Don't judge a mule's jumping capabilities based on its size alone — the little ones just might catch you by surprise, according to Howard County Fair Chairman Clint Thomas.
"Some of the shorter mules jump higher than the taller mules," he said.
This year, fairgoers will have the opportunity to judge for themselves, with the addition of a mule jump competition to the long list of contests traditionally offered during the two-week event.
The Howard County Fair opens its gates Saturday, Aug. 6, celebrating the county's rural roots for the 66th year.
Visitors can expect the usual range of activities — carnival games and rides, food stands serving up comfort food, crafts and art exhibits, farm animals on display and a full program of contests, including everything from archery to pie eating to an amateur variety show.
And don't forget the pig races, held four times daily.
But along with the traditional offerings come some new additions.
The coon mule jump, which will be held Tuesday, Aug. 9, after the late afternoon mule pulling contest, will feature two height classes of mules jumping over an adjustable pole. The pole will be moved up incrementally, with mules who can't clear the jump eliminated at each round.
Unlike horses, mules can jump without a running start, according to Thomas, who is in charge of the contest.
Thomas said the fair committee decided to add the competition to the fair's offerings because Howard County has a substantial group of people who follow mule shows along the East Coast and wanted to see something offered close to home.
"Carroll County has a mule show and a jump, but there's nothing in Howard County," he said.
The Howard County 4-H club will also inaugurate a robotics competition this year. The group, which focuses on development of life skills in youth ages 5 to 18, has a presence throughout the fair. 4-H projects, which include raising livestock and preparing exhibits on categories as diverse as entomology, woodworking, creative writing and photography, will be on display throughout the fair.
First-time Fair President Blair G. Hill said he took on the position because he had been involved in the 4-H club as a boy, and had been to every Howard County Fair since he was 6 or 7 years old.
"This is my opportunity to give back to the 4-H program that gave me so much," he said.
Hill said the fair this year will feature an agricultural expo, near the entrance, that will showcase "how much agriculture is still being done in the county." Hill said that despite the perception that farming is on the decline in the county, it has retained a lot of nontraditional agricultural operations. "Farming has changed," he said.
Fairgoers can also look forward to the recent installation of air conditioning in the main exhibition hall. "We find that our fair is also the hottest week of the year," Hill said. "Hopefully this will offer patrons some relief."
Located at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, the fair will run through Aug. 13. The grounds open at 8 a.m. and close at 11 p.m. every day.
Admission is $5 for fairgoers 10 years and older, and $2 for seniors 62 and up. There is an extra charge for ride tickets.
For more information, visit http://www.howardcountyfair.org.; for updates visit explorehoward.com.