Mules reign in the ring

Friday, July 10, 2015
Bryan Strickland with one of his family's mules. (T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds)

The 24th annual Great Celebration Mule and Donkey Show continues through Saturday at the Celebration Grounds.

"It's looking to be another outstanding show," said show secretary Margaret Eakin.

The event involves several different sanctioning bodies and serves as the culmination of several esteemed titles including national and world championships.

Eakin said it's the second-largest mule and donkey show in the country, behind Bishop, California, Mule Days.

The show is expected to draw 300 to 400 mules and donkeys from all parts of the country, including California, Maryland, Texas, Missouri and Indiana, said Eakin. Between 500 and 600 people are expected as exhibitors, and a total of 1,400 entries are expected (a particular animal can be entered in more than one class).

Animals began arriving on the grounds early this week.

"A lot have been coming for all 24 years, which is pretty remarkable," said Eakin.

Don Williams' grandchildren, who compete in the mule and donkey show, are (from left): Lewis Strickland, Anna Strickland and Meredith Furr. (T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds)

For the Don Williams family of Concord, North Carolina, the show is a 20-year family tradition. Eight of the family members are in Shelbyville. Between them, they have 25-30 World Grand Champions, Williams' son-in-law Bryan Strickland said.

"For me, I enjoy watching my kids ride," Strickland said. "It's a family affair."

The family's awards include 2010-2014 Amateur Owner/World Grand Champion and Trainer Style Racking for John-Henry (a racking mule), they said. John-Henry was retired last year.

Williams, who has a doctorate in education from Duke University, said he became involved with mules in 1991 after retiring as a superintendent in North Carolina. He loved mules because his grandfather raised them.

Working with gaited mules all these years has been rewarding, he said, especially because they used to be more rare.

"Fifteen years ago, if you had a gaited mule you had something," Williams said. "Now, there's a lot of them."

Scotty and Don Williams. (T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds)

New mini-mule classes have been added to this year's show, said Eakin.

Eakin said that fans of Tennessee Walking Horse competition will likely enjoy the gaited mule classes tonight and Saturday night in Calsonic Arena. For those looking for lively action, Eakin suggests the miniature donkey coon jumping classes on Saturday afternoon in Champions Arena.

Unlike most of the equestrian events that rent Calsonic Arena throughout the year, the Mule and Donkey Show is actually organized and operated by the Celebration itself. For more information about the show, go to or call 684-5915.