Monday, September 28, 2009

Pony Clubbers Come For a Visit

On Saturday, September the 19th, Sarah Hutchinson, the District Commissioner of the Manitoulin Pony Club, brought four of its young members up to Ravenseyrie to meet the horses. Hanna, Bronwya, Nikita and Shanelle, along with one more supervising adult (Lynn), got up early enough to reach Ravenseyrie at 8:00 a.m., which was very much appreciated, since I had to be to work at noon and wanted to be able to have a nice block of time to share with them.

The Manitoulin Pony Club is an official branch of the Canadian Pony Club, which in turn is an extension of the international Pony Club organization established for youthful equestrians in Great Britain in the late 1920's. These Pony Clubs have been established "for the purpose of interesting young people in riding and sport and at the same time offering the opportunity of higher instruction in this direction than many of them can obtain individually." Looking at their website one can see they appear to be a highly structured, hierarchical organization with a focus on competitions. Probably in my younger years I would have been thrilled to be part of a bona fide Pony Club...Today I prefer to achieve learning from a different perspective and no longer consider the horse a tool for the advancement of young equestrians.

With good feeling and my best intentions in mind, I decided to ignore these aspects of the Pony Club for the duration of the girls' visit and provide them, instead, with an experience that demonstrates what a rich, spectacular and meaningful life horses can have outside of the world of competition and pleasure riding.

The morning was very chilly and blanketed with frost, but warmed up nicely as the September sun reacher higher up into a seamless blue sky. Mistral, Zeus, Interessado, Fada and Animado, along with the mules had eaten their breakfast oats just before sun up. For several weeks now, Altamiro and his family band have been coming up for oats before sun up as well (staying on the west side of the parameter surround the house, while the others remained to the east side) but on the morning of the visit from the Pony Clubbers, much to our delight, they delayed until shortly after the girls arrived. This allowed the girls to meet them without having to hike across the landscape in search of the "wild" horses.

I did not take photos during the time that Altamiro and the mares were eating their oats, but I did get out my camera when Doll stole in to introduce herself to the Pony Clubbers.
Doll seemed to especially appreciative of Bronwya's presence.

Altamiro left for a bit to go see what Mistral and his group might be up to over to the east and the girls lost no time making friends with the mares and Silvestre (Encantara and Segura still remain aloof around humans). Upon Altamiro's return, some of the mares had begun to drift back off to the north east sector and Altamiro decided that the rest of the mares should head that way as well. Knowing what was coming, I had the Pony Club group gather up on the stacked beams Kevin is hoping to use in building a future barn, which provided the girls a safer place to view how a herd stallion snakes his head low, pins his ears and with his sternest expression compels his mares to move out ahead of him to a new location. That "driving position" looks like this:
And the response of the mares and foals looks like this:
Once Altamiro and the mares had settled into grazing, we were able to mingle among them once again.

Hanna (if I have my names right) had been telling me how much she likes to ride, so I asked her if she thought that the horse liked it as much as she did. She replied, "Yes...hmm, well, he likes the attention, but I don't think he likes when I pull on the reins or when I kick his sides." I'm sure she is right...horses do like to get attention (especially those who otherwise lead rather boring lives in small areas) and I'm glad that Hanna and the others enjoy giving good attention to horses and that they recognize that some of the things they do horses don't like so much.

We then hiked over to the east sector and visited with Mistral's group and the Pony Club girls got to meet the yearlings. Zeus and Jerry were behaving rather intrusively because they wanted more of the attention upon themselves and we soon left them because I was afraid one of these big boys might push over a young girl in their desire to gain extra caresses. And anyhow, it was time to head back and get cleaned up for work.

While walking back on one of the many neat trails in the long grasses, Sarah asked me if I had much opportunity to ride these days. I expected that a question similar to this might arise, and it provided me with a chance to relay a little bit about how since living with the horses in this manner on the island, I've begun to look at them from a different perspective which has lead me to reading and studying the work of equestrians whose primary interest is that the horses have a say in what we do with them. I told Sarah that I still love haute école but that I do not see myself ever putting a bit into a horse's mouth again and that I would ride them only if they were truly willing to have me ride them. Sarah told me about a bitless bridle made in Ontario (which I am already familiar with)...then something interrupted us and I couldn't explain further that I no longer wish to ride with any type of bridle or reins, halter or lead rope or anything that restricts the horses head. There is much to explain about the harm that bits and bridles and even most types of riding does to the horse, but this wasn't the time to lecture on such things.

When we got back to the house, the girls presented Kevin and me with a thoughtful hand-made card thanking us for letting them come see the horses. We both were touched by this.

I was pleased that the girls got to see a bit of the landscape and meet the horses. I was unsure how much they understood about Sorraias and Sorraia Mustangs and our preservation efforts and I also thought perhaps that since riding was not a part of this visit that the girls might have been maybe a little bored.

Within a few days Sarah sent me an email, which she said I could post excerpts of for this blog entry.

Here is what Sarah wrote:

Thank-you SO much, Lynne!

What a magical morning we had with you and the horses.

I've been thinking so much what you said about being hesitant now to put a bit in a horse's mouth. You know, you are so much a part of the "herd" now, it's like they are your immediate family. I don't think I would put a metal bit in my childrens' mouths!

Westerners have a lot issues about control vs community. This is the battle ground between our hormones-fired dominance instincts and our more intellectually-inspired social instincts. The battle rages at home, in the field, at work, and at the United Nations. We are a curious blend of both, living on a constantly sliding scale of applying both in various situations, and I think your herd is as well. Being with the Sorraia herd helped us tune into the interplay between these instincts.

I know the girls absolutely LOVED being there. Hopefully the missing members, Joy McGibbon (mom Pat) and Hailey Leblanc (parents Andre and Denise) can visit with you some time as well.

Your Preserve is about so much. I know the girls came away with an understanding of the genetics behind the preservation of the Sorraias, and I think that they became subconsciously infused with the meaning behind it all, and that is 100% thanks to you and the way you live your life and the Preserve! Wonderful!

It is terrific to know that someone as thoughtful as Sarah is becoming aware of what it means, on a deeper level, to interact with horses and to maybe question why we do what we do with them. I was very happy to have the opportunity to share Ravenseyrie with this nice group of young equestrians and their moms.


eva said...

that expression of Doll resting her head next to Brownya is priceless. It looks like she is connecting with this child at a deep level, so full of trust and half-asleep.

Inviting these kids to see horses in another setting than they are used to may plant a seed that may blossom at some unexpected time in the future. It certainly had a profound effect on Sarah (the instructor?). Just realizing that she would never use such harsh methods like a bit on her own kids is a huge step in the right direction, to allow herself to think that analogy.

Maria said...

Sounds like a great visit. I think that it is great that these young riders are being exposed to more than just riding and competing... They are very lucky to have you on the island to be able to expand their 'equine education'!