The annual Pea Ridge Mule Jump began in 1985

Mark Twain once penned a story entitled “The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County.” Not to be outdone, an old timey writer from Pea Ridge, Ark., decided to hold an annual mule jumping contest.

Pea Ridge resident Col. Negel Hall and his friend Don Shockley from Powell, Mo., set up the first contest during the 1985 town fall festival. In 1989, the event name changed to the Pea Ridge Mule Jump with Oct. 14, 2017 marking the 29th year jumping mules and their handlers have amazed crowds. The event is traditionally held the second Saturday in October.

Mule handlers, numerous vendors and 2,500 attendees came mostly from Arkansas, some came from as far away as Kansas City, Mo., and Eastern Missouri.

“This year was a great success because of the many volunteers and the sponsors,” event chairman Nathan See said of the event. “Without them, holding this astounding event would be impossible.”

Mule jumping is an entertaining competitive sport held in various but widely scattered locations such as Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and California. The sport evolved from nighttime raccoon hunts in an effort to control a troublesome raccoon population and to provide an evening of raucous fun.

The hunts were vaguely reminiscent of English fox hunts complete with hunters, hounds, jumping steeds, obstructions and prey but without any formalized traditions. Fences, often barbed wire, frequently separated hunters and raccoon. The hunters, wanting to protect their valued and beloved steeds, dismounted and covered the fence with a coat or blanket so the mule could clearly see and leap the barrier while being tethered by a long rope. The hunters then took what was left of the barrier covering, remounted and continued the wild chase through the dark.

These hunters knew something known to few others: mules can really jump. Reportedly, thanks to their donkey sires, mules have a special muscular composition that allows them to jump from a standstill, something said to be unheard-of with horses.

Today’s mule jumping is a gentler sport with everyone understanding that it is the mule’s choice whether or not it jumps. Handlers may not touch the mules, only encourage verbally or by pulling on reins.

The procedure is uncomplicated though decidedly astonishing. A mule is led to a jump set at a predetermined height which is increased after each round much like in high jumping or pole vaulting. The Pea Ridge jump is made of vertically parallel steel posts with a movable crossbar that promotes mule safety and allows for height increases. Mules are given three chances to clear the height in order to be eligible for the next round.

The Pea Ridge competition mules are divided into three classes: those under 51-inches tall, those over 51 inches and professional mules. In addition, handlers/owners are divided into three age divisions. They are youth 14 and younger, adults 15 and 45 and seniors, who are over 45. This year 41 mules competed for more than $5,200 in prize money and a chance to break the world record of 72 inches. The winners of the professional division were Les Clancy of Ozark, Mo., and his mule Sadie. Sadie jumped 63 inches.

While mule jumping is the spotlight competition, the Pea Ridge Mule Jump also hosted additional contests. Some involved mules such as barrel racing, pole bending and flag racing while a stick mule race for children contest invited audience youngsters to participate. Other attractions were music by the Ridge Rockers, a rock-climbing wall, face painting and bouncing houses in addition to a craft vendor who used rustic barn wood an old wagon wheels as her base materials and another who sold soaps made from goat milk.

So, the second Saturday of next October, if you are looking for a different kind of fall festival, the Pea Ridge Mule Jump will offer a unique, fun and entertaining experience.

“Even though every year is slightly different, jumping mules and the bond between them and their handlers is always the same as is the fun,” Donna Hamilton, public relations representative for the event, said.


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