Do They Know? 10/8/2010

“Do you think they know what’s about to happen?”  

That was one of dozens of questions I asked Wednesday and Thursday.  I’ve always wanted to go see the Pickford farms, where the horses of the island go to spend their winters.  But I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen – at least not this year.  Then a few days ago I put a bug in Doc Al’s (the island vet) ear that I’d like to do this story, and he asked all the right people, and all those people said “ok”. 

So there I was at the big horse barn on Wednesday afternoon, where I’d been told by Dale Peterson (who runs the barn) I could watch the blacksmith remove the shoes from some of the horses leaving the island on Thursday morning. 

I've never been inside the blacksmith's shop on the island. I knew where it was (on the back side of the big barn where the majority of the Carriage Tour horses are housed) and always stopped by there at the end of the season to take a photograph of the hundreds and hundreds of horseshoes stacked up outside the door.

I watched as Eric and Keith (the blacksmiths) brought two horses out of the barn to have their shoes removed. These were two of the 36 which would be going to the winter pastures on Thursday. Their manes had already been shaved - so they don't return in the spring with manes full of cockleburs. The haircut also ensures that the returning horses' manes will all be the same length in the spring, giving the teams a more matched appearance.

Keith is the head blacksmith. While he worked, he explained that most of the horses wear steel shoes on their back hoofs and rubber-over-steel on their front hoofs (to add traction on wet pavement).

Removing the nails which keep the shoes on the horses' hoofs (the process is completely painless, as is the shoeing itself) requires strength, balance, and the ability to keep the horse calm while the work is done. Sometimes a simple prop is used to anchor the foot while the shoe is removed . . .

. . . and sometimes the hoof rests on the blacksmith's hip.

Over 1,400 of the steel shoes and more than 3,000 rubber-over-steel shoes are used each season. At the end of the summer the shoes are transported off the island for disposal.

Haywagons travel up Cadotte all the time, but I had never actually witnessed what happens to the hay when it arrives at a barn. Carriage Tour workers were unloading a haywagon as I was leaving Wednesday afternoon, and I stopped to watch the process. The bales are tossed onto an automated conveyor belt that carries each bale up into the hayloft of the barn.

At the top of the belt, another worker is waiting to remove the bale and stack it in the loft.

Ted set the alarm clock for 6:30 Thursday morning, and I grumbled myself awake.  I needed to be at the barn (a five-minute walk from the condo) at 8 a.m. so I could watch the workers catch the horses in the corral.  I figured an hour-and-a-half would be plenty of time to get myself awake enough to make sense when I got down there.  Silly me.  I’d forgotten how many months it’s been since I had to get up at 6:30 (almost 2 hours earlier than I’ve been getting up lately).  I needed to wash my hair (don’t ask me why – I just felt like it needed to be washed) – which I did.  I needed two cups of coffee so I wouldn’t growl at anyone (I made the coffee and didn’t have time to drink a drop).  I couldn’t decide how many layers to wear (after checking the Weather Channel for Pickford – an hour north),  I decided on three, saddling myself with two too many – it was a gorgeous northern Michigan Indian Summer day. 

I left the condo at 7:50, and arrived at the barn to find taxi and Carriage Tour drivers busy washing and harnessing their horses for a regular day.

This two-horse hitch carriage was getting a quick rinse before pulling out for a day of transporting island visitors around the island.

It was while I was watching the horses in the corral that Dale walked over, and I asked, “Do you think they know what’s about to happen?”

He smiled.  “Oh, yeah – they know”, he said. “We have 36 going today, and yesterday all of their shoes were removed.  They are never put into the corral without their shoes.  So they know something is different.  And the ones who have been through this for a few years learn to anticipate it.”

A few minutes later, Eric moved toward the corral, opened the gate, and he and several other barn workers began to catch the horses, bring them outside the corral, and group them into four's.

Denise, from the Carriage Museum, came down to take photos also and shared this one with me late this afternoon. That's me with the backpack, standing around like I have no clue what's going on while everyone else is busy, busy, busy.

We'd be transporting three groups of four horses this first trip. All the horses going today were either Belgians (all shades of brown) or Percherons (usually black, grey, white, or dappled).

"Jane" is a new horse this year. Because of that, she had her picture made before going off the island. It will be put into a computer file which stores "mug shots" of each horse owned by Carriage Tours. That's Jim holding Jane's nametag.

Once the horses were grouped, everything started moving really fast. I instantly knew I had really messed up by not riding my bike. When these guys take off to walk down a hill, they don't think "leisurely stroll". I started off ahead of them and was soon ridiculously behind.

It was a wonderful morning on the island, and the horses seemed to sense that this was no ordinary walk around the block. I'm sure the pavement must have felt very different to their feet without their shoes - maybe like that first barefoot day of summer right after school is out.

At Four Corners I knew I was about to lose this footrace. I started out ahead of the first group, and now was being overtaken by the last two groups.

This is another Denise photo (thank goodness!). And yes, that's yours truly huffing down the hill on the right - now firmly in last place.

A great photo from Denise as one group passes the Grand Hotel. They are really beginning to feel frisky now!

I took this one from behind (where I stayed for the rest of the trip down the hill).

The horses on Market Street (a Jill photo). I had just turned onto Market and was crossing behind them to Main Street. That's Frankie and Hershey on the sidewalk.

I arrived at the ferry dock a good 10 minutes after the horses, and thank goodness we had left the barns early. A crowd had formed on the dock (as it always does when word that "horses are coming" sweeps through downtown). Visitors are awed by getting up close to these gentle giants and love to pet them and snap photos.

This little boy had lots of questions about the "horseys" and wanted to touch them - as long as Mom touched them first.

As much as I've been around horses and their drivers for the last three years, I'm still always amazed at how the workers seem to know the names and temperaments of each and every horse - and I'm talking over 400 of these four-legged wonders. In this photo, Eric was talking to a small crowd that had gathered about the likes and dislikes of each of these four.

And then there's the obvious love the workers have for these animals - and that love is returned full measure by the horses. Watching them say goodbye always gets me teary-eyed. Don't know if I could handle doing it several times a week as they do this time of year.

I think these four were saying, "As soon as we get to the farm, let's plan a party!"

Loading time finally arrived, and the first group was separated and led into the ferry - one by one.

Not a single one of the 12 balked. It was like they were thinking, "Ok - gotta take a little boat ride in order to start the vacation."

The last group boarded, and I asked if I could go inside on the horse level to take photos. No worries - but they did suggest I might want to take the photos, then go topside for the trip over.

The horses are all tied individually at the rear of the ferry. Most have made the trip so often they take it all in stride.

"Let's get this show on the road - uh, water!"

The Huron is a lot different from the catamaran we're used to riding. It's main purpose is to transport freight of all descriptions (including horses) back and forth across the Straits.

And we're off!

The only other "civilian" on the boat was Tarry, who works with the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce. She had crossed with the horses many times and had all kinds of good suggestions for photos.

The horses made the trip just fine. Next step to freedom - a trip down the gangplank . . .

. . . then a step up into the horse trailers.

On Monday, we’ll travel to Pickford  and watch the horses unload into what – to them – must feel like Heaven on earth.  You will love it!

Have a great weekend, and God bless.


47 thoughts on “Do They Know? 10/8/2010

  1. Loved your post Brenda..I think you did great even if you were the last one down to the dock!! 🙂 That is a long walk for sure! Looking forward to seeing them at the Pickford farm!! Thanks for sharing this!! Awesome!! Blessings!!

  2. Awesome !!!! I have been checking your site repeatedly in the past 3 hours waiting in anticipation for the horses—-my favorite of your blogs except posts from Bear and Maddie of course.

  3. Wonderful! I’m so glad you were able to ride along with the horses on their field trip…to the field 🙂 And what a pretty Fall day for the trip. That is the biggest stack of horseshoes I have ever seen. I’m excited to see what happens next when you all got to Pickford. Have a wonderful weekend!!

  4. Loved this story, but I was getting teary eyed too! Didn’t know why, till I read you were too. Hard for all these people to say goodbye to the horses they work with all summer. Hard for us to say goodbye to summer. But not so hard for the horses to get the winter off! Good for them! Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. I know they need the “vacation time” but it is always sad to see the horses leaving the island, it means the end of summer. I always get excited to see pictures of them coming back in the Spring though. In more then one picture you can see the love between the horses and the people that care of them. I think I can see a tear in one of the horses eyes…

  6. I’m getting teary eyed watching too. I was wondering the same thing, do they know what is going on? Thanks so much for sharing this with us Brenda. Those horses work so hard for all of us during the summer, I’m glad that they can relax and have some down time now. Until they come back next year and start the process all over.

    Looking forward to seeing what happens in Pickford.

    Maybe I’ll see you on Sunday, I’m coming up for the day. 🙂

  7. That was so great Bree! I love how you captured every moment. I also felt the love between the horses and workers. Beautiful!

  8. Brenda,

    What an interesting blog. I think I liked the picture of the party planning horses the best. Can’t wait ’til Monday, but then I’m in that quandry every weekend.

  9. Loved seeing the horses but like everyone else I felt sad. Their leaving means it is certainly the end of summer. You can tell the guys love working with the horses. Hope the horses enjoy their vacation as much as we enjoy ours.
    Have a great weekend.

  10. Wonderful story Brenda! This really is one of my favorite rituals of island life. After watching the horses leave the island for years now – I still get a tear in my eye as they pass the hotel.

  11. Loved the blog. And yes, they do know. When we took a tour with Molly she said Billy (the horse) was upset because his girlfriend had left the day before. He turned his head around and shook it up and down. He knew what she was saying. They are amazing and the drivers are so good to them. Have a good weekend.

  12. Another great post……I so enjoyed this one and the one last year of the horses leaving. Gets me all teary eyed each time tho! What beautiful creatures!
    How gentle they are. What a nice trip (with them) that must have been. So glad you could get permission to do that. Looking forward to seeing the next post.

    Did you ever see Mike Roe shoeing the horse? Of course, it was funny!! You coming up the hill (last) gave me my first lol of the day!! You made it tho!!
    Great pictures! Thanks.

  13. Just the BEST! It is always so hard to say goodbye to good friends and the horses seem to feel this as much as all the humans that love them. The bittersweet part for me is that the horses won’t be there till next spring but they have worked so hard they deserve their vacations. My favorite picture was the “party animals”. Are you s u r e we have to wait till Monday for the rest of the story??? Thanks to Jill and Denise for the photos. Your photo angels do a great job since you haven’t figured out how to be in 2 or 3 places at once.

  14. Beautiful pictures like always. Like everyone else, it makes me sad to see the horses leave but it also mean that you’re that much closer to closing down your wonderful blog and leaving the Island too.

    Hope you have a joyful weekend.

  15. Brenda, I am covered in goosebumps; I love this story sooooo much! You’ve made my day, made my weekend … and I can’t wait for the next installment!


    ((( JANE )))

    Big Hugs for JANE completing her first season on Mackinac Island: Heaven on Earth!

  16. What a great story! You may not know or remember that Ronald’s Uncle Bill (Myrtice’s brother) was a farrier who traveled all over, shoeing horses in GA, AL, and FL. He was absolutely crazy for horses! His wife Grace gave Scott one of his saddles and some shoes – real famiy treasures!

  17. Wonderful blog today Brenda, I also dont’t know if I will be able to stand it to have to wait until Monday for the rest of the trip. I used to live in the house that is in the picture at Four Corners, at that time it was employee housing for the Steensma’s, not sure if it still is today. Thanks again for such a touching blog today!

  18. It’s a fascinating process. Thanks for documenting it.

    You know you’re a Mackinac junkie when you get teary-eyed about the horses leaving. 🙂

  19. I loved seeing the horses again even though it make me sad. I will share this with my neighbors who have horses.
    I’m thinking you will love the weather when you come home to Georgia! I’m praying for your safe travels.

  20. Thank you so much for your wonderful blog! It really brings to light a ritual that is such a big part of Mackinac but very few people think about. I can see why you get teary-eyed – I was choked up looking at the photos, which are so touching and convey the feelings so well! I’m glad you had that wonderful opportunity, and we’ll be waiting to read “the rest of the story” on Monday! Hope you have a fabulous weekend – the weather and colors in Michigan don’t get much better than this!

  21. Fascinating story, Brenda… thanks! Looking forward to the Pickford farm blog. Also am sorry that you are leaving next weekend… I was hoping to run into you on the 23rd. Maybe next summer!

  22. Thank you for this great article. My son asks weekly how the horses get off the island. I can now read this to him tonight.

  23. What a wonderful summary of ‘the morning the horses started their vacation’. We are all quite envious of the time you get to spend with them. I wish them a wonderful winter. And you as well. Thanks so much.

  24. Great documenting, Bree! Many years ago I bought, after he sold the horses and the stable, a Morgan mare, Mackinac Queen, from Bob Bailey. I had worked for Bob that year and had ridden Queen as a guide horse, and for my own pleasure, all over the Island. As my own horse, downstate, there was no kind of trailer or door she wouldn’t go through! How many people own a horse that has traveled by ferry twice a year for most of their lives! I raised Morgans for many years and owned horses of one kind or another for over 40 years. I can attest that they definitely know when they are being sent for “vacation”!!

  25. Thank you for such a heart-warming story. I wasn’t even a third of the way through and was crying with tears of joy for the horses and their anticipated journey. I especially love the photo of the horse with its nose pressing up against the worker. You can just feel the love and communication between the two. I eagerly await more from Pickford.

    • Thank you so much, Dale. These were absolutely the two most meaningful posts I’ve ever written about island life. They answered so many questions people have asked about the horses, and none of it would have been possible without your help – and that of Keith, Eric, Jim, Randy, and Doc Al. I’ll stop there, although I know I’ve forgotten someone. Thank you again.

  26. This was awesome! We all like the new horse. Love your photos. We were looking for Tom Horn- he works in the barn as a farrier. We’re glad Stephanie Chard/Smith shared this site with us. Trevor and several students knew that the horses wintered in Pickford. We’ve passed by them on our way to the Sault from Cedarville. We’ll look for Jane.

    • Greetings from Colorado!

      Would appreciate you keeping a watchful eye out for JANE. She reached out and grabbed my heart the moment I “saw” her.

      Have a safe and wonderful winter. Bundle up your overcoats!

    • Hi guys, I forgot to tell you that Tracie said Tom was like the 8th picture down washing the carriage. I also really enjoyed this blog. I think its wonderful the horses get a brake and I get the chance to look at these beautiful creatures all winter on the way to the Sault. Thanks again Bree, and Thanks Mrs Tassier in sharing with the kids. Stephanie

  27. Great photos illustrating a poignant moment of Island life.
    Just like the 5th Grade students, I live in Cedarville and pass the Island wintering horses when I drive north on M-134. I often wonder if the horses dream of the Island in the winter and dream of the pastures in the summer. Hmmm….what do you think?

    • (Smile) Great question, Kate. Answering right off the top of my head, I’d have to put my 62-year-old brain into their heads and say, “Eating, running free, huddling together with my best buds in the snow, eating, running free vs. Eating, corral, stable out of the weather, pulling a carriage full of people, eating, corral.” Hmmm – I’d go for the winter lifestyle every time. But that’s just me – I love winter AND I’m basically a lazy old horse.

  28. Yea! fter two days of searching, I found the wonderful article on the horses leaving for the winter. I meet Jill at the bakery in Petoskey this morning and she told me the name to look for which helped a lot. My granddaughter in California is taking a Vet Tech class three days a week after school and rides every Saturday so she will love this article. I tried to send it to her and it didn’t go through so I am printing it and sending it by good old snail mai.

    Love, love your blog! Thank you, Carolyn

  29. Is Jack Mcdonald still alive? He used to own the farm where some of the horses over winter. If you have the opportunity to meet him take it. He is a wonderful character. He would probably give you more stories.

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