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A Ride Back in Time
Riding on Mackinac Island

With Terri Keene

Mackinac Island is a bucket list trip for horse people! An island full of history and only horses and bikes allowed- no motorized vehicles allowed!

 

An oasis of quiet solitude and a step back to a simpler time of life.

 

The architecture of the buildings is outstanding. Even new buildings are built to fit in to the time.

 

*Photo of a “Cottage” on the Island

 

It has been relatively new, in the last couple of years, that people have been finding out they can take their own horses over. The Equestrian barn on the island was only built about two years ago. The barn manager Ashley has been instrumental in changes for horse people along with the Mackinac Horseman’s Association (MHA).

The best time to take your horses over is early spring before all the tourists start arriving, or late fall when they are leaving. Be aware though, that weather conditions can dictate the boat from going over there with horses. We lost a day because it was too windy, and the water was too rough.

 

 

We went the end of September and it was cool and rainy at times. Although we missed a day, we did find some trails right outside of St. Ignace, Michigan that we went and rode on for the day.

When making your reservations, you’ll want to start as early as you can- I started making mine in February.  You need to go to https://www.mackinacisland.org/ to look up your hotel reservations, and https://www.mackinachorses.org/ for your barn reservations.

 

 

It can be a little tricky to coordinate everything. You also need to call and schedule your ferry ride athttps://www.mackinacferry.com/. They only have one boat to take horses over, so they will tell you your time of departures. Make sure you are there early as they leave precisely on time and do not wait! It is a 40-minute ride to the island.

When you arrive in St. Ignace, you will park at dock 2 - they have a big parking lot next to it that accommodates big rigs.  If you did not get your tickets via email you will actually have to go to dock 3 to pick them up. Dock 3 is about a mile away. You can also get your luggage tagged there to be sent over to the island. It will also come back to that dock to be picked up.

 

 

The staff at the boat will tell you exactly what time they will board you. They are very busy loading freight and horses go last. Your horse will have to step over a metal ramp that is between the dock and the boat.

They will show you where to tie your horses on the boat. If your horses are comfortable loading in a trailer, this should not be an issue. Our horses tolerated the ride quite well, they were more nervous of the vibration of the boat and the sounds of the engine.

 

Once your horses are tied and you are underway, you can go up top to see the sights! I highly recommend it!

 

*Photo is the view from the boat

Once docked at the island the staff will tell you when you can untie your horses to unload - it will be the same thing: stepping over the metal ramp. It was raining when we arrived, so the plate was slippery for our shod horses, but they did ok. 

 

 

We were met by Ann, board member of MHA.  She gave us a map with our route to the barn highlighted. Horses must be led out of town before mounting, as you are right downtown. You must also yield the right of way to any drays on the dock or carriage horses downtown.

 

If you choose to go during peak season downtown will be very crowded.

 

We arrived at 8:00 am during off peak season and there wasn’t hardly anyone downtown at that time. Ann led us out of town and there is a very steep hill to go up. Once we got past the houses we could mount and ride up the hill.

Ann followed us on foot most of the way and told us how to get to the barn. Once at the barn we met up with the manager, Ashley and she showed us our immaculate stalls. She took very good care of our horses feeding and watering them, and we didn’t have to worry about them at all.

 

 

I highly recommend paying the $25 to join the Mackinac Horseman’s Association so you can get a discount on board and have use of a bicycle for the duration of your trip, and it supports their various programs during the year.  

 

 

We made one walk from the barn to our hotel and back, which was a mile each way - we rented the bike after that!

The only way to get around the island is by a horse taxi, horse shuttle, biking or walking.

 

If you’d like to see the sights, like the Fort and the lookout, I suggest you take a 3-horse hitch shuttle as there is no place to tie horses anyplace on the island, and they don’t want them left unattended.

 

*Photo of 3-horse hitch shuttles

You will also want to do the Grand Hotel on a separate outing. For that you must make reservations and pay a fee to take a tour. If you go at night, they require formal wear.

 

We did go to most of the other sights on horseback though such as The Arch in the Rock, Crack in the Island, Sunset Cliff, and the British Landing.

 

 

Depending on where you are staying it’s easier at night to take a taxi into town. Don’t be surprised though if it takes a long time! We stayed at Sunset Condos which was about 2 miles from town. It takes about 40 minutes to get picked up then might take an hour to get to town depending on the number of stops. We had to go to the livery on the way to town, so they could change the teams out.

While there are plenty of places on the island to eat, if you’re on a budget I suggest taking a cooler with your food and drinks in it and have it portered to the island. Food and drinks are quite expensive.  

 

 

Some hotels include breakfast which is nice because it’s a long way to town and then back up to the barn. I had investigated renting a B&B and while they are right downtown, they are even farther from the barn and a taxi will not take you to the barn.

 

 

We stayed at the condos that are a little farther from town, but closer to the barn. I suggest Sunset Condos or Stone cliff Inn. Both are right next to each other.

When it’s time to leave the island, make sure when you check out you get your luggage portered back to the dock. Then you can saddle up and head out until your time to leave...

 

Again, make sure you are early!

 

Some of the people we met with horses were told the boat left at 1:30, when it was actually 1:00 for the horses!  It is the last boat of the day, so you don’t want to miss it!

 

You will leave from the same dock you arrived at even though it says it goes back to Mackinaw City. It is the only place they can load horses at. You’ll have the same crew as when you left.

 

I had help planning my trip from Thom Hadfield that has worked up there for over 20 years. He has horses he keeps on the island. I met him through Facebook on HTCAA and another site! He took us all around to see the sights which was so nice!

 

*Photo Tony Keichinger, Terri Keene & Thom Hadfield

 

 

I highly suggest reading everything on the all the websites I listed earlier to get all the information you need. 

 

 

Most of all, have fun and don’t forget the fudge!  I will be planning on going back!

 

 

ARCH ROCK

 

TRAILS ON THE ISLAND

 

SUGARLOAF ROCK FORMATION

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Tony and Terri live with their five horses on a small farm in central Wisconsin.  They own a
26 year old Thoroughbred/ Quarter Horse who’s pretty much retired, an 18 year old Mustang/Quarter Horse cross that Terri’s owned since her birth and is now Tony's trail horse. Terri also has a 17 year old BLM Mustang that she adopted for $25 from the BLM, and a 10 year old Icelandic that is her most recent ride and first gaited horse, along with an 8 year old Tennessee Walking horse. Terri says “We both love to trail ride and travel with our horses. We have been to Tennessee, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, and Missouri, and locally in our area. Our favorite places to ride locally are Wildcat Mountain State Park and Kickapoo Valley Reserve. We are planning on going to Falling Water, Arkansas in the spring of 2019. In winter we enjoy snowmobiling (when we get enough snow) and I love riding bareback through the snow. I also am Treasurer of our local saddle club and help with shows.” When not planning trail rides or riding, Terri works as a registered radiologic technologist and Tony is a heavy equipment operator. “Our horses are our pride and joy.”

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