Return Of Horses A Sign Of Spring On Michigan Island

Return Of Horses A Sign Of Spring On Michigan Island

11:00am Apr 24, 2015
Every spring, hundreds of horses are ferried from their winter hiatus in the Upper Peninsula for a good grooming and harness fitting, before beginning their summer jobs pulling carriages.
Every spring, hundreds of horses are ferried from their winter hiatus in the Upper Peninsula for a good grooming and harness fitting, before beginning their summer jobs pulling carriages.
Amy Robinson / WCMU

Spring has a lot of faces around the country, like the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., and the sap run in Vermont. On one Michigan island, it's horses that are the harbinger of the season.

Mackinac Island draws a million visitors a year for its scenery, fudge and horses. Cars aren't allowed on the island, and every spring, hundreds of horses are ferried from their winter hiatus in the Upper Peninsula for a good grooming and harness fitting, before beginning their summer jobs pulling carriages.

"Sometimes they walk right on, sometimes they get a little nervous. You never know," says Randy Hall. He's one of the farm workers who cares for the horses over winter.

This time the horses acted like pros, walking off the dock and onto the metal ramp to the ferry with no problems. It's early, but the signs of a busy summer are already apparent.

"It'll be steady now until it's all over," Hall says. "In between hauling horses, hauling hay, hauling feed — whatever they need — you gotta take care of them.

This trip included 13 draft horses. They're huge animals, more than ten tons combined. The horses are tied on the lower freight level of the ferry, in front of dollies of food and beer deliveries, all in a tight group.

"Well, they're herd animals. They like to stay together," says Joe Herscher. He's the lead trainer for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and has worked with the animals for years.

"I know Jessica is back in the back here., named after my fiancée," he says. "It was Jessica and Joe, but Joe wasn't a very good horse."

The timing of the equine delivery couldn't be better. Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel opened Thursday. When the horses reach the island, they are led off the ferry. By this time they're usually restless and ready to go.

It's a spectacular site as they're led to their summer barn, right through downtown.

"You always know it's springtime on Mackinac when the horses arrive on the island and it's just a welcome home," says Alison Abraham of Mackinac Island's tourism bureau."

It's a welcomed sight to welcome spring on in an island community that revolves around the horses.

Copyright 2015 CMU Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wcmu.org/radio/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Spring is here. The cherry trees are blooming in Washington, the sap is running in Vermont and the horses have arrived on Mackinac Island. The island attracts a million visitors a year, but not one car - they're banned. Instead, people travel by horse-drawn carriage. Each spring, the horses are ferried back to the island from their winter pastures on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Amy Robinson of member station WCMU rode along for this year's return.

RANDY HALL: Sometimes, they walk right on. Sometimes, they get a little nervous. You never know.

AMY ROBINSON, BYLINE: Randy Hall is one of the farm workers who cares for the horses over the winter. Today the horses acted like pros walking off the dock and onto the metal ramp to the ferry - no problem. It's early, but the signs of a busy summer are already apparent.

HALL: It'll be steady now until it's all over, you know, between hauling horses, hauling hay, hauling feed - whatever they need, you've got to take care of them.

ROBINSON: On this load, 13 draft horses - huge animals, more than 10 tons combined.

HALL: You know, I can take another horse, if you'd like.

ROBINSON: The horses are tied on the lower freight level of the ferry in front of dollies of food and beer deliveries, all in a tight group.

JOE HERSHER: Well, they're herd animals. They like to stay together.

ROBINSON: On the ferry, Joe Hersher takes over the horses. He's the lead trainer for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and has worked with the animals for years.

HERSHER: I know Jessica is back in the back here, named after my fiancee. (Laughter). It was Jessica and Joe, but Joe wasn't a very good horse. (Laughter).

ROBINSON: The timing of the equine delivery couldn't be better. Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel opened today. When they reach the island and are let off the ferry, the horses are restless.

(HORSE FOOTSTEPS)

ROBINSON: They're ready to go. Let me tell you, it's a spectacular sight as they're led to their summer barn right through the downtown. Alison Abraham is with the tourism office here.

ALISON ABRAHAM: You always know it's springtime on Mackinac when the horses arrive on the island. It's just - it's like a welcome home.

ROBINSON: A welcome home and a welcome to spring, on an island that revolves around the horses. For NPR News, I'm Amy Robinson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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