“Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.” . . . John Milton
It was almost cruel to leave you as I did Friday, wasn’t it. I thought about that as I was ending that post. Should I go ahead and finish – add 30 more photographs and give you what you really wanted – the farm with the horses grazing free. I did think about it – I promise.
And then I smiled. And I thought about the anticipation that built in me on the ride over on the boat last week with the horses. When we docked, and I watched that first gelding step off the boat, my heart did a little flutter-step. I watched them load up and the trailer doors swing shut. And as we rode those 50 miles to Pickford, my heart continued to beat a little faster than normal. The anticipation of the moment when the horses would be led into that big pasture, when the halters would be lifted over their heads (their halters are never off on the island), and when they would realize they were no longer bound by any means to man – that moment of anticipation was one I wanted you to feel with me. It wasn’t meant to be cruel – on the contrary, aren’t the good things in our lives we have to wait for all the more treasured because of the wait?
But, now as I sit down to write the rest of this journey, I worry that I won’t be able to give you all the joy and emotion of what that day felt like when we did reach the farm. But I will try, and what I miss in words, perhaps I can make up to you in the photographs.
And, we’re off!
I’m sure Randy thought he had been given the worst duty of the year – having to put up with Bree the Blogger for two 100-mile round trips to Pickford. The photos above are a combination of the two trips – the first one over on the 9 a.m. ferry, then another one when we came back to pick up the second group at 11:30. I’ve also combined the photos from the two trips to the farm, meaning we released the first 12 horses, then went back to St. Ignace to pick up 11 more and took them to the farm.
Randy was very gracious and friendly and answered all gazillion of my questions, although at times I’m sure he was thinking, “Good grief! Is there anything about horses that this woman DOES know?” Here’s a few of the new things I picked up on the trips back and forth:
1) The Pickford farms – there are three of them – are the winter home of the Carriage Tour horses, as well as the Grand Hotel “omnibus” and State Park horses.
2) Randy does a lot of training with the horses before they are ever brought to the island. He does this winter and summer because horses are brought back and forth all season. A horse may just not be working out and will be returned to Pickford for more training. There has to be a horse ready to take its place.
3) There are about 20 horses on the island all winter. Two are used for the taxi (only one taxi in the winter), and the rest are used to pull the drays because even in winter, the work of the island continues. Mail has to be brought from the ferries (or plane if the Straits are frozen), as do supplies for the grocery store, restaurants, hotels, and school that remain open.
4) Additional horses are brought to the island over the winter during peak times – Christmas and New Year’s – when more visitors arrive.
5) Let’s say a horse learns to be the right-hand side horse in a two-horse hitch team. Can he also work on the left? “Sometimes,” Randy said, “but there are some that can never change over.”
6) Not only do the horses know where they’re going when they are turned out into the pasture on the island without their shoes for the first time, but they also know by the changes that occur toward the end of the season. Randy said they know that when the weather begins to cool, and they are working an easier schedule, their days on the island are coming to an end for another year.
7) I asked what determines which horses remain on the island for the winter. “Some of it is temperament,” Randy said. “They have to be able to adjust from the relative ‘quiet’ of bikes to the ‘racket’ of snowmobiles. Some can make the adjustment, some can’t. When we find a horse that isn’t bothered by all that extra noise, we tag him as a possible winter horse.”
8) Only the draft horses (Belgians and Percherons) stay outside all winter. The others are brought in at night and during really bad weather.
What a delight it was to watch the horses wander, in groups of two and three, around that pasture – nibbling on the grass, playfully trotting over to say “hi” to a friend, lifting their heads and feeling the wind ripple across their backs and over their ears. I wonder what they thought that first morning when they awake free – no noisy barn workers or drivers, no harnesses thrown over their heads or bridles put in their mouths. Instead they awoke, as their ancestors did before them – on the open plain – to a morning quiet except for the singing of birds and the whisper of the long grass shifting in the breeze. Perhaps they strolled down to the river for a sip of clear, cold water and then came back soon to find, in addition to the grass, bales of hay for their dining pleasure. To them, it had to be like Heaven on earth.
Enjoy your rest, sweet giants. And in the Spring, come back to us fat and healthy and refreshed. We’ll be waiting.
My sincere thanks to Doc Al for setting up this trip and to Dale Peterson and Randy Hall for your gracious hospitality. And a special thanks to Dr. Bill Chambers, who has allowed me to ride along – not only on this trip – but also last year when I wrote the stories about taxi and Carriage Tour drivers.
“I have seen things so beautiful that they brought tears to my eyes. Yet, none of them can match the gracefulness and beauty of horses running free.” . . . Anonymous