Spring has a lot of faces around the country, like the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., and the sap run in Vermont. On one Michigan island, it's horses that are the harbinger of the season.
Mackinac Island draws a million visitors a year for its scenery, fudge and horses. Cars aren't allowed on the island, and every spring, hundreds of horses are ferried from their winter hiatus in the Upper Peninsula for a good grooming and harness fitting, before beginning their summer jobs pulling carriages.
"Sometimes they walk right on, sometimes they get a little nervous. You never know," says Randy Hall. He's one of the farm workers who cares for the horses over winter.
This time the horses acted like pros, walking off the dock and onto the metal ramp to the ferry with no problems. It's early, but the signs of a busy summer are already apparent.
"It'll be steady now until it's all over," Hall says. "In between hauling horses, hauling hay, hauling feed — whatever they need — you gotta take care of them.
This trip included 13 draft horses. They're huge animals, more than ten tons combined. The horses are tied on the lower freight level of the ferry, in front of dollies of food and beer deliveries, all in a tight group.
"Well, they're herd animals. They like to stay together," says Joe Hersher. He's the lead trainer for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and has worked with the animals for years.
"I know Jessica is back in the back here., named after my fiancée," he says. "It was Jessica and Joe, but Joe wasn't a very good horse."
The timing of the equine delivery couldn't be better. Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel opened Thursday. When the horses reach the island, they are led off the ferry. By this time they're usually restless and ready to go.
It's a spectacular site as they're led to their summer barn, right through downtown.
"You always know it's springtime on Mackinac when the horses arrive on the island and it's just a welcome home," says Alison Abraham of Mackinac Island's tourism bureau."
It's a welcomed sight to welcome spring on in an island community that revolves around the horses.