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Horsing Around

One Summer while vacationing at our cottage, Anthony and I decided to go to Macinac Island for a couple of days. The historic island is a little over an hour away from our cottage and is home to the Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel is best known as the hotel that Christopher Reeves went back in time to find the love of his past life; Jane Seymour in the movie “Somewhere in Time”. The island is also famous for it’s natural beauty, fudge shops and for being “car-less. The only mode of transportation are your own two feet, bicycle or horseback. Given that my second biggest fear in life (second only to little people) is horses, every time I’ve visited the island I opt for bikes or walking. I’m not sure that I’m afraid of horses as much as I just don’t trust them. They seem to know this too. Every time that I’ve even been near one, I can tell by the look in their eyes that they have a devilish plan to either bite or kick me to death. I’m also not a fan of the way they smell.

Anyway, somehow, Anthony managed to convince me that it would be fun to take a horse and carriage ride around the island. He guaranteed me that there would be a man driving the carriage and  there would be “no risk of danger”.

And he was right. The tour of the island was delightful (except for the massive amount of poop, I mean, how much do they feed these animals?). The tour started at the stables and took us by the Grand Hotel, down the main street, the old fort where the French fought the Brits in 1700- something, along the beautiful Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shorelines and finally past some of the island’s grand old mansions. One was particularly beautiful, it was set off the road a bit, and the front yard was designed to look like an old English garden. “And to your left is the Hamady’s house”, our diver informed us. “The Hamady family was a wealthy family from Flint that owned a grocery store chain in the mid 1950’s and they used to spend their summers on the island”, he continued.  “Notice the beautiful gardens that were planted for privacy over a hundred years ago. These are the oldest gardens on the island and they could never be replicated unless you plan to live to be 130 years old and if ‘only the good die young’ only my wife’s mother will live that long”, he continued with a sad attempt to get a laugh.

After touring a few more spots, we returned to the stable safe and sound. Sensing that I was becoming more comfortable around horses, Anthony tried to push me another step further. “Hey, I have an idea”, he said like it just came to him “let’s rent horses tomorrow and take them around the island.” “No”, I said, “I’ve seen enough poop to last me a lifetime and besides, it’s one thing for them to behave when they are pulling a two- ton carriage full of tourists, but it’s another when it’s just me on it’s back”. It would be the perfect chance for them to get their revenge and take out all their frustrations from an entire summer of slavery. “Come on, when will we ever have this chance again”, Anthony said. “They are just old sweet animals that want to go for a walk”. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted this more than life itself, so I decided to put my phobia aside and agree.

The next morning, after a restless night of weird horse dreams, we made our way back to the stable. “Now, whatever you do, don’t tell them you’ve never ridden a horse before”, Anthony insisted. “Otherwise they’ll give you a dud that won’t move”. “O.K.”, I said “I won’t”. After giving us a short lesson on how to get on and off the horse, how to make them walk and stop, it was time to be introduced to our playmates. “So, how much experience do you both have?”, asked the stable hand. “Oh, I’ve ridden quite a few times”, Anthony announced with confidence. “And how about you”, asked Mr. Green Jeans. “None”, I yelled. “I’ve never been on a horse so make sure you give me your slowest one”. I knew Anthony was mad, so I couldn’t even look at him, but I couldn’t help it; I’d rather ride at a safe speed of one mile per hour than be galloping along at the speed of light hugging the side of some cliff only to have Mr. Ed suddenly see a mouse, come to a screeching halt, forcing me to fly off his back like a nelly cannon ball and end up dumped into the freezing cold waters a hundred feet below. Like I always say “better safe than sorry”. 

As we started our wagon train, I have to admit that I started to like it. My horse didn’t move very fast, and he was probably blind, but I could tell he liked me. He seemed to appreciate my nervousness and interpret it as tenderness. Anthony’s on the other hand was much younger and full of energy and didn’t seem to appreciate the pace I was going.

“I have an idea”, Anthony said after an hour of thumping along, “let’s go by those big mansions we saw yesterday”. “O.K., I said, lead the way”. To get to them we had to ride on a slight incline and I was beginning to feel sorry for my friend Flicka. I could tell he was tired (sort of like me when I have to ride my bike uphill). He would stop to take an occasional rest, smell the flowers and of course, poop. Anthony’s just acted like he wanted this to be over by galloping up the hill like it was nothing.

About half way up the hill, Anthony stopped to wait for me to catch up, but his horse didn’t seem to like this idea. As I approached, I noticed his horse doing something weird. He began to move backwards, butt first, into the brush off the side of the road. “What are you doing”, I asked Anthony, wondering why he was making his horse do this. “I’m not doing anything”, Anthony said, “my horse is”. “Well make him stop!”, I demanded, “there’s a big drop off and he’s backing himself and you right toward it” this was followed by a frantic “jump off”. But, just in time and just like in the movies, one of those carriage rides with all the tourists showed up out of nowhere.  The driver could see something bad was about to happen and loudly informed his passengers that he to stop and save us. I don’t know who was more embarrassed, me or Flicka, we just sort of looked at each other like “OMG”. The driver somehow got close enough to the possessed horse and grabbed his head and pulled him out of the brush and back onto the street. The group of tourists applauded so loud, you would have thought they just pulled a baby out of a well. Me and Flicka were happy this ordeal was over, but Anthony wanted more.  “Let’s go see the Hamady’s gardens”. “What?” I asked, you almost died and you want to do more?” And in pure Anthony fashion, he said “why not? We’ve come this far”. Reluctantly, I agreed, but only with the condition that that would be our last stop.

The gardens were even more impressive up close. The ancient flowering shrubs were taller than our horses and exploded in beautiful hues of orange, purple and yellow. Not only were they amazing to see, but they smelled awesome. Even our horses seemed to like it…at first.

I don’t know if he was bored, angry or if he just had an itch, but suddenly and without warning, Anthony’s demon-horse decided to destroy the Hamady’s century old garden. At first, Flicka and I weren’t sure what was happening.  Satan started by walking into the center of one of the gigantic shrubs and standing there with Anthony on his back looking mortified. Then the monster began to lift up his legs and pounce down on the branches, smashing them to smithereens. It was like one of those show horses you see in the circus that dances to the music, only without the music and on someone’s prize garden.

The horse continued pounding all four of his feet up and down for at least two minutes, moving from shrub to shrub completely flattening everything in his wake. Flicka and I were in a complete state of shock as we watched these historic gardens being trampled to death with Anthony screaming helplessly “No, don’t do that, stop doing that!”

Then finally, our hero showed up again. Yes, once again and from out of nowhere, again, the same carriage driver with the same group of tourists were coming down the street and had to stop and save us.

A few years later, after we thought it was safe to show our faces on the island, we took another horse and buggy tour and this time, however, the Hamady House was excluded from the tour.



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