If you’ve ever visited Mackinac Island, there is a familiar sound unique to the gorgeous vacation destination—the clip-clop of horse hooves along the streets. Automobile free for over a hundred years, it’s the majestic horses of Mackinac that make things move on the island. And none quite so beautiful as the naturally high-stepping, flashy Hackney horses of the Grand Hotel Stables.
The heavily-muscled, wide-chested beauties move gracefully through the streets and along the drive leading to the Grand Hotel’s majestic white pillars. They carry VIP guests and those looking for an exceptionally breathtaking view of the island from one of the Grand Hotel Stables’ Hackney-drawn carriages.
Unlike carriage horses you might see in city streets, the Hackneys of Mackinac Island benefit from fresh air without working alongside cars or trucks and their noxious fumes. Horse experts agree that horses that are well-cared for, with proper shoeing and fitting equipment, are in their element pulling carriages. The breed is desperate for purpose and has developed for just such a task over the centuries.
While the Hackneys love to work hard, they are treated like royalty at the Grand Hotel’s 8,700-squarefoot working stable. One can only describe the barns as pristine, with well-tended stalls and fresh air for their resting time. In fact, as staff speak about the horses, it’s as if they are describing any other co-worker, with knowledge of their personalities, peccadilloes, and preferences.
Stable Manager Ben Mosley regales folks with tales of the horses like Chief, the local ladies’ man.
“He has a thing for women, it’s terrible,” Mosley said. “Like, he’ll walk away from you to go see a girl.”
Another stable lover is Scotty, who is not above resting the side of his face against Mosley’s shoulder to get some special attention. “I’ve never seen a horse right from the start in love with everybody,” Mosley said. “He’s super comfortable with everyone he meets.”
While the relationships with the horses and the staff are strong, it’s not a lifetime occupation for the Hackneys. A decade is about as long as most work as carriage horses on the island, and then the stable manager’s job is to find appropriate retirement gigs for the equine employees. A recent retiree was having a harder time with Michigan’s cold winters and, through the Hackney grapevine, found a perfect warm-weather fit with a woman in Savannah. She hooks him up and drives with him occasionally, but otherwise, he lives a life of leisure.
Another found his way to a woman in California and is still doing a little pleasure driving and prancing in the ring for a horse show or two every year. His new owner just loves him.
“The two of them seemed to hit it right off,” Mosley said. “It was one of those things where you felt like you were a matchmaker, and they just kind of clicked.”
The adoration of the horses is clear. Everyone seems to fall in love with the Hackney horses of Grand Hotel Stables, from the staff to retirement owners to the guests who excitedly climb into the carriage.