Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sorraia Satori

A few days ago, I had been out among members of Altamiro's family band, enjoying their company on a fine autumn day. As for Altamiro, he decided to quietly cross the open prairie land to make mischief among Mistral's group grazing over to the far east. Those of us left behind soon gave little thought as to what shenanigans the Sorraia stallion might be up to.

The mares and foals took napping positions and I weaved my way through their sleeping bodies pulling burrs and detangling manes, loving that sensation of being "one of them". Occasionally I could hear equine squeals which prompted me to walk to a position where I could view what type of extra-curricular activities Altamiro had immersed himself in. No worries--my spying on them simply revealed Altamiro was engaged in the rough and tumble pleasure of amicably sparring with his two year old sons and the domestic geldings.

I noticed that Ciente and her yearling colt, Silvestre had decided to leave our group and graze quite away further to the north. It is so like this mare to just wander off and please herself (though as mentioned in my past journal entry, it often gets her into a bit of trouble) and I had a feeling that Altamiro would not be happy when he returned to see her so far away from where he had left her and the rest of the family group.

I'd like to share a photo sequence with you that I took as soon as I noticed Altamiro was making his way back to his own territory:
While galloping back Altamiro keeps his vision oriented on both where I am with the majority of his family, but also is well aware of how separate Ciente and Silvestre are from the rest of us.

At a certain point Altamiro makes the decision to focus completely in the direction of where Ciente and Silvestre are.

Altamiro soon dropped to a walk, and took up some light grazing, hoping to reflect an air of nonchalance, while casually moving closer to where Ciente and Silvestre were. (Ciente and Silvestre are grazing close together off the right of the Zen Elm tree and Altamiro is the solitary form more near the right side of the photo...a little hard to see without the zoom lens in use.)

Ciente knew this cool indifference her stallion was trying to project was false and she and Silvestre began to make a run back to the rest of the herd.

As soon as Altamiro saw Ciente make a run for it, he took up the chase and in no time at all was upon them.

In a deft move, Ciente and Silvestre briefly put on the brakes which caused Altamiro to lose his driving advantage.

As he worked to get back into driving position, Ciente backed up in his direction several strides and kicked out at him.

Ciente and Silvestre then turned toward Altamiro as if to say, "Why so rough, you tyrant?! We're going back home, no need to be such a mean guy."

"Still feeling grumpy? Okay, no problem, were heading back, Mr. Man."

With matched looks of haughty indignation, Ciente and Silvestre continue to run back to the family band.

Here, as Ciente passes by me, I cannot help but feel she has an expression of bemusement, one that stuck with me in a most curious way.

Whereas Altamiro's expression as he passes by me gives the impression that he is peeved, not so much that Ciente dared wander so far away from the herd, but that she was so in control of how that return run was carried out.

Back with the family band, Ciente shakes her lovely long tresses in satisfaction while Silvestre gets right back to grazing.

There was something vastly different about this chase...what was it?

In D.T. Suzuki's book, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism Suzuki wrote:

"The object of Zen discipline consists in acquiring a new viewpoint for looking into the essence of things...This acquiring of a new viewpoint in Zen is called satori...Satori may be defined as intuitive looking-into, in contradistinction to intellectual and logical understanding. Whatever the definition, satori means the unfolding of a new world hitherto unperceived in the confusion of a dualistic mind."

Remembering the sensations from being there while photographing Altamiro chasing Silvestre and Ciente and replaying that bemused expression of hers in my mind it finally dawned upon me that perhaps it was possible that this mare (who is so in the habit of doing her own thing, even if she knows it will prompt a reprimand from her stallion) is displaying a preference for a little excitement? Maybe her wandering off is not so much the product of her daydreaming and being unaware of how her actions will provoke a reaction in Altamiro--perhaps it is deliberate! As soon as I chanced upon this line of thinking I felt that "ah-ha!" of satori. The intellect tells one that the mare runs from the stallion because he is driving her...but the heart reveals that the stallion runs after the mare because she draws him like a magnet into her own manner of play.

This chase scene turns out to have been a catalyst for satori, and has helped me acquire a different viewpoint. It seems quite possible that sometimes mares like to make a little mischief of their own at the stallion's expense, wouldn't you agree?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Mares of Ravenseyrie

For some time now (at the urging of two special emails) I have been desiring to write in greater detail about the mares of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve. In several prior journal entries, I intimated that I would soon be writing an entry devoted to the mares, only to find myself paralyzed by both the demands of a busy tourist season here on Manitoulin Island and also a curious "writer's block" where the mares were concerned.

Part of the mental conflict is that one correspondent is interested in the manner of selection and origins of our mares while the other correspondent desires a more intimate glimpse of the mares as "persons" (much as the many entries on our Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, reveal his inner essence).

I had been contemplating recapitulating the stories of how we selected our mares while simultaneously discussing their more personal qualities which I've come to know so well after weaving my life in with theirs--but the task seemed so large that I have been suffering a sort of blogger's torpor. To break this spell of "arrested-blogging", I have decided to provide links to the articles I have already written regarding the selection and acquisition of our mares and mainly devote today's entry to sharing with readers the inner essences of the mares as I've come to perceive them.

The following links are for you, Constança (and any others who may not have yet read about how the mares came to be here on Manitoulin Island)--simply double click on the mares' names and if all goes well, your browser will take you back a few years in this journal.

--Bella and Belina



And for you Eva, the rest of today's entry is devoted to presenting a clearer window into the individual essences of Bella, Belina, Ciente and Zorita...

The playful antics of our dogs unfailingly lifts my spirit so much that I find myself lighter as I walk with them and grin broadly in appreciation for the transformational capacity of canine friends. Surely the capriciousness of foals has a similar effect, and, of course, the ostentatious male swagger of Altamiro is well noted to bring me to swooning like an infatuated groupie. But what emotion or alteration of beingness occurs when I am in the presence of the mares of Ravenseyrie?

It is lovely indeed, it is lovely indeed...
I, I am the spirit within the Earth;
The bodily strength of the Earth is my strength;
The thoughts of the Earth are my thoughts;
All that belongs to the Earth belongs to me;
I, I am the sacred words of the Earth;
It is lovely indeed, it is lovely indeed...
---Navaho Creation Chant of Changing Woman

The Ravenseyrie mares ground me to the elements of Earth, as directly as if innumerable rootlets spread out from my being and connect with the landscape when I am among them. There is a staid, meditative aura wafting from these mares--offering a distinct interface between the feminine creative principle and myriad of life forms present in their environment. These mares are visually presented to my eyes as earth equines, yet I also perceive they embody a cosmic consciousness, a "knowing" that gives each mare a bearing of the Great Goddess. Are they stars from some far away galaxy which have chosen to come to earth for a new experience in the corporeal bodies of an ancestral horse form?

One of my first rock paintings, inspired by our Sorraia Mustang Mare, Bella

When fillies are young, they are playful, but its seems here at Ravenseyrie, when approaching two years and older, their way of being shifts to resembling young priestesses engaged in rituals that promote and assure fecundity. Their inner and outer strength multiplies rapidly, giving them a status of entitlement that unlike male equines needs no repetitive display of mightiness, rather, almost overnight, the mares just become matrons, even before conceiving young. Yes, there is a hierarchy among the Ravenseyrie family band of primitive equines, yet the individual bearing of each mare is that of a revered matriarch, something even their dictatorial herd sire acquiesces to much more frequently than he makes tyrannical demands of them...he is perhaps under their spell more than they are under his.

Now that I think more directly upon these elements among the family band of primitive Iberian horses, I believe that while there may be a marginally observable "pecking order" the concept of a hierarchy is in some ways ill-fitting to the Ravenseyrie situation--or at the very least represents a label that provokes an over-looking of the finer subtleties among herd members. In a setting where there is plenty for everyone, the domination of one member over another becomes rather superfluous. There is no bullying, belittling or ostracizing among the mares and whatever petty disagreements may exist are so brief as to be unworthy of the many ethological stereotypical documentations published by learned animal behaviorists. To that end, the mares do not lead, educate, nurture, create, follow, promote, or determine the flow of their lives using a dominator model of comportment. Even the despotic directives of Altamiro over these mares is a minimal part of their day and the intensity of his commands alters with seasonal/hormonal concerns. The overriding culture of these primitive equines is based on loving, nurturing and cooperation.

I can remember, when Altamiro first imposed his rulership upon the mares I (being a feminist) recoiled from his punitive, all-controlling subjugation of these formerly rather independent female equines. I relayed to others that to be a mare in Altamiro's herd was not unlike a Muslim woman married to a Taliban husband who rules over her with the severest interpretation of Sharia law.

Altamiro asserted his rulership only last year (when his second crop of foals began arriving) and since then has--if not mellowed in his tyranny--at least shown himself to provide the mares much more "say" in their lives than I had originally thought. Mostly what he expects is to be able to gather and drive them away from any perceived or real threats, and, as long as they respond as immediately as he feels is necessary in the given moment, he keeps his reprimands to a minimum. (Although he does have occasional outbursts of anger when his amorous advances are rejected.) The mares do not seem necessarily subordinate to him, but they do honor his directives keenly. I'm certain they do not believe he is their "better", i.e. that he is superior to them, rather they perceive him as serving them in a specific role and they accept their own roles in the scheme of things.

To have a male counterpart so devoted to the consolidation and safety of his family is perhaps something the Ravenseyrie mares have come to appreciate? For me, a telltale sign of how much generosity and kindness resides alongside all that fierce masculinity of their herd stallion is to see how frequently the mares engage in mutual grooming with Altamiro and how indulgent he is with his foals. Yes, I'm convinced that the mares do not feel as oppressed by him as I first thought.

Having provided an overview of the mares as a family group, I'd now like to say a few words about them individually. In a future journal entry I will compare and discuss in detail the morphology and colour of our foundation mares to those that were selected by Dr. Ruy d'Andrade when he established his preservation of the Sorraia horses just prior to their almost becoming extinct. For today's entry, however, we will stay with describing my impressions of these mares as individual beings.


Bella is presently six and a half years old, but even as a yearling she seemed a "wise soul", mature beyond her years. Her voice is mellow as a deep red wine, very throaty and low and when she nickers a "hello", it softens the hardest of hearts.

She is stoic, steady, trusting, outgoing, and a beautiful mover, almost always seeming to be in a modicum of collection, yet not of the type that one would expect an easy transition to haute ecolé.

Bella is very demanding, but quietly so, simply moves about her world expecting to be treated like a regnant queen, and thus, we all grant her such status. If Bella feels she has not been heard or properly answered to, she will use her body mass to affect a change, meaning that rather than bite and kick, she will typically simply bump or barge through with her shoulders and neck, sending the transgressor reeling away. Bella has given birth to two foals by Altamiro: Animado is her 2008 colt and Pinoteia is her 2010 filly, both embody excellent Sorraia characteristics.


Belina is also six and a half years old but has a much different personality than Bella. Belina is hesitant, distrustful, aloof, easily irritated and quick to voice her anger when she feels affronted. Her manner of getting a point across is never subtle, but, rather, is much more like a mad bee or an equine tornado--she first lashes out with a bite, then faster than lightening whirls around and begins double-barrel kicking while backing up toward the object of her ire. It's rather a spectacular show and obviously rights whatever wrong she feels has been made.

There is little about Belina (at first glance) that is noble, soft, endearing or, well, beautiful--and yet when one connects with Belina at the level of the heart, she is all of these things. For whatever reason, Belina has created for herself a superficial facade, which may fool the unaware, and prompt others to brand her clunky and cantankerous...yet those of us who know her recognize a loyal friend of immense earthly beauty.

There is something spectacularly moving about being sought out by Belina for one-on-one is not something she does on a regular basis, preferring to let the others have a part of me while she grazes in peace...but when she seeks me, it is with such complete trust and abandon that I feel, in those moments, that we have been together forever. Belina and Altamiro produce very lovely foals, thus far all three are fillies: Fada (2008), Encantara (2009) and Tocara (2010). Each filly has wonderful Sorraia characteristics, though Fada is undersized and very dark in colour. Encantara is so striking with her distinct neck stripes and exquisite profile that Hardy Oekle murmured in her ear after meeting her that he would love to take her home with him. Crossing Belina with Altamiro has proven to be a very surprising success.


Zorita is now eight and a half years old. Zorita shares some of the same behavioral characteristics that Belina has; she is aloof, easily irritated, slightly distrustful and quick to demonstrate her anger, but whereas Belina's behavior seems to come from a certain insecurity, Zorita's character reflects a female who "suffers no fools" and so quite often demonstrates preemptive protective actions toward any perceived breech of etiquette.

In addition to assuring that everyone who interacts with her does so with the proper degree of sensitivity, Zorita also has an amazing sense of fairness and will intervene in the discussions of others when the usual egalitarian give and take has degenerated into one horse wrongfully imposing itself upon another. Examples of this wonderful behavior have been documented in two prior entries (here and here ) both which involved our domestic Thoroughbred Zeus (and occurred before the horses split into two groups) but she has also intervened when Altamiro was displaying inappropriate roughness against Ciente. Zorita is strikingly beautiful with her dark points and pearly grulla colour in much more evident contrast than the medium to dark grulla horses and she carries herself with a proud, yet non-arrogant bearing.

Zorita does not do anything to draw attention to herself, rather is happy to blend in as a member of Altamiro's harem, all the while knowing how special and loved she is. Altamiro and Zorita have produced two fillies: Segura (2009) and Levada (2010) both of which have their mother's lovely light colour and their father's distinct Sorraia conformation.


One tries not to "play favorites", but I do admit that there is a unique bond between Ciente and me that is different than the others. When we are together, there is simply no sense of concern or worry that any misunderstandings might occur. I cannot recall that I have ever made a breech of etiquette with her or that she ever had need to speak crossly to me. We seem to know each other on a very deep level and have recognized we are special to each other from the very start. If Bella is a regnant queen, Ciente is the favored queen of a king who seeks her guidance before making any decision for his kingdom...a behind the scenes ruler she is. Ciente is softness personified, yet has "the look of eagles".

Everything about her is elegant and fluid. She does not project the stately strength through her body that Bella does, rather she is much more ephemeral in the way her energies are organized. Her earthiness is only half-assumed...the rest of her maintains a strong cosmic connection as if she moves to rhythms remembered from other realms. When I am in Ciente's presence, I feel as if nothing bad can ever happen.

Ciente is strongly bonded to her herd, but of all the mares is the one most often initiating a change in circumstance, which the others follow like a magnet, revealing her quiet independence that is not off-putting to Altamiro or the others, but instead is often supported by them. No one attempts to "clip her wings", though it is true that at certain times of the year, Altamiro will single her out for a refresher course in "I am the master who rules!", hazing her with great ardor. Probably if he did not reassert himself in this way periodically, Ciente would one day fly back up to the heavens, leaving the earthbound equines unable to follow.

While each of the other mares will have strong words for Altamiro if he attempts to request an out-of-season copulation, Ciente is the only mare that upbraids him for other wrongs he may have engaged in. One day I happened to be around with the camera when such an outburst occurred. Altamiro had just returned from one of his daily trips to the eastern territory where he makes mischief among Mistral's group. As he quietly reinserted himself into his own group, Ciente approached him as she always often does, exchanging breaths--perhaps inquiring of him where he was and who he was with and why he is late for dinner. Not liking his answer on that particular day, she squealed and struck him with a foreleg, then turned in a womanly huff and walked away. Altamiro shook his head and seemed to say, "Ah! Wives! Can't live with them, can't live without them!" Below is a still photo showing the strike:

If it happens that one day I take up haute ecolé again, Ciente is my first pick to once again experience artistic equitation, but only if it is something she desires as well. Ciente is the same age as Altamiro (5 1/2 years) and has produced two colts with him: the dark knight, Interessado in 2008 and the near carbon-copy of his sire, Silvestre in 2009.

While the initial reason for establishing our Sorraia Mustang Preserve here at Ravenseyrie was to create a hybrid vigor through the crossing of a purebred Sorraia stallion on select mustang mares of varying Sorraia phenotype which would help provide a viable genetic resource to one day infuse back into the highly inbred Sorraias in Portugal and Germany, a higher purpose has presented itself here, one that is not in keeping with traditional methods of conservation breeding. There will be no changing of stallions for these Ravenseyrie mares, nor will there be a periodic shuffling of our mares to another preserve while taking in new mares to experiment in crossing with Altamiro. It is apparent to Kevin and I that Altamiro, Bella, Belina, Ciente and Zorita have become a family unit...their offspring will leave them eventually, as is natural in the true wild, but their relationship with each other will remain something we will not disrupt to suit conservation efforts. It is our feeling that the best conservation, especially when focused upon an ancestral form of horse necessitates as natural a lifestyle and environment as possible, one in which well established family bonds remain intact. And we ourselves are now part of these family bonds, our human lives being remarkably enriched through living with The Mares of Ravenseyrie and their bird-chasing Sorraia stallion, Altamiro.