The island horses

Mackinac Island public transportation is horse-drawn

Motorized vehicles are banned from Mackinac Island Michigan, making horse power, in its most literal sense, in great demand.
      Back in the late 19th century, local carriage drivers petitioned for the ban. They complained that cars — or “horseless carriages” — and the coughs of the engines, startled their horses. These carriagemen later became the founders of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours.

      Today, Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, Inc., offers the oldest horse drawn carriage service in the world. It employs about 500 draft horses, mostly Belgian and Percheron, to transport tourists and residents.
      The horses are a big part of this resort island’s draw, and they contribute significantly to the island’s unique environment. They pull carriages, buggies and drays to transport passengers for sightseeing tours, and to taxi passengers throughout the island — just as they did over 100 years ago when Mackinac Island started to become popular vacationers’ destination.
      Mackinac has approximately 500 year-round residents. During the tourist season May-October, over 700,000 visitors arrive via the ferry docks, the harbor and the airport. That is when most the horses are needed, and they’re hitched up for hardy work.
      Yet their workloads are scheduled in stride.
Horses care
      The horses work five to six hour days, says Mike Beaudoin, Personell Manager of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. Every other day the horses get a 24-hour rest. At which time, for example, if a team gets off at 3 p.m., they don’t work until the next day at 3 p.m.
      That gives them ample time to linger, unbridled, at the stables. “The horses get turned out in a very large paddock with hay and water so they can stretch their legs and sun bathe,” he says.
      During the off season, most the horses are transported off the island to a large farm where they have all winter to rest up, says Mr. Beaudoin. “You might say they horse around all winter.”
      Before a new tourist season begins, at the end of April, Carriage Tours transports the horses back to Mackinac Island, he says. “After being off all winter, we gradually work them back into shape.” In early May, they generally take out one team at a time.
      At the beginning of the season, May-June, Carriage Tours works 200-275 horses. During peak season, July-August, they work 400-500 horses.
      September, their schedule lightens again. Come October, all but about 75 horses are transported off the island to their winter home.

More information: Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, Mackinac Island.

*published Summer 2010 in Romantic’s
photos courtesy of


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