2018-05-12 / Columnists


Moving Business Sees Thousands of Horses

There is a real business in shipping horses. Fortunes have been made, as well as lost, in the transport of equines for hundreds of years. For centuries horses have crossed rivers, lakes, and oceans in either the bellies of boats, or on their decks. Horses have made their journeys by rail, across continents in box cars fitted into rolling stock stalls, and, most popularly, horses have ridden as passengers across many of the very highways, roads, and trails their ancestors trekked. Now they are hauled to destinations by truck, inside separate tagalong trailers, and sometimes in the back of reworked pickups or semis.

Not all of the horses coming to Mackinac Island this summer will be coming in the hold of a ferryboat across the Straits. Traditionally, this is the way most horses arrive to and depart the Island. There are variations. Some of our four-footed friends will be stepping off onto the dock from the comfort of their own space in a horse trailer. The horses travel in the same trailer that they have been in on the highways, and the whole unit, truck and trailer, are driven off onto the dock. This has been happening now for more than a decade.

Truck and horse trailer arriving at a dock on Mackinac Island transporting horses. Truck and horse trailer arriving at a dock on Mackinac Island transporting horses. There are several flat-bottomed, open-transportation boats that deliver to the Island’s various docks. For some owners who bring their horses to the Island for the summer season, taking a pickup truck and trailer across on the barge is easier on the animals, and more conven- ient for everyone all around. Horses do not have to be led off the trailer onto the gangplank, and then re-tied on the boat. Taking a whole unit over is not inexpensive. The costs vary according to the size of the trailer and truck, as well as other factors. One of the biggest concerns, when moving a horse on or off Mackinac Island, is the weather. If the lake waters are rough, the rain is heavy, and the winds are fierce, nothing really works except for time, and, it matters little if the horse is inside downstairs in the middle of a ferryboat, or in a horse trailer on an open deck. Neither option is very attractive.

However, when things work, they work, and most horses make the journey without a lot of stress. This seems particularly true for the equines that have been here before. The horses seem to sense when they are crossing our waters and know when they are back. The wisest thing is to make the best use of your horse’s time and yours, so call the boat line for arrangements ahead of time.

There are horses that end up living on Mackinac that began their lives thousands of miles away. These animals that make the crosscountry route to stay here truly are veterans of the highways. Several of the private horses that live on Mackinac Island make it an annual trek. Some of them are strictly riding and pleasure horses; others are used for carriages. Most of these animals spend time in the Pacific Northwest; others come from southerly routes in Florida, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. We’ve even had a Mustang that was born in the west, taken to the Midwest, raised, and trained, that spent summers here.

So how does one go about finding reliable horse transportation if you don’t have access to a truck and trailer? The Internet has made things a lot easier than 30 years ago. In those days, one might have seen an advertisement in the back of a horse magazine, a notice on a feed store bulletin board, or had a referral by word of mouth. In today’s world, look first for equine transportation services on the Web. You can even find out how to fly your horse, take it by water or by land, both internationally and domestic.

A general rule of thumb is that overland across America, the cost ranges from $1.50 to $2.75 per mile. Layovers, at a customer’s request, are usually $115 to $300 for 24 hours. This means there is a central spot established with the hauling company - an overnighter for the horse, off the trailer. Some shippers will charge you to load and unload your animal. This is known as a handling charge. Some will do it for free. You can be charged extra, however, for a wait time or a problem-loader horse, and that can average $15 to $25 per quarter hour. Many of these haulers will demand a basic deposit, and collect the rest of the fee upon arrival.

Usually pricing begins from the point of origin to the final destination, which is based on miles. Often, the longer a trip, say more than 1,000 miles, the price may drop per mile. While this sounds great, check with your carrier, because he could be charging more if those miles are on unpaved roads. Many shippers will not charge you for using your own or their own water during the haul. Most will allow you to use your hay, and take along jerry cans of your own water.

Some of the actual space for the horse can be modified, such as allowance for a mare and foal within the trailer. Just about all haulers will have some sort of bedding on the floor, some more than others. Most trailers have rubber mats on the floor to cushion and stabilize the horses.

Often the larger commercial carriers offer an air ride for the horse and space that averages about the size of half a box stall. Most of these animals will be eight to 12 traveling horses in a “load.”

Quite a few of the hauling companies operate along the north to south coasts, taking in Massachusetts to Florida. There are thousands of horses being hauled on the roads daily.

This includes horses that race, and competition horses of all breeds and disciplines. The larger carriers usually have two drivers, and try to make the trips nonstop. Most of these trucks and trailers have interior cameras, which are on 24 hours per day, seven days per week, so the drivers can keep an eye on their charges.

Two Michigan mid-state professional haulers who have crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula are based in Mason and Fowlerville. They often will travel to Washington, D.C., Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, as well as traversing the Lower Peninsula. There are also many private carriers throughout Michigan who haul horses. There are Canadian companies based in Ontario that will haul in our state. International travel, however, requires much more paperwork.

Our Mackinac Island carriage and saddle horses, for the most part, are hauled in fairly large vans, trailers, and trucks that are primarily owned by Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and Gough Enterprises. Their horses are the lucky ones, as those trips to the dock at St. Ignace are usually less than one hour travel time, as the off-season farms are located outside of Cedarville, Pickford, and Sault Ste. Marie.

Do horses fly on planes, and do they still ride on ships? The answer to those questions is yes! More information on this will be provided in next week’s column. Equine travel employment abounds, so if any of my readers are looking for a career change, with travel, benefits, and lots of horses in their lives every day, stay tuned. The horse moving business may be right for you.

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

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