Thursday, July 17, 2008

How It Began/Part 1

Belina and Bella in the autumn of 2005, ages 18 months

My friend, Jean, from Quebec, emailed me shortly after the Journal of Ravenseyrie blog was up and running and provided me with some interesting feedback. One of the things he wrote was: "May I come up with a suggestion? I'd love to be told the story of how Kevin and you first came to this Sorraia Mustang Preserve project."

Of course I've been wanting to tell this requires some recapitulation, and my apologies for any redundancy of information that has been provided elsewhere.

The first time I remember seeing a photo of a Sorraia horse was in Sylvia Loch's book THE ROYAL HORSE OF EUROPE. "Noble", "exotic" and "nicely formed" were the impressions the image left on my mind, but Lady Loch's description of this horse (writing they averaged 13h in height) caused me to readily forget about him and return to the story of the more finely bred Spanish horses who were so coveted by the aristocracy of the day.

This was a time in my life (mid-1990's) when I was deep into the study of the history of equitation, specifically the laudable lightness of the French school and the controversial methods of Francois Baucher (1796-1873)--whose work inspired me immensely--passed on to me through the writings and friendship of Jean-Claude Racinet. Being equally captivated by the Andalusian and Lusitano horses (kindred breeds who have excelled in the discipline of Haute Ecolé for centuries), it was only a matter of time when my studies would lead me back to their primitive ancestor, the Sorraia, this time in Arsenio Raposo Cordeiro's book titled, LUSITANO HORSE/Son of the Wind. Even then it was the photos in the chapter on the Sorraias that left their impression moreso than the accompanying text.

The third exposure to the Sorraia horse through my hippological studies is the one that consolidated the earlier tweekings of interest and truly got the seed of love for this type of horse sprouting.

On the day of the Winter Solstice 2004 Kevin presented me a copy of Paulo Gaviao Gonzaga's just released book titled, A HISTORY OF THE HORSE/The Iberian Horse From Ice Age to Antiquity. The review of ancestral horses in this book is one of the most concise accounts I have read thus far, and once again, I found myself especially attracted to the images of the Sorraia horses. A descriptive paragraph written by Ruy d'Andrade the Portuguese hippologist credited with saving these horses from extinction wormed into my brain and motivated me to learn all that I could about them.

Describing these primitive horses' appearance after a long, harsh winter, d'Andrade wrote: "But after the winter hardships, the months from April to June are easily enough to make them fat and, once more covered by flesh they change completely in appearance, especially the stallions, which in full flesh show a curved neck and, so much changed, they look close-coupled and full of life, moving with a lot of elegance and gracefulness, and become beautiful Andalusian horses that can rival Arabians, as they become fine and swift, full of movement and fire. At such moments they reveal the Iberian form of the highest class of animal, on a smaller scale."

With such a descriptive paragraph woven into my mind, I began to search for information about the Sorraia on the internet. It was here that I learned about the surprising resemblance certain wild mustangs in North America have to the Sorraia's of the Iberian Peninsula. My Goggle search provided me with the website of Caballos De Destino, the "online ranch" belonging to Sharron Sheikofsky and her partner Dave Reynolds.

Bella (left) and Belina, two days after their arrival at Ravenseyrie

Sharron and Dave breed old world Spanish Mustangs in captivity on their ranch in South Dakota and have been selecting the Iberian form and grulla coloring as one part of their program for decades. Some of these selectively bred horses possess the distinctive phenotype of the Sorraia and Caballos De Destino happened to be offering a few of them for sale among their other attractive Spanish Mustang youngsters.

One yearling filly, Bella (out of Miracle SMR#3087 by Silver Shadow SMR#2780) looked like a possibly good Sorraia type and had a price which was extremely reasonable. Another yearling filly-not so promising Sorraia type--was priced incredibly low because she was not of pure Spanish mustang stock. Belina (her original name was Thumbelina) was out of the grade Appaloosa mustang pony BLM Dreamer and sired by Chato's Shadow SMR#1531. She was small, but a solid grulla with a sub-convex profile and we thought she would make a good friend for Bella to grow up with, so we made an offer for both of them. Sharron accepted our offer and was even kind enough to keep them at the ranch for several months until we made our move to Canada in May of 2005.

Importing Bella and Belina turned out to be an expensive, protracted and horrible experience. While en route from South Dakota across the country, the fillies were exposed to an upper respiratory infection (strangles) and had to be quarantined at the shippers layover facility in Michigan--not far from the very place we had just immigrated from! It wasn't until July when the fillies were allowed to finish their long journey. Belina and Bella were born on the open range, lived among their respective herds in a "captive wild" setting but as yearlings would be shooed into a clattering trailer, taken across the continent, contract a contagious infection and spend six weeks locked together in a dark box stall. Poor things! What a relief it must have been to step out of the trailer and take in their new home!

Shelagh, Lynne and Jerry making friends with Belina and Bella
Summer 2005

to be continued...


eva said...

Hi Lynne,

I am so glad you have decided to tell your story--how your equine heaven came to be.

When you mention the breeders where Bella and Belina came from, i was thinking, geez, maybe you could get some kind of herd exchange program going with other preservation efforts, to enrich the gene pool.

But then when you write about the ordeal of travel for the horses, it may not be an easy option.

I am often thinking about the shock and trauma endured by the mustangs when they get trailered for long distances after being rounded up and separated from their herd mates.

For a creature that lives in the moment it must feel like madness to be hurled through space in a dark container at high speeds. And this moment extends into eternity as there is no way of knowing that it will ever end.


Lynne Gerard said...

Your comment highlights real concerns...and transporting horses is not something I take lightly.

I do have a few "rituals" I perform to create a certain mindfulness and positive sensation which I hope is felt by the horses in transit--which may or may not, but anyhow makes me feel like I can lessen the stress that way.

There is a topic for deeper discussion here, I think...for another time.

Thanks for your thoughts, Eva.