As winter gradually fades into spring in Michigan, one tradition that typifies the changing of the season is horses making their annual trek back to Mackinac Island.

But how does it happen?

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Ron Atkins works for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. He's the man responsible for getting the horses onto the island each spring.

“When the ice starts melting, the boat starts running, I know I’m going to get a call,” Atkins says. "Generally, by the middle of April, I'm going at least five days a week, about eight horses at a time."

Atkins tells the Detroit Free Press in the video below that it typically takes until roughly the first week of June to transport the horses from a farm near Pickford in Michigan's Upper Peninsula over to Mackinac Island. He says the first load of horses is primarily used to help workers haul freight around the island in preparation for the upcoming tourist season.

Horses Eager to Get to Work

Atkins believes that some of the animals know what's coming.

"They seem to know what time of year it is. Some of them, you know, when you go to catch them, if you bring the halter they take off the other way because they don't want to go to work," he says. "But most of them are ready to go, they're ready to go to work."

He adds that many of the horses have worked on the island for many years and believes they look forward to the work season.

Horses Take the Ferry to the Island

In years past, the horses were loaded onto the ferry individually but now they stay in a horse trailer until they reach Arnold Ferry's freight dock. Transporting them in their trailers is deemed a safer way to move the animals.

Atkins notes that only the best horses are used on Mackinac Island. They have to be trustworthy because during the tourist season when hundreds of people visit the island each day, there are a lot of distractions.

Veronica Dobrowolski is co-owner of the Arnold Freight Company. She says she looks forward to the horses' arrival because it means the island will soon be alive with visitors.

”Many people refer to them as the hardest working employees on the island," Dobrowolski says.

 

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