Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Way of Things/The Emperor is Ousted

A peaceful moment at Ravenseyrie
Zorita (left) and Ciente enjoy the spring grass

The way life plays out in front of me here at Ravenseyrie is so filled with lessons...some that are unsettling. One thing impressed upon me over and over again, is this: If you are going to place your horses in a vast open wilderness, you must realize how very little control you have over their daily affairs.

The difficulty for me, coming from a background where every element of my horse's day was structured and dictated by myself or other attending humans, is to determine when to remain "hands off" or when to "help, assist or interfere".

A major dynamic between Mistral, Zeus and Altamiro demonstrates the dilemma quite dramatically.

Mistral, Zeus and Altamiro shown just a few days prior to the arrival of Encantara.
Mistral was feeling a bit edgy and had been having sharp discussions with Altamiro throughout the morning.

Mistral and Altamiro have for the past couple of years played at challenges for ruler-ship, inventing a variety of sparring games that were never injurious and always left Mistral's god-ship unquestioned.

Since the arrival of Encantara, Mistral has been demanding to get closer to this new herd member, after all he considers himself the Emperor God of Ravenseyrie. He also considers it his royal duty to haze all newcomers, regardless of age. You might recall he made such attempts last year when Interessado was born (interestingly he did not attempt to haze Animado or Fada when they were born).

This year finds Altamiro a very confident, robust four year old stallion in full command of his spectacular body. So we find him insisting that Mistral keep a respectful distance and Mistral insisting that he go where he pleases.

Altamiro exchanging pleasantries with Ciente

For the first couple of days, Mistral, Zeus and the draft mules were easy for Altamiro to convince to stay a respectful distance, and a certain peace reigned. This truce did not last long, and soon once again, Mistral was determined to get closer to the filly. Altamiro deftly turned him away each time. You will say I am anthropomorphising and surely you are right, but as a very disgruntled Mistral stood outside the parameter with his stalwart second in command, Corporal Zeus, they both appeared to be plotting more than comiserating. Then something shocking happened...Zeus charged into the grulla group and began trying to round them up and drive them over to where Mistral was waiting! Zeus has never ever before exhibiting this type of behavior!

I was out visiting with the herd and breathlessly tried to take photos, keep an eye out for the pups and also make sure that I wasn't in the way of these galloping horses! At one point I became really quite concerned because Zeus was acting so much like The God of Thunder and no longer appeared to care about anything except stealing herd members to take back to his leader, Mistral. Zeus and the herd were running at a frantic pace at times, over an extremely difficult section of the prairie where there are numerous holes and rocks and tussocks where such a chaotic chase could trip a horse easily and break a leg. And, Ciente (who is nine months along in her pregnancy) was getting the worst of it...I feared such stress as this would cause her to lose her unborn foal.

Ciente on the run

But these horses seem to know precisely how best to negotiate the terrain even at top speed. There were no falters, trips or falls and, thankfully, no injuries. Sometimes they even moved with great elegance as Bella demonstrates here with her beautiful trot which shows wonderful extension arising from natural collection:

Zeus actually succeeded in claiming Ciente and the mules and for about an hour. While all was quiet with everyone focused on grazing, Ciente casually grazed her way back into the grulla group.

Over the next couple of days, Mistral and Zeus made nearly incessant attempts to penetrate the nucleolus of primitive grullas. Altamiro would chase them away, and turn around to discuss things when they would attempt to follow him. What a show he would put on! If they retreated, he felt okay with them on the parameter and had no hard feelings. But they just kept at it, sometimes working as a definite team with Zeus diverting Altamiro's attention enough that Mistral would make a dash to penetrate the grulla herd, with Altamiro having to instantly pirouette and gallop over to position himself once again between his herd and the intrusive, aged, yet powerful, Arabian gelding.

I managed to get a few sequences of moving footage of "episodes" of these sallies by setting up the camera on its tripod and using the teleconverter lense. Unfortuantely, the lense was quite compromised by the dirt blowing up by the wind. Even so you get a sense of the drama that has been taking place here.

On the day that I took these moving images, Mistral and Zeus kept up their harrassment of Atlamiro and the grullas all day, all evening and into the morning with brief "cease fires" where both camps could take some rest.

After these breaks for napping and grazing, Mistral began again:

There was a point where it seemed that Altamiro said, "enough is enough" and somehow put an end to these challenges once and for all. I was not around when the final decision was made, but by the next day, Mistral and Zeus were definitely expelled and the mere look of Altamiro in their general direction was enough pressure to cause them to move further off and there have been no new attempts since then to penetrate the grulla herd.

During all this sorting out of things, no one was coming up for their breakfast oats. Once the official ousting of the Emperor took place, the grulla group resumed coming up for oats at sun-up and the mules and Mistral only came up half-way. I brought their breakfast oats out to them and tried to make them feel good.

I counted 39 wounds on Mistral, none requiring attention, most just patches where the hide was exposed but not penetrated. Zeus had two such wounds. (Altamiro doesn't have a scratch on him--truly!) If I had attempted to intervene by removing Mistral and Zeus by creating a separate paddock for them, I certainly would have been able to spare Altamiro the hassle Mistral and Zeus put him through as well as protect Mistral from these wounds - but Mistral would have had a complete nervous breakdown. (Separation anxiety has always been a huge thing for this Arabian.) Clearly this is something he needed to go through...he could have chose to just let the matter rest and not keep challenging Atlamiro, but he didn't, he kept going back and going back until Altamiro managed to take over compelete authority.

There is such a different feel now when I go out to spend time with Mistral and Zeus, like an era has ended. Sometimes they seem a little depressed, but other times, they seem mostly accepting. And there is plenty of room and an overabundance of food for all, and still lots of freedom. It is my hope that Mistral realizes he is still master of his own world, even if he is no longer master of Altamiro's world.

Zeus for his part, has definitely chosen to remain with his old leader and their friendship appears deeper than before. Mistral is more allowing of Zeus (will even let him share his oats, something he never did when he was still the Emperor). This last photo I captured with one hand while I was itching Zeus with the other and Zeus was itching Mistral. While it appears that Mistral has lost his rulership, I'm so thankful he hasn't lost his friend Zeus.


Annemiek said...

Wow Lynne, this story reads like a thriller! It had to happen sometime of course, but I feel sorry for Mistral. On the other hand I am so happy for Altamiro. He is in completely in control now, as he should be.

I can imagine how hard it is not to interfere, poor Mistral’s pride must have had a terrible blow. I am happy Zeus stayed loyal to the once almighty Emperor. I think Mistral really needs a friend right now.

Amazing isn’t it, they settled this without major injuries? I think you did a wonderful job documenting this event Lynne, very educating! Thank you!!

eva said...

Lynne, interesting how things are sorting themselves out. Nobody got killed, and a new arrangement has been established. Now you have the nucleus of a bachelor band, curious if the young males will join sooner or later....?

Altamiro is breath-taking. Not overly aggressive, just setting his boundaries, who's in and who's out. The intent is not to kill.

Zeu's role as the first lieutenant.... I have observed this behavior in our group, where the herd leader has the dirty work done by his second, who is totally devoted to him. I have never seen this discussed anywhere in the context of herd dynamics.

In the 5th picture from the bottom, there seems to be an extra mule. What am i looking at?


Kris McCormack said...

Eva, thanks for mentioning that the" first lieutenant" role occurs in your herd, too. I was wondering about that.

It also struck me as curious that the mules stayed with the grullas. Maybe because they're godparents.

And, I wondered, why now for the showdown rather than last year, for example.

Has anything changed over the last few days?


Lynne Gerard said...

Kris, Annemiek and Eva, thanks for leaving your comments. Leslie tried to leave one, but for some reason, blogger isn't allowing it, so she emailed this:
>>>"Again I can't seem to leave a post so I will post it here so at least you know I am reading your blog! ;o) :

"WOW!!! That was better than any soap opera I've never watched...... Lynne you have such a gift for telling a mesmerizing story. Wish there was a 2 hour documentary about your herd...I'd be glued to the TV!"

As of today, things are largely settled. We now have two separate herds. Zeus and Mistral make up what Kevin has titled, "the primary herd" in deference to Mistral's former rulership and then we have "the secondary herd" which is Altamiro and his collective of grulla primitives. Curiously the mules appear to be like "doctors without borders" in that they are "floaters" and are allowed to mingle with either herd, though sometimes Altamiro will tell them to keep a bit off the to the edges. Eva, I probably haven't mentioned the third draft mule, Dee, as much as Jerry and Doll, so you've forgotten that there are three long-eared steeds here.

Mistral is amazing in how precisely he reads the tolerance zone of Altamiro, and charts a different course with just one glance from Altamiro. Zeus is spectacular in his devotion to his Mistral and the two are almost always moving in parallel lines, always close together. The dynamics between them have shifted slightly, in that Mistral no longer appears to keep Zeus in a favored, yet subordinate position, rather is much more egalitarian with him, sharing oats, moving away if Zeus wants his space and allowing Zeus to rub on him--all would have been unthinkable back when Mistral was wearing the kings crown.

Belina came in to foal heat this week which created an altogether different angst among the herd. And now the black flies are beginning to swarm. All in all, Encantara has been more on the move than not ever since she was born and is already an adept at handling the rugged terrain and the rough and tumble antics of her herdmates.

Thank you all for recognizing what a huge change this ousting of Mistral has made for things here, as I wrote before, its like the end of an era, and as much as I feel good about what a great stallion Altamiro has become, I do feel bittersweet about Mistral's loss of title. He's actually seeming enjoy retirement a bit, though, as if he is relieved to no longer have to oversee every thing. I even saw him take a five minute nap laying down--a first since living here at Ravenseyrie!