Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ambassadors For the Sorraia / Iberian Tarpan

Segura, Animado and Encantara
Ambassadors for the Sorraia / Iberian Tarpan imported from Canada to the U.S.

Whenever in any region remainders of a primitive race of horses are discovered, it deserves our utmost attention, because in a time as fast-moving as ours, it may be a matter of just a few years and something irretrievable might be lost. --Prof Dr. Rainer Willmann / Zoological Institute Goettingen
(from the foreward to Hardy Oelke's book, BORN SURVIVORS ON THE EVE OF EXTINCTION / Can Iberia's Wild Horse Survive Among America's Mustangs?)

The conservation of the purebred Sorraia in Europe and Sorraia Mustang horses in the United States received a major boost on July 14, 2011 when Sheri Olson of the Soul of Sorraia ranch in Cheyenne, Wyoming crossed the border at Sault Saint Marie, Michigan with precious cargo. Three genetic treasures were exported from the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve (on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada) to assist in the further consolidation and safeguarding of the Sorraia--a.k.a Iberian Tarpan--among those North American Mustang horses of Sorraia type.


Our three year old stallion, Animado, and his half-sisters Encantara and Segura (sired by our purebred Sorraia stallion Altamiro and out of our Sorraia Mustang mares Bella, Belina and Zorita, respectively) are now part of Mike and Sheri Olson's efforts to perpetuate the ancestral genetics of the Iberian strain of Equus ferus that have survived in certain specimens of feral and captive bred mustangs.


The importation of these rare horses could not have come at a more critical time, as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management continues to carry out deleterious culls (to the point of genetically nonviable numbers) of the wild horses that inhabit their public landscapes and expansive ranges--even those that have been proven to be genetically significant with zoological and historic ties to the Iberian Peninsula. It more and more seems apparent that preservation of important strains of Spanish Mustang horses as well as those that continue to exhibit the atavistic phenotype of the prehistoric wild horses of Europe, like the Sorraia Mustang, falls into the hands and hearts of private breeders.


It is my belief that Animado, Encantara and Segura carry on their backs a very important and multi-faceted role to play as ambassadors for the Sorraia/Iberian Tarpan horses. Not only will their exceptional forms assist in dispelling misunderstandings and educating all those who meet them about the differences between typical Spanish Mustangs and those that exhibit a true Sorraia phenotype (for there continues to be far too many people referring to their mustang horses as Sorraias when they show little to no distinct characteristics), but these special young horses will also demonstrate how beneficial it is to cultivate a relationship with horses that is based not on pain, force and coercion, but on a loving, nurturing friendship--something especially vital for interacting with primitive horses.

Quoting again from the foreword to Born Survivors on the Eve of Extinction / Can Iberia's Wild Horse Survive Among America's Mustangs? we read:
"As late as the middle of the 20th Century, it became known that Iberia must have had its own form [primitive race] of horse - today known as Sorraia horse. Very few of these horses still exist today, but Hardy Oelke reports that many of the characteristics of the Sorraia horse are found among the North American mustangs. What's more: Many mustangs resemble the Sorraia!

"This lends extraordinary importance to some mustangs, because they bring to our eyes a facet of the original wealth of forms of European wild horses. As the remaining Sorraias in Europe are so few, we must not miss out on the opportunities this discovery holds for us. And there is immediate need for action: Along with the efforts to control the total number of mustangs, the existence of the Sorraia mustangs is in jeopardy." --Prof. Dr. Rainer Willmann

How thankful Kevin and I are that Hardy Oelke introduced us to the Olsons and encouraged us to work together to assure the expansion of breeding projects that recombine the genes of present day Sorraia /Iberian Tarpan genetics with those of the old world Zebro/Marismeño (medieval monikers of the progenitors of the Sorraia) which persist within certain feral and captive bred mustang populations in North America. It is our hope that as Altamiro's offspring become more well know in the U.S. and begin to produce their own progeny, many more people will be able to participate in the propagation of these Iberian Tarpan/Sorraia horses to the point that one day they will not be so critically near extinction. Better still, will be the time when conservationists incorporate Iberian Tarpans into their grassland management schemes as they have been doing so successfully with the Konik horses--another variant of the Tarpan, or European Wild Horse, Equus ferus, which was recovered from remnant genetics present in the local primitive ponies in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland.

Now that readers have a greater appreciation for the significance of the exportation of Animado, Encantara and Segura to the Western United States, let's take a look a some of the photos taken while Sheri and her friend Isa Kirk were here.

After getting their first real-life look at Animado, Segura and Encantara, Sheri and Isa were ready to hike out to find the other horses. We first came upon "the Tribe", (some of the adolescent offspring which have been expelled from the family band by Altamiro and formed their own group.)

The Tribe
(photo credit: Isa Kirk)

(photo credit: Isa Kirk)

After visiting with the Tribe members, we went in search of Altamiro and the family band, and with Sheri following her intuition, we found them not too far away from the tribe, in the edge of the forest.

Sheri (left) and Isa pose with Segura's dam, Zorita

Having been further back among the shadows and trees after he could sense there was no threat, Altamiro gave himself a rather dignified entrance, walking rather slow and majestically into view, looking very much like the Lord of Ravenseyrie, which of course he is! This was a special moment for Sheri and Isa, who had never seen a purebred Sorraia in the flesh. Seeming to sense the importance of this viewing, Altamiro (who typically doesn't get too interactive with visitors) allowed Sheri to come close and touch him:

Because I was so busy talking, I didn't take very many photos, and of those I did take of Sheri and Isa visiting with the family band most were blurred.

Before it got too much later in the evening, we went down the bluff to the village and made sure Isa and Sheri were able to get checked in for the night at Gordon's Lodge. Then Isa treated us all to a meal at Buoy's Restaurant on the bay.

The view of Gore Bay from Gordon's Lodge
(photo credit: Isa Kirk)

The next morning, Isa and Sheri came up around 9am and got the seemingly endless stock trailer into position (no small feat as the narrowness of our driveway and Scotland Road make for challenging turnarounds for large rigs like Sheri's.) Then Sheri and Isa began the process of further introducing themselves to Animado, Encantara and Segura. How pleased I was that these ladies had determined to take all the necessary time needed to gain the trust of the young horses and slowly school them in loading and unloading from the spacious aluminum trailer. While I had accustomed the youngsters to halters and leading, they had never been lead out of their temporary holding area, let alone asked to step up into a long metal box. I had no idea how they might feel about strangers asking them to leave their home. Isa and Sheri were quite confident all would go well because Animado, Encantara and Segura were so gentle and calm.

Isa and Sheri begin the process of getting acquainted with the youngsters

Having had accompanied Sheri on bringing home an untrained mustang once before, and having trained many of her own home raised Spanish Mustangs, Isa began working with our youngsters just as I had to leave for work, but I was able to capture a few photos before hopping on my bicycle to pedal down the bluff and get the gallery opened up for business. Kevin was on hand to assist as needed and let me know how things went.

Though Isa's approach to training is a bit different than mine, and initially this provoked some resistance, once the horses understood that there would be no punishment or force, each eventually calmly let the gals lead them in and out of the trailer until they were confident in the knowledge that this metal box on wheels was a comfortable place to be. In fact, on that hot and buggy day, it was a place of solace, because inside there was cool shade, no flies and yummy prairie grass hay waiting for them. Kevin told me that it was Segura who wound up being the first to load, outshining the others in her quickness to put her trust in Isa. In less than three hours, Isa and Sheri had trained three former semi-wild range horses that loading into a stock trailer was an okay thing. So calm and at peace in their traveling compartments were the horses that Kevin, Isa and Sheri were able to take about an hour's break before the gals began their long, long journey home.

Loaded and ready to go
(photo credit: Kevin Droski)

On their way!
(Photo credit: Kevin Droski)

Sheri sent me these photos from the road, which made my heart sing--to see how well the youngsters were traveling.

(photo credits: Sheri Olson)

Sheri decided to let the youngsters spend a few days at Isa's place in South Dakota (Plenty Star Ranch) and sent me these photos after the horses were unloaded:

(Photo credits: Sheri Olson)

Sheri emailed me these comments and gave permission for me to include them in this journal entry:

"You have accomplished amazing things with your horses and I am so excited to be able to join in your efforts.

"All three are unique and have very distinct personalites. So worth the wait... I am in amazement of their beauty, heritage, etc. as we continue our travels to their new western home." --Sheri Olson

And on Sunday, Isa sent me the following photos and comments which I include here with her permission:

"Lynne, I had so much fun working with your /Sheri's horses. Everyone is different, but Segura stood out as very sensitive, smart, quick learning and then completely trusting and offering her very best - a dream come true - the ultimate filly in looks and personality - wonderful!. I have never seen 3 horses load so completely calm and fast for the first time. Sheri's nice cool trailer and the pestering flies may have helped a little I think. I was very taken with Animado's incredibly sweet nature even though he was insisting at first that going beyond the green gate would be dangerous for all of us - that was the boundary he knew not to tackle - period! in one word - a delight to work with , all of them, thanks to your wonderful handling before hand."--Isa Kirk

They look fabulous don't they?

And what of those wonderful mules, Dee, Doll and Jerry who lent their calm presence as companions in the holding pasture for over six weeks as our young ambassadors prepared for their big journey? When I got home from work, Kevin and I had a little "thank you ceremony" and released these splendid friends back into the big wide open. The next morning I found them and the Tribe enjoying the Ravenseyrie beach--a fitting reward after the wonderful work they did helping us get Animado, Encantara and Segura ready for their new lives.

Fada's colt, Destemido hopes to make friends with Doll while Dee looks on.

Jerry and Interessado play the "nippy face" game with Lake Huron's beautiful North Channel as a spectacular backdrop.

It was incredibly hard for me, emotionally, to let go of these beautiful Sorraia Mustang youngsters, and even now, I can feel the tears wanting to push out from my eyes. It helps tremendously to know that these equine friends I have nurtured since birth have such vital roles to play in the world and have as wonderful a human as Sheri to share their lives with. So I am very happy to be able to assist the preservation of the Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang horses in this way, knowing by allowing the horses to be purchased and spend their lives away from Ravenseyrie assures the remaining genetics of the Iberian Tarpan are not going to be lost forever.

To learn more about Sheri Olson and continue to follow the lives of Animado, Encantara and Segura go to the website of Soul of Sorraia.

To learn more about Isa Kirk and her work go to the website of Plenty Star Ranch.


eva said...

I am so glad this adventure worked out so positively, it must be a huge relief for everyone, and a little less of the daily chores. Lynne, this really vindicates your and Kevin's whole approach. Oh and they are gorgeous!

June said...

Yes, they do look fabulous! And they look ready for their new adventure. Wishing them all the best in the world, and excited to follow them in their new life!

June said...

This past week I visited Shackelford Banks in North Carolina, where there are wild horses descended from Iberian horses. They have been breeding as an isolated population for a long time and apparently have a rare genetic marker Q-ac, which supposedly marks them as descending from old Iberian stock. They're said to be much easier to train than domestic horses, and also I read that the stallions are more territorial than other types of feral horses.

Wondered if you'd heard of/come across these little horses - also known as "Bankers" ... ?

June said...

I love the part the mules played in all this!

June said...

You must have felt so much better about them leaving knowing the three of them were together

June said...

I think this brings up some interesting ideas here - I'd like to hear your thoughts. I've heard people use the argument that they want to train their horses in a more conventional way so that they are able to be adaptable and fit in, if necessary, into new homes and be able to work with anybody.

But here are your three youngsters, who have not been "trained" as such, obligingly traveling across the continent with strangers.

I assume that if Isa and Sheri had expected "trained" horses, rather than communicative horses, the outcome would not have been so favorable .... ?

I don't think training is a bad word, and I know you did work with the youngsters before they left, but I guess you know what I mean sortof.

Sorry for all the comments!

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva and June, thank you for recognizing what is one of the most phenomenal things about this big change in Animado, Encantara and Segura's lives...namely, that it provided an opportunity to demonstrate that one can, indeed, lay a foundation of friendship with these "wild" horses upon which new experiences are much more readily accepted.

I did not train these horses, rather I befriended them-- tended to their needs in ways that pleased them, never-ever punished them and presented new types of interactions via the concept of play. Because of this, and the freedom they were always given to voice their opinion, even if it was a flat out "no", they were interested in whatever I might desire to share with them. At that point, honestly, "training" became superfluous.

This may one day soon be a topic for a journal entry, after I get caught up with the others I have agreed to do. (June, I will write about castration, very soon.!)

When Sheri and Isa presented themselves to the horses, their approach was somewhat different than mine, yet after getting a feel for each other and recognizing that Sheri and Isa had no intention of using pain or force to coerce them into the trailer, they were able to make a decision to extend their trust to these kind ladies.

I have no doubt that had these women used force, intimidation, pain, etc., they would have provoked flight or aggression from the youngsters.

Never having had a bad experience with humans helped the horses extend their trust more readily, as well as being in a comfortable setting with each other for company.

And yes, June, it was terrific the way the mules helped out by being calm pasture chums! I think they liked being part of a group which was getting doted on so lovingly throughout those long six-plus weeks in captivity.

Re: Shackelford Banks mustangs

June, I have heard of these horses, but have not studied about them. I think it is wonderful that ancestors of Iberian horses that helped colonize the New World persist in so many unique places and that while the pure bloodlines have been quite diluted over the centuries, certain characteristics (both physical and mental) have been retained.

Sheri now has the youngsters at home with her in WY and when she is able to send me new photos, I will edit them into this journal entry as an update, so stay tuned!

June said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Lynne. I'm off to post on my blog some quotes from a book by a man who befriended a grizzly bear. They really resonate I think.

June said...

Ok, Lynne, that's it - I've realized I can't split the difference or compromise with the vet. I've been sort of dreading having him out to do shots (and we have rabies in this area, so I really want the shots) - he is very nice, and patient, and skillful, but of course one feels pressure to get the job done and not waste his time.

I thought about how you said in a previous post that you were willing to pay the vet to come out for nothing if necessary, and so I've emailed my vet to ask for his help and cooperation, and to tell him I'm willing to pay for him to come "for nothing", but I absolutely have to be prepared to accomplish nothing in any given visit. Which of course isn't nothing, as it lays the ground for trust, respect and ultimately cooperation.

So, thanks.

June said...

p.s. Even if I have to max out all the credit cards in the process!!!!!!!! Oh, pray that not!

Lynne Gerard said...

June writes, "I've realized I can't split the difference or compromise with the vet..."

The poor veterinarians have a most difficult job, and, yes, are necessarily forever mindful of keeping certain schedules. Some horses don't mind the vet visits at all, and then others can sense/smell them as soon as they arrive and are immediately on the defense.

I think the majority of veterinarians want to work "with" the horse and not force them and some may be more willing to take it slower and attempt to make a pleasing connection with the horse before getting "to work". (I am reminded here of what Imke wrote in the "Ask the Expert" journal entry this past March: "Vets and farriers do not try to hurt horses, they do not want to harm them, do they?".)

Other veterinarians I have had in the past do not attempt to connect with the horses at all, but treat them like some non-perceiving biological form and have no patience when horses resist.

In both instances, typically the veterinarian is trying to help the horse be as healthy as possible, but their "feeling" for the horse as an emotional, sentient being differs.

When Dr. Lazier came to take blood and perform the health exams for Encantara, Animado and Segura, things began rather straight-forward until Segura became startled, jumped back against the lead line and felt her first painful pull when she reached its limit. I let her go, because it is no longer in my nature to hold a horse that is so intent on leaving. After a few moments I was able to connect with her again, but Segura associated that pain with Dr. Lazier (Andrea) and would run backward each time she was approached by this young vet.

Now Animado and Encantara eyed Andrea with suspicion as well, so rather than hook them up to the lead line, Kevin and I set about massaging and itching first Animado. When he was felt good and relaxed, we invited Andrea to come into Animado's space with us and she too began charming him with soothing words and itches...then bit by bit, with Kevin rubbing Animado's head and me itching his rump, Andrea was able to draw the blood and perform the exam.

We then repeated the same with Encantara and it worked beautifully. But Segura was still offended and rather than make her feel more troubled than she already was, we decided to reschedule for the next week.

Dr. Scott came this time and Segura was ready to flee as soon as he approached her. We all knew that it would take a completely different setting for Segura to feel comfortable with Dr. Scott...(a different day, a different outfit and no outward veterinary agenda) a luxury which was not ours at that time. We made the decision there and then to sedate her. This helped her tremendously and while it wasn't my first choice, June, I can tell you that I would much rather use the sedation than use physical strength to restrain her. She may never appreciate the ministrations of a veterinarian, but she came out of this experience with her trust of Kevin and me intact and was able to transfer this later to Sheri and Isa. Cornering and restraining with brute force would have been a huge mental trauma for her and I was glad to avoid this.

When he was leaving, Dr. Scott stroked Segura and said, "I'm sure we could become friends if I had the time." He was speaking to her-- not to us, and that made me feel really good.

Best wishes for your upcoming vet visit, June.

June said...

Did they get any vaccinations?

We may end up sedating if it looks in the long run for some of the horses that that's what will work best. And also if my credit card is starting to get maxed out!

However, my first plan is to just be very up front with the vet that I'm willing to forego immediate results in favor of establishing trust and confidence.

He's replied to my email that he's happy to help out in this way. This will be so much better than feeling under pressure to produce a horse who has good "ground manners" and trying to please the horse and some abstract notion of pleasing the vet at the same time. This way I can be up front, and we can work together.

Lynne Gerard said...

June asked, "Did they get any vaccinations?"


Vaccinations werenot requuired for exportation unless the exporter requests them. When I asked Sheri if she wanted Dr. Scott to vaccinate the youngsters, she said no.

Angie said...

What a connection you have with nature and her beings. You have such a way with words and pictures. Thank you for sharing this passion.