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The Pea Ridge Mule Jump is an annual event held each autumn in Pea Ridge (Benton County). Each year on the second Saturday in October, spectators come from Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma to enjoy this unique competition. In 2008, the crowd numbered more than 1,000.
Mule jumping events occur mostly in the South. Mule jumping originally began when raccoon hunters taught their mules to jump fences on hunts. The riders dismounted, climbed over the fence, placed a blanket on the fence so the mule could see it, and urged their mules to jump over.
The Pea Ridge Mule Jump began when local resident Colonel Negel Hall, along with his friend Don Shockley from Powell, Missouri, set up the event at the town’s Fall Festival in 1985. Those early contests also included coon dog competitions. In 1989, the festival became officially known as the Pea Ridge Mule Jump. Once organized by the chamber of commerce and the local Lions’ Club, the event has been sponsored since 2002 by the Pea Ridge Parks Commission and a group of supporters, the Friends of Pea Ridge. The price of admission for spectators, set at five dollars as of 2009, goes to support local non-profit organizations and programs. Tents on the grounds have vendors selling food and crafts, as well as presenters showing off their antique tractors.
The Pea Ridge Mule Jump includes a variety of contests: barrel racing, pole bending, flag racing, a halter class in which mules are judged for their looks, a stick mule race for children, hog calling, and the Negel Hall Memorial Award for best overall mule. The day’s events culminate with three jumping contests for two divisions: adult (owners age fifteen and over) and youth (owners fourteen and under). Owners walk their bareback mules forward and coax them to jump a barricade made of parallel steel posts and a movable crossbar covered by a tarp. The tarp helps the mule to see the barrier. The jump is not a running jump but is made from a standstill. Leah Patton of the American Donkey and Mule Society says that, while “a horse can’t do it,” the mule is able to jump from a standstill position because it has “unique muscular characteristics” inherited from its “donkey blood line that enables it to basically perform a standing high jump.”
The owner may use encouraging words or may pull on reins but is forbidden from touching the mule. The pole is moved higher with each round of jumps, and mules are eliminated until only one mule is left. That mule continues to jump as high as it can and is then declared the winner.
The three classes for the jumps are mules under fifty-one inches tall, mules over fifty-one inches, and a professional mule class. This last class awards a prize of $1,000 and a Montana silversmith belt buckle to the winner. Winners of other events can win prize money from $10 to $750. Winning mules may jump as high as sixty to sixty-six inches, with the show record set in 1989 by Don Sams’s mule Sonny, which stood only 50.5 inches tall but cleared the bar at seventy-two inches, or six feet—just half an inch short of the world record at the time.
For additional information:Beard, Annette. “Mule Jumping in the Ozarks Has Long History.” Times of Northeast Benton County. October 8, 2008, p. 1.
Supplement to Times of Northeast Benton County. October 10, 2007.
Linda LovellNorthwest Arkansas Community College
Last Updated 6/16/2009
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