2017-08-26 / Columnists


Mackinac’s Hardworking Horses: Kudos to the Horse Force
by Candice C. Dunnigan

The last lingering days of August on Mackinac have arrived. It’s time to pay some attention to the horses that have had a full season in the equine industry on Mackinac Island. Some of them, just like service staff in the various hotels, shops, and restaurants, will leave for duties and commitments that beckon them away from the Island in the fall. Commercial stables and tour companies will begin to send their equine workers back to various farms, although some will stay and work on the Island until early Halloween.

The horses that reside here are divided into two “houses,” – those that are privately owned, and those that are owned by local equine commercial companies who use horses each year here.

In that second group, there is a subgroup. The horse herds owned by Mackinac Island Carriage Tours are involved in taxi service, drayage, and garbage collection; they are Mackinac Island State Park teams, hourly teams, wedding teams, omnibus horses, three-horse hitch animals, and downtown passenger vehicle teams.

Storm, a Tennessee Walker guide horse at Jack’s Livery Stable. Storm, a Tennessee Walker guide horse at Jack’s Livery Stable. Another subgroup is made up of horses that work for Gough Livery. These animals are used by the Goughs as their dray horses, taxi teams, and for hourly driving.

Also part of the Island’s equine army are the saddle horses from Cindy’s and Jack’s Riding Stables and Jack’s Hourly Drive-It-Yourself carriage horse.

For the past few years, I have made it a point to visit these stables this time of year. For sentiment’s sake, I always stop first at Jack’s because that is where I first was allowed to ride a horse when I was a kid. Sixty years later, Jack’s retains the essence that made it such a memorable place to me in my childhood: the center yard with carriages on one side of it, the bathtub water troughs, the “shoe shop” on the right of the yard, and the main office inside the barn. It is right out the central casting from yesteryear. While some faces have disappeared and others have aged, there is still the core theme and feeling of an honest to-goodness livery yard.

Sky, a Percheron-Thoroughbred cross carriage horse. Sky, a Percheron-Thoroughbred cross carriage horse. In any event, I have much respect for those who work there, and those at Cindy’s, too. It involves not just long hours in the saddle while working as a guide, it is long hours being with horses. People continue to work there because, in one way or another, their lives have always been shared with these large animals. A lot of time is spent tacking up the horses, untacking, brushing, washing them, mucking out, and lugging hay bales and feed sacks.

This August, when I visited, I arrived in late morning and the yard was humming. Some driveit yourself carriages already had been rented. The same held true in the saddle horse barn. One of the chief guides, Kevin Leach, was so busy signing up customers, he didn’t have time for a chat. That was all right, because I knew ahead of time his guide horse, Storm, had not left the barn, and it was Storm I came to see.

Barney, an amiable Belgium draft carriage horse. Barney, an amiable Belgium draft carriage horse. I singled out Storm this year as a guide horse of merit because he came back to the Island after a few summers off. Now that Storm is back, how many trips up and down and miles of Mackinac trails he has traversed, I am certain, the Goughs could not calculate. Suffice to say they are a lot of miles.

Storm, or Stormin’ Norman, is an attractive dark, almost black, bay gelding. In the sun, he shows dark liver chestnut coloring. He is large and powerful, a Tennessee Walker. Seeing him on Cadotte Avenue, especially in a tracking gait, makes one stop and take notice. He has been around and in use as a guide horse for many years, and Kevin has a real affinity for him. Storm is probably 25 years old or more, but you would never know it. When Kevin is busy, Storm often will be the guide horse of Joseph Burrell this year.

Gough Livery has increased its driving horse population and has about 17 of them for rent now. When I inquired as to who was the favorite driving horse, Teddy Gough said, “I don’t know about a favorite, Candi, but you should take a look at Sky.”

So I asked, and soon I got to meet Sky. What a horse! Sky is a Percheron-Thoroughbred-cross gelding I have seen pulling his hourly carriage. This equine has a great presence. He is a very handsome and personable horse and has a habit of never leaving the area of Arch Rock without making sure someone gives him a bucket of water (smart horse). Even wearing a horse collar, hames, and the rest of his harness, Sky projects a majestic air.

It seems that, for as long as I can remember, there has always been a horse here named Barney. True to my memory, there still is one in the livery yard. He may be a newer Barney or a later Barney, but he also is another amiable driving horse. This newest Barney is a smaller-sized Belgium draft. He has a wide, white center blaze and a very sweet disposition.

So, if you are here on the Island for a day, still living the seasonal life, an employee, a year-around resident, or retired, it matters not. Stop and take a look at these wonderful working horses of Mackinac, because soon they will leave us until next year.

Next week: A dedication to taxi, hourly, and three-horse hitch horses.

Candice Dunnigan is a resident, writer, and equestrian on Mackinac Island. She belongs to various national and local equine organizations.

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