Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sorraia Mustangs on the Ravenseyrie Beach

When gelded, Interessado will be able to continue to have free roam of all of Ravenseyrie and mingle with the other horses both old and young, as he is doing here with Fada's colt, Destemido.

Instead of substituting a new form of stress, as an "enforcer", we should take on the role of "decider," not the one who imposes his will and dominates the horse. --Frédéric Pignon
(from the book Gallop to Freedom, by Delgado, Pignon and Walser)

From time to time there comes to me from those individuals who read the Journal of Ravenseyrie a question or comment that I am prompted to respond to not in the follow-up comments section, but within a new journal entry. I have mentioned in one or two recent entries that after careful contemplation, Kevin and I had decided we would soon be gelding our two young colts, Interessado (Purebred Sorraia x Kiger Mustang) and Silvestre (Purebred Sorraia x Kiger Mustang). Most likely this declaration caused a indignant gasp from some who are against the castration of stallions while simultaneously receiving a derisive exclamation of "Well it's about time." from others.

One long time reader, June, typed out an earnest query, and here, among the many lovely photos of our Sorraia Mustang youngsters (of mixed ages who have been expelled from the family band by their sire, Altamiro) enjoying the cooling breezes coming off Lake Huron's North Channel, I have decided to provide her an equally earnest answer.

June inquired: "I have a question for you - what are your feelings about gelding? I ask this not to challenge you, but because the idea makes me feel a bit off, and I'm sure you're a somewhat ambivalent too. Maybe you have some reassuring thoughts for me?!"

Lovely Fada

The castration of horses has a history extending back to the days when gold-bedecked Scythian horseman (highly skillful and wickedly ferocious) roamed the vast Pontic-Caspian steppe, is even in modern times a "simple, routine" procedure--yet still is not without potential risk to horses, and is a distinct act of governance on the part of the human. One wonders, then how I would even consider imposing such a life-altering operation on our young stallions?

Since we have been unable to link up with the right type of situation that would provide meaningful, full lives away from Ravenseyrie for these colts, and we cannot support more than one free range breeding herd, the only options we see are to break up their open acerage with "stallion proof" fencing and segregate the colts and fillies from each other and the family band, or to sterilize the colts so they can continue to roam virtually free.

A coating of lakeshore mud helps Interessado cope with biting insects

Both Kevin and I know our horses very well...we know what they most desire on a day to day basis--and this is the freedom to run in wide open spaces as part of the extended family. The desire to procreate is seasonal and hormonal driven and of secondary interest to an overall sense of belonging to a free range group with their mental and physical needs mostly provided autonomously with a little support from us from time to time. We feel 100% confident that given a choice between remaining biologically intact, yet segregated into more confined region of the landscape or being denied reproductive rights, but allowed to continue to experience rich, full living in the big wide open with the opportunity to mingle with the other equine inhabitants, both Interessado and Silvestre would prefer the latter.

It is worth noting that even in a truly wild situation with no fences containing them, not all stallions will have opportunity to breed mares, some will form bachelor bands, some live solitary lives and some are accepted as non-breeding assistants to a family band.

Of the few options available for purposefully rendering male horses infertile, we have determined castration is the most appropriate for our semi-wild living conditions here at Ravenseyrie. Once gelded, Interessado and Silvestre will be taken off the "for sale" list and can live out their lives here with us.

Segregating stallions, provided they have sufficient room to live and acceptable companionship is not a bad thing...and should any of Altamiro's sons move on to other lives where they are not kept in the company of mares, I am confident they would adapt quite nicely with the right type of human support and affection. However, to extract them from their former free and glorious interactive life in the big wide open landscape Ravenseyrie presently provides them, and place them inside a formidable barrier that keeps them from the very things they love, while their former world continues to be visible to them, is akin to creating a jail in a palace where the princes can see all that was once theirs but not participate in it.

So, with Frédéric Pignon's words in mind, we will not become the "enforcer" of a truncated lifestyle which would be daily stressful for the unsold colts but rather serve a role as "decider" in what we feel has the best, holistic interests for the horses and the landscape.

Pinoteia in a pensive pose

We do not expect that there will be universal support for our determination to soon geld Interessado and Silvestre (and later Destemido) but readers will at the very least know the reasons we have come to this decision.

Thank you, June, for your question and the opportunity to explain how we came to this decision.

Destemido, the fearless one, son of Fada

The longer I live in the company of horses the more I feel my ability to communicate with other humans deepens and the more I appreciate the need for respect, not to judge too easily, to be tolerant, to have compassion and acceptance. This is the horse's gift to me. --Frédéric Pignon
(from the book Gallop to Freedom, by Delgado, Pignon and Walser)

Tocara and Levada enjoy a mutual grooming sessionZorita's 2010 filly, Levada

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ambassadors For the Sorraia / Iberian Tarpan

Segura, Animado and Encantara
Ambassadors for the Sorraia / Iberian Tarpan imported from Canada to the U.S.

Whenever in any region remainders of a primitive race of horses are discovered, it deserves our utmost attention, because in a time as fast-moving as ours, it may be a matter of just a few years and something irretrievable might be lost. --Prof Dr. Rainer Willmann / Zoological Institute Goettingen
(from the foreward to Hardy Oelke's book, BORN SURVIVORS ON THE EVE OF EXTINCTION / Can Iberia's Wild Horse Survive Among America's Mustangs?)

The conservation of the purebred Sorraia in Europe and Sorraia Mustang horses in the United States received a major boost on July 14, 2011 when Sheri Olson of the Soul of Sorraia ranch in Cheyenne, Wyoming crossed the border at Sault Saint Marie, Michigan with precious cargo. Three genetic treasures were exported from the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve (on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada) to assist in the further consolidation and safeguarding of the Sorraia--a.k.a Iberian Tarpan--among those North American Mustang horses of Sorraia type.


Our three year old stallion, Animado, and his half-sisters Encantara and Segura (sired by our purebred Sorraia stallion Altamiro and out of our Sorraia Mustang mares Bella, Belina and Zorita, respectively) are now part of Mike and Sheri Olson's efforts to perpetuate the ancestral genetics of the Iberian strain of Equus ferus that have survived in certain specimens of feral and captive bred mustangs.


The importation of these rare horses could not have come at a more critical time, as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management continues to carry out deleterious culls (to the point of genetically nonviable numbers) of the wild horses that inhabit their public landscapes and expansive ranges--even those that have been proven to be genetically significant with zoological and historic ties to the Iberian Peninsula. It more and more seems apparent that preservation of important strains of Spanish Mustang horses as well as those that continue to exhibit the atavistic phenotype of the prehistoric wild horses of Europe, like the Sorraia Mustang, falls into the hands and hearts of private breeders.


It is my belief that Animado, Encantara and Segura carry on their backs a very important and multi-faceted role to play as ambassadors for the Sorraia/Iberian Tarpan horses. Not only will their exceptional forms assist in dispelling misunderstandings and educating all those who meet them about the differences between typical Spanish Mustangs and those that exhibit a true Sorraia phenotype (for there continues to be far too many people referring to their mustang horses as Sorraias when they show little to no distinct characteristics), but these special young horses will also demonstrate how beneficial it is to cultivate a relationship with horses that is based not on pain, force and coercion, but on a loving, nurturing friendship--something especially vital for interacting with primitive horses.

Quoting again from the foreword to Born Survivors on the Eve of Extinction / Can Iberia's Wild Horse Survive Among America's Mustangs? we read:
"As late as the middle of the 20th Century, it became known that Iberia must have had its own form [primitive race] of horse - today known as Sorraia horse. Very few of these horses still exist today, but Hardy Oelke reports that many of the characteristics of the Sorraia horse are found among the North American mustangs. What's more: Many mustangs resemble the Sorraia!

"This lends extraordinary importance to some mustangs, because they bring to our eyes a facet of the original wealth of forms of European wild horses. As the remaining Sorraias in Europe are so few, we must not miss out on the opportunities this discovery holds for us. And there is immediate need for action: Along with the efforts to control the total number of mustangs, the existence of the Sorraia mustangs is in jeopardy." --Prof. Dr. Rainer Willmann

How thankful Kevin and I are that Hardy Oelke introduced us to the Olsons and encouraged us to work together to assure the expansion of breeding projects that recombine the genes of present day Sorraia /Iberian Tarpan genetics with those of the old world Zebro/Marismeño (medieval monikers of the progenitors of the Sorraia) which persist within certain feral and captive bred mustang populations in North America. It is our hope that as Altamiro's offspring become more well know in the U.S. and begin to produce their own progeny, many more people will be able to participate in the propagation of these Iberian Tarpan/Sorraia horses to the point that one day they will not be so critically near extinction. Better still, will be the time when conservationists incorporate Iberian Tarpans into their grassland management schemes as they have been doing so successfully with the Konik horses--another variant of the Tarpan, or European Wild Horse, Equus ferus, which was recovered from remnant genetics present in the local primitive ponies in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland.

Now that readers have a greater appreciation for the significance of the exportation of Animado, Encantara and Segura to the Western United States, let's take a look a some of the photos taken while Sheri and her friend Isa Kirk were here.

After getting their first real-life look at Animado, Segura and Encantara, Sheri and Isa were ready to hike out to find the other horses. We first came upon "the Tribe", (some of the adolescent offspring which have been expelled from the family band by Altamiro and formed their own group.)

The Tribe
(photo credit: Isa Kirk)

(photo credit: Isa Kirk)

After visiting with the Tribe members, we went in search of Altamiro and the family band, and with Sheri following her intuition, we found them not too far away from the tribe, in the edge of the forest.

Sheri (left) and Isa pose with Segura's dam, Zorita

Having been further back among the shadows and trees after he could sense there was no threat, Altamiro gave himself a rather dignified entrance, walking rather slow and majestically into view, looking very much like the Lord of Ravenseyrie, which of course he is! This was a special moment for Sheri and Isa, who had never seen a purebred Sorraia in the flesh. Seeming to sense the importance of this viewing, Altamiro (who typically doesn't get too interactive with visitors) allowed Sheri to come close and touch him:

Because I was so busy talking, I didn't take very many photos, and of those I did take of Sheri and Isa visiting with the family band most were blurred.

Before it got too much later in the evening, we went down the bluff to the village and made sure Isa and Sheri were able to get checked in for the night at Gordon's Lodge. Then Isa treated us all to a meal at Buoy's Restaurant on the bay.

The view of Gore Bay from Gordon's Lodge
(photo credit: Isa Kirk)

The next morning, Isa and Sheri came up around 9am and got the seemingly endless stock trailer into position (no small feat as the narrowness of our driveway and Scotland Road make for challenging turnarounds for large rigs like Sheri's.) Then Sheri and Isa began the process of further introducing themselves to Animado, Encantara and Segura. How pleased I was that these ladies had determined to take all the necessary time needed to gain the trust of the young horses and slowly school them in loading and unloading from the spacious aluminum trailer. While I had accustomed the youngsters to halters and leading, they had never been lead out of their temporary holding area, let alone asked to step up into a long metal box. I had no idea how they might feel about strangers asking them to leave their home. Isa and Sheri were quite confident all would go well because Animado, Encantara and Segura were so gentle and calm.

Isa and Sheri begin the process of getting acquainted with the youngsters

Having had accompanied Sheri on bringing home an untrained mustang once before, and having trained many of her own home raised Spanish Mustangs, Isa began working with our youngsters just as I had to leave for work, but I was able to capture a few photos before hopping on my bicycle to pedal down the bluff and get the gallery opened up for business. Kevin was on hand to assist as needed and let me know how things went.

Though Isa's approach to training is a bit different than mine, and initially this provoked some resistance, once the horses understood that there would be no punishment or force, each eventually calmly let the gals lead them in and out of the trailer until they were confident in the knowledge that this metal box on wheels was a comfortable place to be. In fact, on that hot and buggy day, it was a place of solace, because inside there was cool shade, no flies and yummy prairie grass hay waiting for them. Kevin told me that it was Segura who wound up being the first to load, outshining the others in her quickness to put her trust in Isa. In less than three hours, Isa and Sheri had trained three former semi-wild range horses that loading into a stock trailer was an okay thing. So calm and at peace in their traveling compartments were the horses that Kevin, Isa and Sheri were able to take about an hour's break before the gals began their long, long journey home.

Loaded and ready to go
(photo credit: Kevin Droski)

On their way!
(Photo credit: Kevin Droski)

Sheri sent me these photos from the road, which made my heart sing--to see how well the youngsters were traveling.

(photo credits: Sheri Olson)

Sheri decided to let the youngsters spend a few days at Isa's place in South Dakota (Plenty Star Ranch) and sent me these photos after the horses were unloaded:

(Photo credits: Sheri Olson)

Sheri emailed me these comments and gave permission for me to include them in this journal entry:

"You have accomplished amazing things with your horses and I am so excited to be able to join in your efforts.

"All three are unique and have very distinct personalites. So worth the wait... I am in amazement of their beauty, heritage, etc. as we continue our travels to their new western home." --Sheri Olson

And on Sunday, Isa sent me the following photos and comments which I include here with her permission:

"Lynne, I had so much fun working with your /Sheri's horses. Everyone is different, but Segura stood out as very sensitive, smart, quick learning and then completely trusting and offering her very best - a dream come true - the ultimate filly in looks and personality - wonderful!. I have never seen 3 horses load so completely calm and fast for the first time. Sheri's nice cool trailer and the pestering flies may have helped a little I think. I was very taken with Animado's incredibly sweet nature even though he was insisting at first that going beyond the green gate would be dangerous for all of us - that was the boundary he knew not to tackle - period! in one word - a delight to work with , all of them, thanks to your wonderful handling before hand."--Isa Kirk

They look fabulous don't they?

And what of those wonderful mules, Dee, Doll and Jerry who lent their calm presence as companions in the holding pasture for over six weeks as our young ambassadors prepared for their big journey? When I got home from work, Kevin and I had a little "thank you ceremony" and released these splendid friends back into the big wide open. The next morning I found them and the Tribe enjoying the Ravenseyrie beach--a fitting reward after the wonderful work they did helping us get Animado, Encantara and Segura ready for their new lives.

Fada's colt, Destemido hopes to make friends with Doll while Dee looks on.

Jerry and Interessado play the "nippy face" game with Lake Huron's beautiful North Channel as a spectacular backdrop.

It was incredibly hard for me, emotionally, to let go of these beautiful Sorraia Mustang youngsters, and even now, I can feel the tears wanting to push out from my eyes. It helps tremendously to know that these equine friends I have nurtured since birth have such vital roles to play in the world and have as wonderful a human as Sheri to share their lives with. So I am very happy to be able to assist the preservation of the Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang horses in this way, knowing by allowing the horses to be purchased and spend their lives away from Ravenseyrie assures the remaining genetics of the Iberian Tarpan are not going to be lost forever.

To learn more about Sheri Olson and continue to follow the lives of Animado, Encantara and Segura go to the website of Soul of Sorraia.

To learn more about Isa Kirk and her work go to the website of Plenty Star Ranch.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elements of Tranquility

The yearling fillies, Pinoteia (left) and Tocara, frolic in the summer grass at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

When the East Bluff awakens with green growth and the winds blowing over it become fragrant and pleasurable, it used to be that all the horses of Ravenseyrie would revel in their smorgasbord of grazing and browsing delights. They would for long, bountiful months be virtually on a "self-maintenance" regime--slacking their thirsts in the pond, creek or lake, finding shady groves and breezy knolls, with the pinch of hunger easily satisfied at any time of their own choosing. These relatively gentler periods of the year have provided Kevin and me a much needed respite from the daunting winter feeding chores and with the additional daylight, allowed us to pursue other activities, many of which were carefree and restorative. Though summertime on the island means my studio and gallery are open longer hours and I am much more tired at the end of my shift after catering to tourists from 11am to 5pm, it was always a relief to come home and just unwind any which way the wind might be blowing.

[I should note here that at this time next week the 17th Annual Manitoulin Art Tour will be under way, with Ravenseyrie Studio hosting two guest artists (Xenia Merez and Rua Lupa)...a very busy time, indeed!]

Dee, peers through the corral fence, counting the days until she will once again be free to roam the range.

This year it is very different--there is little time for dawdling along the beach, hiking through the forests for mushrooms or spending long hours immersed in melding into the mellow meanderings of the horses over the lovely landscape. With Animado, Encantara and Segura (awaiting transport to Cheyenne, Wyoming) and Dee, Doll and Jerry (the draft mules lending their calming presence) sequestered in the holding pasture on the southeast side of the house and Mistral, Zeus and Silvestre now in their "attack free" pasture southwest of the house and yard, we now have two separate areas that require certain duties of us. These new responsibilities keep us busy throughout our waking hours, and leave us feeling definitely weary when night falls. How spoiled I had been, when the horses were fewer in number and basically lived as one big happy family with the big wide open spaces available to everyone!

While out picking up some fresh cut grass from the range, I was given this beautiful sunset to admire.

Zorita is due to deliver her foal a little later this summer.

Though we went though a period of stress and chaos this spring and early summer, once the horses were separated into their particular temporary regions, dynamics settled down and as I have been tending to the additional chores, I began to notice within these very labours there were many elements of tranquility. I have taken some photos of those moments, but first, I thought I would share images of the separate spaces we've had to fence in and the extra work this has created.

Here are some scenes from the holding pasture to the southeast of the house:

Uncle he looking wistfully out to the open range?


Animado, a.k.a "Cool Dude" (left) and Encantara

We erected the fences in such a way as to crate a buffer that the horses on either side are not able to make mischief with each other.

In order to lessen the displeasure the "captive" group must feel as they watch from their holding pasture (now over-grazed of course) while their former herd mates still have free roam of all the open grassland areas, Kevin and I feed them green "hay" along with their cured hay, which we spread out over their space five times a day, to mimic the moving around they would do if they could graze in the big wide open. Periodically we also bring them a variety of twigs, bark and herbs that they can choose to supplement their meals with if they need to.

We have a walk-behind sickle-bar mower which Kevin takes out to different areas in the open grassland where the rocks are few and he cuts enough for the day's needs:

Then we each go out at different times of the day to pick up the hay and bring it back to the "Captives":

One of these days, I'm going to document the different grasses growing here and devote an entire journal entry for them and the other plants that the horses savour. These grasses are the life blood of the bluff, I believe!

Animado and Encantara invariably are waiting for me at the gate when I come through with my cartload of summer grasses. Animado even watches when we are out gathering up these grasses and will whinny for us to hurry up! He does the same thing just before dawn--there is no such thing as sleeping in (not that we do this anyhow as all the animals are anxious for their breakfasts at first light). With the extended daylight this time of year, we have morning feed chores completed by 6am. Only then do we head back inside to enjoy our own breakfast.

Kevin picks up manure twice daily from the holding pasture and whistles a tune while he works, because he is building a mountain of "gold", which he will use to improve his market garden. Rich in clay, the soil up here on the bluff is terrific for growing grazing forage, but is shallow and nutrient poor for growing vegetables. We also get very dry in the summer and most of the seasonal water sources up on the table land disappear. In especially droughty years, even our well for the house water runs dry. To offset this, we have a holding tank that Kevin had our neighbor build a special trailer for. Kevin uses his big Kubota tractor to take this water tank down the bluff to the beach and pumps a bit of Lake Huron's chilly water into it and brings it back up the bluff for watering the plants (and flushing the toilet, when our well runs dry.) Since we now are supplying water to two separated groups of horses, Kevin makes this trip to fetch water from the lake twice a week.

Here are some scenes of Mistral, Zeus and Silvestre (the "Amigos") in their separate space:

So far, the Amigos haven't overgrazed their ten acres, and there just might be enough grazing for them to last through the summer. Unfortunately, most of it is further to the west which for certain periods of the day is ruled by swarms of deer flies and mosquitoes. The Amigos prefer to stand in the open near the electric fence, where there is usually a good breeze and they only have to cope with horse flies when the sun is out and there is no wind. At those times, we apply insect repellent on them to help give some relief. I've noticed that the Captives also prefer to stand in a group in the open, rather than go under the shade shelter in their corral. Even the two groups still out on the open range (the Family Band and the Tribe) have been spending more time standing in the open breeze in full sun than going to the forest. I think this may be because this year we have really had a longer and more intense period of mosquitoes, making many of their usual loafing areas in the forest uncomfortable during certain times of the day.

Here the "Amigos" (Mistral, Zeus and Silvestre) on one side of the fence and the "Tribe" (Interessado, Fada, Destemido, Pinoteia, Tocara and Levada) on the otherside are dozing in the sun and swishing at flies on a summer afternoon.

The next assortment of photos I'm including to give you a visual of some of the elements of tranquility that make all the extra work seem like a pleasant gift.

The Family Band
Now consisting of Altamiro, Bella, Belina, Zorita, Esperanda and Altavida

The testosterone levels in Altamiro and his colts seems to have settled down now that spring has yielded to summer and the boys are now all once again gentle and sweet with their herd mates. Here Bella and Altamiro have a soft conversation.

Esperanda and Altavida enjoying some mutual grooming.

Five times Tocara put her leg in my hay cart while I was taking some photos of the Tribe, and five times, I went over to assist her in getting it back out. A silly, unsafe game that she was engaging in, I think!

Finally, Destemido is beginning to slough off his baby fur. How much cooler he will be when this thick pelt finally sheds off!

Tocara and Interessado head out to graze in the misty fields after finishing breakfast oats

Occasionally, Altamiro comes over and lets the Family band mingle a little with the Tribe. Quite a change from all the chaos among the groups this past spring. After Interessado and Silvestre are gelded, we may try turning the Amigos back out with everyone else. I have a feeling the strange attacks made on those guys by Altamiro, Animado and Interessado will not occur once we are back to just one stallion on the loose.



Yours truly


How very consistent is the Sorraia phenotype among Altamiro's offspring! Here, Pinoteia and Tocara look like sisters to the Sorraias in the Vale de Zebro.

The Tribe


Sheri Olson (of Soul of Sorraia) and her friend, Isa Kirk (of Plenty Star Ranch) are scheduled on July 11th to begin their almost coast to coast eastward journey to pick up Animado, Encantara and Segura . This will be a very exciting and emotional time! After the youngsters are on their way, we will turn the mules back out on the range (how relieved they will be!) and a huge bulk of chores will be over. No doubt there will be plenty of summer left to recuperate and engage in some of my favorite carefree pastimes. Until then, the rarefied moments such as you see captured in my photos work their magic, keep me grounded in "the now" and believing that goodness (arising from love) is prevailing.

Himself: Altamiro, in a pensive mood