2006-05-20 / Columnists

When and How Do the Horses Arrive on Mackinac Island?

One of the most frequently asked questions about horses on Mackinac Island is, when and how do they get here? Several years ago I wrote a column dealing with the transporting of horses over water by boat. But, this week I will attempt to answer about their influx.

The Mackinac Island Service Company and Mackinac Island Carriage Tours each keep several teams of horses on Mackinac year-around for transportation, hauling, and sanitation. However, the usual image of Mackinac, complete with taxis and tour buggies on the streets, and horses and drays waiting at the dock, doesn't really begin until a mild late winter or an early spring.

Before equines arrive, the ice in the Straits has to melt, and the heavy-hulled transport ferries begin the daily runs from the mainland shores of St. Ignace to the Island. With the boats come people, supplies, and horses. Also arriving in great quantities are the bales of hay from last year's crops and sack after sack of horse feed and oats.

Spring is still a quiet time on the Island, but with the advent of hotel, bed and breakfasts, and shop openings, the pace quickens. Horses used for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and the Mackinac Island Service Company usually are scheduled to set "foot" on Mackinac within the first week of regular ferry traffic.

Trish Martin's horse, Island's Grey Skye, arrived on the Island Monday, May 8, having spent the winter in lower Michigan. Trish Martin's horse, Island's Grey Skye, arrived on the Island Monday, May 8, having spent the winter in lower Michigan. Not all horses appear here at once. Rather, specific pairs come off the boats in loads from winter farms in the Upper Peninsula. Their numbers increase as the tourist trade grows. Arrowhead Livery, along with Gough's, blend in their animals, and by Memorial Day the familiar sights and sounds are all in place. Mackinac looks like Mackinac.

Along with this, the riding stables of Cindy's and Jack's bring their horses across, and by mid-May both barns have horses ready for hire. Usually the horses used for the 4-H summer riding program don't arrive until the latter part of May, or early June.

What about many of the private horses visitors love to see? The teams of chestnut Hackneys owned by Grand Hotel? Or, what of the black Friesians that live behind a sumptuous

Marianka Alexander's horse Navajo is one of the early family owned horses to arrive on the Island this year. Marianka Alexander's horse Navajo is one of the early family owned horses to arrive on the Island this year. cottage right on Main Street, or those Friesians on the West Bluff? When do the handsome riding horses one often sees on the trails or walking up the East Bluff come to Mackinac? For these non-commercial horses, arrival times differ.

Grand Hotel's Hackneys usually are in place and ready to pull elegant carriages by the time the hotel opens. Often they spend their winters in Minnesota; this year they enjoyed pastures in Florida. The large gray Percherons that pull the hotel's omnibuses are among the first of grouped equines Mackinac Island Carriage Tours brings from the Upper Peninsula. Most of the 4-H horses spent the winter nearby in Mackinaw City.

In the "old days," the private horses owned by cottagers usually arrived with their owners. Back then, cottages were strictly seasonal (no insulation or winterization), and the "season" on Mackinac began much later, when the weather warmed. It was usual then for horses to arrive the last week of June. However, some private horses actually are brought to Mackinac early in May to be worked in harness and carriage before the traffic picks up and the downtown streets become congested. Saddle horses were introduced to taxis, teams, and bicycles ahead of time. This still holds true. Usually it is a paid professional driver or groom that arrives to take care of these animals and their training. There are exceptions to the rule of horse keeping here, and some cottage owners themselves arrive and do it all. For all of you horse watchers

on Mackinac Island, a few privileged early-bird horses are here. The West Bluff is home to teams of two Hackney pairs, and a Hackney-Clyde cross. A pair of Friesians and a bay Quarter horse saddle mount are expected to arrive this week. The Hackneys are back in Grand Hotel's barn. Over on the East Bluff, a large gray Thoroughbred and a pinto National Show horse share corral space. A month from now, barns will begin to fill. The quietude of spring will give way to bustle, shuttered windows open, porch furniture going back on verandas, and spring will give way to summer. The familiar sounds of horses on Mackinac will abound.

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 Easterly Cottage.

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