By Deb Murphy
Mommas may not let their babies to grow up to be cowboys, unless, of course, we’re talking about Bishop Mommas the week before Memorial Day.
Starting Tuesday, Bishop is being drop-kicked back a century or so to a simpler time that focuses on the mule, a hybrid equine with a well-bred sense of humor. The Owens Valley may be wi-fi’ed and connected, but Bishop Mule Days gives local residents a chance to get back in touch with the heart of the Eastern Sierra.
At the urging of one of its founders Bob Tanner, Bishop’s Mule Days was split into two facets a few years ago. There’s the competitive mule show that draws trainers and breeders from all over the U.S. and then there’s the fun part: the spectacle of mules, sometimes behaving badly, and packers, clowns, kids, food and, of course, cowboys.
“This year’s Mule Days is going to be awesome,” said Mule Days’ Committee Chair Dan Dean. “We’ve brought back Percheron Thunder, one of the best equestrian acts in the country.” Dean rattled off a list of must-sees including the I Wanna Be a Packer” program for the kids, the Brenn Hill concert Thursday evening and the opening night barbecue, catered by Convict Lake Restaurant on Wednesday with entertainment by the Pea Vine Pickers. “This is the biggest event in Bishop,” he said. “Everyone should go.”
Those who have seen the Percheron Thunder performance in the main arena in years past know where the name comes from. Under the guidance of Jason Goodman, his powerful team literally rattles the Fairgrounds arena. One of the best things to come out of France, the Percheron is an elegant, agile draft horse, standing over 17-hands and weighing in at close to a ton.
This year, the London family has put together three days of activities for kids, an introductory course to the fun part of the valley’s history. “It’s world class fun,” explained Craig London. The Kids’ Corral includes stick rodeo competition, Jennifer Roeser of McGee Creek Pack Station will be teaching the youngsters how to groom and pack mules. Plus there’s fishing, photos with Josephine the donkey and rodeo clown lessons. All the activities, Friday through Sunday, are free and center on the main walkway to the Mike Boothe Arena.
This year’s concert features Utah native Brenn Hill whose songs focus on today’s ranch and rodeo life and his love of horses. Influenced by purists like Ian Tyson, Marty Robbins and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Hill was quoted in a Western Horseman feature, “I relate to and understand the values and tradition behind the cowboy way of life and that’s what I like writing about.”
If a Convict Lake catered dinner, real cowboy music, Percherons or kids on stick mules aren’t enough reason to head to the Fairgrounds this week, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a donkey race, a packers’ scramble or watched a string of mules destroy arena props.