2005-05-20 / Columnists

Horse Tales

by Candice C. Dunnigan

The season has started on Mackinac Island. A great many horses, both public and private, will be returning in the upcoming week. Downstate, the horse show season has also begun in the Western and English divisions. I've been in the thick of it, working two horses for the local Hunter Trials and a hunter pace, and the experiences of doing this, though intense, really are good.

My husband, however, is right. It is important to keep your perspective and enjoy what you're doing. If you hate the classes, hate your judges, hate your fellow riders, then "You aren't having fun, are you?" And that is really why people start to ride, isn't it? The other day I came across an article by Kandee Haertel, who writes for an Illinois horse journal, and it got me thinking. The piece was entitled, "So What's So Bad About Being Average?" She is right.

Mackinac Island for me, with most of my adult life involved with horses here, has always been about really taking advantage of the beauty of the Island and doing something I love that incorporates horses. These are the same reasons other residents do this. I think that most people who desire to rent saddle horses or a drive-it-yourself want to capture some flavor of the Island close at hand and be involved in some personal way with an equine. People who take a ride in a carriage-drawn taxi, or take a tour, also get to experience this kind of ambience that you cannot find in many places, or at the paces that we have here. Do we really realize how special and rare all of this is?

Within our horse community we have greatly broadened and deepened our base. The semi and professional clinicians, who have come to the Island to enrich our horse programs for the past years, have given many "students," young and old, good guidelines in riding and horsemanship. Our horse programs promote quality and opportunities for competitions, but that is not the core of what horse ownership on Mackinac is about.

On that note, I'm pleased to report that we have a great many people who have gotten into riding and horses on the Island just for the pure pleasure of it. I'm also happy to note that some of the most comfortable riders happen to be men. What? Yes, men.

The majority of men, either boys or adults who ride on Mackinac, really ride because they want to and don't seem to have a hassle or pretense about this. They don't spend an excess amount of money on expensive saddles, matching brow bands, or saddle pads, nor do they ride in chic britches or the cleanest jeans. They do seem to understand, though, something some women may not: they do not have to prove how good they look for it to be recognized that they know what they're doing, or to have a good time. Riding is not just a "girl" thing.

As a matter of fact, on Mackinac we have at least three male members of the City Council who grew up around horses, a State Park director who doesn't mind getting wet, if he can at least get out to ride, several members of the Department of Public Works and Edison Sault Electric who know how to harness and drive a horse, a newspaper editor who rode, and rode well as a kid, and a growing number of year-around residents and cottagers. Yes, these are men who don't like the fuss but like the aspects of riding, or enjoy taking care of a horse, my husband included.

Many people will say that trail riders or trail horses are really just riders and equines who couldn't cut it in the show world, then again, many trail riders would say that show horses couldn't make it on the trail, but that is not what the Island is about. So many folks seem to miss the point that a person doesn't have to be the best at something in order to enjoy what he is doing. Too many women, especially those who seem to dominate in the world of dressage and hunter jumper adult amateur levels, have helped to turn off a great many men. Perhaps this is one of the reasons you see so few boys, who probably would enjoy English riding but are dissuaded by a pack of nasty preteen girls in expensive paddock boots on overly high strung horses, telling them how to do things. Could this be true on Mackinac? Yes, but I hope not.

I was greatly encouraged when summer resident Frank Pompa, who always has liked horses but never rode, finally wanted to see the north end of the Island from a horse. "I don't care what I look like," he said. "I just want to be able to get on a horse, stay on the horse, and enjoy the view." He did.

While living on Mackinac, if the focus of horse ownership is on intense events that require much off-Island participation showing, then these selective disciples preclude the idea of long summer days, walks for bluff vistas, or hobby-horse canters down wooded lanes, and you "miss the boat" for being here. The reality of having or being around horses here actually is enhanced by the limited number of days they can be here. It is the horses, the people, and the place that makes Mackinac riding enjoyable. Riders here should not fixate if by the end of the summer they cannot jump a course in the ring, or manage a sliding stop. What they should remember is that it is important to put effort into their riding and their horse. If they're not the best at it, who cares? Mackinac is for all of us.

Candice Dunnigan is an active member of the American Equestrian Association, the Waterloo Hunt, and the Mackinac Island Horsemen's Association. Seasonally she resides at Donnybrook and Easterly Cottage.

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