Festival Will Showcase Horse Culture, Raise Funds for Community Stable
The lure of Mackinac Island is its horse culture, say Mackinac Horsemen's Association (MHA) members, and by tapping into the national and international market of horse enthusiasts to make the Island an equestrian destination, the organization hopes to increase Island tourism, provide family activities, and sustain youth programs for generations to come.
By making Mackinac Island an equestrian destination, first with the Festival of the Horse scheduled for this month and later through educational programs and clinics, the group hopes to generate more interest in the Island and its horses. By doing this, members also hope to raise about $700,000 to construct a community horse stable and living quarters for a caretaker.
"We believe we can do it," said association president Maryanke Alexander. "We've been getting a positive response from so many people who we shared our story with that we can't go back now. It's just not possible. We have to go forward because we believe in it. We know it's the right thing to do."
The association has about 120 members.
The stable is needed, they say, to promote the Island's horse culture. The Mission Stable, which is donated for use to the Mackinac 4-H Horse Club by the Bill Chambers family, has limited space and offers no room for summer residents to stable a horse. Also, loaned land once abutting the stable and used as a corral for the horses has been reduced through housing development.
Riding the animals to Great Turtle Park, where land is available for riding lessons, is good training for teenage 4-H club members, said Leanne Brodeur, who leads the group and is executive director of the association, but the park is too far for younger, less experienced equestrians to safely make the trip on horseback. Now, older club members ride the horses to the park for the younger children, and then the teenagers ride them back when the class is over. The process is cumbersome and limits training time, said Ms. Brodeur.
The 4-H Club averages about 40 members, with a core group of about 15. Ages of members range from five to 19 years of age.
State Park Makes Land Available, With 2010 Deadline
Last year, the association acquired a 20-year lease for a three-acre parcel of land from the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. The lease is for $1 a year. Sitting just off British Landing Road, across from Wawashkamo golf links, the site already has a 100- by 200-foot fenced outdoor riding ring built by MHA last year.
The park commission, said director Phil Porter, has been working with the association for several years trying to identify a suitable site for a stable.
"They are doing this during challenging economic times," said Park Commission Director Phil Porter, "so they do have a major task ahead of them. The commission is involved because of their desire to help perpetuate the horse culture on Mackinac Island, which is so important to the defining nature of who we are."
The British Landing Road site was chosen for a couple of reasons, said Mr. Porter. The land is very open, requiring a minimal removal of trees, it is in a recreational area near Wawashkamo Golf Club, and a farm with barns used to sit on the property.
"The idea of a barn and corrals going in there is somewhat consistent with its historical use," said Mr. Porter. "This is not the kind of thing the state park commission does lightly or often. In fact, it's rare that they would ever give up property for a purpose like this."
The reasons the commission offered to lease the land, he said, is that the site would be used to serve a public purpose, help continue the Island's horse culture, and the proposed barn would allow residents to have stalls, which with setback requirements and smaller lots sizes have made it difficult for people to keep horses on their own property.
The land use agreement stipulates MHA must build the stable within three years of the lease being signed, or the property will revert back to the state. The lease was signed last year, making the deadline March 19, 2011.
MHA site plans must also be approved by the park commission. The commission, said Mr. Porter, is interested in keeping the barn consistent with the architectural style and quality standards of the park.
A simple lap-sided 7,000- square-foot barn is planned for the site, said Ms. Brodeur. The building would be divided into three sections. The center of the building would include the main entrance, restrooms, a tack area, and classrooms. One portion of the barn would stable about 10 4- H horses and another portion would be available for approximately 10 horses owned by Island residents who have no horse barn. The caretakers quarters would be in a separate building.
Grants, clinic fees, and festival proceeds will help maintain the complex, said MHA board member Steve Rilenge.
Community Stable Would
Benefit the Island
"The Island needs what we are doing," said Mr. Rilenge. "It needs the horse culture, it needs the tourism money, it needs new people to come to the Island."
"Our purpose," said Mrs. Alexander, "is to have all programs to bring people to the Island so we can support the kids' program," she said. "It's important to have sustainability, and that's why we are doing what we are doing."
The 4-H Horse Club sponsors an annual horse show with a professional judge, but it is more relaxed than most off-island shows.
"They don't have show clothes, they have clothes," said Ms. Brodeur of the Island 4-H members. "They don't have fancy silver saddles or the best of anything, and they share. They share horses and they support each other and that is really unusual. If you go to a show off- Island, you'll find it can be very competitive."
The 4-H Club is one element of the community stable, said Mrs. Alexander, and family access the other element.
The Festival of the Horse, she said, will encourage group tour operators to schedule trips to the event. The MHA has a list of organizations that could be targeted for the festival by Island hotels. The group also has results from a Michigan State University Extension study conducted in 2006 which concludes the state's equine industry is worth more than $1 billion to Michigan's economy each year.
Festival of the Horse
Is July 23 - 25
To help raise interest and funding for the stable project, the group is organizing the Festival of the Horse Thursday, July 23, through Saturday, July 25. Many of the horse events previously held throughout the summer will now be held together over the three-day period.
The festival includes ticketed events and those open to the public. Most events will be in the Grand Hotel lot by the school.
Free horse-related activities nclude an antique carriage parade, a breed show with 16 breeds, carriage driving demonstrations, lectures, and children's games and face painting. Paid events include a live auction, a guided tour of Grand Hotel stables and several West Bluff cottage carriage houses, and an old fashioned barn-raising party with dancing and entertainment. Also, one person will win a 2010 Ford Mustang donated by Ford Motor Company.
To promote the festival, the group has a Web site, www. mackinachorses.com, and it is working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Pure Michigan campaign. The horsemen's association also is seeking links on other Web sites, and working with horse publications, magazines, and television stations.
Serving on the nonprofit MHA board with Mrs. Alexander and Mr. rilenge are Vicepresident Trish Martin, Treasurer Jack Armstrong, Secretary Lisa Brock, Corresponding Secretary Barb Kovalak, Catherine Arbib, Kim Kolatski, Ann Levy, Sandra Roe, and Michelle Stuck.
Serving on the stable committee are Jennifer Bloswick, Brad Chambers, Bart Huthwaite, Kim Kolatski, Jane Manoogian, Trish Martin, Marta Olson, Jim Reitman, Steve Rilenge, Sandra Roe, Dan Wightman, and Leanne Brodeur.