When friend Leanne Brodeur asked me to come take photos at a learning event on the Island for a group of visually impaired children and young adults, I jumped at the chance to take part. The group of youngsters was here with MPVI (Michigan Parents of Visually Impaired Youth) Sept. 28-30 and arrived with parents, grandparents and other relatives, set to enjoy everything Mackinac has to offer.
The group stayed two nights at the Murray Hotel, and by Saturday afternoon (their second day on the Island), they’d done everything any other visitor does on Mackinac. They visited the fort, went on a Carriage Tour ride, ate fudge, participated in a scavenger hunt, took a nature walk and shopped! They learned about freighters and listened as the huge ships blew their horns as they passed through the Straits. They heard the clip-clop of taxi, tour, and dray horses and learned the different sound each makes. They smelled the odors we all enjoy on the Island – that mixture of fudge and horse poop, flowers and horse poop, and horse poop and horse poop!
On Saturday afternoon, around 30 of the group arrived at Jack’s Livery Stable to experience . . . . the HORSE! Leanne had turned the stable into an area of learning stations where each person would be able to learn horse safety, be fitted for a helmet, go into the stable, and enjoy a short ride on Topaz, one of the sweetest of Mackinac Island’s privately-owned horses.
Jack’s Livery Stable is located on Mahoney Street . . .
. . . and is home to the Drive-It-Yourself carriages. After some simple instructions, the stable staff hitches one of their many gentle giants (Belgians) to a buggy and off you go on your very own private tour of the Island. Worried about losing your way? No problem! The horses all know the way back to the barn!
After the group was settled on bales of hay (a touch and smell discovery in itself), Leanne explained what would be happening during the afternoon. She shared why horses react like they do to loud noises and quick movements and that it’s important to let the horse know that you’re the leader – not him!
The first “pass-around” were bins of horse feed and treats. Everyone could feel and smell the difference between the oats and the sweeter-smelling treats!
This is seven-year-old Brennan and his cousin Mercedez. Brennan’s mom shared with me that the “horse” experience was all Brennan had talked about for days. He had never touched or even been around horses. She also shared that he was a great lover of all animals.
First things first – helmet fitting! Leanne explained helmets are important to protect heads because horses are naturally unpredictable both on the ground and in the stable. Acer (on the right) checks his chin strap.
Callie was the only youth in the group with a guide dog. His name is “Q” – from the James Bond movies. “Q” is a guide dog from MIRA USA – the only organization in the states to offer dogs to youth 11-17. Calli is one of the first 12 in the USA to get one from them and the only one in Michigan. MIRA USA’s program works hand in hand with MIRA Quebec’s program, with more than 20 years of experience training and matching dogs and youth, and Calli’s mom says, “Callie underwent weeks of training to get where she is now. Even to be sent to training is a mark of honor, showing you’ve worked hard to master the skills of navigating with a mobility cane.”
Inside the stable Leanne explained how horses sleep both standing up and laying down. Everyone was asked to listen to the horses munching hay and stomping at flies and to smell the different odors of the barn.
Acer was really interested in all the tack – the bridle, bit, and harnesses.
Jalen examines one of the rubber horseshoes worn by our Mackinac horses.
Shaleah was the first one up on Topaz!
Lots on concentration here!
And she’s up and riding!
Matt, a reporter from the Town Crier, interviewed one of the group for a newspaper article.
Big smile from aboard Topaz!
Leanne explains the different parts of a bridle to one of the older youth in the group.
Very young – or a little older – everyone wanted a chance to ride!
This little girl checked out the feel and smell of the leather saddle, including the decorative tooling . . .
. . . and Cody discovered the saddle horn.
Acer gets his turn aboard Topaz!
Jeri (on the left) is one the group’s leaders. She is visually impaired, and her guide dog, Jake, never left her side.
Callie’s turn to climb into the saddle . . .
. . . and she is a natural!
Beautiful “Q” didn’t quite know what to think about his master riding one of those big four-legged creatures he’d never seen before!
This little boy listens carefully to instructions about mounting, dismounting, and handling the reins . . .
. . . and WOW – he looked like he’d been riding for years!
It was finally Brennan’s turn.
He petted the horse’s soft nose . . .
. . . got seated squarely in the saddle . . .
. . . and seemed to experience every sense – except his sight. I imagined him feeling the saddle under him, hearing the squeak of the leather as he shifted, and smelling the closeness of the horse.
He could hold the reins and wrap them around his hands, feel his feet in the stirrups, and balance his body as Topaz moved around the yard . . .
. . . and, just like that, he was riding!
When his time was up, he talked to Leanne a moment about how it felt to be on the horse. His grandmother (on the right) looks on with a big smile.
Then he gave Jake a big hug. When he’s a little older, I know Brennan is looking forward to having a guide dog of his own.
A very special thanks to helpers Colton Fisher, Hailey Bean, Meadow Greenlee, Karen and daughter Andrea from the 4-H Proud Equestrian Program in Chippewa County – and of course, Topaz!
A hearty thank you to MPVI for planning this retreat and allowing Mackinac the privilege of introducing our magical island to all of you, and
We were blessed beyond measure from meeting each of you, and we hope you come back soon!