Personal Note: I had to laugh when I read the first paragraph of this post from 2010. I could have written those same words this afternoon, after leaving you hanging on Thursday. But here’s the rest of the story – one of my favorites from “back in the day”!
TO FRESH WOODS AND PASTURES NEW
First Published October 11, 2010
“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.
tp://bree1972.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/1randy.jpg”>First, let me introduce Randy Hall. Randy was my “go to” person for this part of the trip. He was the driver of one of the two horse trailers waiting to transport us to Pickford. I learned later that Randy does a lot of the Carriage Tour driver training on the island in the spring. He grew up with horses in the Upper Peninsula, and his passion for them is evident in how he talks about them and how they respond to him. He owns a horse farm himself and also grows hay.
://bree1972.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/2randy.jpg”>Most of these horses are geldings – in fact there are very few mares on the island, although there are some. A majority of the island horses are purchased from the Amish, when they are 3-6 years old. The Amish have already trained and worked them around machinery in the fields, so they come to the island with basic training completed. The Amish keep most of the mares for breeding and sell the geldings. There are no stallions on the island.
/bree1972.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/3loading.jpg”>Loading and unloading into the trailers is old business for most of the horses. They have done this for years, and the nervousness of the few new horses is tempered by the calm of the older ones.
ree1972.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/7horserandy.jpg”>Randy secures this big Belgian in the trailer.[/caption][capt
e1972.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/8horse1.jpg”>It was so amazing to watch the horses as they came off the boat. Their eyes were wide and bright, their ears pricked forward, their nostrils flared. If I could have read their minds, I think the words would have been, “I know this place. Next is the trailer, a little ride, then freedom!”
972.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/4loading.jpg”>Last one into this trailer. We were transporting 12 this first load – 6 in each trailer.
[/caption]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.
/10/9truck.jpg”>We’re at the farm! This was a 60-acre pasture that was a part of what is called “9-mile farm”, one of the three owned by Carriage Tours.
0/10gate.jpg”>Irvin, another Carriage Tour worker who stays in Pickford, was there to open the gate.
<figure id="attachment_10046" align="a
11firsthorse.jpg”>I walked through the gate and was standing in the corner (out of the way) when the first horse was led off the trailer . . .
[caption href="https://bree1972.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/13b id="attachment_10049" alt="" width="500" height="375"]idleoff1.jpg”>And here’s where I choked up the first time. Watching Randy remove the halter, I envisioned the horses immediately taking off into the freedom of the pasture. But these are horses so used to human companionship, so in tune with their lives around people, that their main interest was not first to “make a break for it”, but to taste the wonderfully abundant grass . . .
[caption ref="https://bree1972.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/15rol id="attachment_10053" alt="" width="500" height="375"]11.jpg”>. . . and then to roll.
[caption f="https://bree1972.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/15roll2 id="attachment_10054" alt="" width="500" height="375"]jpg”>Can you image the horse joy of rolling around – not on the dirt of the horse corral below our condo . . .
[caption id="attachment_10055" height="375" title="15roll3" alt="" width="500"]g”>. . . but to be scratching your back on green, sweet-smelling grass! Talk about kicking up your heels!
[caption ttp: id="attachment_10056" height="280" title="18horses" alt="" width="500"]g”>On the second trip, I went further down the pasture road to photograph the horses as they came in.