Sunday, November 16, 2008

Easing Into The Cold Season

A November view from the "top of the world" at Ravenseyrie

Slowly but surely, Manitoulin Island is readying itself for the mantle of winter. Things are still a bit changeable, and the rather mild, rainy weather is followed by a dip in the thermometer, the firming up of muddied earth and the first dusting of snow. We've not yet had a sustained freeze, but we are getting nearer to that possibility. And eventually the winter will settle in for its long visit and we will begin feeding hay to the herd. Typically, the horses and mules have yet ample grazing until deep snow arrives in December. They always let us know when they are ready for dried summer to be laid out for them. If we begin feeding hay too soon, they just munch it briefly, defecate on it and head back out to the prairie and forest for grazing and browsing.
Another few images from the "top of the world"

A bit of a rough sea, captured from my vantage point at the "top of the world" with the new "teleconverter" lens Kevin gave me for our 15th wedding anniversary on November 8th.

Zorita appears to be ready for her first Canadian winter.

I'm happy to report that like Zorita and the other grown-ups each of the foals are well cloaked in heavy fur and are nicely rounded with weight to keep them well protected from the effects of those days when winter is expressed with stormy wrath.

Herd life in our semi-wild setting had been progressing in a manner that seemed to me to be "just right", until last week...

Bella came into an unseasonable heat and Altamiro readily revisited his duties as breeding stallion. I have noted on my calendar that Animado was born on April 12 and Bella had her "foal heat" on April the 20th. Bella came into heat again on May 10th. Both of these heats were well attended to by a very vigorous Altamiro. Bella had a third heat on May 28th, a fifth on June 21st and a sixth on July the 10th, which seemed to be the one that "caught", after which Bella appeared well settled, with no further heat cycles and accepted no further amorous overtures from Altamiro.

It would seem somewhere between July and November, Bella either aborted or absorbed her pregnancy. If she took a year off from birthing, I'd be quite alright with this...but if she becomes pregnant from this November breeding, that would mean she'd foal out in October, which is much later in the season than I'd prefer, making me prone to worry the foal won't be strong enough for the approaching winter. My preferences apparently aren't in agreement with how Nature sees the situation, and since part of the "Way of Ravenseyrie" is to encourage Nature to be the composer of the poetry expressed through the horses, I have to once again refrain from clinging to conventional wisdom and let the rhythm and rhyme of things fall into line as they are meant to be and not in the way I would wish them to be. This is not to say that I won't step in and help at times, rather that I will wait before acting, because often times things work out just fine (or better) than if I had come in and manipulated things to suit my human sensibilities. (There's a topic for a blog entry all its own!)

All the other mares still appear well settled and haven't had any further heat cycles. Both Belina and Ciente caught soon after they had their foals. And, it seems maybe Zorita caught from her first cycle in Altamiro's presence shortly after her arrival here.

Even though Zorita still is content with the general dynamics of the herd and isn't fighting her way up the ladder of the "hierarchy", she has definitely decided it is her job to monitor the behavior and actions of Zeus. I have for you a video clip, in which we see Zeus playing a bit with Interessado--nothing rough and tumble, but something about the game disturbed Zorita and she once again intervened and put a stop to Zeus's activities. What's curious here, is that Interessado's dam, Ciente, was well aware Zeus and her foal were engaged in this type of game, but she didn't find anything about it that required her intervention, which, like any good mother Ciente doesn't hesitate to act upon when she is feeling concerned.

And here are a few still scenes from the video clip:

Maybe, in addition to being an extremely good protector (which Bonnie has told me Zorita excels at) Zorita is also missing her colt left behind in Oregon, and coming to the rescue of Ciente's colt helps Zorita feel good. She hasn't tried to "steal" any of the other mares' foals, and she often will glare at them and chase them away, but at times, she is very sweet to them and I think she appreciates having them around.

One day we had squalls again, and the precipitation was frequently alternating between rain and snow. I had walked out in the thick of one snow squall to be with the horses and see how they were coping with the weather. I found them on the lee side of a small copse of Cedar trees, well sheltered from the wind, where they were slack-hipped and dozy while the snow drifted down, magically catching the sunlight which shone brightly between passing clouds. I took up a post inside an opposite thicket of Cedar trees and took some photos. Mistral was almost obscured by the falling snow, which soon lightened up and eventually stopped altogether, and melted away almost immediately. After the squall passed, the horses each began to yawn and then drifted off to graze.

Belina, Fada, Bella and Jerry

Ciente and Interessado

Ciente yawning

Zorita yawning

Rain squalls over the North Channel

And over the land

My last little "story" is from Friday morning. I had been out with the herd, mingling among them and working at removing burrs from manes and tails. Altamiro decided to come over and spend a little time with me. After giving him some itches, and making sure he was free of burrs, I stepped aside to look to see who my next grooming challenge would be. Altamiro stepped back in front me, and when I reach out to touch him (I had put my mittens back on to warm up my hands) he carefully grabbed a hold of the tip of my mitten and pulled it off! He stood there long enough for me to take his photo, and then he wandered off with it, brought it over to Animado, and left it with him...which you can see in the accompanying video.

It is my great joy to be able to have the opportunity to document the variety of occurrences that we get to experience here at Ravenseyrie. I appreciate those of you who diligently visit this blog and allow yourself to be transported to our fair island, for a glimpse of the changing seasons and the curious ways of the horses.


Kris McCormack said...

Fabulous photos of Mistral, Lynne... and I love the backlit ones of the herd, too!

Altamiro's "theft" of your mitten only to leave it with his young son leaves me wondering what he was thinking..

Leslie said...

Lynne thank you again for letting us be a "fly on the wall" watching your herd. I can't express how much I enjoy reading your blog posts! Don't ever, ever, stop!!! Or at least promise me this will all become a book some day! ;o)

Annemiek said...


I commented once that looking at your life at Ravenseyrie for me feels like living in a National Geographic film. What makes it all the more special for me is that through your stories we have come to “know” the star actors here and that makes this a unique experience. The beauty is overwhelming, especially in the photo’s with the snow and the sun. I feel privileged to look through your journal window.

The film with Altamiro and the mitten is so funny. I have a friend who is struggling with a stallion she has in training. He is housed in a traditional way, has no contact with other horses and is really aggressive towards humans. Not intentionally, but she tells me she feels he is extremely frustrated. I know a lot of people think all stallions act this way. I have seen several myself. Sad isn’t it? There must be a whole population of people out there that only know stallions as aggressive, frustrated and dangerous horses and approach them with this utterly distorted picture of reality in mind. Of course we force them into this behavior, but no one seems to know or to care.

Lynne, I really hope that your blog and articles in HFL will make people look different to herd life and stallion behavior in particular. It is so important people see and read about this.

I agree with Leslie wholeheartedly: don’t ever stop writing about your wonderful place!

Lynne Gerard said...

Kris, Leslie and Annemiek,
I appreciate your comments and for sure will keep on writing--which is easy to do because this life here provides so many interesting things to write about.

Actually, everyone's lives contain elements that make for entertaining reading, once one learns how to delight in the simple things, like the play of light over dried grasses or the antics of birds or the way people walk, whether this be along the cement sidewalks of cities, or over the compressed paths in the wilderness.

I agree, Annemiek, that the modern way of keeping stallions, often makes for a lot of suppressed energy that results in some rather "ill-mannered" stallions. Watching 3 1/2 year old Altamiro expressing his growing awareness of his own vigor and magnificence through copious amounts of play and mock battles with Jerry and Mistral--I realize that if he didn't have mares to cover and boy pals to rough-house with, he'd likely be a pretty aggressive character for humans to handle.

Those stallions who are in good, regular, stimulating training with their human caretakers, and not kept boxed waiting for semen collection or hand breeding don't suffer the same angst, I think...the Lippizan stallions, for example, from what I've seen in films and from what I've read are all rather gentlemanly.

I'm very fortunate to have opportunity to learn from a stallion in a semi-wild setting and expect that once I get off my duff and get some kind of manege built, we will even enjoy a bit of schooling together.

In case anyone was wondering, when I retrieved my mitten, just before Animado was going to pull it into his mouth, it was well slobbered with Altamiro's saliva, but otherwise in good form. I don't know if Altamiro had dropped it in front of Animado as a gift, or if he was just bored with it and ready to move on to the next thing...