Seeing with Your Heart 10/2/2012

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!

32 thoughts on “Seeing with Your Heart 10/2/2012

  1. Thanks soo much for capturing these kids’ experience! I have a special needs child. When I come to the Island with him, I think I will stop by Jack’s Livery Stable so he can see the horses up close!!!

  2. Lauri the same thing happened to me as well, I had the tears in my eyes. Even though they are visionally impaired they got to “see” the island a lot better than any of us could ever imagine.

  3. Brenda,

    What a blog! Those children will remember the experience for the rest of their lives. Thanks to all who made it possible.

    I’m glad Bear was with you and that he greeted the children. Wonderful dog.

    • Hi Lowell. Hmmmm . . . . Bear wasn’t there, although that would have been a good idea – why didn’t I think of that!?

      • I’m sorry. I thought Jake was Bear, even though I read what you had written. I should have known because Bear has more hair.

  4. Bree – what a beautiful post!! I read it with tears streaming down my face. You caught the emotions so wonderfully. I love seeing the guide dogs as well – what incredible, devoted companions they are. Thank you!

  5. What a magical experience those children (and adults) had – visitors and guests alike. All those folks who helped create that magical day earned an extra feather in their angel wings – wow. Thanks for sharing this story with us. What a wonderful way to start the day.

  6. Mackinac Island Magic at work again….

    Wonderful story…something that those children and grownups will remember for a long time…

  7. Tears flying once again. I will need an extra bottle of water today. You are such a wonderful, gifted woman Brenda. I really love how you drop everything at the call of help and then share with the world through your God given talent of writting. Your momma and poppa are smiling down on you,Ted,Bear,and Maddie this day.Thank you and Leeann and Jack and all involved.

  8. Wonderful story, Brenda! I felt like I was right there with you. Fantastic reporting and the pictures really set it off.

  9. That was beautiful! You’ve got quite a knack for capturing emotions in your photos… Love what Chris Ann wrote-very well put and so true! Thanks, Bree!

  10. Thank you to the wonderful community of people who blessed our visually impaired children with your caring hearts and kindnesses over the weekend.
    Our children will talk of this experience for years to come.

  11. Tears in my eyes as I read this beautiful story. I had never thought what it would be like to be on the island and not be able to see its beauty. I will look at the island in a new way next time I’m there. How wonderful for all of those who attend and saw the island and horses in a way most of us never see them. They will remember the rest of their lives. Thanks, Brenda.

  12. As I wipe my tears away to type my comment, I cannot help but realize how fortunate I am to be able to read your words and see the beautiful pictures of this very special experience for all involved. Kudos to all who made this happen. A deeply important lesson in what’s important in life. And, as a horse owner and lover, and true believer in the therapeutic power of this awesome animal, I know that this was one magical trip for everyone involved.

  13. Bree, you have done it again! Made me cry on my laptop. That was beautiful. I have horses often have kids out to ride, and know how magical it is for kids to experience the horse for the 1st time. Thanks for all you are doing!!!

  14. Thank you so much for writing this wonderful story about the kids. They had a great time. The pictures you took are amazing.

  15. From Calli and Acer’s Mom,
    Thanks for the lovely article. Calli’s dog is a guide dog from MIRA USA. they are 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 MI. 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 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. You don;t have to be 16 to get a guide dog, but you do need to work hard on the skills so you can get one younger.
    Thanks again!

  16. Thank you for sharing all the stories and pictures each week!!! We were on your beautiful Island again Sun. and Mon. and talked to Jill in the bookstore. It was great to meet you in Aug.. Thank you again for sharing the Island with us!

  17. Your post sure makes you appreciate life. Today was one of those days I just didn’t feel like coming to work, but after reading this I’m just thankful to be able to come to work.

  18. Lovely story Brenda! Love all the photos especially of “Q” looking after his master even though she is up on the horse. He looks very concerned for her and you can see it in his eyes and brow. So sweet!
    The island looks beautiful to us through your words and lens. Thank you for writing and sharing photos with us!

  19. Just caught up on the past two posts. Beautiful children and those who help them. Gorgeous photos as always! God Bless them all.

  20. I know I’m late also, I’m not on much anymore. But how precious this story was Brenda. These children to see them to be able to touch the leather and feel the hair of the horses, must have meant the world to them. The pictures you shot were just beautiful. Thank you.

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