Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hardy Oelke Visits Ravenseyrie

Hardy Oelke photographing from the "Top of the World" spot at Ravenseyrie
(photo: Rosel Oelke)

Shortly after importing our two Spanish Mustang yearling fillies from South Dakota in 2005, I sent to Germany a small parcel containing photos of Bella and Belina and details of their origins so that they might be registered by Hardy Oelke in his Sorraia Mustang Studbook. I also included a synopsis of our desire to acquire a suitable Sorraia Mustang stud colt so that we could begin a preserve here at Ravenseyrie and be part of the consolidation of these primitive Iberian horses that have managed to maintain a degree of phenotypical integrity despite the influence over the centuries of probable crosses with feral domestic horses.

Bella and her 2010 filly, Pinoteia
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

Since that first correspondence, Hardy and I have kept up a concentrated, regular routine of email exchanges which greatly influenced the direction our preserve has taken, not the least of which culminated in our importing a purebred Sorraia stallion as our foundation sire--something that never would have occurred without this generous man's assistance.

It has been my privilege to not only receive tremendous educative guidance from our email exchanges, but also to assist Hardy in delving even deeper into the subject of ancestral wild horses of all types through my own scouring of books, articles and research papers. These cooperative efforts have impressed upon both of us an even keener awe for the remarkable persistence of the Iberian Tarpan form which we see in the Sorraia and the Sorraia Mustang, as well as inspiring us to continue to share with others the importance of working in harmony with like minded preservationists to bring together these types of horses before the primitive genetics are lost forever.

Segura and Tocara
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

Through each year, as our preserve began to take good shape and especially when Altamiro and his mares began producing offspring, Hardy has been "by my side", sharing in the excitement of seeing the success of this type of conservation effort unfold in such a beautiful way. How exciting, then, it was for me to learn that Hardy and his wife, Rose, were planning to include a visit to Ravenseyrie on their annual tour of the Western United States and we would be able to meet in the flesh!

Hardy Oelke's first "in person" encounter with the Ravenseyrie family band
(Photo: L. Gerard)

Zorita and her 2010 filly Levada
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

With Manitoulin Island being completely in the opposite direction from their usual destinations in the western states, it was no simple thing for the Oelkes to include Ravenseyrie on their holiday abroad. However, they decided a trip to Ontario would also allow them the opportunity to see some different regions of North America as well as make a stop over in Wisconsin to visit with Karen and Daniel Dalke who imported Tejo II, Hardy's purebred Sorraia colt, almost a decade ago. After flying into Chicago, Rose and Hardy rented a car and began their broad cross-country adventure, pulling up the drive here at Ravenseyrie on the morning of September the 12th.

Rose Oelke, hiking the Ravenseyrie beach
(Photo: L. Gerard)

During their time here, the Oelkes took their overnight lodging at the beautiful Queen's Inn on the Gore Bay waterfront. We did manage a short exploration drive to show them Kevin's ultra-light aircraft project at the Gore Bay airport as well as tour the Lake Wolsley area and also took some time to show them the Gore Bay Museum and my art studio, however, the majority of their time on the island was spent here on the preserve, hiking the property and getting to meet the horses. What trepidation I felt, hoping that Hardy would be as impressed with the horses and their environment in person as he has been from viewing them in photos!

Hardy Oelke photographing the family band
(Photo: L. Gerard)

Hardy speaks incredibly fluent English and has a warm, easy-going attitude that made it very comfortable to be around and carried over well from our written correspondence...what I mean to say is that Hardy was as easy to talk to in person as he had been via email, and it was even better because Kevin and I could hear his resonant laughter (he's a great joke teller) and appreciate the brightness of his eyes.

Tobacco taking a dip at the beach
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

After exploring the property during the day (both Sunday and Monday) we returned to the house where Rose took up a chair by one of the big picture windows and became absorbed in playing with our iPad, while Hardy and Kevin kept up a lively conversation and I prepared our evening meals. How brave Hardy was to eat vegan fare, not once, but twice! Before we knew it, Tuesday dawned and the Oelke's left the island, their next destination--Wisconsin, U.S.A.

Altamiro, Zorita and Levada
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

I asked Hardy if he would be willing to write up his impressions of his trip for the Journal of Ravenseyrie and he kindly agreed. As an added bonus, Hardy sent me a CD containing the photos he took while here, some of which, with his permission, I am including in today's journal entry. (This should make my mother and others happy, who enjoy photos of the horses, but like to see Kevin and me in them from time to time, too.)

Lynne Gerard, Kevin Droski and Tobacco
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

I will now turn things over to Hardy:

Hardy Oelke, stalking the "wild" horses of Ravenseyrie as they wander to their forest watering hole
(photo: L. Gerard)
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

Lynne's blog about the events at Ravenseyrie appears to be enjoyed by many admirers of Sorraias resp. Sorraia Mustangs, and it is a pleasure for me to contribute to it.

Sort of as a summary of my 2009 trip, I concluded that the success that has been made in recent years in breeding Sorraia-type mustangs has been encouraging. I had seen Diane Pinney's horses in Oregon last year and also Sharron Scheikofsky's and Dave Reynold's in South Dakota and found particularly Diane's then yearling colts very promising, and was also positively impressed by some of the horses in South Dakota. From e-mail exchanges with Lynne I knew about their commitment, which is evident in the fact that they have imported the Sorraia stallion Altamiro, that they have gone out of their way to obtain the Sorraia x Sulphur Springs mare Zorita, and the Kiger mare Ciente. To get their first two mares from South Dakota (SMR and SMR x BLM) took some effort as well. By way of the photos Lynne had sent me I knew that they had succeeded in breeding very Sorraia-like youngsters on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, but had never seen them in the flesh, and knew also that two fillies and a colt are earmarked to go to Sheri and Mike Olson in Wyoming as soon as possible. This year, I made it a point, therefore, to pay her and Kevin a visit. It worked out to my advantage that the youngsters hadn't been picked up yet and gone to Wyoming, so I could experience them under the conditions they have so far grown up under.

I don't know what I enjoyed more, the visit with Lynne and Kevin or the one with the horses. Both were a treat. Ravenseyrie is a true preserve for these horses, even though Lynne is handling them on a daily basis and they are not wild. They are raised completely natural, and have to withstand the weather, navigate all kinds of terrain, use their instinct as to what to eat and what not, etc., just like wild horses. Also, their social life is not being tampered with, and it's certainly highly interesting to observe the herd dynamics, the social interactions, and especially Altamiro's antics. The area the horses roam in is ideal in that it offers open grassland as well as woods, uneven terrain that calls for surefootedness, even access to the rocky lake shore, and a variety of plant life.

It is very gratifying to see how Altamiro not only has established himself as the undisputed king of Ravenseyrie, and how he donned his role as a harem leader like a custom-made suit, but also that he is breeding true. Not that I would have expected anything different... Altamiro has been wonderfully efficient as a sire of Sorraia traits and as a harem stallion, but is also intriguing and sometimes mysterious in his behavior. It has been remarkable how the nick of Altamiro and mustang mares of diverse background--SMR, Kiger, Sulphur, and other BLM--has reliably been producing Sorraia characteristics. It appears that the primitive Sorraia/Zebro/Tarpan genes connect easily and a revitalization and consolidation of the original type is not a far-flung goal.

Of the young stock that Altamiro sired, the filly Encantara impressed me the most, not just because of her atavistic neck/withers markings, but because of her wonderful type. I sure hope she will continue to mature in this fashion.

It was with great reluctance that I left Ravenseyrie--I wished I had been able to spend more time there, to observe the horses and to talk shop and discuss all kinds of topics with Lynne and Kevin. I left deeply impressed by the Ravenseyrie project and with admiration for this couple's dedication to the preservation of the Sorraia resp. the Sorraia Mustang.

It was also possible for me on this trip to visit Karen Dalke and her husband Daniel in Wisconsin, and that was a treat in its own right. They gave us such a warm welcome, and of course I hadn't seen Tejo since he was a yearling and was extremely curious to see how he had matured. The same held true for Altamiro, but I am naturally feeling close to Tejo, having bred him myself and tamed and shipped him. We had a wonderful visit and discussed how this fabulous stallion could make a contribution to the Sorraia preservation project. Hopefully, something can be arranged in the near future so that he'll get at least one mare of good type to his court.

We did go by Sharron Scheikofsky's in South Dakota, but because no foals had been born this year that I needed to see, our visit was a short one and we moved on. Sharron had told me about Susan Watt's interest in these horses, so we went by the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary near Hot Springs and visited with Susan. The good news is that she, too, really wants to start a preservation project, and that she has lots of acres at her disposal to do that in. We spent an interesting afternoon discussing how to go about this. She may import a Sorraia stallion as soon as a good one becomes available, and possibly even a mare, and on my recommendation, she has already contacted Diane in Oregon about a Kiger stud prospect. This could be a catalyst for the whole preservation effort, as many people come through there for wild horse tours. A Sorraia Mustang herd would add a specialty to their guided tours, and from the many visitors these horses would get more publicity.

On our journey, the last mustang place was Sheri's in Wyoming, and once again we were positively impressed. Sheri herself was happy with the three colts she got this year, and well she should be. Especially one colt--out of a Sulphur Springs mare--looked very promising. Once Sheri gets the additional stud power and mare power through Animado and the two fillies from Ravenseyrie, I expect her herd to produce wonderful results.

So, all in all, things seem to be picking up. It is good to realize that one could by now put together a sizeable herd of good Sorraia-type mustangs, if one were able to combine all those that are known. With the vast distances between breeders (Oregon in the west and Ontario in the east) cooperation is naturally difficult. But the recent activities show that it is possible. I hope everyone will feel encouraged by these developments as much as I do. --Hardy Oelke, October 2010

Rose Oelke takes a rest, with Ciente and her 2009 colt, Silvestre
(top photo: Hardy Oelke, bottom photo: L.Gerard)

Enjoying a quiet repose at the "Top of the World" spot
(Photo: Rosel Oelke)

"Of the young stock that Altamiro sired, the filly Encantara impressed me the most"
(Photos and caption: Hardy Oelke)

"...they have gone out of their way to obtain the Sorraia x Sulphur Springs mare Zorita"
(Photo and caption: Hardy Oelke)

Kevin gives Altamiro a pleasing itch along the spine
(Photo: Rosel Oelke)

These two photos show Hardy Oelke working different angles to get some interesting photos of the horses.
(Photos: L.Gerard)

Through the birches
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

Altamiro with his family band
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

The Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, surveying his domain
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

Altamiro lopes back to his family band, after having gone off to visit with the other group to the east
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

Silvestre (fore) and Ciente approaching Altamiro after he returns from making mischief in the other group of horses
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

Hardy likes to take "through-scene" he has captured Lynne grooming Altamiro
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

A common scene at Ravenseyrie...Lynne sitting on a rock, waiting for one of the horses to chose to come visit with her. In this moment, it is Bella who comes for attention.
(Photos: Hardy Oelke)

A nice setting to photograph Zorita's 2010 filly, Levada
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

"Ravenseyrie is a true preserve for these horses, even though Lynne is handling them on a daily basis and they are not wild."
[Lynne with 2 year old Animado, the first half-Sorraia born at Ravenseyrie]

(Photo and caption: Hardy Oelke)

Hardy gives Altamiro one of his favorite types of attention...rump itches!
(Photo: L. Gerard)

This visit from Hardy and Rose Oelke was truly appreciated by Kevin and I and we are incredibly grateful that the Oelkes were able to make the trip and spend a little time at Ravenseyrie. I hope that the text and photos allow readers of the Journal of Ravenseyrie to feel that they were part of the fun.

The future looks bright for these horses, but we need more people to join in the conservation efforts of Sorraia and Sorraia Mustangs. If anyone feels they would like to participate by setting up their own preserve--whether large or small, whether with breeding pairs or non-mixed groups (like a bachelor group) please email me at: or contact Hardy Oelke by following the link to his websites in the sidebar of this blog. We would love to have more people involved in the preservation of the these modern representatives of the Iberian Tarpan, lest their lingering prehistoric genetics become further diluted and lost forever.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Yearlings Explore New Options

Altamiro runs with Animado, Interessado and the venturesome yearling filly, Segura

I have been attempting for nearly a week to upload video clips to the article I've been working which shares about Altamiro's injury and his recovery process. Alas, the Blogger system is not cooperating and though it seems the videos load, when testing them, they do not play, rather an error message comes up. I finally put in a note on the Blogger help forum, along with several other bloggers who are having the same troubles. When it seems the glitch has been smoothed over and the system works properly again, I will complete that journal entry and post it as a follow up to the first Hygeia article.

For now, I'm sharing quite a few sequences of photos from various herd dynamics that have been occurring this autumn, most of which deal with Silvestre and Segura taking turns leaving the family band and mingling with Mistral's group and the excitement this generates for all of us.

For those not familiar with the set up of things here at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve on Manitoulin Island, perhaps a brief summary is in order.

The horses here at Ravenseyrie have the run of 360 acres which are fenced only on the outer parameter. Initially, when the primitive horses were still young, they formed just one herd, with our strong-minded Arabian gelding, Mistral, ruling as king. That early herd also contained our Thoroughbred gelding, Zeus, and the draft mules, Dee, Doll and Jerry. In the spring of 2009, when our purebred Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, was four years old and a father of four, he discovered his personal essence was strong enough to convince Mistral, Zeus and the mules to keep well away from his mares and foals prompting a distinct splitting into two separate herds, each claiming different territories on the landscape, with a flowing overlap in a central buffer zone. Also that year, as his 2008 offspring were approaching a year old, Altamiro expelled first Animado and then a month later, Interessado from the family band. These colts took up with Mistral's group and later that summer, the 2008 filly, Fada, left the family band by her own choice and also joined her brothers in Mistral's group.

In March of this year, Altamiro expelled his 2009 filly, Encantara, from the family band, but has not done the same with the other 2009 yearlings, Silvestre and Segura. Segura, Encantara and Animado were purchased by Mike and Sheri Olson of the Soul of Sorraia ranch in Oregon, who were planning to pick them up to take them across the continent this summer. We were counting on Segura joining up with Mistral's group in late spring so we could get these three youngsters ready for their exportation to the United States...however, this is not how things have transpired.

Instead, Altamiro has been surprisingly indulgent with Segura and Silvestre, allowing them each to leave the family on occasion to go mingle among Mistral's group, sometimes for short reprises of an hour or less, other times for an entire afternoon or an overnight experience. Most of the time, Silvestre and Segura return to the family band by their own choice, other times their father comes for them, cutting them out of Mistral's group and hazing them back to the family territory.

Kevin and I have learned that just because the horses carry on in a certain way one year, does not mean that they will follow the same pattern the next year. We are very appreciative that the Olson's are willing to postpone picking up Encantara, Segura and Animado until early spring of 2011, which allows Segura and Silvestre all winter to make their transition from the family band to Mistral's group. For whatever reason, the herd dynamics behind their natural "weaning" is taking a different expression than those of the four previously expelled youngsters.

As you work through the sequences of photos documenting some of these mingling episodes, please note how expressive the horses are in their bodies and how the presence of someone "new" brings out interesting behaviors. I'm sure, like me, you will be entranced by the beauty of these primitive Iberian horses and delighted by their manner of interacting and exploring new options.

Scenes from Segura mingling with Mistral's group:
Here Segura is sniffed and appraised by Interessado and Animado, with Fada looking on

Segura explores new territory with Fada and Encantara deciding whether they think this is acceptable or not

Segura continues exploring while the other youngsters watch her every move

I love this photo of these one and two year old youngsters together! From left to right: Segura, Interessado, Animado, Encantara (mostly blocked by Animado) and Fada
(Remember, you can click on any image and view it in a larger format)

Mistral finds an opportunity to show what he thinks about a potentially new herd member

A close up of Mistral's distinctive "stink eye" expression

Here Encantara and Segura get reacquainted...both are long yearlings, but Encantara was forced out of the family band by Altamiro in the early spring.

Fada and Segura exchange information about each other, with Interessado and Encantara nearby

Interessado attempts to keep Animado from getting closer to Segura

Scenes from Silvestre mingling with Mistral's group:

Here, once again, Mistral makes his opinion known...for his part, Silvestre is not too offended at the lack of a warm welcome from the old Arabian. Meanwhile, Animado and Interessado work at trying to get Silvestre's attention.

Here we catch up with Altamiro who has come to hang out with the boys as well. Silvestre and Interessado exchange nose-to-nose information while Altamiro and Animado snatch at grasses.

Silvestre and Animado play "nippy face" while Interessado and his father, Altamiro play their circling and chasing games.

During this sequence, we see Silvestre and Animado get to know each other in the way that boys do...checking out "the goods", culminating into Animado mounting Silvestre which the male horses seem to do as a dominance maneuver.

The show of dominance is short lived and once again the boys are back to playing the "nippy-face" game

Silvestre and Interessado:
Once again, we see in this sequence, a "checking the goods" and display of dominance

Silvestre with Interessado and Animado:

After having played with his older brothers for about half an hour, Silvestre decides to run back to the family band. Interessado followed him a short way and then came dashing back to where Mistral's group had resumed grazing.
Interessado and Animado:

The presence of Segura among Mistral's group generates a different type of excitement than when Silvestre is mingling with them. Unlike Silvestre, Segura has no interest in boy games, and her coyness prompts Animado and Interessado into ardent displays of male prowess!

These colts demonstrate the high degree of collection that comes so naturally to these Iberian horsesNote the amazing shortening from engaged haunches to lifted forehand. Compare the length of Interessado's back here with the photo we recently saw when he was galloping back to the group.

Here we get to appreciate the beautiful longitudinal flexion of Animado and the elegant lateral flexion of Interessado.

These photos make it seem as if Animado is the stronger force, however, Interessado actually was taking these bravado games much more seriously. When I can get video to upload, I will show a very interesting way the younger colt asserts himself.

Altamiro comes to get Segura:

One morning, the excitement was especially high as both Silvestre and Segura were mingling with Mistral's group at the same time! This caught the attention of Altamiro, who decided maybe he'd better come and fetch Segura.

After convincing Zeus and Mistral to move away from the young primitive horses, Altamiro sets about cutting Segura out and chasing her back to the family band.

Interessado tries to penetrate the family band, but is stopped by his own mother:

On one morning, Interessado decided he would wander over to see if he could convince Silvestre to come play some boy games, but he was soon confronted by his mother, Ciente. Silvestre and Interessado are full brothers, so this was an especially interesting episode for Ciente to cope with. Without hesitation, she made it clear that Interessado ought not to be near the family band, and in moments, Altamiro came to handle the situation himself, and eventually chases off the interloper.

A melee:

On the morning that both Silvestre and Segura were mingling with Mistral's group, there was quite a melee. Thankfully I was able to climb up on a rock so that I could continue to take photos and not get trampled by all those excited equine bodies. The energy all around me was fantastic and thrilling.

On one of the first days that Segura spent a little time mingling among Mistral's group, Interessado was so keen to demonstrate what a fine young lad he became transformed with such self-confidence that he managed to chase Mistral away! The only way this young colt was able to perform this feat was by catching Mistral off guard--in fact none of us were prepared for young unassuming Interessado to suddenly swell up with such swaggering courage. Days later, when Segura once again was mingling in Mistral's group, Mistral was "ready" and it was Interessado and Segura who were on the run...and Lynne without her camera to document how Mistral was once again in charge.

I did however get a few shots of
The surprise chase Interessado put on Mistral the first day:

After this first chase, Mistral had come back around with Zeus to test Interessado's resolve, and Interessado once again, managed to get Mistral to turn and run. Did Segura have any idea what an amazing feat this young colt had just accomplished?
Believe it or not, I have more photos I'd love to share...but fear that already this particular blog entry has wearied the attention of its readership, so I will save them for another time.

As mentioned at the beginning of this entry, I will get back to the topic of natural healing and share Altamiro's story as soon as the blogger video upload works once again for me. Also, readers can look forward to an entry sharing about the recent visit from Hardy Oelke. Hardy has kindly written up a short report of that trip and is sending me a CD of the photos he took while here. As soon as that arrives, I will put those in a journal entry, which I think you will find interesting.

I hope you enjoyed seeing how lovely the two-year-olds and the yearlings are and appreciate what a rare treat it is for us all to see these types of herd dynamics up close and personal.