Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Few Questions Answered

After some token breakfast oats, its time to have a lick on the mineral block,
and nibble at the herbs growing nearby.

In response to my July 5th journal entry, Jennifer posed a question for me in the comments section: "I'm curious. I know this is premature however, I was wondering what your plans are when the colt or colts grow up."

Animado and his mother, Bella, share space at the mineral block.

I have been wanting to put write a response to this important query, but am finding so little computer time these days that I will "cheat" a bit by copying some things I had written (in response to a similar questions from another Jennifer in the Nevzorov Haute Ecole forum). In addition to wondering what my plans are for Altamiro's offspring, the other Jennifer was keen to learn what my thoughts are regarding the philosophical/moral implications of breeding horses in a world that seems to have an over-abundance of already unwanted horses who are mistreated, neglected and often sent to slaughter or euthanized. The first part of my response deals with the "moral" implications of what Kevin and I are doing in breeding Sorraia Mustangs and the second part will hopefully provide the answer to what the future holds for Altamiro's offspring.

To break up my lengthy reply, I am inserting some photos I took yesterday morning and will provide a short explanation under each.

Doll dines on Canada Thistle tops...which are prickly, but apparently tasty!
An abundance of Catnip flowers nearby.

As for the topic at hand, it is important for us to be self-reflective and to constantly review what motivates our behavior and actions, so I appreciate this opportunity Jennifer presents for me to share with readers my feelings regarding whether or not what Kevin and I are nurturing here at Ravenseyrie is acceptable set against the backdrop of so many unwanted and discarded horses across the globe.

Let us first set aside the precarious status of the Sorraia horse (less than 200 worldwide) which researchers consider a representative of one of the four ancestral horses from which all modern, manmade breeds trace back to. Our aim of assisting the loss of another primitive sub-species will not be considered as part of "justification" of our actions, even though, of course this is one important reason we have taken on the formation of our Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

When you live on a farm, especially if you have a quantity of acreage, it happens very frequently that you are approached by many people who for one reason or another petition you to take for them their cat, or dog or horse or goat...etc. Each petitioner has compelling reasons as to why he or she can no longer provide a suitable home for their animal friend. Over the years, Kevin and I have agreed to relieve a number of people of their "burden", because we did have room on our farm and in our hearts.

But we have changed our feelings on this to a large degree, and we no longer allow others to make us feel that their inability to do right by their animals is somehow our problem. There would be no end if we always felt we had to save everyone else's animals...we would not be able to keep up!

Ciente, our Kiger Mustang of Sorraia type, still waiting for the right moment to deliver her foal.

I, too, have read the stories of some folks out in the American west who, because of the prolonged drought, in desperation are turning their horses loose on the range to fend for themselves because they can no longer afford to feed them.

And there are numerous other reasons why people feel they must divest themselves of their horses. All things considered, if we are honest, in probably 98% of these cases horses are cast aside because their humans are not willing to make drastic changes in the priorities of their lifestyles.

To begin with far too many people acquire animals without full understanding of the long-term responsibilities...while others are fully aware of these responsibilities and are happy to carry on when it doesn't require any deep alteration of their lifestyle. But when the going gets rough, the "throw away" mindset prevails and often "pets" which they find unbearable to part with are nonetheless parted with. Funny, though, how they continue to subscribe to cable television, eat fast food and drive their cars far too much, among other things...

Most desperate divestments of once "loved" animals are not a problem of high feed prices, or lack of time or space, etc. Most animals are given away or destroyed because their human caretakers will not alter their lives to make things right for their animals. We should question such "love".

I understand how this happens...humans tend to feel so trapped by the circumstances of their life and imagine themselves rather helpless. Folks feel they must remain in a particular job that they don't even like because they need the paycheck. And they feel the job is required because children, cars, houses, clothing, playthings and food (often at the bottom of the list) must be acquired. We create our own reality...all the burdens we may have in our lives are the result of decisions we have made over the years. And we've made these decisions most of the time with clouded judgment or with no deep thought at all.

So, people feel trapped by their circumstances, but in reality they are not bound by their situation as much as they are imprisoned by their unexamined habitual behavior.

We don't have to live this way, the way society has conditioned us to. We have choices!

People have so many other choices they could make to make it possible to keep their horses--but it would require a different way of thinking.

To provide their horses a better environment is a choice they choose not to make for themselves because deep down they don't want the horses enough to pare down other things in their life or totally uproot themselves and go to a better situation where providing properly for their horses is not a burden but a joy and a way of life.

There are amazing people out there who feel it is their calling to establish horse havens, sanctuaries and rescue centers. These folks take on the burdens of those people who believe there is no other option but to get rid of their horses. I support these people for the horses' sakes.

But I am no longer one of these people...Kevin and I have a different calling we need to remain focused upon. And we altered our life precisely so that we could do this and sustain it.

Another concern raised in the Nevzorov forum was what type of plan might Kevin and I have for our horses in the event of our deaths...

Ravenseyrie is fully paid for, and we have life insurances policies that according to our wills (which are in need of updating) make provisions for someone to carry on with what we have begun here. We are just in the early stages of this so there yet remains many details to think about and provide for. We are discussing setting up a formal, perpetual foundation, but this is so far a rough idea. In the end, even with a perpetual foundation, we have no guarantee of control over the fate of this place when our physical forms no longer walk upon it...but it is important to do the best we can and leave a legacy that includes a clear understanding of the philosophy we espouse for relations with the animals and plant life that is part of Ravenseyrie.

We will not be able to keep Altamiro's offspring on this site. At the time when the herd shows us that the youngsters need to move on, we will place them in alternate locations--whether that is with other breeders who are also trying to save the Sorraia, or (and this is my hope) they will go to a secondary refuge we hope to inspire other participants here on the island to establish. My first desire is to have the Wikwemikong First Nations Reserve (our Native American islanders) take on the establishment of a second preserve, which could be set up also as a tourist attraction benefiting the horses, the island natives and the island economy. We are not breeding to sell horses, this is not a profit venture by any means.

Late for breakfast, and on the run to get there first!

There are many meaningful and far reaching reasons for establishing and maintaining this venture. I cannot say if it is "justified" to do what we are doing, but I do feel it is already having a beneficial impact on the way a family herd of horses is perceived by humans in addition to preserving a genetic treasure that has been part of human life since cave dwelling times.

Our contributions here at Ravenseyrie are small, but could prove to be vital. We represent one piece of the puzzle. The overall genetic viability of the purebred Sorraia horses are experiencing a bottleneck and are down to just two maternal lines.

It is Hardy Oelke's contention that if enough awareness is given to consolidate those North American Mustangs which have distinct atavistic likenesses to the Sorraia, this might one day serve as a source of necessary genetic infusion to relieve the bottleneck. This is much more than gathering grulla and dun Spanish Mustangs--though color is a factor--there are distinct conformational characteristics that must conform also.

There are a handful of breeders out west in the United States that are attempting such a consolidaton (some are following a more pure standard than others), using Spanish mustang stallions and mares of Sorraia type.

Ravenseyrie has gone a step further with the importation of Altamiro. Here was have a purebred Sorraia paired with Spanish Mustangs of Sorraia type, providing a direct infusion.

The herd left me behind pretty quickly on their way to nibble some oats.
They don't require the supplement of oats, but I like to give them a little in the morning.
It's a treat they typically wait at the gate for,
but yesterday morning I had to go fetch them from the far north field.

Here is where Kevin and I part a bit with conventional endangered breeding practices. If we felt that the only variable in promoting viable genetics were to spread the genes as rapidly and as broadly as possible, it would make sense for us to make Altamiro available to other breeders either on a lease basis or employing artificial insemination. Or we could change mares or other means of manipulating who mates with who.

However, since we feel that there is more to the essence of horses than their genetic make up, our program is based also on assuring Altamiro and his small band of mares have the opportunity to live as a long-term family unit. The behavioral advantages this provides are not taken into account by most people involved in preservation projects. To us, however, it is one more way we can recreate the type of living conditions their ancestors had. The bonds horses form and the relaying of their emotions, in my opinion, are expressed biochemically and as such have an influence upon the transfer of information from generation to generation.

We expect to bring in one or two more mares (I'm leaning towards just one more) but that is the limit.

Ciente, a bit behind the herd as they run to get their breakfast.
The heaviness of her abdomen makes her usual elegant bearing a bit awkward and slow.
When will this foal be born???

In my view, this 360 acre area is just right for fifteen head, give or take one or two...any more than that would stress the environment. Right now, with the two domestic horses and the three draft mules who also live on the preserve, we have eleven.

Manitoulin Island is actually a very large island (the largest freshwater island in the world), long and narrow with 1068 square miles and numerous inland lakes. What isn't water (and cottages) is agricultural or wilderness. The island itself could support many separate herds of Sorraias and Sorraia Mustangs, but not without human assistance...I fear the winters would be too severe without extra forage supplied to them.

Given that a lot of the content of this journal entry was first posted in the Nevzorov Haute Ecole forum, I hope it was easy enough for new readers to follow, and that it provides some answers to some important questions.

As time allows, I am putting together part two of "How It All Began", and hope to have this published in the Journal of Ravenseyrie later this week.

Thank you for reading!

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