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.


Spanish Sulphurs said...

Happy to read that Hardy liked the foal out of Doña as I am her breeder (the mare he just calls a Sulphur Springs mare at Sheri Olson's place). She is by a bay Sulphur and out of my mare La Victoria. The colt that hardy likes so much out of Doña is by a half Sulphur half SMR stallion named Eagle Calling.

Doña was my one and last intentional breeding of trying to breed for the "Sorraia" type. I don't agree that the Spanish type Sulphur shows Sorraia type as the Sorraia appears to be built very different. The Sorraia tends to have a more upright shoulder, longer back, shorter hip, longer face, modern wedge shaped head, lack of a bone arch above the eye, a straight neck, and a low set neck. The Spanish type Sulphur has the opposite of those characteristics which you can see some of them in Zorita. Even though the Sorraia is very inbred, it still could not conquer the old style Spanish head of Tia in producing Zorita. Zorita seems to be an even mix of the two. Although, I do think that the Spanish type Sulphur and the Sorraia do have some similarities where if you can't see the type well enough that you will end up looking it over.

Love the new pictures of Zorita! I am happy that she seems to be really working out for your program. Her filly Segura certainly looks all Sorraia! I can't see much of Sulphur in her at all!

Spanish Sage Ranch said...

Very nice write up and wonderful pictures by you and Hardy. No surprise to me how much Hardy would be impressed, and it amused me that you would have trepidation. Keep up the good work.

I was pleasantly surprized to read my name and efforts mentioned, and I thank you and Hardy for having me ride your glorious coat-tails.

Not surprised to read that Kimberlee Jones is the first to post, but I might point out that Kimberlee was saying on another board how much she did not like the sire of Dona (which is the horse she claims as breeder of, NOT the foal produced, as one might read her comment to mean), and that if she knew then what she thinks she knows now about him, she would not have bred the two. She claims that the stud is a drafty type. I am sure readers of this blog are familiar with Kimberlee's proclivities and level of knowledge, and can judge all of her comments accordingly.

Congrats, Lynne.


June said...

Looks like a wonderful visit for all concerned.

It must be a great feeling to participate in this world-wide endeavor to preserve the Sorraia.

By the way, how do you pronounce Oelke?

Lynne Gerard said...

Kimberlee Jones wrote:
"Although, I do think that the Spanish type Sulphur and the Sorraia do have some similarities where if you can't see the type well enough that you will end up looking it over.

Though you have come to a very different conclusion as to the importance and historic relevance of the Sorraia ancestors (believing them to be a modern, mandmade breed) it is worth noting that those characteristics that the Sorraia shares with the Sulphur Mustangs is not due to modern domestic influence, but rather to the persistence of the genetics of the Form III ancestral horse. How fortunate that we have been able to continue to further consolidate these elements via Zorita and Altamiro.

I understand where your heart's desire lies with the way the old Californian vaqueros took the ancestral genetics from those early Spanish imports and molded them into the type of horse you would like to see resurrected in all the Sulpurs...our interest in the Sulphurs goes a little further back to their wild progenitors in Iberia.

It is pointless for us to debate our differences of opinion here, Kim, so please show some gracious restraint if you feel the knee-jerk impulse to use the Journal of Ravenseyrie as a platform to expand upon your beliefs. Instead let's just agree that we both love the photos of Zorita. ;-)

Lynne Gerard said...

Diane wrote:
"I was pleasantly surprized to read my name and efforts mentioned, and I thank you and Hardy for having me ride your glorious coat-tails.

I laughed when I read this...because you see, I consider you a fore-runner in this preservation cause, with myself as a "johnny-come-lately". Please update your website soon and show what great success you yourself are having with the conservation of the Sorraia Mustang. I'm so wanting to put Spanish Sage Ranch as a side like.

Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts, Diane.

Lynne Gerard said...

June wrote:
"It must be a great feeling to participate in this world-wide endeavor to preserve the Sorraia.

Yes, it feels good to be making a positive assistance to the cause. More importantly, I've come to find, however, is to realize just how valuable it is to provide horses of all types, but especially primitive horses, an opportunity to live truly "horsey" lives in a natural setting, rather than continue to enslave them to suit the whims of humans.

How curious it has been to discover that "wild" horses have taught me about friendship and cross-species communication with a dedication to self-actualization (theirs moreso than mine) that offers something mutually beneficial for both humans and horses.

I consider this as important as the preservation effort.

By the way, how do you pronounce Oelke?


Thank you, June, for your comments!

Monica Bretschneider said...

Hi Lynne,

I am greatful for Hardy Oelke for taking beautiful pictures of you & Kevin... and the family dogs, your interactions with the horses. Seeing more pictures of the "Top of the World" spot convince me that this would be my favorite "spot" too to sit and rest for a moment. Hardy and his wife are lucky!
Lynne said:
"More importantly, I've come to find, however, is to realize just how valuable it is to provide horses of all types, but especially primitive horses, an opportunity to live truly "horsey" lives in a natural setting, rather than continue to enslave them to suit the whims of humans."

I agree. My domesticated horses are on 3 acres presently and I will be seeking a bigger land so they can have more diversity within their environment.

Great blog entry Lynne ! Mission accomplish, Thanks

Spanish Sage Ranch said...

You are very gracious, Lynne. I truly appreciate your dedication, even if you consider yourself a "johnny come lately."

Of course the web site update is in the pile of things to get cracking on...however, in the meantime, just on dialup, I have found that Facebook is a decent and easier alternative. My pictures of the horses are available to most, or should be, under "Spanish Sage Ranch." There are also pictures for the public to see at, the gallery of SpanishSageRanch.

I am also planning on publishing a page on facebook for the Sorraia Mustang Project, and one specifically for my Ranch, aside from a personal page as it is now.

Would so much like to have the expanses and beauty that you have there available to my horses here. Perhaps in time...

The best to you,


Lynne Gerard said...

Monica wrote:
"Seeing more pictures of the "Top of the World" spot convince me that this would be my favorite "spot" too to sit and rest for a moment."

It's a fantastic spot, Monica. I'm happy to share it with you in pictures.

"My domesticated horses are on 3 acres presently and I will be seeking a bigger land so they can have more diversity within their environment.

Monica I wish you and Michael every success in finding the best land to suit everyone's needs.

Diane wrote:
"I truly appreciate your dedication, even if you consider yourself a "johnny come lately."

Thank you, Diane. What is so great is that we don't feel like what we are doing is an example of dedication to a cause, rather it feels more like a great way to live life. I cannot imagine the landscape here without these primitive horses running free.

I followed your Photobucket link and saw one photo there. I followed the link to the Facebook site, but of course, unless I join Facebook whatever you have there is off limits to me.

Don't know why, exactly, but I feel compelled to not join in with all the Facebook networks and I still don't know what Twitter is all about and that's just fine.

So, I'll be patient until it works out for you to update your old website, and enjoy whatever photos come from you via email. It's just good to know you are still hanging on with your own preservation efforts. These are tough times, so I can say in your case, it is a huge dedication that you keep at it.

Thank you Diane and Monica for these comments!

Spanish Sage Ranch said...

Hi Lynne,

Well, while reviewing what my pictures on facebook actually LOOK like, since I rarely actually look at them, I noticed a little message at the bottom that says that the page can be shared with anyone not on FB using that link. So I copied the links. If you put the cursor over the picture, any captions should pop up. I have a pic from here and info about you on there, too! Here are links to the albums that are 1. just a collection of pictures as I posted them, 2. pictures of two mares that are not in with the first group of mares and babies and such, 3. some horses I have for sale, 4. pictures of Bullet and his two year old sons taken June-ish, and 5. a photo montage of my trip to the wild herds in Southeastern OR and return to a 5000 acre fire.

Hope you can see them and enjoy!


Not Really My Cup Of Tea said...

After years of studying the breed and keeping up with their impact on the world, I finally found your blog! Thank you so much for the beautiful pictures and the information and updates! When I first heard of the breed, I instantaneously fell in love with them. They were small, sturdy, and beautiful. They were fighters, but lovers too. And since discovering them, I've always wanted one. I saw your foals for sale and practically began drooling. I wish I had more time and money, or else I would definitely have bought one of Altamiro's foals by now. I will be sure to keep following your blog, admiring your beautiful herd, and wishing I could come live with you guys and take care of them! Best of luck to the program and to the horses as winter is upon us!

Lynne Gerard said...

Yes! I was able to view your FaceBook photos with the links you provided. Thank you!

Hardy had showed me one of the photos of Donovan and Sal in which I found them to be excellent examples of Sorraia type, so it was nice to see more of these boys, get a glimpse of a mare or two and drool some more over Bullet.

I also enjoyed my virtual trip to the Kiger HMA via your photos. What a treat.

I appreciate the time you took to post these links here, Diane and I hope other readers will follow them and get a chance to appreciate the success you are having in preserving the Sorraia phenotype among the Kigers.

"Not My Cup of Tea", thank you for leaving your comments. It's always nice to stumble upon something unexpected and beautiful, isn't it?

Perhaps one day you will be in a position to help preserve these primitive horses and enjoy them up close and personal, just as we do.

The Sorraia is not so much a breed as a primitive horse form, and as can be seen, the ancestral Form III horse form was not only preserved in the genetics of the Sorraia horses in Portugal, but also survives among certain North American Mustang horses...a testament to type versus breed, and is quite a gift of nature!