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An Island sojourn the Mackinac way and enjoying an atmosphere of true "horsepower" thanks to Jack's Livery Stable

Tom Lounsbury

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 10:14:05 EDT

 


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An Island sojourn the Mackinac way and enjoying an atmosphere of true "horsepower" thanks to Jack's Livery Stable
By Tom Lounsbury

Yellowstone became the first National Park in 1872, due primarily to its distinct and very unique environment featuring thermal areas, geysers, waterfalls and amazing vistas found nowhere else in North America. Farseeing folks knew that it was an important and very special place to set aside for all to enjoy, including future generations, and the 1870's represented a timeframe when the landscape of our country was changing quite dramatically.
The same can be said of Mackinac Island which became the second National Park in 1875 due primarily to its unique geologic formations such as Arch Rock which is made of limestone breccias and formed when Lake Huron was at its highest level (Arch Rock is now 140 feet above the water). Arch Rock is a very rare geologic formation in the Northern Great Lakes, and again farseeing folks wanted to protect it from fast growing progress. There was a second geologic formation on the Island called Fairy Arch, which was located near the shoreline below Arch Rock. Sadly, it was destroyed due to misguided officials' attempts per erosion control (there are a number of photographs of it taken during the Victorian Age, and it was quite unique in its own right).
Mackinac Island would remain a National Park for 20 years, and like Yellowstone Park it was controlled by the U.S. Army. However the Park would be handed over to the State of Michigan in 1895 when the Army decided the Fort no longer needed to be manned. For a fact, Mackinac Island would then become Michigan's first state park and today it comprises 74% of the Island, and even the City of Mackinac Island is within its borders. To say that Mackinac Island is steeped in history and a real jewel available for all to visit is an understatement.
I'm always amazed by the number of people I've heard who have visited the Island claim that it is "too crowded and commercial", which tells me they never got too far from the downtown area. It takes more than just a few hours during a day-stop visit to get to truly realize this. There are miles of trails snaking through wooded hills and lined with a wide diversity of wild flowers. The air is even scented with what I describe as the breath of an old growth forest. Since motor vehicles aren't allowed, your only way to discover Mackinac Island is by foot, bicycle or true horsepower. Personally I enjoy doing it all.
For some time now my wife Ginny and I have rented a home on Mackinac Island for a couple weeks each summer and our three sons grew up looking forward to this annual atmosphere and today it also now includes our grandchildren. The home is located on a quiet street just below the Grand Hotel called Mahoney Avenue and as its name implies, it relates to a rich Irish heritage, and was once part of what was known as "Shanty Town". Due to the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852, during which over a million people perished and Ireland's population fell 25% due to mortality and immigration) Mackinac Island and its fish-bountiful waters was attractive to Irish immigrants who were already accustomed to fishing and readily adapted to using the indigenous Mackinaw Boats originally developed for the fur trade. Many of the homes on Mahoney Avenue are still owned by descendants of Irish fishermen.
The only business on this street is Jack's Livery Stable owned by the Gough family (descendants of Irish fishermen) and it is still operated by second and third family generations in the livery business. The late Jack Gough would start the livery at this location in 1953 with eight licensed carriages, and today (in its 65th year) it offers 18 carriages and 20 saddle horses. It is the only place I'm aware of in this country where you can still rent a drive-it-yourself horse and carriage.
Since Jack's Livery Stable is the next door neighbor to the house we rent, I've gotten to know everyone there quite well, and they are truly good neighbors. I've also gotten to know most of the horses too (both per carriage and riding) and it has become our family "Mackinac Tradition" to enjoy renting horses to ride and to drive as well. Kids who are old enough go riding and the younger ones get a carriage ride, and long having been a horseman, I have the distinct advantage of selecting and reserving the horses we use.
Jack's Livery Stable has a form to fill out, and this is where you let them know your horse skills, if any, and they fit the horses to the customers. I've seen plenty of folks who didn't have a clue of matters when they grabbed the reins, but they return to the stable having had a good time and also having had a memorable experience that can be found nowhere else. As far as ever getting lost on such an adventure, well folks, just give the horse its head if need be because the horses there are real pros with a built in GPS. They will return you back to the stable in style. The maps of the Island provided by Jack's Livery Stable are very detailed and my personal favorite to use anytime.
Our first horse-related activity was horseback riding and I selected a large chestnut mare for me named "Lily" and we got along real fine. Livery horses have the sensitivity of a palm reader and pretty much can figure out their rider's capabilities not long after the rider is seated in the saddle and holding the reins. Right after I climbed aboard and settled in, Lily turned her head and gave me an eye to eye check-over, and I could tell we were going to have a copasetic relationship. When we headed out in a long line, I rode “drag” (the rear position) which I prefer because I can keep an eye on matters (such as grandchildren) similar to an old mother hen watching her chicks. I also always have a guide accompany us to show us the way through some very unique scenery, and in this case it was Tayler Cordell of Mt. Pleasant (a lifelong dream of my 13 year old granddaughter McKenna is to have a summer job being a horse guide for Jack's Livery Stable). It was a great ride for all, through hilly and wooded terrain surrounded by wild flowers and with very few other people seen. Mackinac Island is like that when you get off the tourist-beaten paths.
Our next activity was taking the younger grandchildren for a carriage ride. The horse I selected was a high-stepping white Percheron gelding named "Sky" who I liked the minute I saw him. He wasn't a "beginners" horse by any means, and not because he was unruly, as he was very well trained and manageable. It was because Sky was all business and had a real brisk walk (trotting was never required to cover any ground on our drive) and you had to simply hold him back on occasion in a gentle manner. We hadn’t gone far when Sky turned his head far enough to size me at the reins with his right eye peeking past the bridle’s "blinder". Like Lily the saddle horse, Sky and I were in for a copasetic relationship.
The carriage route I prefer is westerly and then north along the shore road and then taking a right turn inland at British Landing, which is roughly and hour and a half drive (a tad quicker with Sky in the tugs) by the time you return to the stable. Other than holding the reins and softly easing back every now and then, I didn’t even bother insulting Sky by steering him because he knew the drill, right down to avoiding an unruly (and obviously undisciplined), young bicycle rider.
We were just nearing Devil's Kitchen (another geologic wonderment) and meeting a large oncoming group of bicycles, when a kid (about 10 years old) came careening past us while fast-peddling his BMX. He had little room to spare between our carriage wheels and the bicycles in the other lane we were meeting and he banked sharply to the right under Sky's nose and even swatted at the horse. One of the kid's parents was yelling for him to wait up, which the kid did in a sliding stop that left him suddenly broadside directly in front of Sky. With no room or time to stop, the horse deftly veered our carriage around the little rascal on the BMX and also avoided an oncoming bicycle rider who at that instant was pedaling down the centerline with no hands on the handlebars and of all things, was texting! For a fact, I've seen numerous occasions on the Island where the horses are way smarter than some of the tourists.
Sky is one of the best horses I have ever driven and if Jack's Livery Stable wants to ever part with him, he's welcome in my stable anytime (there is no doubt Sky would make a great riding horse too).
Some integral folks to Mackinac Island not to ever be overlooked are the sanitation workers who keep the streets and roads clean. One can only imagine what an environment which depends upon true horsepower would be like if the typical road residue (aka horse manure) wasn't routinely cleaned up. The sanitation workers spend long hours in all kinds of weather doing a truly dirty job, that at times can be a bit hazardous when you witness how busy some streets can be with horse-traffic and bicycles which are ridden sometimes by inexperienced or unruly people. One worker was injured last summer when a bicycle crashed into him. There are also the ignorant tourists who make fun of the sanitation workers, but wouldn't be laughing if they had to wade through matters. I'm no stranger to shoveling horse-poop and I tip my hat in gratitude and respect to these hard working and dedicated folks.
One thing that always caps my Mackinac Island sojourn happens at dusk every evening when a bugler blows Taps from the Fort, and the sound drifts wistfully and lightly down Mahoney Avenue. Time flies by way too fast when you are fully enjoying yourself.



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   Reggie Gough (left) and his nephew Teddy Gough (right) are second and
third generations to run the family business, Jack's Livery Stable, on
Mackinac Island







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Manuel Chavez is a sanitation worker on Mackinac Island and does a great
job of keeping Mahoney Avenue clean of horse "debris".






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   Tom Lounsbury riding "Lily" on a Mackinac Island trail ride with his
family. Jack's Livery Stable offers quality horses for both riding and
driving.






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   "Sky", a Percheron from Jack's Livery Stable, holding a calm and steady
course while meeting bicycle riders on Mackinac Island.






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   The Lounsbury family riding down one of the many isolated trails found on
Mackinac Island.

 

 

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