Columbia Celebrates Mule Day
Mule Day in Columbia, Tennessee, a tradition begun 170 years ago, has grown into the country’s biggest annual celebration of all things related to mules. What started as ‘Breeder’s Day,’ a single day livestock show and mule auction held the first Monday in April, is now almost a week-long festival that has earned Columbia the reputation of Mule Capital of the world.
The clip-clop of hooves and tinkling bells fill the air as the Wagon Train, a long procession of mule-drawn wagons, makes its way from the charming town of Leiper’s Fork through the winding Tennessee countryside to Columbia. Every year this three-day pilgrimage launches Mule Day week, and then the festivities begin, culminating in the Mule Day Parade through the streets of this historic town.
Close to 200,000 people took a ride down memory lane between March 26-April 1 for the 2012 Mule Day celebration, traveling from all parts of the country. They come to satisfy their passion and fascination for the mule, watch it compete in events of strength, skill and agility, and appreciate its role of intensive labor that helped provide a living in days gone by. An integral part of farm life for many years, the mule was used to pull wagons, plows and logs, and work in the mines.
‘Haf hoss and haf jackass’ was humorist Josh Billings’ description of the mule back in the 1860s. Sired by a Jack donkey and a female horse, the mostly sterile offspring is bred either with a draft mare – Belgian, Percheron or Clydesdale – or a riding mare, such as a Quarterhorse, Tennessee Walking Horse or Appaloosa. Work Mules, or Draft Mules, are bred to work, and have amazing strength and willpower. Riding Mules are typically more sure-footed than horses on rough and steep terrain, and are commonly used as pack animals. The gaited mule is popular for trail riding.
For horse lovers, it’s quite an education to see the size, strength and beauty of many of the mules on show in Columbia. Stories abound wherever you turn. Jason and Paula King (left & right) are continuing a family heritage, working draft mules on their Georgia farm property, just like Jason’s great granddaddy. They placed second in the log pulling contest with their two Belgian draft mules, Frank and Bud, loading a 10 foot long, 4 foot diameter log onto a stacked wagon.
Mule teams compete for the championship title, seeing who can pull the heaviest load a distance of 10 feet. Willpower, strength and spirit prove to be the winning qualities.
The Draft Mule Show judges 29 classes for their conformation, bone structure and long, cupped ears. A sudden violent hail storm threatened to spook the mules patiently waiting their turn, but like this couple visiting from South Carolina, it takes more than a downpour to dampen their spirits.
Bluegrass music, Appalachian arts & crafts, flea market and food vendors mix with the tantalizing aromas of kettle corn and funnel cake, offering something for all the family.
If you missed the Mule Day celebrations this year, when Columbia rolled out the red carpet of Southern hospitality, mark your calendars for the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and Mule Show in Shelbyville, July 12-14, 2012.