Horse Talk

       

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Summer Fairs and Longear Fun!
  
By Garry Stauber

    
   
I love summer, and one reason might be the county fairs. This must be something from my childhood. But I never have been to one like this before.

Although I like to think of myself as on the enlightened side when it comes to mules, I must admit this was the first mules-only event I had ever attended. Having packed with mules, I kind of considered myself a bit of an expert. However, at the Hayfork Mule Show (in the Trinity Alps), I learned I had just scratched the surface of the abilities of our longeared friends. Although this event is not yet as famous as the Mule Days of Bishop, this had all the fun I could handle in three days. Incorporated into the county fair and combined with a bucking bull contest, the Hayfork Mule Show has all the ingredients of small-town fun and big-eared excitement. 

Living in the Bay Area, we sometimes miss out on the fun of a old-fashioned rural county fair. So when I was invited as a special guest to come join the fun, I jumped at the opportunity. 

Though I had never witnessed packing competitions before, I also have to admit I had never witnessed Coon Jumping either. Instead of writing about all the things Iíd never heard about before this week-end, I should tell you about what I saw. Watching a couple of World Champions compete in the Packing events caught my attention completely. In fact, I was awestruck to know that there was not only competition for my favorite activity (packing), but there was actually a world champion. Look out and sign me up!

Well, I did not sign up, but I did watch world-class knot tying. Joe Gonzalez and Creed Howard, along with local favorite Ken Graves, competed in the Pro classes. The Non-Pro classes were filled with contestants who were newer to the competition. Joe Barrett ended up winning the over-all Non-Pro division, which included events like tying the speed diamond and box hitch. Included in the over-all competition were events like the Pack Scramble, where all the stock is released and you not only have to go catch your stock, but then put an assigned load on them and race to the finish. 

But this mule show did not only include packing events. In fact, there were western pleasure classes, trail classes, log skidding, and team driving events like obstacle course races and chariot barrel racing. In fact, one of the funniest events was the Chariot Steer Stopping, where the teamsters drove their carts into a herd of cattle with a roper on board who actually roped a steer. Ken Graves, a local packer for the U.S. Forest Service, won that event for his third consecutive year. There was also cattle sorting, of course, while riding mules. 

Another funny event was the Cattle Daubing event. Itís kind of a combination of jousting and graffiti tagging. The contestant carries a long stick with a soft cushioned cloth, much like a giant Q-tip that had been dipped into chalk. The rider must mark an assigned portion of the steerís body with the chalk, in this timed event. It sure added a lot of excitement and laughter to the day.

Of course, for the speedsters among us there was mule racing and Calcutta betting. Santa Anita Race Track look out. I never imagined those mules could run that fast, unless of course, they had my load on their back and they were going down a mountain without me. Those mules could run and I am not sure I would want to ride that fast on anything without a flight attendant.

There was the usual barrel racing, but this time it was with chariots and mule teams. When those carts went up on one wheel I closed my eyes, so donít expect any good pictures from me on that event! 

But one of my favorites was Mule Coon Jumping. This is where the mule is asked to high jump over a pole from a standstill. I had only two questions. First question, where did it get that name? Later I learned this is a tradition from the South, when coon hunters would come to a fence. While hunting coons, the dogs would go under a fence and the mule would have to go over. The rider would dismount, lead the mule to the fence, and ask it to jump on over. Second question, why would you want to teach your mule to jump higher than a fence? I still donít know the answer to that one! But it was fun to watch and Iím kind of glad I didnít own those guys and worry about them staying in the pasture.

I was excited to see the youth events. Three future mule day champions competed in the ponied class pole bending. It was a miraculous dead heat with a three-way tie. Who would have ever guessed? These future stars will have to battle it out again next year.

I think what I enjoyed most, however, was the spirit and fun behind the events. Everyone was plumb right neighborly and fun to talk to. These were real people and everyone tipped their hat and said howdy. I guess it was like stepping back in time to days of a small town that I liked the most. Of course, having a hundred or more longears for an alarm clock every morning wasnít sheer fun, but I really didnít even mind that too much. I hope to see you there next year.

If you would like more information about next year's Hayfork Mule Show, visit their website at www.hayforkmuleshow.com.

If you're interested in attending a "mule days" type event you may want to check out "The Longears Cele'bray'tion" in Red Bluff.

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  Copyright © 2005 Garry Stauber., In 2003 Garry Stauber completed a 1350 mile, 3 1/2 month horseback trip, riding the length of California with a packhorse. Garry is a member of the Long Riders Guild. He has written articles for publications including California Riding Magazine, Western Times, Trail Blazer, Trail Rider, and is a columnist for the Southern California Equestrian NetworkBay Area Equestrian Network,  and Ride! Magazine "Adventure Out". Garry is also a horse trainer and a NARHA Registered Instructor. You can read more of his articles at www.garrystauber.com  

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