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.
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.
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.”
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.