Just Your Typical Labor Day Weekend on Mackinac Island 9/4/2012

We have a Mystery Spot winner!  She is Fran from Florida!  Please see end of this post for the answer!

It was a spectacular Labor Day weekend on Mackinac Island, and I don’t think even one more event could have been packed into those three days.  I’ll get to all that in a moment, but first I have to tell you that knowing Labor Day heralds the end of summer makes my heart a little sad.  Even though we have another two months before we leave and head south, I know – from past experience – those eight weeks will flash by in a whirlwind of last minute visitors, leaves changing colors, seasonal sales in all the shops, less crowded streets, and the slow decline in the warm temps we’ve enjoyed this year. 

But, you know, there’s only one thing to do when your time on the Island is getting shorter and shorter . . . . . . GET OUT AND ENJOY BEING HERE!  I hope I can make these next few weeks of blog posts so exciting and colorful you’ll just have to jump in your vehicle and drive up (or down) to experience fall on Mackinac for yourself.  If there’s no way you can do that this year, maybe reading these words and looking through the photos will help you imagine being here – the next best thing!

So hang on!  Summer is over, Fall is peeking around the corner, and we’re going to have tons of fun between now and the first week in November (our “go” date to hit I-75 South).


Labor Day Weekend

Streets downtown this weekend were packed with families enjoying one more little get-away before schools started on Tuesday (every school in Michigan opens the day after Labor Day).

Jill snapped this shot downtown on Sunday afternoon. It looked like the typical summer day on Mackinac Island this year – crazy crowded!

Same street – Labor Day, after check-out time at all the hotels.

Beginning on Friday, the Grand Hotel presented its annual Labor Day Jazz Weekend.  And believe me – nobody knows how to throw a party like the Grand!

The Tea Garden became Party Central during the day on Saturday and Sunday. Each morning the grounds would look like this . . . .

. . . and by noon – with live concerts by jazz musicians and cookouts providing the food – the party would be in full swing!

And – because it’s the Grand – by Monday afternoon there was no evidence at all that there had even been a party!  I would not have wanted to be on THAT clean-up crew!

Saturday began with the annual last official formal ride of the season.  These ladies and gentlemen – in formal riding attire – met at 9 a.m. on the East Bluff to begin their ride, which took them throughout the island, downtown, and to the West Bluff.

There were 18 participants this year, and as they rode around the corner at Pontiac Trail, they made a beautiful entrance onto West Bluff Road.

Following tradition, the group stopped at one of the homes on the West Bluff, where the residents awaited them with Mint Juleps for the riders . . .

. . . and special, home-made treats for the horses.

There were black horses . . .

. . . and gray horses . . .

. . . and colors in-between . . .

. . . and I believe the horses were having almost as much fun as their riders!

Here’s to this wonderful season of horses on Mackinac!

On Saturday at noon, the most important event of the weekend happened for Ted . . . . . . the first University of Georgia football game!  I think everyone who reads this blog probably knows by now that if Ted was not able to watch his beloved “Dawgs” up here in Michigan, we would either be going home at the end of August or I would be spending two months up here by myself.

You know you are a VIP at the Pink Pony when they dedicate one TV set just for you to watch the Georgia game. Ted (I was there two minutes) was the only one watching, but he was a happy man – even more so because Georgia WON. Go Dawgs! Woof! Woof!

The crowning event of the weekend is the Labor Day Bridge Walk. Even before the sun rises, thousands of people converge in St. Ignace from the Island and from all over Michigan and other nearby states.  Two lanes of the bridge are closed to vehicle traffic, and for several hours people and cars move together for the five-mile walk across the Straits of Mackinac to Mackinaw City.  Ted and several friends made the walk again this year – that makes four times for Ted!

Starting out.  Up ahead – WAY up ahead – is the first tower of the bridge.

Such a happy group!

At this point, they were definitely going UP!

It’s a long way down when you reach the top!

Safely back on solid ground in Mackinaw City . . .

. . . with thousands following behind!

At lunch on Tuesday, Ted and I walked down to the Mackinac Island Public School for the annual First Day of School picnic.  I love this tradition, where the community comes together to support the Island children and to encourage them to continue their education.

Students, teachers, moms, dads, and Island residents crowded around tables set up outside . . . .

. . . and we found Dave Wasso, Superintendent and Athletic Director, manning the grill and serving up some mighty tasty burgers and hot dogs.  Great food, great fellowship, and what a way to start the school year!

Photographs from Readers

Pam Schuch – Wauseon, Ohio.  This photo is from Pam’s trip in October, 2007.  Pam loves walking, biking, and exploring the interior of the Island.  She says, “Downtown is nice, but people should explore the State Park, which is tranquil and beautiful.”  Pam loves everything about the Island – even the cemeteries.

Jill Sawatzki – Mackinac Island and Lansing.  Jill snapped this photo during the weekend of Christmas Bazaar in 2009.  A huge snowstorm blanketed the Island with inches and inches of snow on the first day of the Bazaar weekend.

Sarah Fredricks – Phoenix, Arizona. This photo is from Sarah’s trip last year. It’s the “0” mile marker in front of the Mackinac Island Marina.

Jane Haviland – Portage, MI. – from Jane’s Fall trip to the Island two years ago.  She biked  M-185 and loves the house that sits alone around this curve.  She says when she first saw it years ago, no one lived there.  She called it the “Egg House” because there seemed to be what looked like stacks of egg cartons on the table she could see through the big front window.  She loves that now it looks so lovingly cared for and the flowers and garden are beautiful.

Mystery Spot Contest

The object of the Mystery Spot is to be the first to identify where the object is located. When you think you have the answer, email me at brendasumnerhorton@hotmail.com. I’ll check my email several times a day, and as soon as we have a winner, I’ll post the winner’s name at the top of this blog so you can stop guessing (you may have to refresh your page for this to show up). Is there a prize for the winner?  Yes there is; but the prize is secret, and the only ones who will know what it is are the winners. To be fair, I’m asking residents of Mackinac Island to please NOT guess. This is just for readers who don’t live here . . . but would like to! And the Mystery Spot is   . . . .

Again, please email your answers to me at brendasumnerhorton@hotmail.com.  PLEASE DO NOT ANSWER IN THE “COMMENTS” SECTION OF THE BLOG.  Remember, I’ll post the winner at the top of this blog as soon as someone gives the correct answer.

Mystery Spot Answer

This one was TOO easy, and there were lots of correct answers! It’s the bell atop the Mackinac Island Public School.

“I Know Great Horses Live Again.” 8/12/2012

Saturday was a very subdued day at the Festival of the Horse – for all the workers and anyone connected in any way to horses.  Shortly after returning to the Island from the airport, the devastating news of a tragic fire at a horse training facility downstate reached me online – nine horses were lost, and one of them was Ferrari, one of Maryanke Alexander’s glorious Friesians.  Maryanke and Ferrari had begun competing in Dressage, and her goals for the future with him were etched deeply in her heart.  He was a very, very special horse, and, as she does all her horses, Maryanke loved him passionately and completely.  Maryanke left on the first ferry out Saturday morning to go downstate.

I was scheduled to work the Festival from 12:30-3:30 at the admission table.  My work-time coincided with the Breed Show – an event I’ve written about for the past two years – so I really had no plans to photograph it again.  But my co-worker at the table said, “Go – photograph!  I can handle this!”

Just as I was walking away from the table, a family with three children stepped up, wanting to go on the pony rides, which were offered at specific times every day of the Festival.  The rides had ended 15 minutes earlier, and all the horses were on their way back to the barn.  This precious little 3-year-old boy had been crying all morning to “ride a horse”, and his parents were so disappointed they had missed the opportunity.

Just then, I looked up to see Barb walking onto the Burroughs Lot, leading their family pony, Topaz – with one of her grandchildren astride.  Topaz would take the arena later in the Paint division of the Breed Show.  On this day, filled with such sadness, it just seemed extra-important – if possible – for anyone with a love of horses to connect with them – no matter how young, no matter how briefly.  I walked over and asked Barb if she would allow the little boy to ride Topaz around the arena, and she beamed  “Yes!  Of course!”

Down came the grandson, and up went Jacob for a thrill-of-his-life THREE circuits of the arena, led by Barb.

A happy little boy.

Jacob’s six-year-old sister Madelyn also got to ride. Thanks so much, Barb, for making the day for these two!

I stayed out at the arena and snapped photographs for an hour.  Here are a few of my favorites (some from Friday) of our precious Mackinac horses -and the owners and riders who love them so.

From Friday – Maryanke on her beautiful Regina for the musical kur, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”.

“Puttin’ on the Ritz” was presented again on Saturday – with Michelle Stuck stepping up for Maryanke and riding Gysbert.  That’s Ann on Lars East, Katie on Teddie, and Kate on Hercules.

Michelle – on her magnificent Gysbert on Saturday.

Little Blaze, a Haflinger – and every 4-H child’s favorite Island horse. He can do it all, and he can do it well.

Ann Levy on Lars East.

The mighty Percheron, Dan.

Every little girl wants a horse, and this one got her wish very early. She’s on her much loved Ricky – a miniature.

Kate – on Hercules – walking onto the Burroughs Lot.

Topaz, our “fill-in” for the pony ride! Here, Barb leads him with grandson Aiden aboard.

Doc Al – with Skip, a Standardbred.

Katie on Mary Stancik’s Teddie (my handsome god-horse).

From Friday – Maryanke on Regina and Katie on Teddie.

Regina looks on as I pose with Teddie – just before he slobbered all over my head.

“Wow! How many oats do I need to get THAT big!?”

In Loving Memory of Ferrari

Somewhere…somewhere in time’s own space
There must be some sweet pastured place

Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow

Some Paradise where horses go.

For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again.

Stanley Harrison

Ferrari and Maryanke – in a recent Dressage competition.

At a past Festival of the Horse – Maryanke on Ferrari – riding the wind.

We pray God’s peace to Maryanke and all the owners who lost horses on Friday night.  

For Prancer 6.12.2012

No Mystery Spot tonight.  No island photos.

Tonight is a quiet celebration of a life that ended this week on the Island . . . a life that meant so much to so many children in our 4-H Program and to the hundreds of children who, over the years, would just walk by the barn, see him standing there and reach over the fence to pet him.

Tonight we celebrate Prancer.

Little is known about Prancer’s early years – before he was purchased by the Koboski family in Petoskey for their two daughters – but it’s thought he was a “camp” horse.  He stayed with the Koboski girls until they were grown, and then the family donated him to the Mackinac Island 4-H Program.  He spent his summers here for the last six years, and for the last two years Prancer was sponsored by the Mackinac Island Book Club.

Prancer was a beautiful mix of Arabian and Quarter Horse, and Leanne Brodeur, who is in charge of the 4-H program, believed he was in his early 20’s.  She said, “Prancer was a perky horse, but always so good with the children.  He always had a great willingness to do whatever was asked of him, was very patient, and could be depended upon to be good in his stall.  He was gentle, had a huge heart and a special dignity.”

Prancer was already being ridden this summer for lessons, and we saw him just a few nights ago come by the condo, ridden by a summer intern from the Community Stable.

Colic, that bane of a horse-person’s world, took him fast yesterday.  Mackinac Island has two of the best horse-care vets to be found anywhere, but all their efforts failed.

Too often we take for granted these beautiful animals that fill our lives here on the Island.  We see them every day – the big draft horses pulling taxis and carriages and drays.  We see the gorgeous hackneys prancing around the Island, harnessed to vintage carriages.  We become accustomed  to the spirit and beautiful lines of the privately owned Arabians, Friesians, Thoroughbreds, Paints, Pintos and Quarter Horses.  We know all these horses receive the best care in the world.

But we sometimes forget how well-loved they are.  The big Percherons and Belgians in the horse barns receive unbelievable love each day from those who feed and work with them.  They stand patiently downtown while visitors pet them and pose next to their beautiful heads for photographs.  These animals know only love from human hands.  The privately-owned horses are members of their families – pampered, trained with a gentle hand, loved unconditionally.

In an email this morning, Leanne wrote: “Horses have served mankind in peace and war and continue to serve today in a recreational and therapeutic capacity. On the Island, they become part of our everyday life; we have our favorites, we know them by name, and as a community we treasure each of them, maybe some more than others.  They give so much and ask little in return. We are blessed to live in a place where the clip clop and neigh replace the engine roar and honking horn. And we know our transportation by name!”

The loss of even one horse affects the whole Island.  Prancer’s loss has done that, and the comments and tributes to him on Facebook this morning give credence to his life and his influence throughout our community.  Someone posted, ” Prancer was a big-hearted little horse who took great care of the kids.”

Our little Prancer would take that as the best tribute of all.

Pics from Jillski 6/5/2011

Thanks to Jill for all three photos tonight!

Nothing says "Mackinac" like horses in the street . . .


. . . carriages on Cadotte . . . .


. . . and the Grand Hotel.

See you on Monday morning with all the weekend happenings! 

From the Deck 6/1/2011

Living where we do up on a hill past the Grand (actually, it’s three hills past the Grand), we have a birds-eye view of the comings and goings of traffic you might not see everyday downtown.  Here are a couple of examples from this week:

Ben has really been working the Grand Hotel hackneys a lot in the two weeks we've been here. We see him all over the island with them (there is more than one team), and I happened to be out on the deck when they cruised by. Look at those two front legs - sharply bent at the knee in the natural hackney action gait. Although you can't tell it in this photo, they are actually trotting here.


I have no clue where this baby-size horse came from or where it was going. In all my years of being on the island, I've never seen a horse this size here - except for the 4-H ponies. But I think this is young horse - not a pony. I've got to find out about it!


Here's where I'm usually about to sit down when I spot something interesting coming up the hill. This is my favorite spot downstairs in the condo - where I curl up with a book, or a crossword puzzle, or a cup of coffee . . . and my camera is always close by.

Irene Cowley, a blog reader from California who grew up on Mackinac Island, sent me this great shot of her two pups doing exactly what Bear and Hershey were doing last week in a photo I posted – waiting for the crumbs. Too cute!
See you tomorrow!

Horsepower 5/25/2011

Four Carriage Tour wagons, filled with visitors, line up to give the horses a breather at the foot of the lawn in front of our condo. The Carriage Tour horses are either Belgians or Percherons.


These horses are pulling the street sweeper on the little road that runs in front of our condo; so basically the horses clean up after themselves!


Some horses have really "cushy" jobs - like these two Grand Hotel Hackneys. Their job is to pull hotel visitors around the island in beautiful antique carriages stored in the Grand stable.


A cross between Belgians and Percherons, the taxi horses make many runs to all areas of the island during their 5-6 hour shifts.

I never tire of watching these beautiful creatures.
 It excites me that no matter how much machinery replaces the horse,
the work it can do is still measured in horsepower…..even in this space age.
And although a riding horse often weighs half a ton, and a big drafter a full ton,
either can be led about by a piece of string if he has been wisely trained.
This to me is a constant source of wonder, and challenge.
– Marguret Henry

Mackinac Island Springtime Memories 3/7/2011

One day last week I decided to go through all my camera cards from Mackinac Island and delete photos I knew I’d never use.  Big, big mistake.  The first card I inserted into the slot on the laptop just happened to be the first one I filled upon arriving on the island last May.  I was suddenly so homesick for my favorite rock that I almost lost my breath.  Scrolling through those photos was like taking that first week on the island each year and compressing it into a little mini-album of memories.  The wonderful thing is, of course, we will be going back in 10 weeks – good Lord willing – to begin another summer there.  But for that one day last week, I was back on the island during spring, and I began to think ahead to what awaits us there – come May. 

So please indulge me this one week.  No snow photos today . . . it’s all about springtime memories. 

First taxi ride up the hill after getting off the ferry. If I remember correctly, we took up the whole taxi that day - with luggage, boxes, groceries, dogs, a grill, Ted's golf clubs, new linens, and a beautiful oil painting done by our grandchildren that we couldn't wait to hang in the condo. We should have put everything on the dray, but we somehow managed to get it all on the carriage.

We opened our home, knowing that a couple of days later all the furniture we had bought with our condo was going to be replaced with something more "homey".

Two days later the new stuff arrived on the dray. Our original furniture found a new home with a neighbor . . .


. . . and a few hours later the condo "as I dreamed it" was filled with comfy recliners for Ted and I, a new couch, some new tables and lamps, and - our favorite - an electric fireplace with a flame that looks almost real.

First morning on the island. Maddie in her daddy's lap, Ted and I having one or two or three cups of coffee on the balcony, Bear lying at our feet with his nose poked out between the white spindles of the porch railing . . .

. . . all of us waiting to spot the first Carriage Tours buggy filled with tourists - coming up the hill to the Carriage Museum . . .

. . . where they disembarked, enjoyed looking at the antique carriages, had some refreshments, then loaded onto a three-horse hitch carriage to start the second part of their tour of the island.

When we arrive back on the island after months away, it takes me several days to get past the feeling that I'm seeing everything for the first time. Even though I pass each house and flowerbed hundreds of times each summer, it's all different each year. I can remember almost to the hour when I walked by this fencerow of tulips our second day back and saw the dove on the ground next to them. The way the sun was shining through the tulips was so unusual that day, and I remember thinking "someone should paint this".

Our first trip to town included a stop at Doud’s Market. Andrew and his workers had completed all kinds of renovations during the winter months.  We couldn’t get over all the great, fresh produce.  And it continued like that all summer.  We could walk in there and pick up fresh veggies for dinner, and the meat market and deli were to die for.  Doud’s announced this week that Doud’s would have 150 new items in the store this summer.  Can’t wait to see what they are!


First time of the season meeting Ted at the Pink Pony for a drink before dinner. That's Jacob and John, two of our favorite bartenders.



For the life of me I don't remember where I could have been to take this photo. I don't remember using it on the blog last year either - probably because my intent was for the church to be in focus and the trees to be out of focus . . . not vice versa. Anyway, I like it, and it's in that first week of photos. Hmmm . . . maybe at the top of Turkey Hill?

The Grand Hotel tulips were already in full bloom when we arrived last year. Each year the tulips are planted in a different design, and different colors are used. Can't wait to see what Mary and her crew have planned for this spring.


The lilacs bloomed early last year also.


Walking back up the hill that second day on the island, I was lucky enough to catch one of the barn workers washing down one of the carriage horses, before putting him in his stall for the night.


Sometime during that first week, Ted talked me into getting out of bed and going with him and the pups on an early morning walk, which included Pontiac Trail . . .


. . . a chance to capture the Straits of Mackinac in the beautiful morning light . . .

. . . and a May flowerbed already teeming with promises of what we'd have to look forward to over the summer months.


Lilacs at the Grand, the porch at the Grand, the flags at the Grand, the rocking chairs at the Grand. Ahhhhh . . . the Grand!


And just like coming home to the ri'vah, the best part of going home to Mackinac is seeing our friends. Jill was waiting for us when the ferry docked that first day, and Bear and I stopped off to see her at the Island Bookstore about 50 times that first week back.


We saw Anna every time we walked up the hill or down the hill. I wonder if she'll be back this spring.


I ran into Joan a few days after we arrived, as I was turning the corner at Cadotte heading home. She was pushing grandson Jordan downtown in his stroller. THIS is what I love most about Mackinac . . . the people, the small town atmosphere, meeting friends on the street.


Some hadn't arrived our first week back. Vince and Molly, who live here in the Little Stone Church parsonage, didn't get to the island until a week after we did. And I might not have run into Leanne, or Frankie, or Candy, or Mary, or Chris Ann, or Jennifer, or Tamara, or Nicole, or Bonnie until a few days after we arrived. But that's ok. I eventually saw them all downtown that first week at either the post office, or in Doud's, or on the street or walking up the hill home. And we stopped and chatted and caught up on a winter's worth of news. And it was is if we'd never left.

First freigher of the week - coming through the pass - and blowing his horn to the harbor master.

Bear - doing one of his two favorites things on the island. #1: Playing ball under the shade trees in the big yard below the Carriage Museum . . .

. . . and #2 - posing for photographs. I truly think he knows that on the island when I "pose" him somewhere for a photograph, there are tourists all around me taking the same photo of him. I have a feeling there are people all over the world with a photo of Bear on one of their camera cards. He LOVES it!

Hope you enjoyed this little walk down nostalgia lane.  Ten weeks from today (Sunday, March 6) we’ll be heading north – that’s only 70 days – that’s only 1,680 hours . . . but, who’s counting.

Have a wonderful week, and God bless.

P.S.  Ok, ok . . . . . . ONE announcement and ONE snow pic:

You can now buy Mackinac Associate memberships for Mackinac State Historic Parks online! Membership includes a seasonal pass, discounts on museum store purchases, and newsletters (and more depending on your level)! For more information follow this link:  http://www.mackinacparks.com/mackinac-associates/

The photo is from Nicole of Little Luxuries on Mackinac.  Nicole and Andrew live year-round on the island (a little further up the hill from us), and they have the pleasure of enjoying the beauty that is Mackinac 365 days a year.  She took this a couple of days ago, while out romping in the snow with their four-legged babies, Charlie and Penny Lane. 

To Fresh Woods and Pastures New 10/11/2010

“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.


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.

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.

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.

Randy secures this big Belgian in the trailer.

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!"

Last one into this trailer. We were transporting 12 this first load - 6 in each trailer.

"Look! I see cars! That means we don't have to work anymore!"

Three horses are secured at the front of the trailer, then a divider door is closed that separates the front from the back. Then three more horses are loaded into the back.

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.

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.

Irvin, another Carriage Tour worker who stays in Pickford, was there to open the gate.

I walked through the gate and was standing in the corner (out of the way) when the first horse was led off the trailer . . .

. . . followed closely by the second.

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 . . .


. . . and then to roll.

Can you image the horse joy of rolling around - not on the dirt of the horse corral below our condo . . .

. . . but to be scratching your back on green, sweet-smelling grass! Talk about kicking up your heels!

On the second trip, I went further down the pasture road to photograph the horses as they came in.

Another halter coming off.

These beautiful Belgians watched me curiously for a couple of seconds, then seemed to shrug and moved off to graze.

After a time, they began to realize that they could move freely about this huge pasture, AND the pasture was full of food!

These two seemed to be watching for another horse. Randy said they were part of a three-horse hitch team and were watching for their friend. He arrived a few minutes later.

Another happy horse!

At first I was concerned about Jane. She walked into the pasture and stood completely alone for a few minutes, seeming bewildered by the big, open space . . .

. . . but shortly after that, her team-mate "June" found her. Then they both wandered off and found the third member of this 3-horse hitch bunch, "Jake".

That big tire is filled with minerals, and there are also salt blocks in the pasture.

"Now, about that party . . ."

Two plus two. These duos may be team-mates, or they may just be part of a two-horse hitch group and feel more comfortable in groups of two.

So beautiful . . .

I walked back to the truck and took these next few shots from the road as the last few horses were released.

A river runs through that stand of trees to the rear of the pasture and will provide the water the horses need until they are moved later in the year. The horses have begun to move away from the fence and have started exploring their big, new space.

The Belgians and Percherons stay outside all winter in all kinds of weather. Randy said in 2-3 weeks, their winter coats will begin to come in, and they will look like shaggy versions of themselves. All the farms have ravines where the horses instinctively gather during snow storms. The sides of the ravines block the wind, and all those bodies snuggled together stay warm.


Randy drove a little out of the way to show me one of the farms where the horses will winter. The 60-acre pasture we delivered the horses to today is only a temporary enclosure. By December they will all be moved closer to this farm place, where someone lives year-round.

These water dispensers can be seen all over the farm land. The pipes are buried deep underground to prevent freezing. At the top of the pipe, warming trays keep the water from freezing when exposed to cold air.

Each of these bales of hay weighs approximately 1200 lbs. It takes four of them per day for 80 horses. At the end of the season, the three farms will be supporting around 500 horses, so you can imagine how much hay has to be stored.

As we left the farm, we could see in the distance other groups of horses whose vacations began a little earlier than those we brought today.

The horses we dropped off will join these in December.

What a beautiful vacation spot.

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

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.

Aimless Aiming 9/10/2010

I love Thursdays.  That’s the day I get to look through my camera memory card and pick and choose from hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of photos I’ve taken over the last week that don’t fit into any particular category.  These are pictures that happened because I saw something interesting and had my camera handy to capture it – totally spur of the moment photography.  If I kept my camera in its case – deep inside my purse, I would never get these shots.  Too much trouble!  But I have taken to either squeezing my caseless camera into my pants pocket (making sure the pocket is deep enough – my camera hit the pavement last week at 25 mph as I biked down Cadotte, simply because my jean capris have very shallow pockets) or the pocket of my jacket or sweater. In one simple motion, I can take the camera out of my pocket, turn it on, aim, shoot, turn it off, and slip it back into my pocket – 15 seconds tops!  Well, unless what originally drew my eye continues to be interesting from another angle.

Below are photos shot this week – mostly downtown and up Cadotte around the Grand Hotel.  Enjoy!

The world of Mackinac Island - over the shoulder of the carriage driver.


The Visitors Center, where Ted was working today, is getting a new coat of paint. After Labor Day, when crowds are smaller, maintenance begins on buildings all over the island. There is a small window of opportunity to get the work done before the weather is too cold, and the snow drifts are too high.


A private carriage tour horse gets a mid-afternoon treat from his driver.

This flower planter runs the entire width of Doud's market. No one has told it yet that fall is here, and summer is over.

A Grand Hotel omnibus driver chats with his passengers in the street beside the Arnold dock.

Nancy, an island friend and hostess at the Seabiscuit Cafe, stands at the entrance to the restaurant.

Things are slowing down on the streets. Moms and dads have returned home to put children in school. Next to come will be parents with pre-school children and retirees eager to see beautiful Michigan in the Fall.

The roofline of a lovely home across the street from the boardwalk.

Windemere Point on the west end of town. Visitors can sit at picnic tables and watch the ferries and freighters come and go.

Fall has a way of making the most simple scene into something astonishing. The light is just different - turning clouds into skyscapes.

The color of this tree is different than it was last week. Summer is slipping out of its green dress and preparing to slip on the carnival colors of Fall.

Will I ever tire of photographing Round Island Light? No.

A flower garden spotted through a white picket fence.

Monarch butterflies were everywhere today. I've never seen so many anywhere that I've ever lived. Are they migrating through Michigan right now?

A Shepler's Ferry races to the island to pick up daytrippers and carry them back to the mainland . . .

. . . a moment later its route took it parallel to a freighter, giving another perspective of the enormity of those ships.

A single, perfect hollyhock . . .

. . . stands guard over the Straits of Mackinac.

A tiny hint of color in the Grand Hotel shade garden.

A view of Cadotte from under the trees in front of the Grand.

The setting sun kisses the tops of the trees at Surrey Hill.

My favorite photo of the week. This sweet little senior couple was sitting on the boardwalk bench, watching the sun's play on the water. In the lady's lap were several types of fudge, spread out on a napkin, and they were taking turns feeding each other the samples. So dear I almost cried.

As I was about to publish the blog Thursday evening, I received three photographs from Mary of The Grand Hotel.  She photographed these Monarch butterflies in the Burroughs lot (between the Grand and the Island school) yesterday afternoon.  Totally awesome!



Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend!  I hope that some of our cooler weather is reaching down into the southern part of the U.S. by now.  If so, I know you’ll all be out enjoying it!  Stay safe, and I’ll see you back right here on Monday morning, good Lord willing.  God bless.