Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Embracing Chaos

"From seeming disorder, creativity pulsates...Chaos is a natural process, a dynamic dance of essences essential to the continuous birth of beauty." --Lynne Gerard

When horses are allowed to live as autonomously as possible in a wilderness setting, some surprising things can be learned and the lessons are not necessarily for the faint of heart! I would not have thought myself to be stout-hearted or an embracer of chaos, but since having established our Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve, these qualities have have spontaneously developed in Kevin and me and have saved us from going completely insane.

With springtime finally taking its rightful place on Manitoulin Island, the rush of equine hormones has completely disrupted whatever stability we imagined was ours. Herd dynamics have altered substantially in response to the higher levels of testosterone our stud colts are feeling this year as well as those enticing pheromones the fillies are generating. We knew we were taking a chance on holding back separating young boys from the young girls last year, but since none of the fillies had been showing signs of heat, nor were the colts showing any sexual interest in their half-sisters, we felt it was better to let the youngsters continue to run together. We remained hopeful that Altamiro's offspring would sell before these youngsters "came of age" allowing us to avoid adulterating the big wide open spaces with separate pastures.

As it turns out, Fada (2008 filly out of Belina) did come into heat as a two year old and was covered by one or both of her brothers. How could this be when we never observed any signs that she was in estrus? It seems there are from time to time mares and fillies who do not display outward signs of sexual readiness, a condition that is termed "behaviorial anestrus" and more commonly referred to as "silent heat". The horses of Ravenseyrie are not in our line of vision all hours of the day and it seems that Fada took a lover in secret. The result is a handsome bold colt we have come to call Destemido, which means "fearless" in Portuguese. It is good the little fellow is fearless, because his arrival stimulated quite a drama of chest thumping among the males.

Animado stepped forward to claim Fada and her foal (though we will need blood tests to truly determine patrimony) and in a blink of an eye became her protector against daddy Altamiro (now a grandsire!) in a spectacular display pitting firstborn son against his sire. Altamiro accepted Animado as leader of a new family, and both stallions retained their individual dignity with no injuries, though with the rough aggression they engaged in one wonders how they managed to avoid bloodshed. (It must be that tough zebro hide their genetics provided them!)

Below are photos some of the manly shows Altamiro and Animado put on (Animado is a lighter shade of grullo than is Altamiro):

It is hard to believe that the horse on the right is our firstborn here at Ravenseyrie, just over three years ago! He's amazing!

So now the alternate group of older offspring presently has sorted out a tentative equilibrium and continue to live as one group, with the fillies Segura and Encantara helping Fada keep appropriate space around Destemido, while Interessado is still tolerated in the band by his brother as long as he takes to the parameter when Animado directs him too. For one brief day, these roles were reversed and Interessado was in tight with Fada, while Animado was kept on the parameter. By nightfall of the next day, Animado was back in charge.

The draft mules seem able to come and go as usual, but Mistral, Zeus (our two domestic geldings) and Silvestre (2009 colt out of Ciente) had come under severe harassment by Altamiro, Animado and Interessado to the point where they made repeated escapes by finding their way around the fencing extending to the lake and found quiet refuge on the neighboring cattle range. By special arrangement, we were able to pasture them there for a few weeks before the rancher needed them removed so he could turn out his cows and young calves. At this writing these three boys are in the holding pasture and corrals which we will soon be using to get Animado, Encantara and Segura ready for to be exported to the United States. Against our original vision and desires, Kevin is building about a ten acre pasture on the the southwest sector of our property. At least it does not cut across the more beautiful northern expanse which we see out our windows providing such spectacular wildlife viewing.

Here are Mistral, Silvestre and Zeus in the holding pasture

Here Altamiro runs the length of the double line electric fence (which has a four foot buffer between lines to prevent nose to nose or hoof to hoof contact.)

Altamiro seems surprised to not be able to physically harass Mistral, Zeus and Silvestre anymore.

The family band crosses the northern grasslands

When this new enclosure is ready, Zeus, Mistral and Silvestre will spend the summer there. And after Animado, Encantara and Segura leave, we will be scheduling Interessado and Silvestre for castration. Very difficult decisions for us to make...

Note: (If anyone following this journal has been interested in either of these half Sorraia/half Sorraia Mustang stud colts, you have roughly six weeks to connect with me before they are gelded. In the hopes that they find homes where they are kept as stallions, we offer them at half price. After gelding they will remain for sale at their former price.)

Add to this chaotic mix the fact that several days ago Altamiro expelled Pinoteia (2010 filly out of Bella) from the family band you can pretty well imagine we have had non-stop dramas keeping us very busy and prompting us to be very fluid in our responses. Pinoteia is still going it alone (perhaps on a mission to find her inner filly?) and hasn't yet joined up with the alternate group, but if she does so in a timely way, she may be going to the states as well, once certain interested breeders know she is no longer part of the family band and has joined the alternate group.
Yearling filly, Pinoteia, expelled from her family band, but not ready to join the alternate group yet.

If readers are having a difficult time following the shifting of the herd dynamics and the rethinking of our original vision that is manifesting itself, I am not at all surprised as we have been struggling to keep it all straight, too. It has been an incredibly stressful spring and rather than allow myself to believe that all this disruptive energy is generating nothing but problems I have been reading up a little on chaos theory and implicate order. I've written several little ditties that I am using in my work at the studio--they are helping Kevin and I find the beauty within all these unknown elements converging upon us as we await for the new order sure to be on the other side of this chaos.

"When surrounded by chaos, make a pause--breathe like a forest, melt your resistance into pleasing colours and trust in the spontaneous emergence of a new harmony."--Lynne Gerard

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Essences of the spirit realm move over the Top of the World at Ravenseyrie

It was a perfect morning to deliver a foal. No wind, no rain. No ice. No snow. No biting insects. Gentle sun rising up above the tree tops and coaxing forth new life even as it illuminated death.

"Ah, I passed like a wind through their foliage..."
--Rainer Maria Rilke

On my 2010 calendar, I have noted the last time I saw Altamiro breed Belina (affectionately known to us as PoPo) was on May the 7th. We began to look for a foal to be born to PoPo this year at the beginning of April. Like Ciente and Bella, PoPo decided to wait for inclement weather to pass and so while all indicators suggested she was ready to deliver her foal two weeks ago, she nevertheless kept us waiting and guessing and wondering and worrying.

But not too much worrying, for PoPo is the most physically robust mare in Altamiro's harem and the most inclined to preferring to handle the challenges of her wilderness life with minimal interference from humans and their penchant for creature comforts.

Altamiro and Belina have made three beautiful fillies together. Fada, Encantara and Tocara were all born in the spring and were well up and moving by the time Kevin and I came upon them. I felt quite certain that this fourth foal would be a colt, and as large as PoPo's abdomen was near the end of her gestation and the frequency with which I could observe the fetus kicking, I anticipated it would be a very lively boy indeed!

How could it be then, that on this perfect morning PoPo delivered a dead colt?!!!

It was the anxious running back and forth from the house to the woods that the family band did during their usual breakfast time that helped us find where PoPo had decided to give birth. Neither Kevin nor I had a sense that anything was amiss, rather we each expected to find Belina with a foal standing at her side. Kevin was on the scene first and knew right away that the foal was dead. I had been coming at the scene from a different trail and once there, after determining that PoPo appeared okay with no outward physical issues and willing to eat the compressed alfalfa cubes I had brought for her, we were able to touch the foal and determine its sex.

He is a very big boy, looking completely normal and had been partially out of the amnion, yet the umbilical cord remained attached with the placenta laying over the hind limbs. It appeared that PoPo had been working on licking him as his head, neck and shoulder were clean, but he had likely been dead for over an hour. Had he ever taken a breath? Was he born dead, or did he did his size make for a difficult delivery and he died during the process? I don't think we will ever know the answers.

"Through a tear in fate, a tiny interstice, you absented your soul from its own time..."
--Rainer Maria Rilke

It is one of those "wondrous strange" curiosities that the place where this foal was born is in the area we call the "Hidden Meadow"--a place that the horses spend very little time in and contains our "graveyard". This colt was born just twenty steps away from where our old mule, Riley, and Kevin's old Arabian gelding, Phoenix, are interred, along with our cat, Millie.

While Kevin and I were standing nearby and quietly discussed what could have gone wrong, Altamiro came alongside Kevin and touched his arm. As Kevin stroked this Sorraia stallion's neck it was obvious that we were not the only ones feeling sad for this loss. Indeed, all the family members were sober and well aware that an unseen shadow had made the morning sad and different than other mornings.

Kevin commented that perhaps upon entering the out-of-womb world, this colt decided he'd rather dwell in the spirit realm, rather than the physical one.

We have named the colt Espírito.

Espírito is the Portuguese word for "spirit".

After other members in the family band appeared to "pay their respects", they all left the Hidden Meadow to graze in another sector. For her part, at this writing, PoPo is not yet ready to leave, but stands guard over the lifeless form of Espírito.

"To be a living being is not the ultimate state; there is something beyond, much more wonderful, which is neither being nor non-being, neither living nor not-living. It is a state of pure awareness, beyond the limitations of space and time. Once the illusion that the body-mind is oneself is abandoned, death loses its terror, it becomes a part of living."
--Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

A photo from a week ago, when Belina (PoPo) and Altamiro have a private, rather tender discussion.


Of course my thoughts and feelings were with Belina all throughout the day. As soon as I got home from work I went to her. She was nervous there in the Hidden Meadow, alone with the graveyard spirits and the rustling of forest entities, but after a little while she was pleased to be eating the alfalfa cubes I had brought for her. PoPo looked so small, so vulnerable and so very sad, my heart folded itself around her as best it could. When it was time to leave her and return to the house to make our evening meal, I entreated her to follow me out of the meadow. She watched with such intensity, I believed she would come, but she still was too torn between her desire to be with the herd and her desire to take care of her newborn foal. After long consideration, she went back to stand by her dead colt.

I went to her again after dinner. On my hike out to the Hidden Meadow I had determined I would refrain from coming to look at the colt, instead I began a mental break away from the physical aspect of this foal. I did not go directly to where she and Espírito were and instead stopped near the opening of the trail leading out of this space. I had brought with me this time a bagful of hay and a sliced apple. (Rainwater was available in nearby puddles.) I shook out the hay and she came over. I was dismayed to see how uncomfortable her overburdened udder was and it was also obvious that her hips and pelvic area were very sore as she walked very wide and stiffly. I crooned to her and showed her that I had also brought an apple. My how she brightened for this!

While Belina ate, I sat down beside her and for awhile we two were quite at ease. Then, like the turning of a switch, PoPo left the hay and went to stand by Espírito. She whickered to him softly. Then she lifted her head and neighed to the surrounding environment. Her voice was weak and of such a low decibel that the action of helping her call to her herd mates spilled out without thinking. I stood up and began loudly calling: "Altamiro! Bella! Ciente! Zorita!" PoPo's response to this was to increase her own efforts of calling to them. And so we both were hollering outward, hoping the wind would take our voices to the rest of the family. The more we called, the stronger and more animated PoPo's voice became. It reminded me of how calling for one dog will often set all of them to howling in unison with my call. I had never experienced this with a horse before and it was an amazing sensation!

During a pause, I heard PoPo trotting and thought she was coming up behind me, but she had slipped into the woods and was heading to the north! I knew the horses were in the southwest sector, so I began trotting myself in the opposite direction calling for the family band all the while. When I got out into the open I could see that PoPo had changed course and was now trotting towards my direction. I continued to trot and call toward the southwest and PoPo did likewise. I finally could see the family band and they raised their heads up and PoPo saw them too and picked up a gallop. Altamiro came running to meet her halfway and in no time at all the two of them were back with the entire family. I wanted to stop and photograph the scene, but could not bring myself to break the moment by taking my eyes off from them. With a heart-swell of emotion I hiked back to the house feeling that when the sun went down, things would be a little better for Belina now that she was out of the graveyard and rejoined with the living members of her family band.

I slept very well and when dawn came, it was a relief to see PoPo still with the family, anxious for her breakfast and moving not as painfully as before. The birds were singing, the world seemed renewed and Belina and I found a deeper closeness from our shared experience of loss.

The family band of Sorraia Mustangs at Ravenseyrie
(photo taken a week ago)