The South is full of many wonderful traditions, from events like the Kentucky Derby (or even Nashville’s own Steeplechase) to classic southern fare such as fried chicken and sweet tea. But perhaps one of the region’s particularly unique customs comes in the form of Mule Day, a more than 170-year tradition in the city of Columbia, Tennessee.
With the first official festival taking place in 1934, Mule Day serves as a multi-day celebration of Columbia’s rich history in mule breeding – so much so that it’s been dubbed the “mule capital of the world.” It originally began as a single-day event for breeders, showcasing a livestock and mule market, but it’s more than century-long has existence has seen it evolve into the expansive event it is today.
The 1840s saw the town of Columbia as a Mule Trading Center, with a “reputation of having good work mules, and honest mule traders,” with the quality of one’s mules being a crucial element of a farmer’s crops.Due to the fact that mule trading was primarily a spring activity, as that’s when farmers planted their crops, the tradition turned into a celebration in the 1920s, ultimately becoming an official event in the next decade.
An event like Mule Day gives attendees a glimpse into the world of muling that they wouldn’t get anywhere else. Mule races, log loading and old-fashioned log pulling competitions, mule auction and a driving mule show are just a small taste of mule-related sights at this yearly event. The driving show demonstrates the relationship between mule and commander, showcasing how the animals are trained to follow vocal instructions and work the wagons. A crowd favorite is always the log pulling competition, an activity used as an interpretation of the old-fashioned technique of how mules were used as a tool to pull logs out of the woods.
And if you thought King and Queen designations were only for royalty, think again. Described as “the beauty contest of Mule Day,” the Draft Mule Show awards the most dashing-looking mules the title of King or Queen. This particular activity acts as a “foundation” of the event as a whole, with the fine crop of equines being showcased during the parade or during the kick-off Wagon Train. In addition to the mule-themed festivities, guests can also look forward to activities like a flea market, Hee-Haw Chili Supper, bluegrass music fest, while a rodeo clown and plenty of live music are also on tap. And what would a celebration like this be without a parade? Floats, automobiles, wagons and of course – mules – take over the streets of downtown Columbia during Saturday’s festivities.
Sports & Entertainment Nashville will be attending Mule Day this weekend, so be on the lookout for more coverage on this Tennessee tradition. This year’s event kicks off Thurs., March 31 after a three-day wagon train tour of middle Tennessee, making their way to the final stop at Maury County Park, with activities running all week long. Visit the official website for a full schedule of Mule Day 2016.