One of my “informants” had left an email message late Wednesday afternoon that a large group of horses would be leaving Thursday morning on the 10 o’clock ferry. I had spread the word that I wanted to hear when they would be coming down the hill in large numbers. I planned to be waiting to photograph them on Cadotte Avenue, as they came sweeping past the Grand.
I also knew that Pasha, the white horse that is McGyver’s neighbor, was leaving this morning, so I wanted to photograph him getting on the ferry. Pasha belongs to Katie, one of our favorite young people on the island.
Leaving the condo a little after 9:00 this morning would give me plenty of time to get ahead of them, so that’s what I did.
Ben was outside the Grand stables when I went by, and I stopped to ask if he knew how many horses might be leaving today. He looked surprised and said he didn’t know of any. He called Chambers, Cindy’s, and Jack’s, and none of them were shipping horses off the island. I decided to go on into town since I was already half-way there – surely there was more than one horse taking the cargo ferry.
I stopped at the corner of Cadotte and Market Street to talk with Nadine from the Chip, and when I turned around to look up the hill, who should be coming but McGyver himself!
I couldn’t believe that I was going to be able to get a picture of our grandchildren’s favorite horse getting on the ferry, so I hurried down to the Arnold cargo dock. McGyver’s trainer was gracious enough to allow me to have my picture made with him.
I chatted with his trainer a few minutes and found out that McGyver would be spending the winter nearby on a farm in Mackinaw City. Next spring he will be back on the island and ready for more carrots, apples, marshmallows, and Lifesavers when Jordan and Matthew visit.
I asked permission to board the ferry and take pictures from inside as the horses were loaded. On board already was Moonshine, a registered Appaloosa belonging to Jack and his family. Jack owns the Cannonball Restaurant out at British Landing. Moonshine was on the way to Ellsworth, Michigan for the winter. While there, she will be a lesson horse for the county 4-H program and will get lots of love and attention on the mainland. Jack said that Moonshine was really his daughter’s and had been a little girl’s horse all her life. Moonshine is used by the island 4-H program during the summer.
Four Mackinac Island 4-H horses came next. The island has a strong 4-H program, and children spend their summers learning all there is to know about grooming, saddling, feeding, and caring for horses – including mucking out stalls. The 4-H program provides riding lessons for island children, and these gentle horses have been selected specifically for that program. Fund raisers have been held all summer to contribute to the building of a new barn. When it is finished, there will also be a stable area available to summer residents who want to bring their own horses, but who do not have land on which to build stables of their own. A fenced outdoor riding ring has already been constructed at the new location near Wawashkamo Golf Course.
My new friend Liz, who teaches at the island school, had shared that her son is in the 4-H riding program. She said he may not learn to love riding horses, but she wants him to learn a healthy respect for these animals who are so important on the island. He loves riding Ginger Snap, a little pony just his size. Liz says the best part is when the ride is over. Her son always stops to give Ginger Snap a pat and tells the pony, “Thank you.”
To most of these 4-H horses, boarding the ferry is as “old hat” as it is for island residents. They do it year after year. Others have a few boarding jitters, but are soon calmed down. Fiona, a beautiful bay Morgan/Welsh cross, was a little apprehensive, but Leanne gently led the mare on board, and as soon as she crossed the “plank”, she was fine.
Trish led Nokona, a large, multi-colored gelding, on board next.
Then came Ann with Prancer, a white American quarter horse, followed by Lisa, with little Ginger Snap.
Prancer will be joining Moonshine in Ellsworth, Michigan as a lesson horse for their 4-H program. Fiona will be wintering at Central Michigan University, where she will be ridden by a member of the university’s equestrian team. Ginger Snap and Nokona will winter on a farm in Mackinaw City and enjoy a much needed rest.
Last was Pasha, Katie’s horse, and this was to be a bittersweet parting. Pasha is 23 years old – that’s in her 70’s in human years. Pasha will not be returning to the island next summer, but will be continuing her life in Cheboygan at a facility that pairs people with handicaps with horses. She will spend the rest of her days happily providing unconditional love to a special group of individuals who will shower her with all the love and attention she can take in.
Pasha will also be close enough that Katie can visit her whenever she likes, which is a big plus for them both.
Katie said that Pasha does not like boats or water, so it was a blessing that she would not have to make the crossing again. She led her aboard, and they took their place in the row of horses.
When the seven horses were loaded, I was still snapping away, paying no attention at all to what the ferry workers were doing. When I finally noticed what was going on, the gangplank had already been raised, and several of us had to “jump for it”.
Seven horses left the island this morning, and all seven carry with them the love of their owners and caregivers. All have known the love of children over the years, and in their great hearts they must know there is no purer love than that. As the years have passed, they have watched as “their” children have grown into teenagers and young adults. But the bond that was forged between that child and that horse will continue on. And both the child and the horse is the better for it.
There was a lot of love on that ferry today.