Purebred Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, May 2009
Foundation sire of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve
Foundation sire of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve
It was August of 2006 when Altamiro came to Ravenseyrie with the destiny of growing into the duties of a herd sire. Even as a long-yearling, Altamiro was already practicing the passionate craft of studmanship, but since the "crown jewels" hadn't yet made their official appearance and it had been relayed to us that Sorraia stallions typically were not able to settle mares until they were in their fourth year, I didn't think there was a need yet to keep track of heat cycles and matings.
I did note in my calendar (with tremendous relief!) on April the 15th of 2007, Altamiro's testicles finally descended, but trusting in what I was told, I didn't feel this Sorraia colt (now two years old) was delivering viable sperm yet, so only loosely kept track of heat cycles and matings. When Bella delivered Animado one snowy April evening last year, we were utterly flabbergasted. (And Bella participated fully in this clever game by not bothering to look or act the least bit pregnant all the while!) There was much anxiousness and anticipation knowing that if Altamiro had gotten Bella pregnant in 2007, he likely settled Belina and Ciente too, but not having steadfastly marked down heats and matings, I didn't know when to expect the next foals. As it turns out, unlike Bella, both Belina and Ciente looked pregnant and provided us with signs when they neared their foaling times.
Since then, I have kept scrupulous records of heat cycles and matings. This was how I knew that Belina was due to deliver a foal this year in early May.
Here is how Belina looked on May the fourth:
On Saturday (May 9th), Belina's udder looked twice the "usual" size. I write, "usual" because as part of our mandate for our Sorraia Mustang Preserve, we adhere as much as we can to the dynamics of a wild horse herd and so have not weaned and separated last year's foals. This means Belina has been lactating and nursing Fada all this while and her udder always appears "ready", so I didn't think it would provide a viable indicator of whether or not a delivery was immanent. But certainly, it looked quite a bit bigger than it had since Belina delivered Fada last May, and I definitely made a note of it.
Sunday morning (May 10th, Mother's Day in CA and USA) after the herd had finished up their breakfast oats and were heading back off to graze, I mentioned to Kevin that Belina was moving quite slow and heavy and Altamiro was persistently following her and sniffing her rear-end with great interest. Her hip muscles didn't look slack, but Belina's abdomen had altered and I suspected she was very close, and would probably deliver sometime over the course of the evening.
We had signed up to attend a barefoot hoof trimming clinic being held on the other side of the island and so were gone the better part of the day. When we returned, sometime after 4 p.m., the first thing I did was look to see where the herd was. They were off in the southwest sector, slightly mingled at the edge of the wet area on the south fence line, grazing just in front of the Poplars trees growing there. I thought I could see Belina with the others and I also thought I saw something small and light-shaded close to her. The domestic horses and the draft mules were quietly grazing further off, but the primitive group was mingling all around Belina. Kevin quickly fetched the binoculars and we all ran up to stand on top of the old barn ramp to gain a better view. Had I just seen dry grasses or was that really a small horse form? It was definitely a foal!
We went out to have a closer look, camera in hand.
Just as she behaved when Fada was born, Belina was hyper vigilant in her efforts to keep everyone at a respectful distance and only allowed Altamiro and Fada the briefest of touches before instructing them to move away from her and the newborn. Thankfully, Belina allowed me to come to within three feet so I could follow them closely and get a look at whether the foal was male or female. Finally, the wee tail lifted straight up and I could see for certain that it was a filly.
After we'd spent a good long time admiring and praising and singing songs of thanksgiving, we walked back across the field. There the dogs found the afterbirth and we could see that the foaling had taken place out in the open grass. Judging by the way Belina's back end looked, the fact that the filly was dry and nursing and now seeing the condition of the afterbirth, we are guessing that the foaling took place just an hour or two before we came home.
Belina not only delivered a perfectly formed healthy filly, but she provided exactly what Hardy Oelke and I have been expecting from the crossing of a purebred Sorraia with select mustang mares of Sorraia type.
I have not seen such distinct striping over the neck since the drawings d'Andrade made of specimens of the remnant herd of striped wild horses he came upon while on a hunting expedition in the lowland areas of the Sorraia river near Coruche back in the 1920's!
And there are good stripes on this filly's legs, even visible through the light colored foal hair. She's a solid grulla with excellent bi-coloring in her mane and tail...in short this filly displays all the qualities of the primeval Form III Ancestral horse described by Ebhardt. Likewise, she reflects the descriptions we find written about the Iberian wild horses by St. Isidore of Seville and by authors of hunting texts in the middle ages who called these horses, "zebros".
The Sorraia horses in recent times have shown a reduction in the primitive striping of their ancestors, a phenomenon that is likely due to the genetic bottleneck they have experienced and also the fact that with the exception of Hardy's Oelke's group of Sorraias living completely wild on a private refuge in Portugal, all others are to one degree or another pressed into the mold of modern breeding practices. How much of a role a wilderness environment plays in how colors and markings express themselves in offspring is something that some researchers need to explore further.
It is my habit to wait until a definite connection is made between me and the new foals so that they themselves provide direction into what names they should be given. It has been my habit thus far to use Portuguese names, as a way to honor the contribution Dr. Ruy d'Andrade made to saving these wild Iberian horses from extinction. It took four days before Belina felt comfortable enough to let Fada investigate me, and it make take this long with the new filly too.
I don't know who is more excited - me, or Hardy! Both of us are feeling especially pleased that the distinct conformation and primitive color of the ancient wild horse of the Iberian Peninsula has emerged so vividly through the pairing of Altamiro and our carefully selected mustang mares. Belina's latest contribution is thus far the best example yet of what genetic treasures this type of consolidation of the Sorraia phenotype can provide for future conservation efforts.
In my next journal entry, I will share with you some of my worries and misgivings about what we are hoping to accomplish with this Sorraia Mustang Preserve, and how this new birth has provided me with the validation I needed to continue moving forward.