Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sorraia Mustangs on the Ravenseyrie Beach

When gelded, Interessado will be able to continue to have free roam of all of Ravenseyrie and mingle with the other horses both old and young, as he is doing here with Fada's colt, Destemido.

Instead of substituting a new form of stress, as an "enforcer", we should take on the role of "decider," not the one who imposes his will and dominates the horse. --Frédéric Pignon
(from the book Gallop to Freedom, by Delgado, Pignon and Walser)

From time to time there comes to me from those individuals who read the Journal of Ravenseyrie a question or comment that I am prompted to respond to not in the follow-up comments section, but within a new journal entry. I have mentioned in one or two recent entries that after careful contemplation, Kevin and I had decided we would soon be gelding our two young colts, Interessado (Purebred Sorraia x Kiger Mustang) and Silvestre (Purebred Sorraia x Kiger Mustang). Most likely this declaration caused a indignant gasp from some who are against the castration of stallions while simultaneously receiving a derisive exclamation of "Well it's about time." from others.

One long time reader, June, typed out an earnest query, and here, among the many lovely photos of our Sorraia Mustang youngsters (of mixed ages who have been expelled from the family band by their sire, Altamiro) enjoying the cooling breezes coming off Lake Huron's North Channel, I have decided to provide her an equally earnest answer.

June inquired: "I have a question for you - what are your feelings about gelding? I ask this not to challenge you, but because the idea makes me feel a bit off, and I'm sure you're a somewhat ambivalent too. Maybe you have some reassuring thoughts for me?!"

Lovely Fada

The castration of horses has a history extending back to the days when gold-bedecked Scythian horseman (highly skillful and wickedly ferocious) roamed the vast Pontic-Caspian steppe, is even in modern times a "simple, routine" procedure--yet still is not without potential risk to horses, and is a distinct act of governance on the part of the human. One wonders, then how I would even consider imposing such a life-altering operation on our young stallions?

Since we have been unable to link up with the right type of situation that would provide meaningful, full lives away from Ravenseyrie for these colts, and we cannot support more than one free range breeding herd, the only options we see are to break up their open acerage with "stallion proof" fencing and segregate the colts and fillies from each other and the family band, or to sterilize the colts so they can continue to roam virtually free.

A coating of lakeshore mud helps Interessado cope with biting insects

Both Kevin and I know our horses very well...we know what they most desire on a day to day basis--and this is the freedom to run in wide open spaces as part of the extended family. The desire to procreate is seasonal and hormonal driven and of secondary interest to an overall sense of belonging to a free range group with their mental and physical needs mostly provided autonomously with a little support from us from time to time. We feel 100% confident that given a choice between remaining biologically intact, yet segregated into more confined region of the landscape or being denied reproductive rights, but allowed to continue to experience rich, full living in the big wide open with the opportunity to mingle with the other equine inhabitants, both Interessado and Silvestre would prefer the latter.

It is worth noting that even in a truly wild situation with no fences containing them, not all stallions will have opportunity to breed mares, some will form bachelor bands, some live solitary lives and some are accepted as non-breeding assistants to a family band.

Of the few options available for purposefully rendering male horses infertile, we have determined castration is the most appropriate for our semi-wild living conditions here at Ravenseyrie. Once gelded, Interessado and Silvestre will be taken off the "for sale" list and can live out their lives here with us.

Segregating stallions, provided they have sufficient room to live and acceptable companionship is not a bad thing...and should any of Altamiro's sons move on to other lives where they are not kept in the company of mares, I am confident they would adapt quite nicely with the right type of human support and affection. However, to extract them from their former free and glorious interactive life in the big wide open landscape Ravenseyrie presently provides them, and place them inside a formidable barrier that keeps them from the very things they love, while their former world continues to be visible to them, is akin to creating a jail in a palace where the princes can see all that was once theirs but not participate in it.

So, with Frédéric Pignon's words in mind, we will not become the "enforcer" of a truncated lifestyle which would be daily stressful for the unsold colts but rather serve a role as "decider" in what we feel has the best, holistic interests for the horses and the landscape.

Pinoteia in a pensive pose

We do not expect that there will be universal support for our determination to soon geld Interessado and Silvestre (and later Destemido) but readers will at the very least know the reasons we have come to this decision.

Thank you, June, for your question and the opportunity to explain how we came to this decision.

Destemido, the fearless one, son of Fada

The longer I live in the company of horses the more I feel my ability to communicate with other humans deepens and the more I appreciate the need for respect, not to judge too easily, to be tolerant, to have compassion and acceptance. This is the horse's gift to me. --Frédéric Pignon
(from the book Gallop to Freedom, by Delgado, Pignon and Walser)

Tocara and Levada enjoy a mutual grooming sessionZorita's 2010 filly, Levada


Máire said...

Lynne, I am catching up with some of your posts here. I love your photos as always and absolutely appreciate how you have come to your decision. Even within the horse paradise you have created at Ravenseyrie, there are human constraints. That is the lot of horses today and, indeed, for a very long time, and wild, semi-wild, or domesticated they have to live within it.

The freedom to roam is a precious, precious gift and I am sure that Interessado and Silvestre will benefit in spirit and soul from that continued freedom to roam.


June said...

I just love that Interessado.

What you say makes a lot of sense, and is reassuring. When you put it like that - that the hormonal drive is seasonal and secondary to their other social and emotional needs, it makes sense to geld the horses so they can enjoy the fulfilment of those more important needs.

I guess if it could be done, temporarily, with drugs, like you can with mares, my ambivalence would be less. The amputation aspect is perhaps what makes it particularly unsettling.

However, I see that leaving the horses intact would in fact be even more "disfiguring." It might be a hard decision, but that doesn't make it a wrong decision. Also - not making a decision at all could be even worse.

Thanks for your thoughts - I'm glad I asked, because you did make me feel better!

Lynne Gerard said...

Maire wrote: "Even within the horse paradise you have created at Ravenseyrie, there are human constraints."

Indeed, there are, and any decision we make that disrupts the otherwise natural flow to the horses' lives is acquired through much study and meditation on the options available and the impact our decisions have on the environment as well as the horses--we cannot come to a determination for one without consideration of the other because at this point, the horses are really part of the local ecosystem here.

Then there is the preservation aspect to their genetics, which at first had been our main concern, but now is secondary to the overall "way of life" our horses experience.

There is much more to this than I ever dreamed possible...challenges and benefits are ever flowing.

Thanks for catching up on the JofR entries, Maire, and for taking time to leave your kind comments.

Lynne Gerard said...

June wrote: "I guess if it could be done, temporarily, with drugs, like you can with mares, my ambivalence would be less."

There are actually two approaches that have been used as temporary contraceptives for stallions.

Here is a link to an article that details the two forms of "immunocastration":

I think the GnRH contraception might prove a viable alternative for us, depending on how frequently it needs to be injected and what the long term effects of use turn out to be. I get the impression from what I've read on it, it is still a bit experimental and I'm waiting and following the studies...right now I am hesitating due to the side effects both known and unknown.

eva said...

It's the best you can do under the circumstances. And I hope it will work out with the herd dynamics for Interessado's sake, so he can be a wise uncle to the foals to come and be part of the group. From what i am hearing from Shadow, being part of the group is high on the list, perhaps the most important thing in a horse's life.

You will take him off the sales page, meaning: even if someone fell in love with him and offered him a home, he would not go anywhere?

You wrote: "Then there is the preservation aspect to their genetics, which at first had been our main concern, but now is secondary to the overall "way of life" our horses experience."

This shift does not surprise me. The preservation is an abstract idea ultimately, albeit a noble one. You can't live by it. Your heart will always side with the individual, whether he is black, or has white markings, or otherwise does not quite fit the plan. It is good that this is so.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Given Altamiro's animosity toward Mistral and Zeus (both geldings).

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva inquired: "You will take him off the sales page, meaning: even if someone fell in love with him and offered him a home, he would not go anywhere?"

Eva, I have been struggling to try to find a way to answer this question, and find I am blocked as far as what to relay...nothing seems quite adequate.

I suppose once Kevin and I have made the decision to not sell a horse it is our commitment and intention to provide a home for this horse for life here at Ravenseyrie.

As such, it wouldn't be enough to have someone approach us with an offer to purchase someone like Interessado because they have fallen in love with him...we would have to know that Interessado reciprocated that same feeling and that without a doubt he would be happier living somewhere else.

All of your comments, Eva, are wonderfully thought provoking. Thank you for sharing them.