Show of strength takes center stage

Demonstration: Abe and Charlie, a mule team from Cooksville, have plenty of pull at the fair.

August 12, 2005|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Mules may be known for their stubbornness, but Brice Ridgely's two mules, Abe and Charlie, proved to be excellent sports this week at the Howard County Fair.

The team, from Cooksville, dragged more than a ton more than 10 feet Tuesday in a steady drizzle.

The rain put a damper on the Howard County Fair's first mule-pulling contest - Ridgley's team was the only one that made it to the fairgrounds out of six that were expected. But more than 60 spectators applauded a demonstration of the animals' strength.

"It was a good start," said Mary Streaker, a fair volunteer who organized the pull. "We hope to do better next year."

Streaker and her husband, Howard, encouraged the fair board to add the mule pull because there is a small, but dedicated community of mule owners in the area.

The Maryland Draft Horse and Mule Association has about 120 members, said Earle Nicholson of Ijamsville, the organization's president. Seven of the members have mules, which are the offspring of a horse and a donkey. They are considered strong, hard-working animals that can be trained to perform valuable farm tasks.

Ten mules were entered in the Draft Horse and Mule Show at the fair Sunday, Nicholson said. Draft horses, which are gaining in popularity, numbered about 80.

Vaughn Turner, the fair board president, said the fair has expanded its horse and mule offerings and refurbished two horse rings at the fairgrounds to keep up with interest in the area.

"Horses have become a big thing in Howard County," Turner said.

A horse-pulling contest has proven popular at the fair for 27 years and will be held again, at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow. The fair also had eight shows for specific breeds, a 4-H horse show and a "play day," featuring races and games for riders on all types of horses.

For some equine enthusiasts, however, mules are the way to go.

"People who like mules just think they are the greatest thing ever," said Mary Streaker. "Mules have such interesting personalities. ... They're clever animals. You can't force a mule to do much."

Ridgely's team started out pulling a sled on runners loaded with two black plastic bags each filled with 100 pounds of feed. It slid easily along the muddy ground near the fairgrounds' main gate.

The team next pulled 900 pounds and then 1,400 pounds. When the organizers ran out of bags and started adding men to the sled, the team successfully pulled about 2,300 pounds.

Ridgely's 9-year-old granddaughter, McKenzie Ridgely, did her part, shouting, "Pull it, Abe! Pull it, Charlie!"

Ridgely's daughter, Melissa Covolesky, said the animals are easy to work with.

"Mules are some of the most fun," she said. "They've got more common sense than horses."

Ridgely said he started keeping mules because of his interest in historical farming methods. He uses the animals to pull antique farm equipment, particularly at demonstrations with the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club.

He said his grandfather and father used the animals to farm. "It is more in your blood than anything else," he said.

Ridgely recently has started competing in mule-pulling contests. His team surpassed five others at the Carroll County Fair last week, and he plans to compete at the State Fair in September. "Some people play golf. ... I like to play with my mules and farm equipment," he said.

The Howard County Fair, off Route 144 in West Friendship, is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. today and tomorrow. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for those ages 62 and older and free for children younger than 10. Parking is free. 410-442-1022, or www. howardcountyfair.com.

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