MACKINAC ISLAND – In a fenced paddock on a small hill, more than a dozen horses wait and stare as if they know their turn is coming.
It's raining and cold, the island caught in a bitter front unusual even for October.
The horses paw the muddy ground and charge each other in play and anticipation. The weather makes them feisty. Or maybe it's the promise of a long lazy winter with nothing to do.
Dale Peterson, manager of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, checks his watch and nods at his crew.
He urges visitors to stand back. These horses might be friendly and used to people, but they're also huge — muscular and powerful from six-day-a-week jobs hauling tourists and all their stuff up and down hills.
Peterson connects the first team and leads them from the pasture to wait for the rest.
Employees wander out from the office and the barn to watch.
A passing carriage of tourists stops to honor the moment as a year-rounder slows her bike with a smile.
Some salute. Some clap. Some even start to cry.
Because it always feels like something special has ended when the horses of Mackinac leave for the winter.
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