2012-06-23 / News

8-Year Tradition Designed To Keep Animals Out of Trouble

By James Dau

Deacon, clad in a festive lilac wreath, waits to be blessed. While Mackinac Island’s horses are most prominent, all animals are welcome at the blessing ceremony. Deacon, clad in a festive lilac wreath, waits to be blessed. While Mackinac Island’s horses are most prominent, all animals are welcome at the blessing ceremony. A collection of dogs, horses, and their owners assembled in the park between the school and Grand Hotel the afternoon of Friday, June 15, to begin their summer season with a blessing. The Reverend Vince Carroll of Little Stone Church presided over the annual Blessing of the Animals ceremony, part of the Lilac Festival’s Feast of Epona.

“There are so many creatures here to bless,” said Lisa Brock of the Mackinac Horsemen’s Association. “It’s our way of showing our appreciation for the joy of their companionship, for the blessing they are to each of us.”

The Blessing of the Animals began eight years ago when a horse belonging to Trish Martin suffered a serious accident.

“He was rather accident-prone in his younger years,” Ms. Martin said of the horse. “After that, I thought of how great a ceremony like this could be, not to mention how my horse could really use the extra help. I knew other communities and churches did things like this, so I talked to Candi Dunnigan at the Horsemen’s Association and Mary Slevin at the Tourism Bureau and we got it started here. It really all just came together.”

As part of the Lilac Festival, the event serves as a renewal of the previous year’s blessing for the beginning of the summer season, when the animals, particularly the horses, will see their greatest activity. Furthermore, the ceremony is a perfect fit with the June Feast of Epona, commemorating the ancient Celtic deity credited with the protection of horses. They asked the recentlyarrived Rev. Carroll to perform the ceremony, and he has been doing it ever since.

“It’s a great event,” Rev. Carroll said, “not only for the horses and their riders, but for everyone with a pet on the Island. We usually have the horses and dogs, but we’ve had cats, and even turtles, before.”

Horses and dogs turned out in droves for this season’s blessing.

“The seven horses in our barn are a blessing to us, and I want to have all the help I can get for healthy horses and a happy season,” said Gretchen Colman, manager of The Little Barn on Mission Hill, from the back of her horse, Fineas, “The kids were all excited to come down for this.”

This year marks the first that the Blessing of the Animals did not take place at the Mission Hill stables.

“We have more animals every year,” Michelle Stuck said, “We needed the extra room.”

Leanne Brodeur, Mackinac Horsemen’s Association executive director, noted, “This is a safer place for the larger number of animals. More room means there’s less chance someone is going to get hurt, which would sort of be the opposite of what we’re hoping comes out of this blessing.”

Ms. Brock opened the ceremony, welcoming the visitors and animals before introducing Ms. Martin, who addressed the gath- ered crowd regarding the importance of animals in their lives, and particularly the importance of the horse to Mackinac Island.

“Unlike other communities, whose way of life was gradually changed by the rush of automobiles, Mackinac chose a slower, perhaps more peaceful, existence. I will always be grateful that our forebears made the decision to favor horses over cars. Here, horses shape our lives. Here, the horse is king.”

Rev. Carroll had the owners bring their animal forward to receive a blessing and spoke of the importance of the animals as companions and coworkers of mankind.

“It shows an appreciation for our fellow creatures of this earth, who toil alongside us,” he said.

Mrs. Stuck, a summer Island cottager, brought one of her horses, Gysbert, from her pasture in Traverse City.

“It’s his birthday, so it seemed like a good time to have him blessed for a safe season,” she said. “If it wasn’t for horses, this island wouldn’t function, and, every year, there are horse accidents. This event is just an absolutely wonderful thing for them to do; it’s a great way to start the season.”

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