Riding the Black Horse Carriage LLC with Tom Cyr

By Norm Wheeler
Sun editor
Max and Maria, the two kids, climb up onto the seat next to teamster Tom Cyr, who gives the reins a touch before letting the kids hold them. We jolt into motion as the eager geldings Buster and Stash clip clop down M-22, cut over to Lake Street past the pock-pock of tennis balls, and head for Big Glen Lake through dappled shade on a hot summer evening. Mary Lerchen of Empire and I chat with Tom about the busy summer, how everything seems to go too fast, as we gradually relax to the easy staccato rhythm of the hooves. The huge, black, beautifully harnessed Percherons seem to be taking us on a trip back into simpler, slower times.

Tom Cyr sold the Village Sampler mini-mall in Glen Arbor four years ago to devote himself full-time to his hobby: draft horses. During the winter this means low impact logging. “The horses only leave a 12 inch-wide skid trail in the woods,” Tom explains. “They don’t damage the other trees the way big skidders do.” Tom’s pride in this team of 17 year olds, Buster and Stash, is obvious. “We did a four horse job last winter by Platte Lake, and they really got into it,” Tom laughs. “They outworked another guys’ three horses and two of my mares!”
For the summer evening carriage rides Tom alternates this pair of geldings with the team of mares, Stella and Rosie. They come by trailer from the ranch on Plowman Road to Glen Arbor to the former bus garage behind Old School where the carriage is kept. When they are beautifully harnessed (the gear comes from a shop near Mesick) and hitched to the cool carriage (made north of Montreal, Canada), Tom sets up next to the deck at Boondocks (Tuesday through Saturday). The musicians playing on the deck give away a few tickets, which otherwise cost $6 for a ride. The big, gentle horses are magnets for kids, who flock to pet them and pepper Tom with questions. “We ride two different routes, both of them two miles long,” he says. “Either down Lake Street to Big Glen Lake and back, or down Forest Haven, past the Christian Science Church, up to Art’s, and over to Lake Michigan by the boat launch.” The carriage rides are a popular and fun opportunity. “Last Friday the team went 18 miles on a hot night, and they were just as fast on the last trip as on the first!”
Where Lake St. dead ends at Big Glen, Tom murmurs “Step, haw, step, haw,” as the team expertly backs the carriage around to the right so we can prance back to town. “They have acute hearing,” Tom explains, “so you need only speak low. When you get excited they pick up on it and then they get wired. If you can keep your voice low, half the battle’s won. When you get stuck in the woods between a tree and a log, you need a responsive team.” At the stop sign in front of Art’s Tavern, Buster and Stash are hard to hold back. The busy traffic doesn’t seem to bother them. “Usually they figure they’ve got the right-of-way and just go!”
Tom Cyr also has a beautiful white Vis a Vis Amish carriage that he uses for weddings, and he does sleigh rides in winter. “It’s a hobby,” Tom repeats. “If I can make enough to pay liability insurance and buy a bit of hay, I’m tickled. And it keeps the horses in shape.” The ride is so pleasant that it seems to end too soon. You want to stay in that slower time zone where the horse’s hooves punctuate easy conversation and the sway of the carriage soothes the jangled traveler. Do yourself a favor, Take a break from the frenetic twenty-first century and go for a carriage ride.