2008-08-09 / Top News

Saddle Horses Downtown Cause Concern for Carriage Drivers

By Ryan Schlehuber

Mackinac Island's three commercial liveries are asking that the city create policies to restrict the use of private saddle horses in the downtown area. The issues center around use of public roads and road safety in the downtown area during peak summer business hours.

Rosie, a 12-year-old quarterhorse, takes a break from her daily walk with her owner, Island resident Lisa Brock, near Mission Point Resort Saturday, August 2. There are between 30 and 40 privately owned horses on Mackinac Island. Carriage companies recently approached the city's street committee seeking to create legislation that would prevent the city from being liable from any incidents involving saddle horses downtown. Many owners, like Mrs. Brock, are wary that such legislation may infringe on their right of way on public roads. Rosie, a 12-year-old quarterhorse, takes a break from her daily walk with her owner, Island resident Lisa Brock, near Mission Point Resort Saturday, August 2. There are between 30 and 40 privately owned horses on Mackinac Island. Carriage companies recently approached the city's street committee seeking to create legislation that would prevent the city from being liable from any incidents involving saddle horses downtown. Many owners, like Mrs. Brock, are wary that such legislation may infringe on their right of way on public roads. The city's Street Committee, headed by Councilman Armand "Smi" Horn, was approached by Carriage Tours president Dr. Bill Chambers and Arrowhead Carriages owner Joe Plaza Wednesday, July 30, who said city ordinances should regulate the use of privately-owned saddle horses on Main Street, between Fort Street and Windermere Point, during peak summer business hours.

The two men said they also spoke on behalf of Jack's Livery and Cindy's Riding Stables, owned by the Gough family.

They presented a list of concerns that Dr. Chambers called "road courtesies" between carriage companies and private horse owners and suggested private saddle horses be registered on Mackinac.

"There are more and more privately owned horses coming to the Island, with many saddle horses coming downtown indiscriminately," said Dr. Chambers. "If you're driving downtown with a carriage, that's been OK, but it's no place for saddle horses."

There are 30 to 40 privately owned horses on the Island, according to Trish Martin, who owns one herself.

Carriage Tours' loading area is next to the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau on Main Street, and is allowed to park a number of carriages downtown to promote the Island's horse culture and attract tourists to the company's tour. Dr. Chambers also oversees the taxi company and delivery dray service.

Mr. Plaza's Arrowhead Carriages operates hourly sightseeing carriage tours from the sidewalk in front of Marquette Park.

Jack Livery's Stables on Mahoney Avenue rents saddle horses and drive-yourself buggies and Cindy's offers saddle horse rentals on Market Street. Drive-yourself buggies and rented saddle horses are not allowed on Main Street because of the congestion and the possibility of injury to horses and pedestrians.

During the peak hours of the summer, from early afternoon to late afternoon and on major event days, downtown Main Street can be congested with carriages, drays, pedestrians, and cyclists. The carriage company owners say recent incidents that spooked their horses have heightened their concerns for better control of traffic downtown.

Dr. Chambers and Mr. Plaza said their main intention for meeting with the committee is to assure the city is insured for the liability it has for accidents or incidents involving horses on Main Street. Privately owned carriages on Main Street are not a concern, they said, just saddle horses.

There was no one representing the private horse owner community at the meeting, but several told the Mackinac Island Town Crier that they believe they have as much right to venture downtown as commercial carriages do, however, many do not do so during busy times of the day.

Like Ms. Martin, Michelle Stuck and Maryanke Alexander, both of whom are members of the Friesian Force horse riding club, are concerned that commercial carriage businesses have not approached them first.

The club does ride downtown, Mrs. Stuck said, but only in the evenings and, as precaution, they always walk their horses when approaching or passing carriage horses, so as not to excite them.

"We have every right to ride on the road as much as they do," said Mrs. Stuck. "We do ride downtown because tourists love [the horses] and we allow them to get close to them, pet them, and take pictures of them. It's why people come to the Island, to see the horses. But we don't go down there in the middle of the day.

"We are always courteous to carriages when we do go downtown, though," she added. Candi Dunnigan, who owns four horses on the Island, believes the idea of registering horses is a good idea.

"It makes sense to me," she said. "You register bikes and snowmobiles here on the Island. Why not horses?"

Mrs. Alexander, president of the Mackinac Horsemen's Association, believes new city laws are not needed to resolve this issue. She questions the carriage companies' intentions, fearing that it will eventually lead to more regulations that only accommodate the commercial businesses.

"What's the next step after that? To not allow privately owned horses downtown on Main or Market Street at all?" she asked rhetorically. "Do they own the road?"

As for the city registering all private horse owners, Mrs. Alexander said they already are registered, as each horse owner must pay a $15 fly control fee and complete a form that lists an owner's name, the number of horses, and location of his or her barn.

Mr. Plaza and Dr. Chambers feel that private horse owners should also list insurance and liability coverage with their horses, which is not required on the fly control information form.

Mrs. Stuck said all private horse owners have their horses covered with an umbrella policy through their homeowners insurance.

Dr. Chambers and Mr. Plaza mentioned a few past incidents that have provoked the commercial liveries to approach the city, incidents including run-ins involving a commercial carriage and private carriage and events that bring unfamiliar horses to the Island.

Both men also believe unannounced arrivals or departures of privately owned horses from the boat docks can be disruptive to their operation downtown.

"When we have carriage horses standing idle downtown and they see horses coming off the boat, being walked by someone, 75% of our horses will jerk their heads up and take a look because they're curious," said Dr. Chambers, a retired veterinarian. "Seeing a loose horse, not tied to reins, excites them, and a horse jumping up or jerking its head up could knock over a kid.

"All we're asking is if horse owners can give us a heads-up so we can inform our crews to be alert to prevent any incidents," he added. "Just let us know you're coming off the dock. This is just one of our small concerns."

Using courtesy goes both ways, said Mrs. Alexander, stating that companies could have approached horse owners themselves with such a request, instead of seeking city regulations.

"It boils down to just common sense," she said. "There's no need for registrations or new ordinances.

"If I ride a saddle horse, I am capable of riding through town, but we don't do it during the day," she added. "We are very careful with their horses and are very conscientious when we walk by them with our horses."

Leanne Brodeur, who instructs 4-H Club riding lessons, said her students may rarely stray downtown, and 99% of the time students know not to bring their saddle horses through Main Street. Lessons are usually held up the hill, behind Fort Mackinac and on trails.

"The committee is weighing the options of creating new policies or seeing if the issue can be resolved through just talking it out," said Kelly Bean, Mayor Margaret Doud's assistant, Friday, August 1. "Maybe the fly control form is enough, but maybe it would be a good idea to also ask for a copy of horse owners' insurance, whatever it is we need to do so that the city is not held liable for an incident that happened downtown."

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