Mackinac Island is a beautiful place to visit no matter the time of the year! In a place that is famously free of cars, you'll find the downtown streets lined with bicycles and carriages in the summer and packs of snowmobiles in the winter.

But have you ever wondered where all those horses go during the Winter off-season?

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Summer Season

One of the first tell-tale signs of Spring's arrival in the Mitten is the annual migration of carriage horses from the mainland to Mackinac Island. Beginning in April, you're likely to see hundreds of horses shipped across the Straits of Mackinac by ferry-- as you can imagine, it's quite the sight to see!

Close to 600 Percheron and Belgian draft horses, Hackney, and grade horses are transported each year from the Pickford area in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the shores of Mackinac Island to spend the summer shuttling both visitors and residents around the island.

What Do the Horses Do There?

In addition to acting as a taxi service to guests and residents, the Mackinac Island horses deliver packages, transport tour groups, collect mail, and haul anything that can't be transported via bike. The horses typically work 6 to 8-hour days as carriage horses or between 2 to 6 hours as saddle horses.

What Happens to the Horses in Winter?

Because it is easier to move the horses back to the mainland rather than constantly brave the choppy wintery waters to transport feed to the island, most of the horses go back to the Pickford area during the off-season months.

However, not all the horses leave for the Winter! In order to maintain day-to-day operations on the island, it's necessary that a few horses remain for the Winter. Typically, 16-18 horses stick around to transport freight and transport residents throughout the off-season.

Steve Sawyers, one of the Mackinac Island horse caretakers tells MLive,

They’re pretty much on vacation...They just basically frolic around and sunbathe. And they eat. A lot.

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