Leaders of the pack | TheUnion.com

Leaders of the pack

Philip Easley almost fell off his mule when he heard the news, but that would have been bad form for the leader of an award-winning team at the nation’s premier mule show.

Easley’s momentary shakiness was caused by the announcement that his five-mule pack team from Nevada County had just won the grand marshal’s award at the Bishop Mule Days, a five-day competition leading up to Memorial Day.

The annual event at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop attracts more than 900 mules, competing in 169 events, and crowds exceeding 40,000 for what is billed as the world’s largest mule show.

“As they were handing out the awards, I was thinking to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to win that one?'” Easley said Friday. “When they said this year the award goes to the Easley Ranch, I almost fell off my mule.”

The award was given for the grand entry that highlights the opening of the five-day event. Teams are judged on appearance, form and other factors, and only the 12 best of the 60 teams entered were eligible to compete for the award.

The team also finished eighth in the three-day pack train competition, a series of events that includes the packers’ scramble, in which more than 100 mules and horses mix it up with the two-legged masters in what show organizers bill as “the wildest, noisiest, and funniest” event of the competition.

Teams consist of five mules, three saddled mules or horses, and four people to control them. Joining Easley on his team were fellow Nevada County Deputy Sheriff John Parkhouse, cowboy Mark Reidle, and Benjamin Adams, a member of the Placer County Public Defender’s Office.

Easley and his wife, Bonnie, operate a ranch on Myers Lane off McCourtney Road, where they breed and raise horses, mules and cattle. They own 40 acres and lease another 500.

The Easleys have been raising mules since 1997, and Philip believes they are underappreciated animals.

“Everything you do with a horse, you do with a mule,” he said. “They’re particularly good for packing because they won’t take chances like a horse will.”

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