What Happens to the Horses of Mackinac Island During Wintertime?
“Hey! Watch where you're steppin'”.....uttered almost every day during tourist season on Mackinac Island. Yup, ya gotta be vigilant if ya don't wanna step in horse poop or wade thru a urine stream. Other than that, the horses are a large part of what makes Mackinac Island so special. But once tourist season is over and we're all settled in for the winter, what about those horses? Where do they go and what happens to them during winter time?
During peak tourist season, there are approximately 500 horses on the island – over 400 draft horses for carriage rides, hauling freight, and tours. Only about 70 horses are either privately owned or used specifically for tourists to rent and gallop around the island. When we see these horses on our visits, we wonder if they're overworked. No, they are not. Carriage horses work from six to eight hours a day and saddle horses two to six hours...and they are all well-taken care of. According to mackinacisland.org, “In addition to the staff at the barns, there are five rotating veterinarians, as well as certified farriers who focus on horse shoes and hoof care.”
Okay, that takes care of tourist season...but again the question: what happens to the horses during winter?
After Labor Day, the majority of horses are led to the dock where they take a boat to the Upper Peninsula mainland, are put in trailers, and ride to the town of Pickford where they are free to relax and roam. Why don't they stay on the island? It's easier and less expensive to take the horses to their feed than to ship the feed to the horses.
The duration for their stay in Pickford is from November thru April; during that time the number of horses that remain on the island are approximately 18. These are the ones that are used for hauling, taxiing, and transporting freight and food. Beginning in April, the mainland horses are slowly brought back, a little at a time, so by June they are all back for tourist season.
Next time you pay a visit, sure - watch your step...but maybe appreciate the horses a little more.....
The Horses of Mackinac Island: 1900-1960
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