Metamora, Michigan: Living and Breathing Horses and a touch of France

white horse inn mural

Mural by French painter Jean Louis Sauvat

Metaphorically, Metamora, Michigan is a one-horse town. Literally, it’s the small town at the centre of Michigan’s horse country. “If you love horses, you have to stop at Metamora,” almost everyone in Rochester, Michigan said when I visited last spring for the Rochester Writers Conference.

So I did. Who would have thought I’d discover a Palace de Versailles connection?

But first, Metamora. ‘Downtown’ Metamora is a four-way stop intersection. The notable The White Horse Inn is on one corner and a tack shop next to a horsey-themed gift and jewelry store kitty-corner to that. The outskirts of the core, however, is all rural and mostly horse: farms, private stables and miles of forested riding trails.

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The historic White Horse Inn

About 500 people call this town home, and almost as many horses, especially certain times of the year. Miles of riding trails, which host three fox hunt events a year, weave through the area. Dressage competitions are the more civilized other horsey obsession.

Second, Rochester residents were right. For visiting horse lovers, a stop to check out the new $2 million dollar renovations at White Horse Inn (and stay for Sunday Brunch) is mandatory.

The historic White Horse Inn was once the town’s actual hitching post functioning as the parking lot for horses and carriages travelling to town. The 165-year-old building opened in 1850 and has since experienced various levels of up-keep, and many uses. It’s been stops for stage coaches, trains, a hotel, a brothel, part of the underground railway and finally a restaurant, until it closed suddenly in 2012 much to the surprise of the community.

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Linda Egeland and Victor Dzenowagis

Current owners, Linda Egeland and Victor Dzenowagis, established Michigan restaurateurs, bought, renovated and reopened this historic property to new grandeur and reopened it November 2014. Windows, doors and barn board floors are intact, but all that remains of the original structure is the front dining room – and that’s what people come to experience.

Inside, equine design dominates redefining rustic elegance: riding-themed paraphernalia dots the décor along with horse sculptures, barn wood tables, and bar mural by local artist Weatherly Stroh. Horse blankets are slung over backs of chairs secured with stirrup leathers and framed dressage images accent walls. A photo-perfect stone fireplace framed by leather sofas and scattered horse related coffee table books provides a homey lounge to wait for a table.

Finally, the piece de resistance: a floor-to-ceiling mural of dancing pen and ink-like horses painted by French painter Jean Louis Sauvat, who also painted the artwork in the Royal Riding School arena at the Palace de Versailles. Egeland, an avid dressage competitor, had to have Sauvat paint this mural after visiting his work in France.

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White Horse Inn, Metamora, MI

Apparently, the task was no easy feat. It took some negotiating with Sauvat to get him to come to the U.S. (he almost didn’t), accompanied by an assistant who spoke English, and spend several weeks finishing what’s now a masterpiece and central focus of the White Horse Inn.

Ultimately, though, White Horse Inn is a restaurant. There’s a patio in the back and on the menu English country meets American tastes: Ribeye, fish and chips, chicken potpie, open faced sandwiches and cowboy mac and cheese to name a few. But the real reason to come here is for the experience … of seeing the mural and surrounding yourself in the fantasy of refined equine lifestyle.

Travel Guide: Metamora, Michigan is about 50 miles North of Detroit. August to January Fox Hunt runs go out most Wednesdays and Saturdays. (They pursue real foxes, but claim they don’t kill them calling this a non-blood sport). During the summer, horse-drawn carriage rides are available on weekends by reservation. Mid-August every year there’s a self-guide tour through six area horse farms for $25 per person, noon to 4 pm. Funds go toward maintaining the Metamora Hunt Country bridle paths.

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White Horse Inn interior

Two notable shops to visit include A Bit Used Tack Shop and Design Works that specializes in equine-themed jewelry by Zorka Pondell. The Crooked Horse Farm is a B, B&B – Barn, Bed and Breakfast, of course. People stay in the historic farmhouse circa 1910 with antiques and private baths and visiting horses stays in the private stables.

In nearby Oxford Townships there’s more small-town pubs and restaurants to frequent along with another crammed-full tack shop called the Covered Wagon Saddlery.

Love this and want to know about other small town equine fun? Checkout my visit to The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada.

If you’ve got the money, this is a beautiful coffee table book: Les Chevaux de Sauvat featuring the artist’s greatest horse paintings.

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