancying? It's not where you'd think". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- "Ferreting around for a new world record". Express & Star. 17 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
- Ruggieri, Melissa (23 October 2003). "Ferret Out What's New At Festival". Richmond Times-Dispatch. p. D-12.
- Mahoney, Louis (22 October 2003). "Celtic Fare". Richmond Times-Dispatch. p. D-1.
- Houstoun, Katherine (19 October 2005). "Men in Skirts". Richmond.com. Retrieved 2009-08-14.
- Slayton, Jeremy (26 October 2009). "Ferret legging among the activities at Celtic festival". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
- O'Hanlon, Ryan. "Following up on Donald Katz's "The King of the Ferret Leggers"". Outside. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- "Central Virginia Celtic Festival and Highland Games". Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- Vanraes, Shannon (24 June 2007). "Ferret fun in the park". Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved 2009-08-14.
- Borrelli, Christopher (18 June 2004). "Filmmakers score laughs in flaky sports comedy". The Blade. p. D6.
- "The 8 Most Baffling "Sports" From Around The World". Cracked. 19 October 2008. Retrieved 2009-08-13.
- Bernarde, Scott (20 December 1998). "Plentiful targets - From tools to software, holiday choice of presents for outdoorsmen varied". The Atlanta Journal. p. E24.
- Greenstein, Teddy (30 May 2008). "New life of Reilly: ESPN's everyman". Chicago Tribune. p. 4.
- Bisheff, Steve (23 May 1996). "Beard's 'Tonight' to remember". The Orange County Register. p. D01.
- Magagnini, Stephen (22 November 1992). "Keno Providing A Lot Of Action, But Few Riches - Except To State". Los Angeles Daily News. p. N10.
- Barrett, Grant (2006). The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-145804-7.
- Fox, James G. (1998). Biology and Diseases of the Ferret (2 ed.). Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins. ISBN 0-683-30034-2.
- Katz, Donald (2001) . King of the Ferret Leggers and Other True Stories. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-8129-9152-4.
- Banham, Martin (1995). The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
- Elsom, John (1976). Post-War British Theatre. Routledge. ISBN 0-7100-8350-5.
Further reading 
- "Ferrets plus pants equals hours of entertainment". York Daily Record. 20 February 2006.
- Katz, Donald (October 1983). "The King of the Ferret Leggers". Outside Magazine. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
- O'Hanlon, Ryan (18 July 2012). "Consider the Wild Animal Down Your Pants". Outside Magazine. Retrieved 27 December 2012.