Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Beauty's Dark Side

Altamiro, grazing with his family, while keeping an eye on a pair of Sandhill Cranes at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve on Manitoulin Island

Three beats to the ground, one airborne and silent--perchance to fly...
All beauty and magic--until reaching down and forward, with his teeth he grasps the foal's hock, never breaking stride, one fluid movement, an angry toss and the filly has somersaulted, landed in a jumbled heap and is immediately back up, running to catch up with the warm side of her dam, several strides ahead.

I run full at HIM, screaming, "ALTAMIRO!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!" He pauses, and I stop, shaking my fists, wailing like a banshee, hating all that is HIM...completely at a loss to comprehend how he could have behaved so brutishly. Because Bella said "no" to his sexual overtures, Altamiro acted out in frustration by tossing seven day old Pinoteia.

"She could have landed on a rock!!!"
, I upbraided him.

He looked me full in the eyes, understood my disappointment in HIM...but yet compelled by a wave of hormonal angst, he tossed his handsome head, shaking off my rebuke, and ran his harem off into the far forest north.


He is larger than life for me, and even as I am repulsed by some of his rock star, bad boy attitudinal outbursts, I find myself enamored by his incredible charisma.

Was it this way even before we met?

I surely projected A LOT of hopes and dreams upon him even before we met.

And when we finally did meet, I loved him as a mother loves a child, my hopes and dreams of a noble herd sire mostly were forgotten, looking at this skinny, out-of-place, remnant of a lost age. A wild horse with ties to ancient times? He seemed much more like a child, wrenched from his zoological park home, pushed onto a plane, flown over the ocean and deposited into a wilderness his prehistoric genes seemed to have long forgotten.

I enveloped him with empathy, and worry. He was so small, under-developed even "dull" witted. How could he possibly "seed" the restoration of ancestral horses???
The yearling Sorraia stud colt, Altamiro, in 2006, living in our yard temporarily because of the troubles we had getting him accepted into the herd.

Everyone here (those with equine heritage) seemed to loath him. Most wanted nothing to do with him. One refused to allow him group participation at all. One wanted to kill him.

And he looked at them, rather dopey-eyed, and extended the hoof of friendship--despite being repeatedly rebuffed.
Altamiro trying to make friends with Bella in 2006. (Note the healing wound on his neck, a "welcome" gift from Jerry, the draft mule, during an earlier attempt at integration.)

Adjustments had to be made. Mesquite, a small bay mule (who was bent on destroying the Sorraia) had to be relocated to a new home.

Mesquite, a diminutive--but determined-- mule, chasing down Altamiro in 2006.

Mistral (the gelding who would be King) maintained a strict circumference which the alien stud colt must not breech.

Summer gave way to late autumn before one could say that he had actually integrated into the herd and made Ravenseyrie his home. What did the rest of the equines at Ravenseyrie see that I could not? There was no threat in this almost homely, forlorn creature...was there?

...and I wondered, how in the world would such a dim-eyed colt become a herd sire?

Presently, I'm reading David Shenk's book on epigenetics titled, The Genius in All of Us, which provides a wonderful window into how influential the way we live our lives is upon our genetic make-up and even the genetic expression of the next generation. Genes hold within them the promise of potential, but they are not, on their own, the stuff of greatness. The interaction of environmental influences, cultural shaping and each individual's choices to the variables presented throughout life all have a role in how genes express themselves.

In an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, Shenk relays:

The implications of this dynamic interaction are enormous; it explodes all of our old notions of "innate" qualities and genetic destiny. The new way to understand genes is that they are a vital actor in a developmental process. "In each case," explains Cambridge University biologist Patrick Bateson in "Cycles of Contingency." "The individual animal starts its life with the capacity to develop in a number of distinctly different ways. Like a jukebox, the individual has the potential to play a number of different developmental tunes... The particular developmental tune it does play is selected by [the environment] in which the individual is growing up."

This very thing, "dynamic interaction" is what Altamiro responded to from the minute he stepped off the trailer and began to mingle with all that is Ravenseyrie.

In the whole wide world there are +/- 200 Sorraia horses remaining in existence. Of these there even a smaller number of breeding stallions, some of whom are now subjected to modern breeding practices which house the stallions separately from the mares and foals, keep them in limited, unnatural environments, incorporate artificial insemination, etc. I can well imagine that if Altamiro had been exposed to a less inspiring environment than Ravenseyrie, kept from actually living with mares and trained to allow humans to collect his semen via a dummy mount, he would not be the equine version of film star, Antonio Banderas, but would likely have grown even duller in body and mind than he was when he first arrived here as a yearling.

All well and good that this five year old Sorraia stallion has grown into an ardent and impassioned, larger than life Iberian hearthrob--one must realize that he is not all "sweetness and light"--the particular beauty that is Altamiro has a dark side...

Antonio Banderas in the film Desperado
Image credit: Rick Torres

As relayed in the opening scene of today's journal entry, Altamiro does not always channel his amazing energy into edifying actions. Though upon inspection, wee Pinoteia had not a scratch on her after having been picked up and slung aside by her father, in truth, she could have landed on one of the many rocks that make up our landscape, becoming broken bodied or even killed by such rash action undertaken by Altamiro. Let's just say that I've never been impressed by rock stars that take to smashing their guitars.
Altamiro, during the summer of 2009

At this time in his life, Altamiro must feel spectacular. After a rough start here, he now lays claim to rulership of all of Ravenesyrie, even lately taking delight in charging into flocks of seagulls and ravens for the dual pleasure of feeling his body respond in top form and being in the middle of birds taking flight en mass. (You can bet I'm hoping to get this on camera one day!) Imagine him rearing up and pawing at birds in flight, with mischievous delight.

Mischievous aptly describes Altamiro, for he is not wholly satisfied with being the paramour to four young mares and father to their exquisite offspring...no, he gets a bit bored with the family life and often leaves them to go marauding, looking for action elsewhere.
Antonio Banderas in the film Desperado
Photo credit, unknown

Typically Altamiro's quest for physical and mental stimulation outside that which he receives as a "family man" lead him over to the other sector of the range where Mistral and his group roam. Here there are mules to harass, his banished sons and the domestic geldings to play rough and tumble games with, and his expelled daughters to haze once again.

This first video clip shows Altamiro harassing the draft mule, Dee:

This next clip shows Altamio picking out his coming two year old son, Interessado, for a bit of roughing up:

Most of the time no harm comes from these escapades (not counting, of course, the surface bites that most everyone other than Altamiro himself wears from these encounters).

Several weeks ago, however, Mistral (the former ruler of the land) though 28 years old and a domestic bred Arabian gelding decided not to walk away from Altamiro when he came by to flex his muscles and arrogantly remind Mistral that Ravenseyrie was now his. If Kevin had not been on hand to break it up, who knows how far things would have gone? A fight to the death? Kevin felt that Mistral was not going to back down or concede this time and their duel would have escalated until Mistral suffered a mortal wound. After referee Kevin had sent both fighters to their respective corners, Mistral actually tried to go after Altamiro again, until Kevin once more intervened and convinced Mistral to give it up. I used nearly an entire jar of calendula salve doctoring up the hundreds of bite marks strong-headed Mistral walked away with. Altamiro was unscathed, as usual. The two have a new truce in effect and have gone back to a respectful and peaceful relations.
Altamiro, sharing some "family man" time, here dining with both Segura and Silvestre

While contemplating how to best compose this journal entry, I first found myself likening Altamiro to a brilliant rock star coming into top form--who is he most like: Elvis Presley? , Mick Jagger?, Axl Rose?.

But after further reflection, scenes from the many films Antonio Banderas has starred in began to replay in my mind and I realized that this actor's smouldering, dark, yet passionate and "fair" minded characters best resonated with the type of character Altamiro presently is. A fitting reflection, actually, considering they both have a heritage from the Iberian Peninsula.

Can you see the resemblance between Altamiro and Antonio Banderas in character as Zorro?

Altamiro in a soft moment with one of his leading ladies, the Kiger Mustang mare, Ciente

While it has been delightfully fun to select a celebrity who personifies Altamiro, I recognize that at this point in time, it was obvious I could not select a more esoteric-minded figure, though I may have wished for one. Yet there is something passionately noble as well as transcendentally spiritual about this horse...and not just he, but each of these "primitives" here at Ravenseyire, as if the best of Ghandi himself--that self-same capacity to inspire better things in humans--exists in these primordial equine entities. Somehow I can readily imagine that Altamiro (of his own accord, but with a little prompting from Kevin and me) will turn the most violent tendencies of his expressionism into actions which provoke the best in himself and others.

David Shenk again, this time from his book, The Genius in All of Us:
Could our individual actions be affecting evolutin in all sorts of unseen ways?
"People used to think that once your epigenetic code was laid down in early development, that was it for life," says McGill University epigenetics pioneer Moshe Szyf. "But life is changing all the time, and the epigenetic code that controls your DNA is turning out to be the mechanism through which we change along with it. Epigenetics tells us that the little things in life can have an effect of great magnitude."
Everything we know about epigenetics so far fits perfectly with the dynamic systems model of human ability [and all living things--lg.]. Genes do not dictate what we are to become, but instead are actors in a dynamic process. Genetic expression is modulated by outside forces. "Inheritance" comes in many different forms: we inherit stable genes, but also alterable epigenes; we inherit languages, ideas, attitudes, but can also change them. We inherit an ecosystem, but can also change it.
Everything shapes us and everything is shaped by us. The genius in all of is is built-in ability to improve ourselves and our world.

The difficulty lies with me. Nature is Beauty...yet she has a dark-side, at least as a human, it seems to me there is darkness and violence that I do not always know how to reconcile. But, like Shambhala Training, I believe in the essence of basic goodness, and when I see Altamiro acting out violently, on the one hand I recognize that I may not understand what motivates such behavior...perhaps it arises from instinct and hormonal urges, some of which are meant to be survivalist in intent and other which are imbalanced...I try not to judge, but I do sometimes intervene. When I feel such things arise from an imbalance, I have no difficulty in shaking my fists in reproach and intervening with a prompt to him that he should behave differently. Then, heart to heart, I try to reflect the higher calling of beingness...and who is to say it will not have an interactive impact upon his further development?

I'd like to leave you now with a YouTube video clip from the big screen film, Four Rooms, wherein Antonio Banderas comically demonstrates (in a supremely enjoyable example of over-acting) the conflict of being a father who sometimes wishes to escape parenting for a bit of wild fun...reminding me so very much of Altamiro himself:


June said...

Ha! That's perfect - he is an Antonio Banderas!

June said...

And the little boy in the movie clip looks like baby Altamiro!

Kris McCormack said...

For my money Altamiro is MUCH handsomer than A.B. -- no comparison. :-)

Lynne Gerard said...

I agree with you, on both counts.

Kris...it is not so much the "handsome" aspect that prompted the choice of A.B. to represent Altamiro in human form, rather the dark, cool, danger-prone attitude he exudes in so many of his film characters.

On looks alone, I'd have to say Altamiro has no human equivalent...that's how handsome he is! ;-)

Oh, and I didn't get this worked into the journal entry, but, if I were to select a classical composer as a representative of Altamiro, (based on body of work, not physical looks), it would have to be Beethoven.

Someday, I'll put together a nice film clip, with Altamiro, moving partly to Spanish guitar and partly to Beethoven symphonic excerpts!

June said...

Thanks for the interesting info on the epigenetics book. That's going to have to go on my wish list!

Máire said...

I love all of this post. Lynne, you are a warrior yourself. I can just imagine you charging out to protect the little one.