Monday, March 21, 2011


A Ravenseyrie sunrise on March 11, 2011 after another dynamic winter snowstorm

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. --Lao Tzu

I found I was rushing--in my mind--and it made my body tense, my movements unsure and clumsy and I began to question that everything would, indeed, be accomplished as it should. This foal should have been up and nursing by now, and yet, there it lay in the icy snow, exhausted and getting colder by the minute. Here in this beautiful moment, my sense of how much time things were taking made me worry that we might have our first tragedy unfolding here at the Sorraia Mustang Preserve...

Waiting with great anticipation for a third foal from Ciente and Altamiro began last May when Ciente did not come into heat. This stunning Kiger Mustang mare accepted the overtures of her handsome Sorraia stallion for a string of nine days beginning the end of March and ending in the second day of April. She was settled, and stayed in good form during the long gestation period and Kevin and I watched Ciente, along with the other horses inhabiting Ravenseyrie, with calm admiration for their naturally born adaptation to wilderness living.

But it wasn't until the month of February that my expectation of the upcoming foaling began to be tinged with worry for what kind of weather we might have on the island. February can be a decidedly harsh month on Manitoulin Island and many a March day is fueled with winter's wrath as well. Would the elements prove too daunting for the survival of a foal born on the range in Northern Ontario in late winter?

Should the conditions be brutal, we would plan to bring Ciente into the tractor shed where we could better monitor her. Knowing that to extract Ciente from the family band would anger Altamiro and cause great anxiety for Ciente and the others, we would only do so if we felt the situation absolutely required that type of intervention.

Throughout the month of February our weather was like a roller coaster, nice days with almost all our snow melting, followed by a deep chill with the thermometer dropping to -26°C over night. If it got warmer it snowed. When it stopped snowing, it got bitterly cold. And each new day, Ciente looked closer to foaling than the day before. She moved a little slower and became rather meditative beginning in early February, and she began cleverly coming up to the shed on her own for "specials" while the others were busy at their piles of hay.

I will share with you the notes from my calendar and some photos taken during that time.

February 14 / Ciente's udder barely visible but showing wax on teats.

February 24 / Ciente's foal shifted in the abdomen, is now carried lower and further back. Mentally, Ciente seems a little "spacey" today.

February 27 / Ciente's udder beginning to distend slightly, and showing wax dots

March 6th / Ciente definitely bagged up, the largest I've ever seen her udder, not unlike a suitcase hanging between her legs, especially noticeable from behind.

During this time, we watched Ciente obsessively, and one evening I for sure felt the foal would be born for Ciente's vulva was so warm and slack. But by morning with the temperature once again bitterly cold, that vulva was zippered tightly shut against the frigid air. Some days I was glad Ciente was holding that baby in and other days, when maybe we had three rather mellow days in a row, I was frustrated that she kept us all still waiting.

And we waited and waited, imagining that every slow step and lift of tail was a prelude to Ciente beginning her labour. All throughout the day, with binoculars ever present, Kevin and I gave each other reports on where "Fat Horse" was and what "Fat Horse" was doing. With all the usual signals seeming to indicate that delivery was near, I began to worry a bit that something might be wrong with this pregnancy.

Were it not for Ciente's serene attitude and her keeping up her daily routines with the other horses, I might have been deeply concerned that a problem had developed. Instead, we just kept up good expectations and waited and waited and waited. Our vigilance was two-fold: 1. we of course desire that we are available to assist the mares--only if necessary--when they foal (which doesn't always work out with semi-wild horses roaming an expansive natural setting) and 2. having been present when the very first foal (Animado) was born I wanted to know if Altamiro would once again help the mare with the foal and if the mare stayed with the herd or went off somewhere on her own to give birth as we are so commonly told happens in the wild. With the exception of Animado, I was always an hour or more late on the scene when the other foals have been born. I really wanted to be able to be with Ciente during this foaling. Would the fates allow for it this time?

March 17 / Ciente's udder dripping at time of evening feeding

March 18 /
Ciente delivers a filly approximately 7:30am, and I am there to record it! Total gestation time, +/- 350 days

We had some more melting take place and the temperature was just a little above freezing when dawn came on Friday March 18th. Mistral's group came up as usual for breakfast, but not the family band. Through our binoculars we could see them at juncture between fields where the dying Maple trees are. I spotted Ciente and she was still "Fat Horse", but the band was acting edgy and definitely were not coming up for breakfast, so while Kevin took care of Mistral's group, I hauled out a load of hay to where the family band was. As I neared, I could see that Ciente had just delivered her foal! Hurriedly, I put in place all the piles of hay I'd brought out for the other members. Then I stopped to take a few photos. Altamiro was about thirty feet away from Ciente and watching keenly. Silvestre, Ciente's 2009 colt (who Ciente weaned off her milk in spring of 2010, but who was still tolerated in the family band for now) stood nearby.

I could see the foal was struggling to get up but was prevented by the amnion sac.

I was alarmed by this! Would the foal suffocate? As I hurried over and prepared myself to slide the amnion off from this foal, its struggling managed to tear the sac sufficiently that it's muzzle was now free, so I remained on the sidelines ready to leap into assistance if Ciente needed me to.

Twice Altamiro attempted to advance closer to the scene, but each time was driven away by Ciente so eventually he wandered off to eat hay with the rest of the family band and Silvestre was heading that way now too after receiving a rebuke from his mother. Whether Altamiro was intending to help or just satisfy his curiosity it seems that it was Ciente's choice to not have the stallion assisting.

At first, Ciente seemed as if she, too, was going to leave and go join the others to who were eating breakfast hay. I stopped her and gave her a cookie and told her she needed to tend to her baby. After one more long look at the rest of the family eating hay, Ciente got to work helping get the foal free from that slippery amnion sac.

The foal's attempts to get up had become severely hampered by the twisting of the amnion around its right front leg. Again, I wanted to intervene, but just as I began to reach out to slip that sac off, Ciente managed to get the foal to try one more time and the leg reached free of the sac.

Between Ciente's licking and tearing at the sac and the foal's struggles to sit up and stand up, after what seemed like an eternity, the foal was completely free of the amnion sac, but not in the clear of potentially harmful elements. Underneath all that snow was a huge pool of ice water and the tired newborn foal was physically exhausted and laying on a frigid surface.

I went over and took some hay from the family band's piles and put it under the foal. For its part, the foal took up a new struggle to get up and managed to quickly slide off from the hay, then fell back into the cold snow and ice water. Complicating this, Silvestre came around again, and again Ciente let him know she did not appreciate his presence just now. Thankfully Kevin came now on the scene with more hay and we were both able to lift the foal up on to a nice dry pile of it, away from the pool of ice water.

At this point, Ciente decided to stop helping her foal and began eating, so Kevin and I took over the job. We rubbed the foal with wads of hay and then some towels. During this time I was able to check for gender and found out Ciente and Altamiro had produced their first filly! Also during this time I got to witness this filly's very first bowel movement...which is just one of the many exciting things one looks for in a healthy newborn foal.

But this filly was weary and it had been some time since she had made any renewed efforts to get up, nor did Ciente make any further attempts to help her, and instead was focused on eating hay.

When the filly one more time fell back into that very cold, helpless completely prone posture, we decided we would try and help get the filly up on her legs. Even though we had gotten the filly up out of the ice water and snow and managed to get her relatively dry, there was a cold wind blowing over and we really feared that she might just give up and begin to suffer hypothermia from which she would not recover. We began rubbing her once more until she once again sat up and tried her legs. With Kevin lifting the hindquarters and me supporting the front, the filly managed to stand on her feet, leaning heavily into my arms for support and weaving, feeling like any moment she would tumble to the ground again. But after several minutes, Kevin could feel that her hind legs were steady and so he let go. She almost fell into my arms, but feeling my support she stayed up and then, I could feel that she "had it". There was a definite shift as she assumed control of her own weight (a truly amazing sensation for me to feel!) and as I slowly let go of her, this newborn filly not only stood on her own, but took her first few steps. Of course, she went down again, and we moved in to get her back up, but she did it this time all by herself. Such joy!!!

Immediately the filly began to make suckling gestures with her mouth, but since she wasn't next to Ciente she got nothing but air. We helped guide the filly to Ciente's side. Now that the filly was up, Ciente once again took up her motherly duties. She would occasionally touch the filly, sometimes shift her position, but otherwise just waited for the filly to figure out where that "on-tap foal elixir" was. It seemed to take forever and the filly was getting discouraged. I worried that she was going to give up and lay back down in that frigid ice water. There were so many near the mark attempts and many more outright misses. By now the chill had gotten to me and I was shivering and clattering my teeth. Kevin suggested we go to the house get me warmed up and come back out with more hay for Ciente. We could keep an eye on things from the house and if the filly went down, we could rush out and get her back up. I reluctantly (but wisely) agreed with Kevin's plan. Upon getting back to the house I noted that a little over three hours had passed since Ciente delivered her foal.

And of course when we went back out, the filly had indeed found where her dinner was waiting for her. Certainly Lao Tzu is right to have said "Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."

As Kevin and I watched Ciente and the rest of the family band eat their early evening hay, we felt good that we were able to help this new filly make it through her first hurdles in her out-of-the-womb existence, but we also worried a little knowing she had a landscape of ice and snow to cope with and a freezing night to get through.

But the wind had died down and the baby looked robust and her and Ciente were following the movements of the rest of the herd. "Do you wish you had a barn to put them in tonight?" Kevin asked me. "Yes, and no," I replied. Yes, because it seems to me like a real hardship to be born at this time of the year, and no, because I know that Ciente's desire to stay with the herd is very strong and to remove her from it would pose difficulties for her and for Altamiro. Having felt for myself the depth of the winter coat this filly was born with and trusting in the good way the horses always take care of themselves during all kinds of weather, I believed we would see a lively, fluffy filly in the morning.

And we did.

"I then pass the whole day in the open air, and hold spiritual communion with the tendrils of the vine, which say good things to me and of which I could tell you wonders." --Goethe

This filly yesterday happily received her name. And what else could she be named except, Esperanda!

Esperando, in Portuguese means "waiting" and "expecting". It seems that from the moment of conception, it has been the destiny of this lovely feminine creature to keep an admiring public waiting. And already this little Sorraia sage has taught me a lesson in how to enjoy the beauty of whatever time it takes for things to take their natural course...

Esperanda is certainly worth the wait, I'm sure you agree!

"Because we are taught so may untruths about what we can know, about what Nature is and is not, the first step in gathering knowledge from the heart of the world is to go 'into' the world on your own, abandoning your preconceptions. No expert can tell you what is there. No book knows the living reality of it." --S. H. Buhner


Kris McCormack said...

Incredibly gorgeous photos, Lynne! Congratulations to all concerned, most especially to the little one for persevering.

Welcome, Esperanda! May you always know love from the human beings you encounter and may you have a long, healthy, happy life.

June said...

She is precious - what a lovely expression. You and Kevin must have been so relieved when you found her in the morning!

Bonnie Beresford said...

Lynne, I was chewing my fingernails as I read this and am rejoicing at the outcome.Your beautiful herd is graced by the arrival of Esperanda. My sincerest wishes for a long and fruitful life for her, and indeed for all your equines. I love to log into your journal on occasion and catch up on what you've all been up to. Kindest Regards.

Annemiek said...

Welcome Esperanda. Even though it is still cold now, you are born in the warm and caring sanctuary of Ravenseyrie. Spring will come, and you will enjoy not only the love of your equine family, but also that of two of the most wonderful humans in the world: Lynne and Kevin. I wish you all the best little one, have a great life!

JEN-SKA said...

Welcome to this world, Esperanda! Congrats!

eva said...

Lynne, i was sitting on the edge of my seat as well reading this dramatic account of Esperanda's birth. I am relieved things worked out. She is beautiful! and it speaks of Ciente's trust that she allowed Kevin and you to rub her newborn.

I am wondering about the curious indifference on Ciente's part. Do they typically not provide more help with liberating their babies from entanglements and helping them get up/find the udder?

And is this birth schedule typical (this early in the season) or does it vary individually? I would think they would eventually adjust their heat cycle to the climate. Are other herbivores native to the island (deer and elk) having kids at this time of year as well? It seems awfully risky (at least to a spoiled California weather wimp).

I wish her a long and happy life!

Don'Qui said...

peter_be :

Great !
hard moment, should I or not ?!
I would have ! definetely, such a small actions with a great result,
if the weather was better,no snow on the ground, there would probably have been less a problem in getting up, struggling for life..... Nature is hard, but I would have done the same...
Congrats !

a tiny star, not on Ciente and not on Altamiro, but yes on this little thing

Lynne Gerard said...

Kris wrote:
"Congratulations to all concerned, most especially to the little one for persevering."

Thank you, Kris. We're very glad Esperanda was able to rally her strength so well after becoming so cold and weary. It seemed like stimulus, of any kind, whether a prod from her mother or a rubbing or lifting from Kevin and me gave her a renewed capacity to make an effort.

I really did fear that without stimulus she would have just laid there until she froze.

She's a strong gal, this filly--but how could she not be with a sire like Altamiro and a dam like Ciente!

June wrote:
"You and Kevin must have been so relieved when you found her in the morning!"

Indeed, June, Kevin and I were very glad to be on the scene for this birthing.

Lynne Gerard said...

Bonnie wrote:
"I love to log into your journal on occasion and catch up on what you've all been up to. Kindest Regards."

Thank you, Bonnie, for your good wishes for Esperanda and the rest of the equines.

I never know who is "out there" reading these living stories I am sharing. Thank you for following the Journal of Ravenseyrie and for leaving your thoughtful comment.

Annemiek wrote:
"Even though it is still cold now, you are born in the warm and caring sanctuary of Ravenseyrie."

Thanks for your good wishes, Miek. Wee Esperanda already knows how to soak up the sun and make the most of the warmer places. It's a good thing, too, this morning the thermometer read -13°C at dawn.

Lynne Gerard said...

Jen-ska wrote:
"Welcome to this world, Esperanda!"

Thank you, for this warm welcome to Ciente and Altamiro's filly, Jenny. It's it still cold and wintry where you are, or, like those horses in the Netherlands, are your's shedding in the warm spring sun?

Eva wrote:
"I am wondering about the curious indifference on Ciente's part. Do they typically not provide more help with liberating their babies from entanglements and helping them get up/find the udder?"

Ciente wasn't necessarily indifferent, rather, she was sometimes at variance regarding her focus and energy. She, too, was shivering from the even of the birth and the cold wind blowing over the icy is likely her body was both telling her to eat hay (for energy and warmth) while at the same time feeling the pull of her duties to the newborn foal.

Had she not delivered the foal just as I was brining out breakfast hay, she may not have hesitated at all.

And since Ciente knows that Kevin and I are there to help, she may have felt we could shoulder some of the duties while she took the edge off her chill and hunger by eating hay.

If she had been indifferent, she would not have chased off Altamiro and Silvestre when they wanted to stick their muzzles into her business.

I don't know anything for certain, this is just my impression of what I observed.

Eva inquired:
"And is this birth schedule typical (this early in the season) or does it vary individually? "

This is Ciente's third foal. Both Interessado and Silvestre were born in the summer. Last year Ciente aborted sometime during the autumn or winter and came into heat last March. That's early for sure, but we had an unusually early spring last year, which may have accounted for it. Wouldn't be a problem in other regions, but we're a bit northerly for that type of timing.

I hope it doesn't happen again this early.

Eva wrote:
"Are other herbivores native to the island (deer and elk) having kids at this time of year as well?"

That's a good question, Eva. I would say "no", but I don't know with certainty. I haven't seen fawns this early, but I cannot speak for Elk in other regions.

One thing I am certain of, Esperanda came prepared. She has the thickest, longest foal coat we've seen, and its serving her well--as is that huge udder Ciente has this time around! It's providing plenty of warming sustenance for this filly.

"It seems awfully risky (at least to a spoiled California weather wimp)."

Well, you are surely not as tempered as us Canucks, but no doubt I would wilt into a puddle during your hot, dry summers. ;-)
I don't do well in excessive heat, so I guess I'm living in the right spot.

Lynne Gerard said...

Peter wrote:
"Nature is hard, but I would have done the same..."

Hard can be a good thing, and maybe she would have been just fine without human intervention, but we were there so why not help out a little. I guess you know just what that feels like from your own experience with foaling. Our deliberations were over how much assistance to provide without becoming an invasive element in these semi-wild primitive horses' lives.

"a tiny star, not on Ciente and not on Altamiro, but yes on this little thing"

Ciente put a white star on Silvestre too. I do believe that both Ciente's dam and sire (both Kiger mustangs) had white stars. Interessado, that handsome darkling who was Ciente's first foal by Altamiro of course is completely solid.

Esperanda is a "little thing", and yet, looking at those legs and the rest of her, just a few hours outside the womb, one is amazed that such a creature could fit into the belly of a mare at all!

Don'Qui said...

ever noticed the ears of a foal ?!
I'm sure they are the only things that don't grow bigger ...

I wouldn't call Interessado "completely solid"since he was born with wildstriping.
Maybe somebody should take a good look at a lot of hairs under a good microscope !
didn't you mention somewhere having some of your horses DNA-sorted on DUN, and that the answer was a little strange ?

Somewhere back you mentioned an article in french, if you could mail it to me, I could read it for you .


Anonymous said...

Rivited to my chair reading this!

Lori said...

Lynee, When I read your posts I am overwhelmed by the urge to thank you for choosing to follow your path as you have. The dance between human and nature moves me!

Tanya Mills said...

There were tears in my eyes as I read this, Lynne. The sheer beauty and power of the connection you and Kevin have with the incredible herd of Ravenseyrie... I am certain that Esperanda is destined for incredible things!

Welcome to this world, Esperanda. It is a cold and difficult one at times -- as you encountered in your first moments -- but there are such magical things as love. I am excited to hear about your adventures as you grow, beautiful creature.

Thank you Lynne, for sharing this with us.

Lynne Gerard said...

Janet wrote:
"Rivited to my chair reading this!"

I could have written about this birth a little differently and spared readers the tension of the drama as it played out, but I really wanted you to feel that lump in your throats and your bellies a tight wad of anxiousness--it makes the photos of Esperanda up and capering about all the more meaningful.

Lori wrote:
"When I read your posts I am overwhelmed by the urge to thank you for choosing to follow your path as you have. The dance between human and nature moves me!"

Thank you for sharing your appreciation, Lori. One wonders if sharing these experiences with others provides more than just entertainment, but also a deeper thought process. For myself, I no longer feel there is a dance between humans and nature--that is still a disconnect in my mind that keeps humans imaging themselves to be separate from nature, which I do not believe is so. What moves me is to be part of the cosmic dance as it is being played out here on planet earth...I am not so much dancing with it, but am the dance itself in the expression of human form.

Tanya wrote:
"Thank you Lynne, for sharing this with us."

It's my pleasure, Tanya...and thank YOU for reading and commenting!

June said...

Lynne, your comment about feeling part of it all reminds me of this quote I found on another blog:

Hege Krogh said...

Thank you! Every now and then I visit your blog, everytime my spirit get uplifted..! :-)

Lynne Gerard said...

Hege wrote:
"Every now and then I visit your blog, everytime my spirit get uplifted..! :-)"

How nice of you to take the time to leave a comment here, Hege. I'm glad you enjoy following the blog from time to time.

And June, thank you for the link!