Varsity to Vet School (Pt. 2)

(To get up to speed on the first two days of Brittney’s experiences with the traveling vet service, see Part 1 of this blog.)

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We had less space to work with in McLaughlin, South Dakota.

The third day of the RAVS trip was a bit different from the first two because we were expected to run a wellness clinic in the morning, pack up the entire clinic, drive down to McLaughlin, South Dakota, and make a new clinic location there. Since all of the morning appointments were just wellness visits with no surgery, however, we were able to move quickly and treat just under 200 animals in a little over four hours. Afterward, the packing was actually quite easy, as everyone had assigned bins to inventory and line up in numerical order, then we formed an assembly line to put everything back into the trailer.

The second clinic location was significantly smaller than the first but we made do with our space and by the time we started the clinic on Thursday morning, we had forgotten about how much smaller the work space was and fell into the same routine as before.

Then Friday arrived and quickly became my favorite day of the entire clinic because I got to perform my first surgeries! I was quite nervous leading up to the first one, but once I found out I was assigned to work with Dr. Bob (who was awesome!), I calmed down and was able to really enjoy the experience.

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Getting ready for my first surgery!

My debut was on a four year old Corgi named Spunky who vomited rocks before being induced for anesthesia, so what was supposed to be my first routine spay turned into an abdominal explore – there’s no such thing as a dull moment on these trips! Spunky’s spay went very smoothly, however, and Dr. Bob and I didn’t find any more rocks during her explore. My second surgery of the day was a dog neuter – very routine and a great learning experience. The third and final surgery of the day for me was definitely the most exciting, though – it was a neuter on a cat and the veterinarian that I was assigned to let me do the entire procedure by myself! This was a huge milestone – especially considering I had only helped with my first surgery mere hours before.

Friday night (our last night of the trip) we were fortunate to end early for once (about 7:30 p.m. instead of after 10:00 p.m.). There was a football game at the field just outside of the community center we were set up in so we decided to go. (Later we would learn that this football game would cause major problems for us, but in that moment we blissfully enjoyed a typical small town Friday night football game – ironically between the two very cities we had run clinics in: Fort Yates and McLaughlin.)

The funniest moment of the game? Every time a touchdown was scored, the fans honked their car horns instead of cheering!

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Our Illinois group picture!  L-R: Molly, Caitlin, myself, and Laura (plus Lula, who wouldn’t look at the camera).

Once the game wrapped up, we had our regular our nightly meeting, which is when the leader of our clinic shared the bad news: Due to the amount of people using the plumbing at the football game, the high school up the hill, and at the clinic where we were, all plumbing in the area was totaled.

It took a few minutes for it to sink in: At the end of an intensive few days of hard work, we were suddenly without showers, tap water, and most importantly… toilets.

Unfortunately, that meant every time we needed to use the restroom, we had to get into our cars and drive downtown to the nearest gas station. Thankfully it was the last night of the clinic and Saturday was only scheduled to be a short wellness day with no more surgeries so, in true veterinary medicine fashion, everyone laughed about the unfortunate situation we were in and we still managed to hold a great clinic on Saturday, treating upwards of 200 animals in a few hours before packing the trailer and making the return trek back home and into our real lives – which for me included my return to the University of Illinois for my third year of vet school.

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At the end of each day we had to log all controlled drugs used.  It was nice to sit down after a long day of standing!

Looking back on the RAVS trip now, I have to say it was the most incredible experience I have ever been a part of. All of the doctors I met were fantastic and I was able to learn and improve on my clinical skills every single day even though we were working at a mobile clinic that sometimes felt like it was in the middle of nowhere.

I knew during my time at Albion that I wanted to become a veterinarian, but you can never really be sure about these things until you really experience what it’s like. Having gone to Standing Rock and sharing the experiences I did with other veterinary students like myself, I highly encourage anyone who is interested in veterinary medicine to look into the RAVS program, as they have opportunities for everyone regardless of your position/connection to veterinary medicine. You’ll get a lot of experience and meet a lot of extraordinary individuals (and animals too).

Stanton 7And if you’re like me, you’ll know you’re on the right path to your future career.

Brittney Stanton ’14 is originally from Rochester, Michigan. As a four-year member of the varsity equestrian team, she represented Albion at the IHSA Zone Finals three times, capping her career as the first-ever Briton hunt seat rider to represent the College at IHSA Nationals. She currently competes successfully in the IHSA alumni division when her schedule permits, qualifying for IHSA Zones in 2016. You can also occasionally find her warm-up riding for Albion at home meets during the regular season.

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Varsity to Vet School (Pt. 1)

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During my Albion IHSA days – I drew Redford for a home meet back in 2012.

Hi everyone! My name is Brittney Stanton and I am a 2014 Albion alumna. You may recognize my name from various posts from the equestrian center, as I was on the hunt seat team during my four years at Albion – time I am so grateful for and time that allowed me to grow as a person.

Throughout my four years at Albion, one recurring theme I always noticed was an emphasis on service to the community. Every year, sororities and fraternities held their respective philanthropy events and many of the other clubs participated in various volunteering experiences. Even our equestrian club had multiple events, including volunteering at Horses’ Haven and organizing our annual community outreach event, Giddy-Up.

Because Albion encouraged such a high level of service, my level of empathy and compassion continued to grow and has stayed with me through my transition to veterinary school. As a third year veterinary student at the University of Illinois, I was excited to get the opportunity to continue my service when I left on August 13 for one of the most grueling, yet rewarding trips I have ever been on.

The summary is this: I went camping with a mobile vet clinic.

Yes, you read that right – camping. With a vet clinic.

Those five words sound innocent, but have you ever tried to fit an entire veterinary clinic into the back of a three-horse slant load trailer? Probably not.

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Group photo!!!

Why was I crazy enough to take on this mission, you may ask? I very much wanted to give back to the community while also furthering my experience and knowledge of veterinary medicine, so I applied and was accepted into a program called the Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS), a branch of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Our group consisted of nine veterinarians, eight vet techs, 33 veterinary students, and three other support staff. Our mission took us to the Standing Rock Reservation in North and South Dakota to deliver six days of veterinary care to the people and their pets that live there.

Did I mention that we did all of this FOR FREE?

All of the money we may need for supplies for our trip comes from fundraisers. In our case, we raised just over $10,000 that allowed us to treat 594 animals over the course of six days. That was a total of 201 spays and neuters (over four days of surgery) and an additional 393 wellness exams with vaccines over two more days.

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The gym before…

When we arrived at our first location in Fort Yates, North Dakota, we took a look around what was soon to be our clinic. It consisted of a community center that was mainly a gymnasium, yet it only took two hours to transform it into our clinic for the week – complete with an area for intake, holding, anesthesia prep, surgery, recovery, a lab, a pharmacy, and even an area for us to sleep. (Remember how I said we were camping? Yes, we slept on the floor of the gym.)

Once the clinic was set-up, we had orientation and tested into our surgery groups, where all of my preparation paid off and I tested into the highest level! Then, after a short but (somewhat) restful night on the gym floor, we were ready to begin!

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…and after – all set up and ready for patients!

I was assigned to the anesthesia team for the day, for which I was very grateful, as I did a lot of anesthesia at my summer internship and was confident in the skills. My first patient of the day was a little Chihuahua to be neutered and I was pleasantly surprised at how healthy he was, including a good weight. I admit, I came on the trip expecting to see skinny animals with multiple health issues; however, that was far from the case. By the end of the week, I recommended to several clients that they actually needed to cut back on their animal’s food because their pets were overweight!

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My first patient!

The second day I was assigned to the receiving team, which meant I was finally able to interact with members of the tribe! Clients typically started lining up between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. – which meant we were full by the time we actually opened at 7:00 a.m.!

The first family I was assigned to help with my partner came with seven dogs and three cats. We slowly worked our way through the entire animal clan to make sure they got all necessary vaccines, flea/tick preventative, and de-wormer before putting them on the surgery board. It was so much fun to speak with the clients and learn about their culture and what it is like to be living on the reservation! They also had funny stories to share about each of their pets, including my favorite, a dog named Stranger Danger. A stranger dropped him off on their porch one morning and, after a few days of no one claiming him, the family decided to keep him and name him after the occasion.

The next few days would be equally as educational and the adventures would add up. I’ll talk about those in Part II of this blog and share more photos of the furry friends I made on the trip.

Brittney Stanton ’14 is originally from Rochester, Michigan. As a four-year member of the varsity equestrian team, she represented Albion at the IHSA Zone Finals three times, capping her career as the first-ever Briton hunt seat rider to represent the College at IHSA Nationals. She currently competes successfully in the IHSA alumni division, qualifying for IHSA Zones in 2016. You can also find her warm-up riding for Albion at home meets during the regular season when her busy schedule permits.

Expanded Horizons

I’ll be honest, I came into summer a die-hard dressage queen.

I grew up in a pretty dressage-focused environment. My mom managed a top dressage stable and I started working as a high-performance groom at 15. I had ridden in a western saddle maybe twice in my life and the extent of my jumping career was hopping my horse bareback over crossrails when the sandbox just felt too small that day.

I didn’t see any reason for that to change either. I was a dressage rider. I’ve known for most of my life that dressage was the sport I wanted to dedicate myself to and anything else seemed like a distraction. Writing this now, however, I cringe at how close-minded I was.

I became fascinated with the other disciplines this summer – but let me back up a bit. My name is Allissa Siders and I spent this past summer break as a working student at the Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center.

Here’s the story:

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Staying close to my horse Zar and keeping him in a training program this summer was one of the main reasons I stayed at Albion.

Coming out of my first year of college, I had a few requirements for my summer. First, I knew I wanted to be somewhere that I could really focus on my riding because I’m quickly running out of summers in which I can dedicate myself solely to horses. Next, I needed to be close to a farm where I could board my horse, Zar. Most importantly, I needed to be able to get a job that could cover Zar’s board every month (and hopefully a little extra).

At home, the closest barn was a half hour drive each way and I didn’t have a trainer or a job waiting. I thought a lot about being a traditional working student, but the “who” and “where” were unknown. My last option was the simplest: I could stay at Albion. Zar had a home that I trusted and he had finally gotten used to. I had access to wonderful trainers and there were more than enough horses that needed to be kept in work or brought back from injury.

Before I knew it, I had a plan. I would work a regular 40 hour week and, within that time, I would spend half of my day working horses that needed to be rehabbed or brought back to work while the other half would be spent painting fenceposts, stacking hay, and any additional chores that needed done to prep the barn for the coming school year. I was ecstatic. By an incredibly lucky coincidence, two other girls from the barn were looking for a place to stay for the summer and one of them had a house that we could all share. In a matter of weeks, I had a place to live, a job, access to trainers, and extra horses!

So back to what I learned this summer:

As my string of horses to ride expanded, I made it a point to watch every time our western coach was riding or jumping lessons happened. I started asking questions and learning as much as I could. I couldn’t deny how much it interested me, and I started to realize how sheltered my world of horsemanship had really been until now. Still, I couldn’t quite make myself try something different. Watching people ride was one thing, but actually doing it was something else.

Then one of the horses who had healed from injury needed to be reintroduced into the program – the western program, to be exact – and I didn’t have an excuse any more. Part of my summer job was to get these horses back to work and if I was going to be an asset to the program, I had to start riding in western tack.

By the end of summer, I found myself riding at least two western horses every day and also found a way to squeeze in a minimum of two jumping lessons every week, making this summer one of the most challenging – yet rewarding – experiences of my life. I learned to ask for help and rely on others and became an expert a rolling with the punches. My time at the equestrian center took hard work and dedication, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity. I was forced to re-evaluate many things about myself that I took for granted and, thanks to the incredible staff at the college, my skills as a rider and horsewoman have grown exponentially. I’ve met friends and forged relationships with people I never thought I would interact with beyond a passing glance.

At the end of the day, dressage is still my passion, and “dressage queen” is a title I wear with pride. However, I’ve become so much more aware of the value of all disciplines and I can say without a doubt that there really is something to be learned from everyone. I’m fully aware of the role blind luck played in my adventure this summer, but I am so thankful to have had the chance to learn and grow. One of the most wonderful things about Albion is that opportunities are almost endless – you just have to be brave enough to pursue them. All I wanted this summer was to be able to ride, but I gained so much more. Looking ahead, I can’t wait to see what the coming year has in store. I certainly plan to continue to expand my horizons and take chances – and who knows? Maybe another one of those risks will end in something wonderful again.

Allissa Siders is a sophomore from Middlefield, Ohio majoring in biology. (She also loves musical theatre.) This year she will continue to take lessons aboard Held Center horses and her Lusitano Zar.

Made it!

We made it!

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Commencement!

This year required a lot of hard work and lacked in social life outside of school and work, but it was totally worth it. Over the school year I worked just under 400 hours in order to pay for Big Lisa to live at the Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center on campus, working (on average) 13 hours per week in addition to a full class load with two lab classes and an additional half credit in which I conducted research on horse genetics with my friend and former hunt seat teammate Megan Reilly. On top of work, class and research, I did manage to find time to ride Lisa three to five times per week and somehow ended the semester with a 4.0 in all of my classes and (even more miraculously!) I still had some money in my bank account!

This was my favorite semester at Albion from an academic standpoint. I realized I love field classes (I took vascular plants and ornithology) and found out that I am a natural at identifying plants and birds. It was easy to see that I not only excelled at the field classes, but was genuinely happy to be a part of them unlike the more cellular and medically based lab classes I took previously – which means that, after a lot of thought and meetings with professors, I have decided to pursue a master’s degree in EEB (Ecology and Evolution Biology).

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I seem to remember the horses from my childhood (like Notch on the right) being larger than that. Next to Lisa, all horses are small, I guess.

I graduated from Albion with a major in Biology and minor in Art (and if you want to be specific, I was also one class short of a Chemistry minor), so I have a strong scientific background, but almost every EEB program requires that students have taken statistics during their undergraduate years, which I did not take (because I was taking all of those other classes I just listed). So this fall I will attend Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek to complete that final requirement while living with my aunt and uncle and working in order to continue paying for Lisa. (Hey Albion Equestrian Center, you hiring?) I will also use that time to research EEB programs to figure out where I want to go and apply by the end of the year so I can get started. My eventual goal is to earn my PhD and work as a professor; before I worked at the barn, I was a teaching assistant for Biology three times and Chemistry once and I loved it!

As for Big Lisa, she has fully transitioned from trail horse to an enthusiastic hunter-jumper. I have jumped her just over three feet but I know she can jump over four feet considering I have witnessed her jump out of the arena and her pasture gate. She has dropped her bucking habit, learned her leads, and no longer requires a bit with leverage. Currently she is at the barn I grew up riding at and is enjoying jumping in the outdoor arena and trail riding across the farmland in the surrounding area. She has even made friends with some of the horses I loved to ride as a child; they look a lot smaller than I remember, especially next to the big lady herself. Pretty soon we will head up to Mackinac Island for our fourth summer of work in the tourist trade, but this will be the first summer she will officially be there as my horse.

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Look – a flying unicorn!

If someone had told me my freshman year that I was going to change post grad plans my senior year, I would have thought they were crazy (and told them so). Likewise, if someone had told me I would own a jumping (mostly) Percheron mare, I would have thought they were absolutely insane.

And that’s just it: Sometimes you can’t predict where life will take you, but Albion has provided me with the resources to find my passion with teachers to help direct me, and an amazing equestrian facility that I used not only to train my horse, but also to pay for her as well. This was truly the best school year and I am sad to move on, but I will always be a Brit.

Emily Galka ’17 graduated from Albion on Saturday, May 6; she previously wrote about her adventures with Big Lisa on Mackinac Island in a two-part series on this blog. You may read those entries here and here.

A Place Like No Other

img_6731It’s funny to think that a little over two years ago, I had no idea what this magical place was and never imagined a life as amazing as this.

Growing up in the horse world and working as a professional hunter/jumper groom, I always thought that doing something in the industry was what I wanted to do. But being someone who didn’t come from money, this was quite a difficult thing to accomplish, so to gain access to an education and horses at a school like Albion was all but a perfect dream for me. The facility of course was what initially attracted me – like many others – to the school, but the people are what made me stay.

After a pretty serious injury my freshman year while riding at home, however, I got pretty down and kind of lost my way for a bit. I fell deeper into a search to locate the path I needed for life, buried myself in my studies, and wound up finding my calling in photography and oil painting. Over the next four years at Albion, I continued to push myself to be better while getting back into horses slowly but surely (after three years of consecutive surgeries).

One day my painting professor, Michael Dixon, came up to me and said (in a nutshell): “Strive to do more with your life than just horses.”img_6326

At the time I thought this was a crazy idea: Horses were my life and all I knew. But he kept pushing and, after spending an entire semester doing my senior thesis on an African-based wildlife photographer, I started having dreams to go to Africa.

My family thought I was nuts, but my friends and roommates (all Albion equestrians) told me if that’s what I wanted to do, I should do it. Those who know me know that I don’t wait to second guess, that if I want something, I go for it.

Just like that, I booked an eight-week volunteer experience with Glen Afric

Glen Afric is a place like no other. When I came, we had 12 lions, a leopard, two tigers, two cheetahs, one hyena, three elephants, and an abundance of wild game like zebra and impala. We also had one very special girl, a white rhino. Now for a suburban-raised girl, you can only imagine what this experience did for me: I was happier then ever before, learning a new way to socialize with people who wanted nothing more than the happiness of these animals – which is why the poaching of our rhino, Isabella, hit so very hard.

This significant moment sent me home with a new view of the world – the view Michael had tried so hard to show me back in Albion:

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Walking with the elephants.

I was determined to try and do more with my life than just horses.

Fast forward to April 2016: After graduation, I focused my time working to make money. I returned to grooming and started to bring along horses of my own, all while keeping in contact with my friends from South Africa. During this time, I hit another rough patch. I ended an abusive relationship, struggled financially, and had burned myself in the horse world.

I finally sat myself down and said “Where were you the happiest?”

The simple answer was (of course) South Africa, so I contacted Joy, the riding instructor at Glen Afric, and asked if she needed help. One quick week later I found myself planning my return to South Africa.

I have now been back to Glen Afric for almost eleven weeks. The lion cubs I helped feed on my last stay are now two and a half years old and as gorgeous as ever. We have a full barn of horses (including one I personally own) and my passion for people and conservation is thriving.

The point of all this is simple: Have a good life.

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Typical African backdrop for an afternoon hack.

I’m 25 and I’ve learned being happy is sometimes better than planning this, that, and the other about how to make your future work. One small sentence from one professor literally changed my life. I hope to leave this place one day and find a job with animals that makes me this happy every day and I thank Albion again for its people. The wonderful community of friendships that I still have thanks to the equestrians there is the reason I know I can do crazy things like drop my entire life and move to another continent.

Above all, I am thankful that had professors who pushed me to never settle and do something that might seem out of the ordinary. So for now I’ll continue this adventure and go home to prove to myself that I can do more than just horses as long as I have a little help and support from some amazing people.

Lindsey Memering is a 2014 graduate of Albion College and former member of the hunt seat team. An artist, avid photographer, conservationist, and world traveler, you can follow her African journey on her own blog, as well as on Instagram and Twitter.

Island Life (Part II)

In her last blog entry, senior Emily Galka outlined her duties as a trail riding guide on Mackinac Island, a job she’s held each summer since her first year at Albion. While working on the island, she’s partnered with Percheron cross mare Big Lisa, an unlikely relationship she’s come to treasure.

Here’s their story:

When the horse I first tried to ride in my job as a trail guide for Cindy’s Riding Stable on Mackinac Island didn’t make the cut (for obvious reasons), I needed a replacement mount. The very next day more new horses shipped in – and I mean that literally; horses headed to the island have to take the Arnold Line and ferry in from the mainland just like everyone else.

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Lisa and I came over together on the Arnold Line this year – and went viral on the Mackinac Island News & Views Facebook group!

I remember walking through the barn when one of the newbies caught my eye. She was a large, lightly dappled grey draught mare of some sort, with extremely large hindquarters. I asked Burt Gough what he knew about that horse and he told me he used to ride her brother, Tony, as his guide horse. He guessed she was about six years old and told me she’s a Percheron-Quarter Horse cross. They planned to call her Lisa, which I thought was a weird name for a horse; it was too human and besides, she didn’t look like a Lisa.

Burt explained that they had a family friend named Tony who was a big guy so they thought it would be funny to name his horse (who was big too) after Tony. The person named Tony has a sister named Lisa so it is fitting for Tony the horse to have a little sister named Lisa. I still thought that was kind of silly, but I guess when your family owns nearly a hundred horses and buys new ones every year, you start naming horses after your friends. I was very eager to continue riding along on guide trips to learn the trails and get to know the rental horses’ personalities, so I let the name thing go and asked if I could take Lisa on the next trip.

I saddled her up and followed Kristi Gough’s group of tourists into the side yard. Lisa danced around as I tried to climb aboard and one of the tourists watched nervously. He asked if I was his guide.

“No” I said. “I’m trying out this new horse. We’re both the newbies here but hopefully I’ll last longer than she does.”

At this point all of the tourists were mounted and had a brief explanation on how to steer and stop. We started up the road and Lisa followed along. It went pretty well until we got to a trail we refer to as “the pole line,” a dusty gravel trail that is lined with – you guessed it! – telephone poles. That was where Lisa decided it would be a good place to drop to the ground and roll in the dirt.

Kristi screamed “Lisa!” and I hopped off right as her belly hit the ground. I’ve been on horses who dropped and rolled before so I knew I had to bail or she could roll sideways and break my leg.

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Though Lisa wasn’t cut out for life as a rental horse, she might have a career in modeling – as long as she gets paid in apples!

I grabbed the reins and after a lot of yelling and pulling, Lisa was back up on four feet. Call me crazy, but at that moment I knew I wanted to keep working with her. (I mean, clearly Lisa needed work before we could even consider putting her in the rental string.) I asked if I could take Lisa out to try to improve on her riding manners and also get to know the trails so throughout the summer I continued to ride Lisa as much as possible and even had my mom bring up my English saddle so I could try jumping her. Slowly but surely, she became the perfect horse for me. As a tall girl, she is large enough that I didn’t look like a giant on her but she wasn’t too tall that I couldn’t climb on out on the trails. What’s more, she nickered at me every time I came to her stall and she was just the right amount of easy-going trail horse but still a challenge for me. After a childhood of riding bay Morgan geldings, I never thought in a million years I would fall in love with a grey, Percheron mare.

About halfway through that first summer, however, the decision was made to ship Lisa back to the farm. She was well-behaved for me, but if tourists (even the ones claiming to be expert riders) or other guides tried to ride her, she danced around, tossed her head, and – yes – occasionally rolled while under saddle. When she left, I regretfully remembered saying, “We’re both the newbies here but hopefully I’ll last longer than she does.”

Lisa Adventures

Sometimes after work (when I’m not completely worn out), I take Lisa out for night rides on the shoreline.

Fall came and school started again. I was happy to be back at Albion and ride with my teammates, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Lisa. Would she even come back the next summer? All year I anxiously wondered if I would ever see her again and around April I got the call asking me to work for Cindy’s again. I really wanted to continue working on the island and decided to make the best of it even if Lisa didn’t come back.

The bad news is that Lisa never made it as a rental horse.

The good news is that she came back to work as my guide horse instead!

Lisa and I are currently spending our third summer together at Cindy’s and, though it is a lot of hard work, we have a lot of fun as well. Since it’s my senior year, I’d like our partnership to continue, so this fall I hope to bring Lisa to Albion. It would be a new and different adventure for both of us!

Emily will begin her senior year at Albion this fall; a biology major with an art minor from Cadillac, Michigan, she hopes to head to vet school after graduation. She is also a member of the hunt seat team and often plays chief photographer for Held Center mascot Ace, the miniature horse.

Island Life (Part I)

Albion senior Emily Galka is spending her third summer working as a riding trail guide at Cindy’s Riding Stable on Mackinac Island, the famed vehicle-free vacation hub in northern Michigan. (Famously, Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour was filmed there.) Needless to say, an island powered entirely by horses is paradise for this hunt seat team member! She’s written two blog entries about her experiences; in Part I, she outlines daily life on the island and the experiences she’s had over the past few summers. In Part II, she’ll introduce readers to her four-legged coworker, Big Lisa.

I have worked on Mackinac Island at Cindy’s Riding Stable every summer I’ve been in college. In my time here, I’ve found a second home at “The Big House” with the Gough Family and Cindy’s crew, mastered 80 miles of trails, and fallen in love with a Percheron. (More on that later).

My parents first brought me to Mackinac Island when I was four months old. It was our first family vacation and my first time around horses. I believe that was when my love for horses began because my mom told me that as soon as I could talk, I was asking about horses and if we could get one.

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My first trip to Mackinac Island was at four months and I’ve spent the last three summers there.

By age seven, my mom realized my love for horses was not going away, so she enrolled me in hunt seat riding lessons at Talamar Morgan Farm, a barn just down the road from our house. As I became more experienced, in addition to riding lessons, I was allowed to come and ride whenever I wanted – even if that meant taking a horse out on a trail ride for several hours with friends or by myself. As a teenager, my riding instructor would coordinate trail rides across Michigan that took about a week of camping and riding 25-30 miles per day. It was during one of those week long trail rides that I met Isaac, a fellow rider whose father had once worked on Mackinac Island as a trail guide at Jack’s Livery Stable.

The years passed by and I kept riding at Talamar, even getting a little bit of show experience to prepare for the equestrian team I hoped to try out for in college. Though sad to leave the horses I grew up with, I was ready to move on to Albion and it was about halfway through my freshman year when I decided to look into jobs for the summer. Isaac had worked the previous summer on Mackinac Island as a trail guide at the same company his dad worked for and it sounded like a job I could enjoy, so I asked him about it and decided it was worth a try. I was interviewed in May and by June 2014, I started work at Cindy’s Riding Stable.

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Leading out a group aboard Big Lisa.

Cindy’s is a family company run by the Gough family. They also own Jack’s Livery Stable, which has saddle horses and drive-yourself carriages. Most of the crew are relatives of the Gough’s (including their three grown children) and family friends. Each year they hire a few summer workers, but many are returning crew members so in 2014 I was the only Cindy’s guide who had never worked at the stable before.

At Cindy’s there are 37 horses: 31 are rentals and six are guide horses. A lot of the same rentals come back to work each year, but there are always some who retire and we try out replacements. Every day of the season, Cindy’s crew (six guides and the barn man) arrive at the barn at 7:00 a.m. to clean stalls, brush, bathe, and saddle all 37 horses before 9:00 a.m. because by 9:00 (and sometimes earlier), we have customers at the door who want to ride. Each rider fills out a questionnaire to help the person who rents the horses get a feel for the rider’s ability in order to match them up with a horse. We then bring the horses to the side yard, help the riders mount, and give them a general overview on how to stop and steer. Everyone is escorted out of town by a guide with group sizes ranging from one to a dozen horses and once we are out of town, the guide can either stay with the riders the entire time or give them directions so they can finish on their own.

On a busy day in the summer, a guide may go out for four or five trips, meaning we are riding for four or more hours per day, five days a week. We stay open until 6:00, which means if the last group goes for an hour, we will be back by 7:00 to untack and feed the horses. Working as a trail guide may look easy, but it is very draining to manage people on horses in traffic who usually have no idea what they are doing. When I come home after work, I eat, shower, and go straight to bed. In addition to riding ability, guides need to be prepared for a lot of barn work and physical labor, have people skills, and be prepared to handle mishaps calmly and effectively. Yes, the tourists do fall off on occasion – and so do we! My first day at Cindy’s, I was told to ride one of the new horses to test it out before we rented it. I walked her into the yard, put one foot in the stirrup and the mare reared up and flew backwards. After her fit, I calmly grabbed the reins, climbed back on, and followed the rest of the group up the road; the crew later told me that it was at this moment they knew I would fit in.

I’ve been here every summer since. Now I feel at home here and wouldn’t spend my summers any other way .

Check back soon for the second installment of Emily’s tale of life on Mackinac Island, which outlines how she met Percheron cross Big Lisa – a partnership for the ages and one that she hopes to continue beyond summer.