Autumn in the Ozarks offers unique competition
It’s autumn in the Ozarks — time for football, hunting and mules jumping.
While raccoon hunters have used mules to jump fences for years, jumping mules for entertainment began nearly 30 years ago in Pea Ridge as just one of many events of the 1985 fall festival called Battlefield Daze.
Today, mules of all sizes — from the miniature Billie, at just 34 inches, to the statuesque Bulls Eye, whose back is higher than many people’s heads — and colors — buckskin, sorrel, red, white, black and spotted — descend on Pea Ridge for the annual Mule Jump.
Thousands of people are expected to attend the 29th annual event, which begins with opening ceremonies at 9 a.m. Saturday south of Pea Ridge Primary School off Weston Street. Various events — including halter class, barrel racing, pole bending and jumping — will fill the morning hours, with a short break for lunch, before professional jump begins about 1 p.m.
“It ain’t no step for a stepper,” says Kent Morris, announcing the success of a mule as he flies over the curtained jump.
“Come on, they feed off your excitement,” Morris encourages the crowd to cheer on a recalcitrant mule.
What began as friendly competition between coon hunters has become an annual tradition. For 29 years, people from around the nation have traveled to Pea Ridge, the town just west of the Pea Ridge National Military Park and the ridge after which both take their name, to watch mules and their owners battle wills over whether the mules will jump a curtain raised until all but one are eliminated.
Mule jumping comes from a tradition in coon hunting of having mules jump over fences rather than finding gates. Hunters throw a blanket over the fence so the mule will jump it.
In the jumping contest, mules can jump flat footed. Once a mule walks up to the jumping barrier, it has three minutes to jump. The mule has two tries to clear the barrier without knocking it down. Trainers cannot touch the mules. They must get the mules to jump by word commands.
Mules are eliminated until only one remains, and that mule continues to jump until it reaches its limit. The mule seems to know instinctively when that limit is reached because it just won’t jump anymore.
The first jump happened in October 1985. Don Shockly remembers: “Negel bought the old big mule. I bought a little red mule. We just got together down at the school. We had a little mule jump, a trail ride and a coon dog contest,” Shockley says. “That’s where it started. Negel had that good jumping mule.”
WHEN — Opening ceremony at 9 a.m. Saturday with the pro jump set to begin no earlier than 1 p.m.
WHERE — In a field off Weston Street, south of Pickens Road (Arkansas 94) in Pea Ridge
COST — $2-$5
INFO — pearidgemulejump.com
BONUS — More than 100 vendors are expected to be on-site sharing their crafted items, festival food and unique products.