2008-09-13 / Columnists

Horse Tales

Joanne Kompsi and 'Billy' Are the Caretakers of M-185

Michigan's state highway, M-185, is unusual in several ways. First off, it is perhaps the only highway in our state in which an automobile takes a "back seat." The road is the route for moving around the perimeter of Mackinac Island. Our primary transportation around that route is by one of three ways - on foot, by bicycle, and by horse, either ridden or driven. Although there are emergency vehicles that travel on it, as well as city and state trucks, front-end loaders, and snowplows, there are no cars.

Maintaining this road is not as hard as in other municipalities. For one thing, the traffic patterns are different, and the loads upon this stretch of highway are much lighter. Nevertheless, the Mackinac State Historic Parks system is responsible for much of it, as M-185 falls under the jurisdiction of the State Park for most of its length.

Most people who come to Mackinac want to do five things: Take a carriage ride, go to Fort Mackinac, see Grand Hotel, purchase fudge, and last but not least, take a bicycle ride around the Island. What could be better? To offer a respite on the way, the state has placed picnic tables and trash cans along the eight-mile highway. To keep this shoreline road neat and tidy, the state has always hired a maintenance worker to be responsible for this area.

Billy and Joanne working on M-185. Billy and Joanne working on M-185. Joanne Kompsi and her horse, Billy, have been the "caretakers" of M-185 for three summers. Now, as the skies and shoreline take on the characteristics of early autumn on Mackinac, their routine changes a bit. Traffic on the road lessens during the weekdays, but can still be busy on September weekends, as they can be after the weekend is through.

Joanne is no stranger to Mackinac, or to horses. I can remember her as a tow-headed little girl, riding any horse she was able to use at the local stables. She was a very good rider, and still is. In fact, Joanne is still crazy about horses, and loves being with them. She is very proud of her current working partner, Billy. Billy is a light chestnut draft gelding. His breeding is Belgium. He is owned by Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, and leased to the State Park.

Currently, the State Park is leasing three horses, Billy, and two black Percheron drafts, who pull the State Park dray. That team is worked with a two-man crew. They are responsible for trash pick-up in and around the State Park historical buildings, especially by the Fort grounds. That dray also helps in loading and unloading, including set ups for State Park functions, and they've been known to be on hand for draying with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts program.

Joanne and Billy seem to take care of the rest. Her route takes her along the shoreline of M-185, as well as up through the center via British Landing. They keep a steady pace together, as Joanne empties trash from one bin, puts a clean liner back in, and picks up any additional clutter, as well as sweeping manure and debris off the road. Billy seems to know the picnic tables and trash barrels well. He anticipates the stops. The pair works well in unison. Some days, the road can be very busy. Every now and then, there will be other horses on the road.

Hourly rentals, taxis, drays, private carriages, and saddle horses use M-185, as do pedestrians. Sometimes bikers fail to realize this is a highway, even though it has the distinctive yellow highway markers running down the middle (indicating there are, indeed, two sides to the road). Joanne and Billy both have had much experience with that, as well as meeting all kinds of people and seeing all kinds of situations.

Joanne, like most drivers, is responsible for her horse. She gets up early to clean, bathe, and brush him, and the two of them have the same days off. If Billy loses a shoe, or he is in need of a trim, he is taken to the farriers at Mackinac Island Carriage Tours for the necessary work, and usually that is also something she will handle. By late fall, Billy will be shipped off the Island to enjoy his winter in the Upper Peninsula. Joanne will leave Mackinac as well, heading not too far from Billy, as she lives in nearby Cedarville. The pair is another example of people and horses that all fit, like parts of a puzzle, into this horse world on Mackinac.

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

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