Sunday, August 17, 2008

How it Began/Part II

In the pre-spring chill of 2006, Kevin gave me the financial thumbs up, and I enthusiastically began a search for the appropriate suitor to join Bella and Belina on our Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

Thankfully, Hardy Oelke agreed to review any potential stallion candidates because I was still very green in my skill of detecting the Sorraia phenotype. My neophyte grasp of these matters was compounded by the difficulty of attempting to determine how well a young colt might mature (something even grey-bearded, experienced breeders find hard to predict) and also because I found something endearing about all the young weanlings and yearlings in the photos being sent my way.

With our finances limited, and because I didn't want to impose a mature stallion on our young fillies, it seemed prudent to narrow our search down to stud colts who were two years or younger. If Caballos de Destino (where Bella and Belina came from) had happened to have a non-related stud colt, I wouldn't have hesitated buying from lady Sharron Sheikofsky again, however, for our preserve Hardy thought it best to look for Sorraia types coming from different bloodlines than those represented in Sharron and Dave's herds.

There were many youngsters available from folks who were breeding mustangs in captivity out in the western United States...breeders with names like "Double L Kigers", "Spanish Sage Ranch", "Karisma Kigers and "Circle S Ranch"...each candidate, however, had one or more features that kept him from being the ideal stud colt destined to be the foundation sire of his own Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

I nevertheless kept up my search, knowing that one day "Mr. Right" would present himself.

Imagine my surprise when Hardy relayed to me that there was a purebred Sorraia yearling colt born at the Wisentgehege zoological park in Springe, Germany which might possibly be for sale. This surprise, of course was accompanied by a loud laugh on my behalf, for surely a purebred Sorraia (with less than 200 of these horses walking the earth world wide) would be far too costly for Kevin and I to consider. Hardy checked into the matter and in a day or two, relayed to us that the zoological park would indeed sell us the colt and the sum they were asking was within our reach.
Altamiro, purebred Sorraia colt, as he appeared shortly after his first birthday.
Photo taken by T. Hennig/Wisentgehege, Springe

Great news, right?!!!

Ah, but wait...

...sure we could buy this colt without incurring financial hardship. But flying a horse from Germany to Canada was an extravagance beyond our humble island means. How could I possibly even discuss this with Kevin, knowing that since our immigration we necessarily had to live extremely frugally, especially while much of our disposable income lay tied up in our yet unsold farm back in Michigan?

Of course this was all true...but you just know I had to at least discuss the offer with Kevin.

"NO!" he said, "It's absurd!...Duckie, we cannot do it!"

Yes, he was right. Considering our limited finances and our dedication to focusing on paying off our mortgage on Ravenseyrie--to assume the financial burden of importing a horse from Germany was a ridiculous undertaking.

So, "No" it was...

...besides, having once been a peon at a boarding stable where dressage queens were frequently importing horses from Europe, I knew our manner of living was far removed from the "well-heeled" lifestyles where such things were done.

So, this was impossible for us, right?

I don't remember sulking about it...perhaps Kevin remembers differently...but I do recall laying awake at night ruminating over what a huge contribution we could make to the plight of the endangered Sorraia horse by having a purebred Sorraia as a key player on our Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

The two purebred Sorraia stallions residing in the states (Sovina and Tejo II), due to the choices of their respective owners, were not breeding to mustangs of Sorraia type. Sovina had initially bred a few mustang mares, but his owner, Erin Grey had decided the preservation of the Sorraia type mustang was too controversial and later refused to breed to any mustangs, no matter what their phenotype. And Tejo's owner, Karen Dalke, desired to have her Sorraia stallion trained and shown in dressage before embarking upon a breeding career. It seemed that efforts to created a vigorous outcross by mating these Sorraia stallions with mustang mares showing atavistic Sorraia traits had lost momentum.

Transported (corrupted?) by that particular ether that impregnates the mind when trapped in the dual agitated states of absolute fatigue and insomnia, I imagined that the good spirit of Dr. Ruy d'Andrade himself had aligned the fates in such a way that Manitoulin Island, in the great country of Canada, was being provided the opportunity to carry the torch, if you will, and participate in something larger than life--what a folly it would be to let such an opportunity pass us by!

"Are you sure, Kevin..there is no way?"

We began to study what type of paperwork and financial commitment was required to import a horse from Germany. A lot! But, in reality...not all that much more than what it would cost to have a horse trucked from western U.S. to Manitoulin.

Deciding to put off for a year or more some of the things we had hoped to accomplish on improving the farm, we found that while it would put us very tight, we could actually free up enough cash to be able to pay for flying the colt across the ocean after all.

Hardy immediately put things in motion and the process was soon underway.

Now, for Altamiro, this idea of humans suddenly wanting to begin handling him was completely unacceptable, and in the end, in order to obtain the blood samples necessary for the health paperwork, the little Sorraia colt was darted with a tranquilizer so that his examination and the installation of a microchip identifyer, along with the weaning process could commence.

Halter training the colt was next on the agenda, but with this there was a bit of difficulty, too, as there was no one available to do the training in the time it needed doing. In an effort to move things along, friend Hardy made the several hours journey from his home to the zoological park to help Altamiro learn about following a human on a lead rope. Unfortuately, the halter had been slipped and once again, there was no capturing Altamiro for his lessons while Hardy was there. Our first window of opportunity was lost and we had to wait for the next assembled shipment of equines to North America.

Altamiro, as he looked on the day Hardy visited with him at the zoological park.
Photo taken by H. Oelke

Although disappointing, this gave a little more time for Altamiro's domestication and in the end, the folks at the zoological park managed to get Altamiro comfortable with the halter and lead rope and also some practice with trailer loading was accomplished, just as the next available flight was organized. He was soon picked up by the transporter taking him to the awaiting plane. The little Sorraia colt would be traveling with larger, warmblood horses destined for the United States and then routed to Canada. A re-incarnated primitive horse jet-setting in modern times--isn't that amazing?

Once the final landing in Toronto commenced, Altamiro was picked up by the folks who would be stabling him for the ten day quarantine, during which time, several blood tests would be run to assure no pathogens were present.

In an effort to keep the costs down, friends of ours who have horses on the island were willing to drive down to the quarantine facility north of Toronto to pick up Altamiro and bring him to his island home. While Nancy and Lynne stayed at home, tending their respective farms, husbands John and Kevin went south to fetch a "wild" horse.

Altamiro stepped into his new world at Ravenseyrie on August 23, 2006 in the after-10pm darkness, with a calm curiosity, not the least bit unnerved. I loved him immediately.

John, Kevin and Altamiro, just after they pulled in to Ravenseyrie

There were many people who helped to make this dream a definite reality, people I will never meet, who nevertheless were part of something historic, each carrying out their job so well that Altamiro arrived in excellent form, body and mind--much to our collective relief.

Altamiro, as a two year old, growing into a fine young stallion/Ravenseyrie, June 2007

And you know what? Thanks to art lovers--those who are locals and those who are tourists--within one season, my little studio earned back the money we'd used to make Altamiro's trip possible. I guess d'Andrade knew what he was doing visiting me in my thoughts that uncomfortable, sleepless night and impressing upon me that this thing was not only worth doing, but that common folk like us could actually do it.


eva said...

Wow, Lynne, what an odyssey and how improbable this venture must have felt at the beginning. So there are special transatlantic planes outfitted for horses? I never thought about that, but I think from my own experience flying to Germany, it is probably much less stressful than a road transport. These planes feel virtually still once you are high enough above the cloud.

It's really a one-of-its kind adventure. And how handsomely young Altamiro developed. Hardy must have a god eye.

Kris McCormack said...

Yes, Altamiro did develop beautifully. I suspect much of that has to do with the wonderful environment the horses at Ravenseyrie have -- particularly all that movement over varied terrain.

Annemiek said...

What a wonderful story! This was just meant to be Lynne, and look how it turned out. 3 Lovely little foals, just as handsome as their parents. Altamiro is such a lucky guy to be with you in Ravenseyrie.

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva, Kris and Annemiek,
Thank you for your faithful visits to this blog and for taking the time to leave your comments--which help me remember there are real people out there who are reading and learning about our Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

It for sure seems a bit like an odyssey, and for a poetic soul like me, it is epic and potent with hidden meaning that I may not fully realize until later on.

For Altamiro, traveling from Germany to Ontario was just one hurdle to leap. Integration with our existing group of horse (and mules) proved to be another, perhaps greater ordeal in his young life, and worthy of a separate blog entry as soon as I can get to it.

eva said...

Hey Lynne,

i have a feeling you may have more lurkers than you might think.

To spread the word further, you may want to look into getting the blog into the google search engine. It involves putting in some meta tags into the code.

Look what the blog help says about that, or check out one of these sites: