The Festival of the Horse is in full swing, and the island is full of horse lovers. Oh my gosh, did I have fun this afternoon!
There were three Grand Hotel and West Bluff stable tours on Friday – at 11 a.m., 12:00 noon, and 1 p.m. I left the condo at 11:10, heading to the post office to mail a package. I figured that would give me plenty of time to make the noon tour, and I was right. I’ve about got the walk downtown, whether to shop or to catch the ferry, down to 18 minutes – still a lot slower than Ted can do it, but it doesn’t matter to me – like it does to some people – if I set the world record each time I have an errand to run.
At the Grand Hotel stable, I paid my $10.00 entrance fee, spent an extra dollar for a Festival of the Horse button, and waited a few minutes for others to arrive. Soon there were 20-30 of us. Ben Mosley, the Stable Manager, gave a short talk on the Grand Hotel horses and the antique carriages that are stored in the stable. Most of the carriages are still used for carrying Grand VIPs around town and on tours of the island. He explained that when the barn was first built, about the same time as the hotel, all the horses were kept in the basement. Now they are stabled on the main floor.
The big horses that pull the Grand omnibuses are Percherons, and the horses that pull the fancy carriages are hackneys. I learned that hackney horses are born with those beautiful gaits – even the babies run like that. Ben said the gait can be enhanced somewhat with different shoes and training, but mostly it is an inherited trait. We watched a couple of the Percherons being hitched to go to work.
Several of the carriages on display at the Grand stable are from the Victorian era. Ben told us that this era in America’s history was all about showing off your wealth. The carriages were built with those big glass windows so the gentlemen and ladies, dressed in their best clothes with men in their top hats and women in their most beautiful bonnets, could be seen driving around town.
Another interesting comment Ben mentioned about the Percherons owned by the Grand was that they are mostly grays – although they do have one black this year. Ben perfers the grays simply because they “make a better picture”, showing up well against either a light or a dark background. I went back to a picture I took in May of two grays pulling one of Grand’s “buses”, having never thought about the concept of color before. And these two grays, even against the gray of the Little Stone Church, stand out beautifully!
From the time Ted and I bought our Surrey Ridge condo, we have been walking several times a week up to the West Bluff -usually with the dogs early in the morning or late in the afternoon. After we discovered MacGyver on the east end of the West Bluff, we would start our tour of the bluff there, turning off Cadotte onto a little uphill side road that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere special. But once you top the first hill, you are practically looking down into MacGyver’s corral, and the back side of the West Bluff cottages just unfold before you like one of those pop-up books you buy for children. This little road takes you between the West Bluff cottages and their stables or “barns” on the other side of the street. As Ted and I would pass these barns, you could usually peek inside from the street and see the beautiful wood walls and floor and ceilings. I’m talking works of art here – these horses live like kings and queens!
The tour was led by members of the Mackinac Horsemen’s Association, most of whom either grew up on the island, or have lived here for many, many years – some only in the summers, others year-round. Our first guide led us up that same side street, and we could see MacGyver out of his corral, waiting for pets and treats from the tour members. Our guide explained that when the island began to be a tourist destination, and the land was parceled out for building, there were two tiers of lots – one on the water and the other behind those lots. When none of the second tier lots were selling, the property owners on the water asked to purchase that property for their barns and stables. That permission was granted, and that is why the stables are where they are.
MacGyver’s owners’ stable/barn held several beautiful antique carriages, some of which I’ve included below, with captions telling a little about them.
MacGyver has nothing to complain about in the housing department. His stable was huge and clean and full of hay. I also saw several bags of his favorite treats – marshmallows and lifesavers.
MacGyver was waiting patiently for our group to reach him so he could accept treats from anyone willing to take a lifesaver, place it in the palm of a hand, and hold that palm out flat so MacGyver could nibble it up without mistaking any fingers for food.
The next carriage house we visited was hosted by its owner. She told us (I think I am right on this) that hers was the 19th family to own the house and barn of this property. The gorgeous wood was a beautiful backdrop to their stunning carriages. Pictures of the various horses that have lived in the barn over the years are framed and hang on the walls in their honor.
This is the backyard of the house that belongs to the stable above. The owner actually called it a “complex”.
Renovation has just begun on this barn, one of the oldest on the island. When it was originally built in the late 1800’s, the owners had extensive vegetable gardens and kept cows behind the barn.
The next carriage house stored several buggies that are used regularly by their owners. They own four hackney horses, and we often see them being driven around the island. I’ve captioned this group of pictures.
Our last stop was a stable I had been admiring for two years. Looking inside as we would walk by, Ted and I could just get a glimpse of the beautiful woods used on the inside. Four Friesian horses call this barn home, and there is a couple who live upstairs at the stable that spend their whole day taking care of these splendid creatures. I hardly looked at the carriages because I couldn’t stop looking at the horses, one of whom was getting a bath in preparation for being on display in the breed show later in the afternoon. Lisa, our guide, told us that Friesians originated in the Netherlands, and two of these horses are from there. Two were bred in America. At the end of the season, three of the horses are shipped back across country to Washington State to spend the winter, and one remains in Michigan, although not on the island. If you saw the Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart, you will recognize this as the breed of horse he rode.
So I’ve seen both sides now of these fantastic stables – inside and out. Tonight we will walk downtown and watch the antique carriage parade, pulled by some of the horses we saw today. Saturday Blake and I will do some volunteering. I’ll see you on Sunday with – hopefully – some great pictures of the parade and anything else I can photograph that relates to four hooves, a mane, and a tail.