This weekend, mules, horses and donkeys from across Maryland and nearby states will be traipsing about the Carroll County Equestrian Center in Woodbine for the Harrison Mule Days competitions.
The annual event brings together riders for a three-day weekend of live music, competitions, discussion and general mule-based fellowship.
Harrison Mule Days began in 2006 as a fundraiser for the Jered Harrison Scholarship fund, which is given to students at the Howard and Carroll county 4-H fairs.
"The fund honors my son who was killed in 2005 in a farming accident," Sue Harrison said. "His sisters and friends got together and started this event the very next year because showing and riding mules was a passion of his."
Harrison said that in the past they've seen more than 2,500 participants in the celebration. Maggie Brant, who helps organize the Harrison Mule Days every year said seeing the event come together is like seeing one of Jered's dreams come true.
"He always wanted to do something like this," Brant said of Jered Harrison, who was 26 when he died. "He used to travel down south for events because there wasn't anything like this up here. He used to say he was going to start a mule show up here, so we thought we'd help that dream along."
The event advertises itself as "A Celebration of the Mule and Mule People." The "mule people" arrived Friday with their campers and tents for a long weekend out in the woods with fellow riders of mules, horses and donkeys. Harrison said it's this sense of camaraderie that forms the core of the event.
"A lot of people say they like it because it's an old-fashioned fair," Harrison said. "There's no pretense; we all know each other here," "Sometimes, we run across people we only see once a year, but it's a special time of year for us."
Rachel Troppman, Jered's sister, is attending the festival with her 10-year-old daughter, Riley. The two of them both competed in the various events throughout the day with their mules.
"I was definitely a horse girl growing up. But when we started mule days, I wanted something to show along with everyone else, so I got a mule," Troppman said. "They're really not too different in personality or temperament from horses. It's an easy transition to make."
Troppman said the events throughout the weekend measure different attributes, with some judging the mules, horses and donkeys on their abilities and others judging riders on their skills.
Events included mule jumps, races and obstacle courses. Some of the more outlandish events included the liberty race — in which mules were let loose in the ring to be caught, mounted and ridden to the finish line — and the monkey-in-a-tree competition in which a pair of partners rode a single mule under a dangling rope. Once there, one of the partners would latch onto the rope and hang, suspended in the air while their mule and rider raced around a barrel and back to pick them up.
Troppman said in addition to the mule-based events, the three-day celebration is a chance for friends to get together for a fun weekend of catching up. Saturday night, Billy Harrison and the Haywire Band performed for the visitors, owners and mules, with a cornhole tournament lasting into the night. Troppman said that in future years, they hope to add more events that appeal to people without mules to make the event more inclusive.
Troppman said since first getting her and Riley's mules, she's grown quite fond of them.
"You can train mules to do pretty much anything a horse can do. The theory is that the mule is smarter and more sure-footed, so if you're trail-riding, it's more secure," Troppman said. "You know, when you ride down the Grand Canyon, you do it on mules, because they're smarter that way."
Though she said mules are often smarter than horses, Troppman said they have had a minor public relations problem to deal with.
"You always think of the phrase 'stubborn as a mule'; but if we're down somewhere and they won't cross a stream, it usually means it's too deep or not safe," Troppman said. "It's not that they're stubborn — it's that they're smart. Maybe, we're the ones who are stubborn."
Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or email@example.com.
If you go
What: Harrison Mule Days
When: 8 a.m. to noon Sunday
Where: Carroll County Equestrian Center, 2512 Grimville Road, Woodbine