The 39th annual celebration of Hells Canyon Mule Days went off with plenty of hitches. Four mule hitches, two mule hitches, and single-mule hitches that is, along with races and riders. There were lots of other fun events, including the annual Dutch Oven Cook-off, Cowboy poetry, and Kristyn Harris’ outstanding concert.
“We had great attendance, considering the weather” said Mule Days president Sondra Lozier, “and an increased number of entries.” What was really important, Lozier emphasized, was the larger number of youth who participated in the events.
The weather cooperated on Friday, September 6th, with mild temperatures and fitful sunshine. But Saturday the weather changed, and in the afternoon around 4 p.m., a thunderstorm generated rain, hail, and dangerous lightning. Bolts struck the metal barn and the arena where barrel-racing was underway. “Lightning just rolled down and through barn. And the people in the arena could feel the ground shake when it struck out there,” Lozier said. “It was very lucky that no one was hurt. But it knocked out the power, and all our sound and P.A. equipment. With a lot of hard work, Jay (Connolly) got everything up and running for Sunday.” Connolly had already been recognized as the 2019 Mule Days Top Hand for outstanding volunteer service and support through the years, and he proved once again why he was this year’s Top Hand.
The entrants hailed from across the Northwest and California, with many from northern Idaho, the Tri-cities area, Spokane, and the Walla Walla valley. The mules included draft crosses out of Belgian or Percheron mares, racing mules that were bred from very speedy quarter horses, and mules for riding whose mothers were Paints, Tennessee Walkers, and Appaloosas.
There were events to appeal to mule afficianados of all stripes. The fastest-paced and most dramatic included the Heart Race for wagons and teams, speedball, pole-bending, barrel racing, and the jump-off challenge for riders. In the Heart Race, a driver guided his or her two-mule team through a heart-shaped course that required both speed and finesse in making sharp turns. Winning time for the galloping mule team was less than a minute. Pole bending required that a mule-back rider weave through a set of tall skinny poles set 22 feet apart, and then race back to the finish line. Speedball required riders to gallop up a 50-yard course, drop a golf ball into a narrow cone and then gallop back to the finish. The galloping part was pretty easy for most, except for one mule who rodeo-ed across the finish. The trick, and place where some contestants came to grief, was getting the ball to actually fall into the cone.
There were strength events, including the log pull. And there were lots of events that most people associate with horses rather than mules: English pleasure, Western pleasure, and trail riding, to name a few. The English pleasure class was the largest show class at Mule Days, with 25 mule-mounted entrants who slogged, jogged, and cantered around a sodden arena. The winner was of Bend, Oregon.
As it has been every year since 1980, the 2019 edition of Mule Days was a family event, with contests and activities for people of every age, from stick mule races to the oldest attendee, age 92. The visitor who came the farthest for Saturday’s show hailed from Dodge City, Kansas, and lots of visitors who came through the gate said home was Lewiston, or Boise, or Kamiah, Idaho, Pendleton, Portland or Bend, Oregon, Tri-Cities, Washington, or other places equally distant, as well as folks from Wallowa County. With the 2019 Hells Canyon Mule Days wrapped up, it’s time to start planning for the 40th one next year. “It’s going to be really special,” Lozier said.