Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fascinated by Animals and Wild Places

Young Sorraia stallions romping in the morning dew at Ravenseyrie

More than a year has gone by since the mares of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve have been living a life apart from their band stallion Altamiro and their male offspring.  While I seem to still be having difficulties adjusting to the situation, the horses have all adapted marvellously.  Both the males who remain with us and the females dwelling on the Twinravens range have fluidly developed seasonal routines and habits that harmonize with their similar - yet different - wilderness environments here on Manitoulin Island.  

Sorraia stallion, Legado, grazes contentedly among Whitetail deer at Ravenseyrie

"Nature equipped Equus caballus well for unfettered life in the right environment."  
     -L. Edward Purcell

Sorraia Mustang mare, Bella, framed by Goldenrod on the range at Twinravens

I confess, it continues to sadden me that insufficient interest and support for wild horses worldwide means we can no longer devote our Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve to an autonomous family band, however I take great consolation in witnessing how well these "Iberian Tarpans" enhance (and are enhanced by) their wilderness settings as separated gender groups and I remain deeply thankful that Mark Seabrook and Michelle Hrynyk are enjoying having our wild mares inhabit a portion of their land.

Mark and Michelle share their Twinravens property not just with wild mares, but also throughout the year play host to a great number of friends and family looking to escape the hectic cityscapes for the more pristine, slower-paced atmosphere Manitoulin Island is so well known for.  To give readers an example of how meaningful such great escapes can be for city folk, I'd like to share with you the experience one of Michelle's long time friends had during a visit to Twinravens this past August.

Sorraia mare, Altavida, is well integrated into the ecosystem of Twinravens

"In our increasingly urbanized lives, we still remain fascinated by animals and wild places.  A recent survey of 20,000 people in Britain to find the top fifty things they wanted to do before they died discovered overwhelming interest in wild places and animals."  
     -Jules Pretty

Emily Veryard has long admired the mares and each time she has stayed with Mark and Michelle, she makes a point to take her walks to key places where she might catch a glimpse of them.  I will let Emily's own words tell the story from here:

I had my coffee and Akina with me for a walk. I was super excited that I had snagged an opportunity when people were either all still asleep or at work to find some solitude. Not because I am a solitary person but because it felt right to have that on the island every once and a while. I saw the ladies (mares) a fair distance into the field, and talked to them for a bit. Hahaha, they were way less interested in me than I was in them. I've been fascinated for a really long time at the power of voice and song - how connection and pathways can open when someone sings. I thought at the very least I might entertain the mares with a few of my lullabies. I began to sing some songs from my 'babysitting' repertoire, and the girls just responded immediately. Akina 'trotted' them in, leading the way, and it just seemed super natural for them to respond so easily. I, the city girl that I am, was super excited, but I managed to recognize that there was a very grounded connection being made through expression and trust. I trusted the mares enough to show them my voice, they were willing to return the favour with their visit. Fascinating how animals can understand that exchange.

Haha, I guess I just continued singing for them since I didn't want to leave them without a bit of a gift - a show of gratitude for coming to visit me and keeping me company that morning. :)
  --Emily Veryland

Emily was so delighted to have this experience with the mares she made the hour's drive from Twinravens in Tehkummah up to my Ravenseyrie Art Gallery in Gore Bay just to tell me about it and show me video clips she had taken on her iPhone.  Emily's enthusiasm was so infectious,  I have pieced these video clips together and with her permission am sharing them with the readers of this blog.  The "selfie" photo she took shows how much joy she felt to have the mares come up close to listen to her sing.  And what a lovely voice she has!  


I have come to know that wild horses that are not persecuted and harassed by humans have an abiding desire to connect with us.  This is astonishing considering that mankind's history with horses saw them chiefly as prey to be hunted and later as creatures to enslave as "beasts of burden".  Wild horses have tens of thousands of years of biological memory that knows humans as ruthless predators and abusers to be diligently avoided.  Even today, equine exploitation abounds in various ways all over the globe.  Horses are raised for meat, drug companies are force-breeding specifically for the extraction of estrogens from pregnant mares' urine and the manipulation of horses for humans' sport and pleasure activities is a multi-billion dollar industry.  

After 8 months of coyness, wild filly Rija makes friends with Kevin Droski on the wide open range at Twinravens

But not every human treats the horse as a commodity and there are countless numbers of told (and untold) stories of friendship and partnership with equines.  Deep in the psyche of the horse, wild or domesticated, given the right situation, curiosity and the desire for closeness supersedes fear and mistrust...and the heady sensation of making friends with horses is all the more fantastic when done on their terms - not in a box stall, or a round pen but in the wide open free spaces.

Reflecting upon Emily's experience and the joy it brought her to be able to simply be in the presence of the wild mares - not expecting anything from them other than to share a moment in time on a rain-soaked summer morning, reinforces for me that the preservation of these horses and the dedication to make wilderness habitats available to them so that they may live in as much freedom as possible is not just essential to the equines' well-being, but also to the well-being of humans.    

"A relationship with horses in freedom entails discovering a piece of your own freedom, too."  -Imke Spilker

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Catch Life as it Flows

"The idea of Zen is to catch life as it flows."
                                                                   --D.T. Suzuki

It is very rare for me to preset my camera for optimum capturing of seems too dynamic for that most times!  I am happy to rely upon the auto-focus setting.  Sometimes auto-focus presents me with marvellous images of its own choosing, like the photo above with the two ravens.  I have cropped the image, but have otherwise left it as is.  How perfectly it illustrates the line from Suzuki's book, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism!

With tourist season on Manitoulin Island in full swing, the activities at my Ravenseyrie Studio & Art Gallery in the Gore Bay Harbour Centre have left little opportunity to write engaging entries for this blog.  Taking advantage of a quiet moment this morning, I will at the very least put up photos from the past few days when I was out "catching life as it flows" with the horses.

Sandhill Cranes on the Ravenseyrie range

Since the very beginning of our efforts to assist in the preservation of the Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang horses by bringing together a purebred Sorraia stallion from Europe and putting him with specially selected North American mustang mares which possess Sorraia characteristics, I have worn a shawl that for some reason they have found an irresistible plaything.  It amazes me that for all the abuse it receives, it remains basically intact and serviceable to me on those days when the air is chilly.

Now that the mares live on a separate range from Altamiro and all their sons, I have noticed my shawl serves yet another appears to provide olfactory information from the bachelors to the ladies.  Because we play games with it that involve the horses "wearing" the shawl, it becomes infused with the tantalizing smells that are not so discernible to me, but which the horses "read" with great interest.  I am convinced that through the medium of the shawl, the boys know the girls are still a part of their world - however far removed - and vice versa.

Last Friday I was out for an evening hike and spent some time with the young stallions, who, noting that I was wearing my shawl promptly were determined to take it off me and engage in playful activities.  At these times, I will typically throw the shawl over the first colt who tugs it off my shoulders.  And then, those colts begin playing on their own with it amongst themselves.  I only intervene if they have tossed it to the ground with the intention of trampling it or if they excessively are chewing on it.

Gosto wears the shawl while Sedutor musters the courage to snatch it off him.

With Sedutor looking on, Gosto takes the shawl over to impress Legado

In the end, it is Destimedo who pulls the shawl off from Gosto!

After attentively watching the bachelors engaged in their shawl play, the cranes took to the air.

A brief article written by Hardy Oelke about these shawl games our Sorraias engage in appeared in the July issue of the German magazine Western Horse.  This article sums up what occurs as a sort of "self-sacking-out".  The horses and I know, however, that it bears little resemblance to the forced desensitization of typical "sacking out" that some trainers impose on their horses.

So much for the bachelors of Ravenseyrie and their interest in my old shawl.  What about the Ravenseyrie mares and fillies living on the Twinravens range in Tehkummah?

The mares see me and begin to come up for treats!

Bella, of course, takes the lead.
Then follows Belina, Rija, Altavida, et. al.

How thankful I am for my one day off during this busy tourist season!  Mare Monday yesterday was breezy and coolish, and after the ladies enjoyed the treats I brought them, the shawl games began with Altavida tugging it off my shoulders.

First things first...treats!
Altavida wears the shawl first, with Pinoteia contemplating taking from her. 

Altavida resists Pinoteia's attempts to steal the shawl.

Altavida moved to a space by herself, looking regal in her shawl.

Next up to wear the shawl was Fada, who promptly went out walking with Pinoteia close behind.
Fada seemed to enjoy moving around with the shawl on.

Not the least concerned about the shawl over her loins...and first time for Fada!
While Fada wore the shawl, the others took great whiffs of it and got quite excited!

Pinoteia finally gained the shawl, with little Rija sniffing it while Esperanda and Bella stand by.
Rija and Pinoteia - how lovely!
Game time over, Esperanda and Altavida engage in mutual grooming.
First time I've ever seen three way mutual grooming!  Fada, Esperanda and Altavida.
Here, Esperanda and Zorita snooze in the cool breeze.

"After three and a half centuries spent charting and measuring material nature as though it were a pure exterior, we've at last begun to notice that the world we inhabit (from the ocean floor to the upper atmosphere) is alive.  The feelings that move us--the frights and yearnings that colour our days, the flights of fancy that sometimes seize us, the creativity that surges through us--all are born of the ongoing interchange between our life and the wider Life that surrounds us.  They are nor more ours than they are Earth's.  They blow through us, and often change us, but they are not our private possession, nor an exclusive property of our species.  With the other animals, as with the crinkled lichens and the river-carved rocks, we're all implicated within this intimate and curiously infinite world, poised between the tactile landscape underfoot and the leaden sky overhead, between the floor and the ceiling each of us crouching or tumbling or swooping within the same big interior.  Inside the world."
     --David Abram (from BECOMING ANIMAL/An Earthly Cosmology)

A dramatic panoramic view of the north central range at Ravenseyrie

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Scenes

Sorraia stallion, Altamiro

"This air thick with light is an enveloping spell, a trance into which the whole place has now fallen, a viscous state of mind shared by you and the spruces and the bee in this honeyed moment." 
--David Abram (from his book, Becoming Animal / An Earthly Cosmology)

Bachelors in the morning light

It is summer now at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve on Manitoulin Island, Lake Huron, Northern Ontario.  How transformed the landscape is!  Let's keep our words to a minimum and wander around a bit via the medium of digital photos...

Biting insects, send the horses to spaces that are breezy or shady, depending:

The open expanse of the Ravenseyrie beach on Lake Huron's North Channel

Standing as a group maximizes swishing tails and tossing manes to keep flies at bay

It is worth noting that unlike humans, horses do not wage war against biting insects...they move in defensive ways, they roll in mud, they catch a breeze, etc., these activities provide relief without destroying ecosystems...unlike the pesticides humans have created.  Horses live cooperatively with all that is.  We at Ravenseryie strive to do likewise.

Grulla Sorrais and a gorgeous sky

Ravenseyrie mares down on the Twinravens range in Tehkummah

Belina has regained her good flesh!

Bella and Belina's filly Rija, also in fine form

Some images your author is fortunate to see on her morning walks at Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve:

This coyote watches from the edge of the forest

Lady's Slipper

Shepherd's Purse


Young stallions at play:

Legado and Destimedo (who lost his left eye in 2012)

Having just one eye doesn't keep Destemido from going for the jugular in this game with Legado!

Ousado in the foreground while Destimedo and Legado continue to spar


"We need the vision of an animated connected world, where people matter and where nature matters, and where we develop a new interconnected ethic."
--Jules Pretty (from his book, The Earth Only Endures)