Horses are one of the first things that come to mind when thinking of Mackinac Island. Their return from their winter rest is also the first sign of spring!
Horses have a long history on Mackinac Island and have a variety of roles both during the summer and winter seasons. We caught up with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, Gough Carriages, Jack’s Livery Stable, and Cindy’s Riding Stable to learn more about where their horses go in the winter and what their return looks like in the spring.
MACKINAC ISLAND HORSES IN THE WINTER SEASON
Where Are Mackinac Island Horses During the Winter?
Most horses live in Pickford, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula during the winter season.
Why do the Horses Leave Mackinac Island in the Winter?
It’s easier to bring the horses to the feed than bringing the feed to them. This is especially important when considering the harsh winters on Mackinac Island. The horses have an abundance of acreage at the farm allowing them to run and roam free during their winter break.
How do Mackinac Island Horses get to their winter home?
After Labor Day, the season starts to wind down and thus begins the process of getting the horses off Mackinac Island. The horses are walked to the boat dock, ride the boat to the mainland and ride in trailers to Pickford, Michigan.
How Many Horses Stay on Mackinac Island During the Winter?
Between November and March, there are generally 16-18 horses on the Island. These horses are with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and are the dray teams, which are horse-drawn flat-bed wagons used for transporting freight, as well as taxi teams for residents and visitors alike.
SPRING IS HERE! BRINGING MACKINAC ISLAND HORSES BACK FOR THE SEASON
When Do the Horses Come Back to Mackinac Island?
It always feels like the start of a new season when the horses come back in mid to late April. Only a fraction of the horses are on Mackinac Island when the season starts in May and by the middle or end of June, the teams are fully stocked.
Safety is the #1 priority so new horses are introduced to Mackinac Island slowly, prepped, and made sure to have a Mackinac temperament with a few test runs.
How Many Horses Come for the Mackinac Island Season?
More than 500 horses are on Mackinac Island during peak season. Mackinac Island Carriage Tours has the largest working draft horse herd in the world and during peak season have between 350 and 400 draft horses. Cindy’s Riding Stable has 37 saddle horses with a full barn, Jack’s Livery has 39 horses, and Gough Carriages peak in the mid 30s.
What do Mackinac Island Horses do?
Each horse has a specific job to fill. Most horses on Mackinac Island are pulling carriages for transporting people, giving tours, and moving freight or anything a bike can’t haul. Out of the 500+ horses on the Island, only about 70 are saddle horses that are available for rent or are privately owned.
Who is Involved in Getting the Horses to Mackinac Island?
The Mackinac Island Carriage Tour barn crew for both the mainland and Mackinac Island is roughly 10-15 people. There are barn people that work solely on the mainland in Pickford and barn people that work solely on Mackinac Island. For Gough Carriages, Jack’s Livery Stable, and Cindy’s Riding Stable it is the truck drivers who get the horses from the field to the ferry and their employees who get them off the boat and to the barns. One of the most important jobs in the process is the farrier, who makes sure all the horses get their shoes!
What Does the Getting the Horses to Mackinac Island Look Like?
The process of bringing the horses from Pickford, Michigan back to Mackinac Island is similar to getting them off the Island in the winter. For Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, the annual walking of their horses up Grand Hotel is known as their “corporate fitness program”.
What Kind of Horses are on Mackinac Island?
There are several different breeds of horses on Mackinac Island. The carriage horses can be Percheron, Standardbred, and Belgian. The saddle horses are mostly Quarter horses, Morgans, Appaloosas, Paints, or a mix of multiple breeds.
How Much do the Horses Work on Mackinac Island?
In a typical workday, carriage horses work anywhere from 6 to 8 hours and saddle horses range from 2 to 6 hours a day.
Who Cares for the Horses on Mackinac Island?
It takes a team of people to care for the horses on Mackinac Island. 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.
Mackinac Island is a unique and special place because of the horses and their history on the Island. Each company takes great pride in the care and well-being of their horses. The next time you visit, be sure to explore one of the fun horse activities for an experience you won’t forget!