A scramble during a recent Bishop Mule Days. SUBMITTED PHOTO
It’s not every event that is deemed important enough for its website to contain a ticker featuring days, hours, minutes and seconds counting down to the big event.
But Bishop Mule Days is not any event. Billed as the “Greatest Mule Show on Earth,” Mule Days is an annual event that has been taking place on Bishop over Memorial Day weekend for 50 years. And yes, if you go to the website you can find out how long it is before this year’s event begins – down to the second.
It celebrates its 55th year in 2024, having been founded in 1969.
The Bishop Mule Days Celebration a takes place for six days each year Tuesday through Sunday the week before Memorial Day on the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop. It will be held May 22 to 27 this year.
“There is no way to actually describe Mule Days. It is part mule show, part test of skills, and part Wild West show,” Mule Days writes on its website. “It is an event the likes of which are held nowhere else in the world. Over the six days of the event, there are 14 shows featuring over 700 mules with their trainers, riders and packers. In excess of 30,000 fans converge on the Tri-County Fairgrounds and the Mike Boothe Arena to watch the events and visit the exhibitors. The 14 mule shows consist of: Western, youth, English, cattle working, gaited, coon jumping, racing, musical tires, gymkhana, packing, shoeing, chariot racing, team roping and driving.”
The event has a colorful history. Legend has it Mule Days was started by outfitters and packers the region who wanted an event to start off the packing season along with businessmen who wanted to attract vacationers to the Owens Valley.
Apparently, the plan worked. The event has proven to be stubbornly popular so it’s advisable to get tickets early if you want to go. Every year tens of thousands of people come to Bishop from all over the world to celebrate the mule.
The event this year features 14 shows, beginning with preliminaries on Tuesday continuing through Thursday showcasing English, Dressage, Driving, Reining and Youth competition. Event finals begin Friday featuring the top placing competitors vying for World Championships in all disciplines. The Championships, Comedy classes, Packing contests and World Class Specialty Acts all take place in multiple arenas Friday through Sunday.
The events start 8 a.m. Tuesday at the main arena with amateur hunters, green warm-up hunters, green working hunters, green jumpers, bridled warm-up hunters, bridled working hunters, a bridled jumpers.
At noon in the east arena, donkeys go through their dressage English and Western style — aka the fine style of performing a specific set of prescribed movements meant to impress judges and audience alike.
At 4 p.m., in the east arena II, there’s the Donkey Adult Walk Trot (bubble gum chewing not advised for the participating equines). Styles include: English pleasure, English equine and Hunter Hack.
Things go into Wednesday bright and early with hitch pairs and singles super reinmanship shows at 7 a.m. in the main arena, as well as gambler’s choice driving for single mules, teams and donkeys. Earlier, in East Arena I, the dressage show goes on for Western-style bridled, green and amateur.
At 1 p.m., hitch class competitions begin with work and reinmanship, youth hitch, donkey pleasure driving in working, turnout and reinmanship, as well as youth pleasure driving workman ship for working and reinmanship.
The shows continue at 1 p.m. in the main arena with 11 shows including: donkey English pleasure, Donkey Hunter Hack, Bridled English Pleasure, Bridled Hunter Hack, Green English Hunter Hack, Amateur English Pleasure and Hunter Pack, and Youth English Equitation, English Pleasure and Hunger Hack.
Wednesday night at 5 p.m. in the Charles Brown Auditorium sees the opening night supper and live entertainment by Dave Stamey with an appearance by Kristyn Harris.
A scene from an opening ceremony at a past Mule Days. SUBMITTED PHOTO
A scene from a recent Bishop Mule Days. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Thursday morning at 7 a.m. in the main arena starts off with western riding followed by the “School Days Show,” a series of team and steer roping events and barrel racing. At the same time in the East Arena 1, two gambler’s choice events take place.
Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m., the main arena comes alive with a number of teamster challenges and driving events for mules, donkeys and steers, as well as team roping. The East Arena 1 will include a number of leadline and jog events.
Showmanship and halter events start at 2 p.m. in East Arena 2. Head back to the Charles Brown Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. for a concert including Tony Suarci “The Highway Man.”
Friday, at 7 a.m. in the Main Arena, another set of events occur, including different classes of barrel racing, driving and roping. Reining events happen at the East Arena 1 at the same time. At 9 a.m. in East Arena 2, halter events shine.
Friday afternoon, things pop at 1 p.m. in the Main Arena with a bevy of events, including log skidding, coon jumping and races, chariot, musical tires, as well as finals including team roping, open barrels, and an individual scramble contest. Head over to the West Track at 1 p.m. for polebending and single stake events, the East Arena 1 at 2 p.m. for some youth events. Hitch events pop up at 7 p.m. in East Arena 1.
Barbecue time happens at 4 pm.
The Mule Days Parade kicks things off on Saturday at 10 a.m. on Bishop’s Main Street.
“The Bishop Mule Days Celebration Parade is one of the longstanding and crowd-favored signature events of Memorial Day Weekend,” according to Mule Days. “Spectators covet prime locations up and down Bishop’s Main Street hoping to garner a priceless view of the beautiful mules, wagons, drivers and riders.”
The Parade starts at 10 a.m. at South and Main Streets and moves north on Main Street. The Parade makes a left turn at Sierra Street and proceeds to the Fairgrounds entrance. The Parade Detour begins promptly at 9:30 a.m. with Main Street being closed to vehicle traffic. All vehicle traffic is rerouted on a multi agency approved detour. Driving during the parade is strongly discouraged to keep traffic flows to a minimum for necessary travel.
After the parade, people can return to the Main Arena for the Grand Entry, followed by costume classes, the 300 Yard Race, bare hoops races, Big Balls in Mule Town and more. At 1 p.m. in the East Arena 1 and 2, see trail events.
Single and team pack burro races happen at 6:45 p.m. in the Main Arena, along with finals for various events, the rescue and contests. Head to the Charles Brown Auditorium at 8:30 p.m. for a dance and live music.
Things wrap up Sunday with Western Pleasure and Cow Working events at in the Main Arena and ranch riding events in the East Arena I at 7 a.m. Attend Cowboy Church at 10 a.m. at the Charles Brown Auditorium. Races, hitch and polebending contests happen at 1 p.m. in the Main Arena, trail events at 1:30 p.m. in East Arena 1. Things wrap up with races, contests and Pack Off Finals in the Main Arena.
In addition, there are events that don’t feature competitive mules, such as concerts, a catered dinner and BBQ, a dance and what the website bills as “the World’s Longest Non-Motorized Parade.”
A mule pack string operated by the Rock Creek Pack Station participating in the Bishop Mule Days parade. JIM HEAPHY via WIKIMEDIA COMMONS