Monday, September 22, 2008

Phantom Horse Finder

Kevin--The Phantom Horse Finder

It is throughly impish of me to have kept readers waiting...wondering how Zorita is faring after being turned out into the big wide open. Any angst and worry you might have been feeling was felt many times more by Kevin and myself.

When I returned from work on Saturday, the herd was grazing off to the west. There were twelve of them, Altamiro was there, but no thirteenth Zorita. Kevin told me he hadn't seen Zorita since the morning, and Altamiro had only recently joined the herd.

Of course, I quickly changed and went horse hunting, checking first the region Kevin had seen Altamiro coming back from. Zorita was nowhere in sight and not hanging out in various regions within the upper-land forests.

Unfortunately, I could only do this one search, as Kevin and I had a rare engagement in town that evening and didn't return until well after dark (and well past our usual bedtime). If Zorita had been delivered the prior week as expected, I would have been in better form, having closed my studio for several days and having no engagements on our calendar...but this is how fate played out, and we were left to hope Zorita was safe and doing well wherever she was keeping herself.

At dawn, I went out to give the herd breakfast--a herd of twelve.

No Zorita.

Straight away, the pups and I went hiking, and hiking, and hiking for hours. We checked out every bush, tree or alteration of light that mimicked the form of a Sorraia horse. No Zorita. All these phantom horses were playing tricks on desert mirages.

When I came back, I went a different way and Kevin joined the search, going back another way. Each of us turning up no sign of Zorita. Not a clue. And the herd, acting as if she wasn't here, had never existed. Do they know where she is? Do they care?

The devilish voices began, then...quite in earnest...condemning me for letting Zorita loose into wild unfamiliar territory, occupied by a hostile herd of horses--leaving her to cope with her strange new world while I went off to work. Why didn't I stay--forget about the studio customers and follow Zorita all day?...I would have known what transpired between her and Altamiro...I would have known where she had gone to. But now, not knowing a thing...I realized she could be bruised, cut, bleeding, broken-legged, tumbled down the bluff, etc. How inadequate a human I am! How feeble my tramping across the territory--the vast, multi-terrained territory--she could be laying down, dying a slow death and how would I ever find her?

I had checked all regions except down the bluff and the lakeshore. After a brief break, off the pups and I went again for another hiking.

Zorita! Zorita! Where are YOU?!!

She wasn't down the bluff or at the beach. My dismal thoughts went a notch lower, the devilish voices twisted my head into painful, inescapable throbs of tension.

Zorita may have been any of the places I had checked, she just may have decided not to show herself. Or she could be incapacitated, unable to show herself.

Early evening comes on. Kevin has gone off for a search while I work on dinner. Sipping a wee dram of AlpenBitters #7, I feel just as pained in the head as ever, but a faint voice of reason can now be heard over the other negative voices.

Zorita is no yearling youngster--she is a sturdy six year old mare who may have come from a highly domesticated environment, but has the heritage of her primitive ancestors permeating her being. She was ready to go out, and we didn't lead her out, we opened the gate and let her make the choice. There is more than ample grazing to be found, lots of choices to find water, shelter in the many forests--Zorita has been turned out in the perfect natural environment for horses. If she feels the need to hide herself from the herd, there is no doubt she has all that she needs for not only surviving, but thriving.

If only we could see her--just to know the harsh hazing hadn't left her injured.

As I watch Kevin return from his hike, I try to read the expression his body carries with it...has he or has he not seen Zorita? His body is playing poker--and whatever his hike showed him, it is not exposed in his manner of walking. Finally he comes into the house, takes his hat off and proclaims: "I am the Phantom Horse Finder!"

Kevin found Zorita grazing along the road leading down the bluff to the lake. She walked right up to Kevin, enjoyed the two apples he'd been carrying, then she headed off to the lake. He followed her. She walked right by the bunkie/boathouse without even looking at it and took herself to the lake for a drink. When I had been down there just a few hours earlier...there had been no signs of her having been down there--but Kevin said the way she moved down there was as if she was already familiar with the territory. Had she picked up my trail earlier and followed it?

Kevin said Zorita was unscathed, except for a few crescent shaped patches of hair missing on her back and rump from getting bitten by one or more of the horses...nothing broke the skin and she was in fine form. Zorita followed Kevin back up the bluff, but she stopped when they reached the final hill that would take them up to the table land where the really good grazing is. Zorita obviously knew the herd was up there somewhere, and she didn't want to be where they were. She turned and slowly worked her way back down the bluff, grazing along the way. Kevin said she was as relaxed and pleased to be grazing down there as if she had been born on the island.

Instantly my headache heart lept up out of the hell the devilish voices had pushed it into and Beethoven's Ode To Joy filled my being. (We played the Ninth Symphony with dinner, should hear it, especially the choral part--it truly conveys our utter joy at knowing Zorita is doing excellently.

I wish Zorita had joined the herd...but I trust that she is doing what she feels is best.

All the other newcomers (Bella, Belina, Altamiro and Ciente) when first introduced to the herd, were likewise hazed by the the established herd members (mostly Mistral) but they each opted to hang out on the peripheral of the herd (although Altamiro's story reads a bit differently) and made frequent attempts to join them, until finally after a few days, Mistral would allow them in. Zorita responded completely different, and made the decision to go it alone for awhile. It will be intriguing to follow this choice of hers and see how long before she tries again to join the herd. I sure don't want her to be alone out there over the winter!

And now, as a reward to readers for being so diligent in working through all this rambling text, its time for some photos. Kevin didn't have the camera with him when he found Zorita yesterday, but I had it with me this morning.

My first hike, just after feeding the herd breakfast was unfruitful. I had gone down to the lake and found Zorita's hoof prints and manure, but no Zorita. On my second trip down, I followed the road on the neighbor's section of the property (remember the land to the east ties in with ours but is owned by Dr. Bob Hamilton and Dr.Shelagh McRae who are kind enough to let the horses graze and roam their section too). Just before rounding the slight curve that leads to the doctors cabin at the lakeshore, I heard twigs snapping off to the right.


Zorita, The Phantom Horse, blending in with the forest

When you look at these photos, you get a feeling of how easily the grulla coloring of these primitive type horses blend in with the environment. If Zorita hadn't snapped twigs...I would have walked right by her!

Zorita, watches my approach, unafraid, and perhaps smells apples coming her way

Zorita walked over to me when I got closer and soon was enjoying the apples I had brought for her.

I hung out with her for awhile, and after she'd finished her six apples, I watched her going over the ground with her muzzle, picking at tiny bits of vegetation and nibbling on roots that she scraped up through the dried plant matter. As I looked over this portion of the woods, I could tell by the many manure droppings and scuffed up areas that Zorita had been nibbling on twigs and roots all throughout this area. Had she spent the night here?
Zorita had eaten the roots of a young Spruce sapling that was pushed over

Kevin had planned to come down with Lil' Bull (his small tractor) to fetch a rock from the beach, and Zorita and I could hear him coming down the bluff. Once down the bluff part way, our road branches two different ways. One way (we call it "The Short Road") is straight and leads directly to the beach. The other road winds quite a ways over to the west before it opens up to the beach and it leads to the portion of our property where our row boat and bunkie/boathouse are located just inside the woods.

I knew the rock Kevin wanted to retrieve would require he take "The Short Road", so I bade Zorita good bye and began weaving through the forest making my way over back to our property and "The Short Road". Wouldn't you just know that Zorita thought that was a good idea and decided to join me? What fun it is to weave through the woods with four dogs and a small horse!

Once we got over to "The Short Road", Kevin had turned off the tractor and was preparing to walk out to where the rock was and chart a path for himself. Zorita decided he needed her help doing this and I was able to capture it on the camera, both in photos and moving footage.
Zorita walks up to greet Kevin at the opening of "The Short Road" to the beach

Zorita decides to follow Kevin to go look at the rock he wants to bring up the bluff

Zorita samples a bit of wild mint growing among the rocks

To close, I've put together several sections of moving footage into one clip. What is most impressive is how well Zorita navigates her way over this very rough terrain.

Also noteworthy is her desire to be with us rather unfamiliar humans. This is testament to the kind feelings Zorita developed for humans while in Bonnie and David's care. Thank you Bonnie and David for treating Zorita so well! I hope you are enjoying how readily your domestic mare has taken to her wild life. Isn't she amazing?!


Annemiek said...

Hi Lynne,

Pfffffff, I was holding my breath while reading your story. I remember when we went to see the Koniks in the Netherlands the ranger told us they lost a complete harem of 14 horses once. The area was big yes, but it was winter and everything was bare. They did not find the group until it finally decided to show itself. This was after one or two weeks of searching. They could not believe they “lost” a group of 14 horses just like that!

Zorita seems to be doing fine. In my studies I read once that stallions that spent some amount of time on their own, turn out to be the best caretakers. The researches thought it was because on their own they have to be extra alert, and inventive to survive. Mares don’t usually spent a lot of time on their own, but it does happen when they leave their mother’s harem. They are on their own until they are “captured” by a young stallion or join another harem. Maybe they profit from their time alone too?

I was also thinking that some horses seem to prefer the woods over open land. In Lunteren (Rudolf’s home) we have a huge area with grass and sand. I would think this would be heaven for a horse, because he can graze and see a “predator” coming from miles away. Rudolf hates to be there. I tried several times and each time he clearly tells me this is not where he wants to be. It is as if he feels more vulnerable there, which I can understand because predators could show up from all around you. He only starts to relax when we walk into the woods again.

I think it is a good sign Zorita joins you and Kevin when you meet. She obviously understands she can trust you, and I do think she would know where to find you if she really needed to. I hope Altamiro will soon convince her she belongs with him and the rest of the group, but she seems to know what she is doing (even though Mistral might have a "hoof" in that:-)).

I envy you Lynne, you and Kevin are part of this and I cannot imagine what could be more fascinating than witnessing this integration.

eva said...

Zorita must be very independent. What surprises me most is that she managed to get Altamiro to leave her alone. Can't quite figure that one out.

The integrations i have witnessed were Shadow's and my friend's mustang mare, and two younger geldings.

I had Shadow in an electric fence enclosure for 2 weeks before letting him out. No hazing ever took place. He ran straight into the approaching crowd and started kicking, pawing and rearing, exchanging violent kicks and squeals with the other geldings. At some point they allowed him to walk away and he stayed by himself (but in sight) for a couple of weeks. I used to bring him his hay flake to the other end where his enclosure used to be. Then one day, I saw him up on the hill eating with the others, second in line.

With the girl there was hazing, but she knew Shadow, and sought refuge under his wings. He fended off the unwelcome suitors for a while, until she decided that the herd leader was the better deal. It gave her instant status and she's been one of his prize mares ever since. She is a feisty, promiscuous little brat, and flirts with everyone.

Two younger geldings were hazed persistently and beat up badly, and stayed away for a long time (several months). One of them, a huge polo horse, joined the under club containing Plato the donkey and an ancient, 38 year old mare called Star. It was too strange to see these guys hanging out together.

I guess you can never predict what will happen. It looks like horse figure each other out in seconds, when they touch noses and smell each other's breath.

With your property being so huge, i am wondering if it would be possible for her to never find the herd again?

Lynne Gerard said...

Annemiek wrote: "In my studies I read once that stallions that spent some amount of time on their own, turn out to be the best caretakers. The researches thought it was because on their own they have to be extra alert, and inventive to survive."

This is very interesting! I haven't yet relayed the protracted integration story of Altamiro into the herd, (I will soon) but there was quite a bit of time when he was on his own too--different than Zorita, because it wasn't his choice, rather one mule made life hell for him for awhile.

And for sure, Altamiro has shown himself to be an amazing caretaker!

Eva, each time you share something about Shadow with me, it makes me want to meet him all the look into his eyes and feel his breath. There is something extra special about Mustangs who once lived in the true wild, isn't there?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Annemiek and Eva.