Being on the sidewalk downtown one day this week put me in the position to see up close and personal one of the first groups of horses leaving the island.
As tourist traffic slows in the months of September and October, the work of the island horses slows down also. After Labor Day, the task begins of shipping the horses off the island – 30 at a time – to their winter home near the upper peninsula town of Pickford. The horses leaving on this day were mostly riding horses from one of the livery stables, but there were a few taxi and dray horses also.
It’s a feed issue that makes it more economical to move the horses off the island for the winter months. The island horses consume a bale of hay per day per horse, 8 tons of oats per week, and 22 tons of special pelletized food per week and a half. Add to that salt and electrolytes with the feed, and you’ve got quite a grocery bill. So, instead of adding the expense of shipping to the food cost, it is much more frugal to take the horses to the food.
Also, if the horses stayed on the island during the winter, they would be standing in stables all day and basically become eating machines. Except for the 15-20 horses who are kept on the island to maintain dray work and the one taxi during those months, the horses would get no exercise to offset those calories. Result? Chubby, bored horses.
So, after a busy summer of hauling carriages, drays, taxis, and people, the island horses can finally have some time off. And in Pickford, the 350-400 horses have 1300 acres of land on which to roll, run, and relax.
Before being shipped off the island, the work horses’ manes are clipped as short as possible, and if you look carefully at the photos, you can see that the manes of the big draft horses have been cut. In the UP, there will still be an abundance of burdocks (burrs) in the pastures where the horses run. The buzz cut is to prevent them returning in the spring with a mane matted with the burrs. Over the winter the burdocks die off, the manes grow, and they return to the island in April with a freshly grown mane free of tangles.
The horses’ shoes are also removed before leaving, and the hoof is trimmed. No shoe is needed in the winter pastures. Once in St. Ignace, the horses are trailered for the ride to their winter home.
By the end of October, all the horses not needed for winter work on Mackinac Island will be in Pickford. The remaining few will take care of the 500 island residents for the next five months.
A crowd had gathered to watch the loading of the horses onto Arnold’s Huron, the only cargo carrying ferry in the fleet. Watching also were two draft horses hitched to a dray filled with hay. For these two, the work was not over yet. But I bet they were thinking to themselves, “Save some pasture for us guys – we’ll be there soon!”
I’m taking a day off tomorrow, so there won’t be a new post on Sunday morning. Have a wonderful weekend, and good Lord willing, I’ll see you back online Monday morning. God bless.