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Category: Animals

How a Horse Saved My Life

Based on the title, I bet you’re thinking this is an action-packed tale and that Skye is basically Lassie with horseshoes. Sorry to disappoint you but it isn’t quite like that. I had gotten married incredibly young—right out of high school. It was about as bad a decision as I could have made. My high school sweetheart turned into a real sour pickle and it took me a long time to get myself together enough to walk away. I didn’t want to be 23 and already a divorced waitress! With the support of my parents, I decided to enroll in veterinary school. That turned out to not be my thing, either, and my world started to get very dark indeed. However, one good thing did come of it—I met a farrier who knew of a stable that was looking to hire people. He thought of me and so he gave them my contact information. Shortly after, I got my job at the stables, helping to muck stalls and groom the horses.

That’s how I met Skye. Her owner was paying the boarding fees and I never actually saw anybody come in to check up on her. I couldn’t really complain too much even though I felt bad for the gorgeous dappled-gray girl. It meant that I got to spend a lot of time with her. There was no neglect there—we made sure of that at the barn—but there was definitely no love either. I always tried to give extra attention to the horses whose owners weren’t there every day but Skye was special. She clearly looked forward to seeing me every morning. I got the OK from the owner to ride her when I took people out on the trail. She was always calm, gentle, and proud on the trail—she looked like a queen leading a parade. I would go in her stall or hang out with her in the field every free moment I had. I would tell her all about my life, about my failed marriage, and all the trouble my ex-husband (we decided a good nickname for him was Pie, as in Cow Pie) seemed bent on causing. I told Skye things that I had never told anybody else. For her part, Skye was a great listener! I swear she even would make noise or nuzzle me at the right times as if she understood me. At some point, I started to feel better. As much as I knew she looked forward to seeing me, I looked forward to seeing her also. She became my reason to get up in the morning and get myself out of bed. I didn’t realize how badly I had needed that in my life.

At some point, I was given Skye’s historyand found out why nobody ever came to see her: the owner had given the horse to his little girl as a Christmas gift but it turned out she didn’t want a gray horse, she’d wanted Black Beauty. I don’t know—my world isn’t like that at all. I would have been ecstatic as a kid to get ANY kind of horse. Eventually even the owner got tired of paying the boarding fees and put up a notice that Skye was for sale. I couldn’t afford what he was asking, but the barn owners by then loved me and knew how I felt about my friend. They offered to buy her and let me pay her off in installments, which of course I happily accepted. They also gave me a “raise” which, by an amazing coincidence, was the same as her boarding fees.

Some people might think that I saved Skye—who knows what would have happened to her without any attention or love there at the stable, or what her fate would have been if I hadn’t taken over as her owner—but I know the truth. That horse saved me.

Accommodations on Mackinac Island

When I go to Mackinac Island in the summer, I usually am at a cottage with a couple of friends.It keeps my vacation spending to a minimum. Everyone is looking for something different when they go on vacation.This post is for those of you interested in places to stay around the island.

If you are like me and want to save some money, or if you like having lots of space, you can rent a cottage. Like any other vacation spot, prices depend on the size of the place and its proximity to desirable locations. The closer to the beach or downtown you get, the more you are going to shell out. The same goes for amenities. You can try big websites like Homeaway.com or Airbnb. We haven’t had much luck there, so for someplace as small as Mackinac I don’t really suggest it. Instead, try a specialty realtor. My friends and I usually take a look on Mackinac Resorts to see what’s available. They have a good selection there on everything from rental condos and cottages to more traditional rooms or bed and breakfasts. We have also stayed in St. Ignace and taken the ferry over to the island when we want to go there. Plus then you have somewhere for your car. It can be cheaper that way but it really depends on the place you stay.

Of course, there are also hotels on the island. My very favorite is the Grand Hotel. It has the longest front porch in the world. It’s just gorgeous. The hotel is an integral part of Mackinac Island and is a great home base when there is a festival. When there’s nothing on the schedule for the island, there is still plenty to do at there. Personally, I like to grab some ice cream at Sadie’s and enjoy the views! They also host an afternoon tea and dancing nightly. A lot of the charm in Mackinac is that timeless, classic feel. The Grand Hotel is a big part of that. With nearly 400 rooms, you may go there every year and never stay in the same one twice!Another option, downtown this time, is the Hotel Iroquois. It is much smaller than the Grand Hotel and just as beautiful! I like it there as well because they have some great lighthouse views. If thoseare too fancy for you, there are plenty of other inns and hotels on the island. You have to book it kind of early because there are only like three rooms, but the Village Inn is a pretty great place to stay. You’re right there in downtown and you are above a nice place to eat. We have stayed there a time or two and it has worked out well. I don’t even usually miss the air conditioner. The Pontiac Lodge is another good option and it is larger. Plus some of the rooms have jacuzzi tubs!

I’m no travel agent, so I’ll stop there. But if you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them. My budget kind of dictates where I stay but I certainly love exploring the island so I can always try to check out anything you are interested in the next time I am there.

Getting to Mackinac and Getting Around Without a Car

I know. It’s weird for people to even contemplate: there’s no driving! Seriously?!? Yup. Seriously. There is no driving. There is no motorized anything, to be completely clear (except maybe motorized scooters and snowmobiles in winter; you can call their police department and ask if you have specific questions about what’s ‘street legal’ there.) They passed the law originally to keep cars off the island so they didn’t scare the horses and the law just stayed on the books. Without access to a car, you have to think a bit more about logistics, so I want to give you some tips on how to do it.

The first two questions you probably have are related: how do you get there and what do you do with your car if you can’t bring it to the island? You have two options to get to the island itself: either by ferry or by plane. There are two ferry companies, Sheplers and Star Line. They have parking lots and you can make arrangements with them if you are going to be more than a few days on the island. I recommend leaving your car and taking a cab or getting a ride to the ferry terminal from someone not going on the trip with you. Then you don’t have to worry about parking. Ferries vary from about 15 minutes to a half hour depending on the type of ferry and where you leave from—either St. Ignace or Mackinaw City. If you don’t like boats, there’s also flying. Great Lakes Air runs a 6 seater back and forth for a decent price and it is not a very long trip.  You can also stay at a hotel nearby one of the ferries or the airport and make arrangements for your vehicle there. You can either take a shuttle or taxi to your chosen mode of transportation from there.

If you’re going there in the winter, however, you do have one more option: the ice bridge. I’ve never done this because I have a thing against walking across that much ice, but in winter the ferries have to stop when the water freezes. Once it is frozen solid enough, you can actually walk/cross-country ski/snowmobile your way from St. Ignace to the island. People usually line the path with their old Christmas trees. This isn’t entirely safe, so I’m not endorsing this as a mode of transportation but I wanted to mention it because it is an option.

I am sure you have one other question, though: once you get to the island, how do you get around? Well, there are horse drawn taxis at the Mackinac Island side of the ferry terminals and airport that can take you wherever you want to go. They will have either have room for your luggage or you can make arrangements for it to follow you on. Many of the hotels on the island will pick up your bags for you—you should inquire about that when you make reservations. Once you are on the island itself, there is my favorite mode of transportation: horseback riding and carriage rides. You can also rent or bring your own bicycle. There’s always walking. The Island is only about 4 square miles (about 8 miles around) so it isn’t like anywhere on the island is all that far from anywhere else. Once you get there, you won’t even miss your car. I promise.

One Summer Was All it Took

 

When my sister and I were still in elementary school, my parents took us to Mackinac Island on vacation. They rented a cottage for a weeknear the end of the summer. It was the best time of my life. I think it helped that it was the first time my parents let us actually do anything on our own—since there are no cars on the island, my parents were not as afraid for us to ride our bikes around. My sister and I took full advantage of our parents’ change in policy and explored the island every free moment we could.My parents also took us horseback riding for the first time on that trip, and I totally fell in love. I was in that horrendously awkward period where my body was starting to rebel and change and I was acting like a teenager even though I didn’t have the age to back it up (I think they call that a tween now). I caught on right away and it made me a lot more comfortable in my own skin. When you have something you are good at, you get more confidence. Of course, I also met my first crush there and had my first kiss. That helped my confidence too!

It isn’t any wonder that I cried when we left the Island to get ready to go back to school and our regular lives. I didn’t want to go back to my regular life. I wanted to stay on Mackinac, with my bike, riding horses and swimming at the beach. I think I started crying on the ferry and didn’t stop the entire way home. I have no idea how my parents didn’t throw me out the window of the car on that drive back. Even though over a decade has passed since that time, I smile when I think about that summer. It was the happiest I have ever been.

When I got engaged, it was the first place I thought of. I imaged myself traveling by horse-drawn carriage to the Grand Hotel where my handsome groom and all our friends would be waiting on the front porch for me. I was devastated when I found out how much my fairytale wedding would cost.At that age, I didn’t have much in the way of savings. I got a job and thought my fiancé and I were putting all the money in the bank to at least honeymoon on Mackinac and get our lives started, but it turned out that he was pissing it all away on dumb stuff instead. I should have taken that as the warning sign it was, I know, but I didn’t.

Now that I am older and pretty much only have to think about myself, I scrimp and save all year so that I can be on Mackinac at some point every summer. Now I have made some friends there and we try to rent a cottage together; not ideal but it helps keep the costs down. We take turns buying food, cooking, and cleaning the place. It is always just as magical as I remember. I want to be able to buy my own summer place there one day and I really want to be able to bring Skye with me when I go. Big dreams, I know, but if you don’t have dreams, what do you have? I know if I keep my head down and work hard, I will get there one day.

Mackinac Festival of the Horse

Mackinac Island is a gorgeous island just off the coast of UP (that’s upper peninsula for those of you not in the know) Michigan, in the waters of Lake Huron. Way back in 1898, they passed a law on Mackinac Island that banned “horseless carriages,” as to not scare the horses. It essentially prevented people from bringing their cars—or any other form of motor transportation—to the island. They created the perfect ‘turn of the century’ world where the “Horse is King!” That certainly is my kind of place! In the summer, it is very easy to get around the island. You can ride in a horse drawn carriage, rent a buggy, or ride a bicycle. Walking is also another option for most people. The island itself isn’t very big and it is very safe, especially when the last ferry has left with the day trippers. In case you are wondering, emergency vehicles, motorized wheelchairs, and snowmobiles in winter (when most of the horses are sent to warmer climates) are permitted on the island.

The Festival of the Horse was a natural way to capitalize on the perfect equestrian environment they have on Mackinac Island. It is a chance for them to celebrate all things horse. In previous years, they have had a horse and carriage parade. People and their horses get all dressed up for the occasion and it looked pretty amazing. Most of the people who are in the parade are locals, but I would imagine that anybody who was able to bring (and board) their horse on the island could participate. They usually have a good representation of different breeds and colors of horses, and go into more detail with that at a breed show where you can learn more about the different types of horses on the island. Another bright spot in the festival is the musical freestyling. If you haven’t seen someone do musical freestyling on a horse, you should go look it up online. It is pretty darn cool. I am pretty good at riding a horse but there is no way I could get Skye to dance like that. It’s just so cool though. At past festivals, they have also displayed antique wagons and buggies—not hard when it’s basically all you’ve ever had on the island, right? There are also informational sessions during the weekend, which I am sure my parents would love. They talk about the history of horses on the island and the different breeds there, where the horses go in the winter and things like that (they are snowbirds—snowhorses? mostly. They tend to be shipped to the mainland or to warmer climes during the offseason).

Of course, I happen to be from Michigan and love horses, so I could be biased when I say this is one of the best festivals around. But I don’t think so. Hopefully we will all be able to meet up at the next festival!