Sunday, May 23, 2010

Equine Beach Bums


This spring, Manitoulin Island is experiencing a bit of a drought and temperatures are already tickling the 30's°C. Also, the biting insects are out in full force and these combined factors have altered the daily routines of the horses. While Altamiro and his family still come up to the house for breakfast oats, Mistral's group has become conspicuously absent, not just in the morning, but all the day long.

I had a suspicion the first day that the absentees had decided to spend their days grazing their way down the bluff to hang out at the beach, where the cooling lake breezes provide a welcome relief from the heat and the bugs.

When I refer to Mistral's Group, I speak of those equines who have joined together to form a herd separate from that of Altamiro and his mares. Here is the member list of this alternate herd at this point in time:

The Domestics:

Mistral / 29 yr. old Arabian gelding

Zeus / 16 yr. old Thoroughbred gelding

The Mules:

Dee
/ ~15-18 yr. old molly draft mule
Doll / ~15-18 yr. old molly draft mule
Jerry / ~15-18 yr. old john mule


The Primitives:

Animado : 2 yr. old half-Sorraia/half Sorraia Mustang colt

Fada : 2 yr. old half-Sorraia/half-Sorraia Mustang filly

Interessado : 2 yr. old half-Sorraia/half-Sorraia Mustang colt

Encantara : yearling half-Sorraia/half-Sorraia Mustang filly


I had opportunity to spend a little time at the beach with Mistral's group on three different days. During these visits I took many photos documenting how these equine beach bums spend their time on the shore of Lake Huron.


The half-mile of Ravenseyrie beach is referred to as a "cobble" beach and is covered by massive boulders, large stones, a variety of rocks and pebbles as well as several forms of clay.
Amazingly, there are many plants that grow down here and many appear to be enjoyable eats for the equines.

Let's explore some of the lake shore smörgåsbord nature has at the ready for our equine friends...

There is a sedgy grass (I've not yet found its true identity) that is abundant on the beach. It's slender, very stiff and rather coarse to the touch. It must have an appealing taste for the horses and mules spent much time grazing the different regions of the beach where this sedgy grass was prominent.
Grazing Beach Grass:
video

Discussing an anecdote involving bears, here is an interesting tidbit about sedge grass gleaned from Judith Somner's book, The Natural History of Medicinal Plants:
"Barrie Giblert of Utah State University has observed Alaskan brown bears preparing for hibernation. He postulates that the occasional swallowing of whole sedge leaves (Carex sp.) may serve to remove tapeworms from the bears' intestines, before they settle down to a period of prolonged inactivity during which the parasites could do considerable harm to their ursine hosts. The coarse, sharp-edged leaves of sedges may serve to scrape the worms from their points of attachment in the intestines."


Aside from serving nutritional value, what side benefits might sedge grass provide horses, I wonder?



There is a type of Willow shrub that grows among the rocks and this year is the first time I happened to be a witness to the horses browsing it, with apparent relish! From what I can tell this type of willow is identified as Salix bebbiana or Bebb's Willow. All willows are said to provide the beneficial pain-relieving effect that aspirins contain, in fact the Salix family, most notably Salix alba (White Willow) served as the precursor to the modern day synthesized aspirins made in laboratories.
Herbal Horsekeeping by Robert McDowell and Di Rowling tells me that the actions of willow are: "Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, febrifuge and tonic." Common uses of willow are to "relieve pain, inflammation and fever."

Might this lake shore shrub also ease the swelling and itchiness of insect bites?


Browsing on Bebb's Willow:
video





Another treat for me was to observe the horses sampling the offerings in the cat-tail canal. I was surprised that the horses ingested not only the new shoots stems and leaves, but also the downy seed cotton left over from last year. The Common Cat-tail (Typha latifolia) is a plant consumed by many creatures, with the shoots, leaves, stems, pollen, fruit, seeds and rhizome roots providing nutritional value. Various parts of the cat-tail are also useful in nest building, basket making and as soft-packing material. It's quite an amazingly versatile plant and I hope that the severe browsing the horses engaged in has not caused irreparable damage. There are, of course, other areas on the bluff (specifically in moist road-side ditches) where cat-tail abounds, but I always liked having this section of the old boat canal colonized by cat-tail.
Browsing on Cat-tails:

video


In between dining courses, the horses engaged in a variety of mutual grooming sessions, and at one point the primitive youngsters blended into a four way grooming/yawning fest:

video

There also was a lot of napping going on:
Sometimes, with a rock as an unlikely pillow:
Sometimes interrupted by those pesky flies:



Mostly, though the napping appeared sublime:


As you can see, the Ravenseyrie horses have no need of fly masks, or insect repellents or electric fans in a deeply bedded barn--they have learned to make the most of each day, symbiotically flowing with their natural environment, altering their routines and habits and predilections to fit seasonal changes and climatic fluctuations.

Their way of life has much to teach me, and I am thankful to be a student here in this wonderful place in time.

11 comments:

June said...

Thanks for an interesting post. So beautiful too!

Annemiek said...

Lynne, I love the photo’s. Somehow there is nothing that is more relaxing to me than watching a horse graze. Maybe because they have to be relaxed themselves to be able to graze and select what they want to eat. I always lose track of time when Rudolf is grazing, and I am keeping him company. The other day he was being attacked by flies during our outing. It was just the two of us, and I decided to “help” him chase the flies away. I got a twig with some leafs at the end and I used it as if it was a tail. If Rudolf could have smiled he would have, he had that smug look on his face as if to say; “wow, thanks, smart move”

I don’t know which one of the youngsters is on the photo with his/her head on that stone, but it is really funny. And the close up where your wrote that the napping appears sublime most times really touched me, a moment of total peace….
Miek

Kris McCormack said...

As I was enjoying your latest blog entry it occurred to me how very few people have the opportunity to see horses just being themselves in a herd, in a natural landscape, as they were meant to be. Journal of Ravenseyrie gives readers a vicarious experience of that... What a gift!

I, too, really liked the "rock pillow" photo.

Thank you, Lynne.

Máire said...

Lynne, I just love the insights you give us of life with your herd. I am fascinated by what nature provides by way of natural herbal remedies, and which is so often removed from traditional post and rail grass paddocks. And it is available to your lot free.

Are those close ups of Fada grazing on the Willow? Such a great profile.

Anonymous said...

Janet Ferguson says. . .

How precious to have the photos, videos and commentary on this wonderful day, for you, the horses, and now, your readers.

The sounds on the video are great -- the water, grasses in the wind and occasional far off call of a water bird. . .

This world and these horses came into being over a very long time, and why the horses are now eating certain plants in this place, at this time, may never be known to us. . . only the creator will have that perspective, but we are blessed with a snapshot here of creation itself.

Thank you so much.

Lynne Gerard said...

Miek wrote: "And the close up where your wrote that the napping appears sublime most times really touched me, a moment of total peace…."

It is quite touching to see how even when those pesky flies are hovering, the horses find their sublime moments.

Miek wrote: "The other day he was being attacked by flies during our outing. It was just the two of us, and I decided to “help” him chase the flies away. I got a twig with some leafs at the end and I used it as if it was a tail."

See if you can find a tack supplier in the Netherlands that sells "fly whisks", this is what I have to not only to whisk the flies away from me while out walking, but to assist a horse when I'm hanging out with them and it's buggy. These fly whisks are neat, and are made from horse hair, so I feel like I have a tail to swish flies, just like a horse--and, I've learned to use it with adequate finesse.

Lynne Gerard said...

Kris wrote: "As I was enjoying your latest blog entry it occurred to me how very few people have the opportunity to see horses just being themselves in a herd, in a natural landscape, as they were meant to be."

This time of year, when all of their expansive environment provides for their needs, Kevin and I are really not needed by the horses. The horses have a life where I am merely a visitor--which is both humbling and a little sad, because I would like to "mean" something to them, more than a visiting human who gives good itches.

I suppose, they appreciate that I am also a chronicler of their special lives so that we humans come to appreciate what a rich world horses living in a wilderness setting have?

That is Interessado with his head on the rock pillow. He looked quite comfy!

Lynne Gerard said...

Maire wrote: "Are those close ups of Fada grazing on the Willow? Such a great profile."

That is Ecantara, and she has the full aristocratically convex profile, just like her daddy. All of Altamiro's kids have a convex profile some more distinct than others, and one notices these "ram's heads" are different than the "roman nose" that is characteristic of some draft breeds. I should do an entry all about equine profiles. It's interesting to compare the beauty of Mistral's Arabian concave profile with Altamiro's Iberian convex one and Zeus' hyper straight one...and then there is Jerry's version of a mule profile that combines features.

June, Annemiek, Kris, Maire and Janet, you make me feel good in sharing this window into the equine's world here at Ravenseyrie...thank you for seeing the value of what goes on here, and for taking time to comment!

June said...

Lynne, you said: "I would like to "mean" something to them, more than a visiting human who gives good itches."

I wonder, do you ever ask the horses for more attention for yourself - ask them to do something for you just because it would make you happy?

In your interactions with them, you're offering them food, comfort, freedom, kindness, etc. - and they are gracious and kind in return. But maybe you could at least ask for something extra, even if you don't know what it is you want. Maybe they'd like it.

Lynne Gerard said...

June wrote:
"In your interactions with them, you're offering them food, comfort, freedom, kindness, etc. - and they are gracious and kind in return. But maybe you could at least ask for something extra, even if you don't know what it is you want. Maybe they'd like it."

Even as your comment came in, June, I was working on a new journal entry, which rather fits in with what you've suggested here.

What I meant when I wrote that "I would like to "mean" something to them, more than a visiting human who gives good itches." is that I'd like them to feel that being with me not only gives them pleasure but advances them physically and mentally, and this is where the transition from play to work happens--a transition I've not introduced, yet, but I will when the moment is right.

Anonymous said...

Lynne,
This is the long lost person of Susan Racinet. I hope you are not angry with me, but I am just coming out of a long and deep time of depression.
I hope you will respond. But if you don't I certianly understand. I continue to love your artwork on my walls and your books on my shelves.
Susan RRozell@aol.com