Attending Bishop Mule Days has become a Rite of Spring for Debby and me. It is held the week before Memorial Day in Bishop California, the largest town in the Owens Valley. Bishop has nearly 4,000 residents. Sandwiched between two 14,000-foot mountain ranges, in a warm high desert valley, the snow-capped peaks add scenic contrast to this isolated part of our most heavily populated state.
The closest urban area to Bishop, southward, is Los Angeles, a full day’s drive away. The closest cities to the North are Reno and Carson City, Nevada, many hours away. To the East and the West are the White Mountains, and the Sierra Nevadas.
We are no longer showing our mules at Mule Days. So, why do we still go after 42 consecutive visits (preceded by several more)? We go for the people! We love the mule people because they are unpretentious, salt of the earth, humorous and kind.
You see you have to be humorous to love mules, and you must be kind to get along with them. Horses will tolerate rude and inhumane handling. They are forgiving. Mules, however, although loveable and fun if handled properly, can be diabolical and difficult if treated harshly and without compassion.
I know of no more Western equine event than Bishop Mule Days. Yes, the competition includes Open Jumping, Dressage, and other non-Western events, and races, but where else can you see rodeo events like roping, barrel racing, reining and cutting, plus packing contests, comedy classes, stage coaches and twenty mule teams, chariot races, stock “horse” classes, the largest non-motorized parade in the U.S.A., and riotous costume classes and mule strings from several national parks, many private mountain outfitters, and even the few remaining U.S. Military mule outfits?
Additionally there are concerts, training clinics, barbecues, parties, dances, art shows, and fairground exhibits.
All of this honors the mule, its historical importance in the U.S.A. and its rapidly increasing role as an equestrian recreational animal. Bishop calls itself “The Mule Capitol of the World”. More than 2,500 visitors attend Mule Days every year, and over 1,000 mules show up for the show and the races, and the parade.
Of course there are also hundreds of horses, especially in the parade, which is held Saturday morning.
In the heart of the California / Nevada buckaroo country, Bishop is home to several packing companies which annually take thousands of vacationers into the splendor of the Sierra Nevada and adjacent mountain ranges. It is also the gateway to hundreds of miles of ski country.
Mules and skiing. No wonder I love Bishop.
I am often asked why I switched to mules for my personal riding.
I explain: I love horses! I respect mules!
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