Since the early days of Camp Michigania in the 1960s, there have been horses and a riding program for alumni and their families to enjoy.
So last summer, when the family company that had leased the horses to Camp decided to close its business, the Alumni Association had three choices: buy the horses; find another company to lease from; or get rid of the riding program altogether.
For James McRae, x’97, director of Camp Michigania, the last option was out of the question.
“It is one of our premier programs,” he says. “I think for campers, especially longtime campers, Camp is not the same without the riding program.”
McRae says that even for people who don’t ride, the aesthetics of seeing the horses brings about a special feeling for those coming to stay on the shore of Walloon Lake.
The Leist family leased horses to several camps around Michigan and Camp Michigania. In 2022, the Alumni Association purchased 15 horses from Wade Leist, about half of the herd that annually is up at Camp.
The Alumni Association now owns 20 horses, which are used for kids’ groups in the mornings and trail riding for older teens and adults in the afternoon. McRae says they cut in-ring lessons this summer in an effort to make sure they don’t overwork the horses.
“It’s less than we offered in the past, but I think people are still getting their riding time,” he says.
Frank Leist, Wade’s father and the previous owner of the business, has offered to board the horses until the facilities at Camp are able to house the horses all year. McRae says the herd will stay with Frank Leist for at least one more year.
In the meantime, Camp staff have developed a stepped growth plan for the future that includes run-in stalls, some feeding stations, and plans for pasture maintenance.
The long-term plans include updating the facility for year-round horseback riding to go along with expanded off-season programming. Fundraising plans are being developed around this effort.
“That will allow us to not only have the horses here year-round but to have programming with the horses year-round,” McRae says.
Jeremy Carroll is the content strategist for the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan.