Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday at the Beach

One of the spectacular views north at Ravenseyrie
(Click on photo to view larger image)

An anonymous, ancient Chinese poet wrote:

I have been gazing

At the scenery of Sho and Shung.

I realize
I am all of a sudden

Part of the landscape.

Now that we here on Manitoulin Island have shifted to the needs of the tourists, my Ravenseyrie Studio in the Wharf building on the Gore Bay waterfront is open six days a week instead of five.

Sunday is my one day off and it is a blessed day for me...not a day for attending church (an earthy pagan is in "church" every single day!) but a day for staying home and totally ignoring the clock. It's a day to dawdle, a day to be "gazing" until "I am all of a sudden part of the landscape".

I guard these Sundays with a truly selfish heart, eschewing visitors and obligations so that I may restore that which being available to the public all week has drained from me. How thankful I am for the rejuvenating environment of Ravenseyrie--it never fails to infuse me with renewed strength and a sense of physical, mental and spiritual balance.

Today's journal entry I make as an offering to those of you who have busy lives and find it almost impossible to take even a moment for dawdling. The photos I took this past Sunday feel very magical to me...they have the power to "stop the world" and bring the viewer into the "now".

I hope you enjoy gazing at the scenery of Ravenseyrie. (Click on the photos to view larger images.)

A group of grullas splashing through the "tide pool"

Wee Fada has no trouble negotiating the rocky terrain of the tide pool.

Zeus, Mistral, Animado, Fada, Belina, Bella, Ciente and Altamiro doze at water's edge, with a picturesque sailboat along the horizon. Imagine what a thrill it must be to spot horses on the beach while out sailing the North Channel!

Kevin is walking over to visit with us...what a dapper island boy he is!

I pass the camera to Kevin, who takes a few photos while I interact with the little ones: first with Fada......and then with Animado.

Jerry, Doll and Dee form their own small herd and enjoy the cool breeze off Lake Huron. When I view these Ravenseyrie beach scenes, the colors are so stunning, I feel my heart will burst from the sensation of beauty and exotica they evoke.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Play Face vs The Serious Face

Having mentioned the "play face" in my last entry, I thought I would post here some photos showing the concentration and extended upper lip that is part of the expression horses (and mules) demonstrate during game playing. In the top photo we see Altamiro and Jerry earnestly engaged in one of their rough and tumble boy games and Altamiro has extended his upper lip neatly. In the following photo you can see both Altamiro and Jerry's "play face".Contrast the look on Altamiro and Jerry's faces in this next sequence of photos. These were taken shortly after Fada was born and Altamiro was being especially protective of the space around Belina and her newborn. Jerry was, like all the rest of the herd, incredibly curious to meet the newcomer, but Altamiro would not yet allow such a meeting. This is no game now, this is a serious conversation!

Altamiro walks over to Jerry, who has been inching closer hoping to get a better look at Fada. Altamiro lowers his head, sets his jaw and walks with measured steps...
Since this was not the first time Altamiro had warned Jerry about breeching the invisible line separating him from Belina and Fada, Altamiro dispenses with all pleasantries and lunges at Jerry.Jerry understands that Altamiro isn't going to yield on the matter, but just to make sure, Altamiro offers a bit more authoritative posturing.And that's it, conversation is over, Jerry leaves the location and Altamiro goes back to tend to his family.
Some of the reader's of this blog have read elsewhere the following account I put together relaying the way our big Thoroughbred gelding, Zeus, played some games with young Animado, even teaching him a new haute école movement. I'm putting this account here in the Journal of Ravenseyrie because it shows, once again, how creatively horses play and also gives a great view of the "play face".

>>>One day this past May, I had been giving Mistral a good currying, and Mistral was enjoying experimenting with different bodily contortions which aided him in receiving the most from my efforts. (These would be terrific to get photos of one day, but it would require assistance, for I cannot curry and take photos simultaneously.)

Animado was most intrigued by the funny posturings the king of the herd was assuming while getting attention from me, so he bounded over..." Whatcha doing? Can I watch, can I watch?"

Of course, soon watching wasn't enough and the adorable colt just had to begin nuzzling and nipping in hopes of getting the attention transferred to himself. Taking a cue from Animado's mother, Bella, I just ignored the little pest and quietly repositioned myself on the other side of Mistral. So Animado began nuzzling and nipping Mistral instead. Mistral gave him a squeal of displeasure and an abrupt thrusting gesture with his head.

Not the least bit deterred, Animado found me on the other side of Mistral and resumed his attempts to distract me. I wove myself around to the opposite side again, which prompted a little game of "Chase Lynne around Mistral".

Zeus soon noticed these activities and dashed over. "Whatcha doing? Can I play too?"

Mistral and I really didn't want to play, we wanted to resume our curry session, so we were grateful when Zeus and Animado dashed off a little ways together and took up the game of "I'm faster at nipping your face than you are at nipping mine!"

While getting back into good a good currying I could yet watch and enjoy how gentle the big "thunder god" was with his little playmate. I could also see a special light in Zeus' expression and I just knew the game of "I'm faster at nipping your face than you are at nipping mine!" was going to morph into a different game.

"Let's play the pesade game!" Zeus seemed to say as he began a demi-piaffe.

"Okay! What's a pesade?" Animado inquired as he scampered around in excitement.

"This is a pesade!", said Zeus as he rose up on his neatly flexed hindquarters."Oh, wow! That's a little like the moves I do when I'm climbing up on mom and dad. I think I can do it! said Animado.

I made hasty apologies to Mistral as I fished my camera out of the bag in hopes of capturing some of this "pesade game".

They played this game for about four or five minutes.

What was especially noteworthy was how pleased Animado seemed to be to discover that he could do this loose version of pesade, and he tried it on his own several times.Up until this time, I don't think Animado was quite aware that he could balance on his hind legs without having his front legs dangling on top of his mother or father's body for support. He has played many rearing games with his parents, where he rears up and puts his front legs on them. Typically this was always done from an approach to the front or from the side. Interestingly enough, after watching his dad breed his mother for several days, Animado's rearing game now includes a rear approach, with as much poise and form as Altamiro's stallion activities.But, it took Uncle Zeus to teach Animado that vertical balance could be had without support and that it could become a form of artistic expression. I have no doubt as he matures, Animado will have a picture perfect pesade...his early attempts are a great start.

In Pluvinel's book LE MANEIGE ROYAL, the translator, Hilda Nelson writes this regarding the Pesade in the glossary section:

"PESADE This movement is the introductory exercise to the 'airs releves'. It is performed in one place. The horse raises his forelegs high off the ground while lowering his hocks. His body is maintained for several seconds at an angle of forty-five degrees. He must keep his hind legs firmly on the ground so that he does not mark time with his haunches. (The 'pesade' became three hundred years later the 'levade', when the body was maintained at an angle of thirty degrees.) If the horse does not lower the hocks, then the horse is merely rearing."

Here is how Pesade is defined in la Gueriniere's book SCHOOL OF HORSEMANSHIP:

"The pesade is an air in which the horse elevates its forehand in place, without advancing, holding the hind legs firmly and in stationary position, so that no cadence is marked by the hind hooves, in contradistinction to all other airs. This exercise is employed to prepare a horse to jump with greater ease, and to accustom it to elevate the forehand."

la Guerienere has quite a bit to say about pesade and how to train (coerce with forceful means) the horse to perform it. He says the pesade is not technically considered an 'air above the ground' because the hind legs stay on the ground, but finds that it is an essential exercise to learn as a prelude to the other airs. He also adds a note of caution, which doesn't seem the least bit necessary for the schooling Zeus is offering Animado.

"Since the most intelligent horses always offer some resistance when they start in the airs above ground, they ought not to be pushed to the limits of their capabilities, for they would become hardened and lose the habit of bending easily; indeed, they might even use the airs above the ground as a form of rebellion by rising up without command. Consequently, caution should be exercised in the initial stages to ensure that the horse falls into none of these vices, which could render it restive."

When training is play, there is no resistance and no vice created. This is clearly something we can see occurring in the natural world of the horses here at Ravenseyrie, and the way Imke Spilker and Alexander Nevzorov have brought play into the schooling manege capitalizes on all the benefits of these classical haute école exercises without the coercion and resistance.<<<

I'll close with two "play face" photos taken in the early spring when Zeus was feeling frisky and had been playing with Jerry.

The way horses extend their upper lips when they play is something we also see when they are receiving some exceptionally good itching. There seems to be no mistaking that the horse is focused upon pleasure when the upper lip is demonstrating this expression.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Games Horses Play

Living with horses in a semi-wild setting provides many opportunities to observe how horses (and mules) interact with each other. I have been involved with horses for a little over twenty five years, but is only in the last three years that I have been able to keep horses in a family group and allow them to roam 360 acres. This expansive, varied landscape stimulates the horses in ways that are different than what I have observed in smaller groups kept in uninteresting paddocks.

One of the many interesting pass times I've observed, with all members of the herd, is how frequently they engage in play.

Yesterday morning I took my camera with me as the pups and I went out to groom the horses. There was a very cool wind which kept the biting insects hiding out in the forest and provided the herd with a bug free environment out in the open grasslands. Most of the group was interested in grazing, grazing and more grazing. Others, specifically our Sorraia stallion Altamiro and his two month old colt, Animado were feeling especially playful.

The photo at the top, along with the next three, capture Animado playing one of his favorite games, which we might call "Climb On Dad". I have seen this game played in a variety of ways. What was noteworthy from yesterday's session was how long the little colt remained perched up across the back of his father--a good three to five minutes! Adding to Altamiro's typical tolerance of these "Climb on Dad" games was the tender offering of rump grooming he gave to his son. Animado seemed to enjoy it and made little adjustments to help him stay up as long as he could. I'm thinking that having the colt wriggling over his back might have provided Altamiro with an impromptu back itch--in which case, this little game episode is also one of the most unusual "mutual grooming" sessions I've witnessed.
Just a few minutes after Animado slid off his dad and put four perfect little hooves back on the ground, Altamiro decided he would play a "Chase" game with Mistral.Mistral is my "first love"--meaning he was my first horse--we've been together since he was an unsure three year old. He is twenty-nine years old this year, and still King of the herd, still robust, energetic and capable of being part of a young stallion's game--after all, it was Mistral who taught Altamiro the finer points of the game "Chase".However, being an Arabian, and King of the herd means that the game of "Chase" is a short one--it wouldn't look good to the others if Mistral allowed himself to be chased extensively, so he quickly aborted the game.

This of course meant that Altamiro, who still had a lot of play left in him, needed a new partner...and who better than the big draft mule, Jerry!The game these two played is a real "rough and tumble" boy game and I haven't yet come up with a suitable name for it. It consists of tight circles where each tries to nip the rump and hind legs of the other and often explodes into rearing and neck biting. All in good fun of course, with playful long lips extended. In her book, Selbstbewusste Pferd, Imke Spilker calls the extending upper lip the "play face". These photos don't show it as well as some others I have, but you get a glimpse of it on Jerry in the last photo. This game offers a lot of muscular development and lateral suppling. These "out to pasture" horses are amazing athletes!
While Jerry and Altamiro were sparring, Animado decided to scamper a bit himself and I swung the camera his way just in time to get a little caper captured.
Thegame with Jerry seemed to satisfy Altamiro and he decided it was time to do some grazing. However, just as he was settling in to an especially nice patch of grass, Mistral entered the space and initiates a game of "I Can Nip Your Face Faster Than You Can Nip Mine!"This really is an example of "tit for tat" and served as Mistral's way of getting back at Altamiro who had rather caught him off guard with the chase game earlier while he (Mistral) was enjoying an especially succulent patch of grass. The "I Can Nip Your Face Faster Than You Can Nip Mine!" game lasted for what seemed like five minutes or more. I took a lot of photos, here are just a few of them:
Did you notice how intrigued tiny Fada is with this game as she peers at them from the background? It won't be long and the weeks old filly will be playing this game too!

After Mistral and Altamiro finished the "I Can Nip Your Face Faster Than You Can Nip Mine!" game, Animado came scampering over to his dad and tried to get a new game started--but, unfortunately, I couldn't stay to be part of it--I had to leave this pasture fun and get myself ready to go to work at the studio. It was a delight to have seen so many games taking place that morning, and I was thankful to have my camera along to capture some of it in pictures.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rocks That Speak

My cyber friend, Eva, from California happened upon some images of my work that are posted on the Manitoulin Fine Arts Association website:

Two of my rock paintings are featured there, and Eva wrote that the Raven (as seen above) "spoke" to her, and as it happened to be her birthday today her husband was interested in purchasing this artwork as a gift for her if it was available for sale.

Eva, I wish this raven could fly across the continent to you--but he sold earlier this year and is no longer with me. To make up for this, I am dedicating this quick journal entry to you and wishing you a very Happy Birthday!

The way the Raven rock spoke to Eva, is exactly what an artist hopes will happen when her work is viewed and it is especially so for me, because I infuse my work, even the simplest greeting card with the love and admiration I feel for nature and the well being I wish for all things...humans, plants, animals...and yes, even the ravenous mosquitoes!

On a day when I have time to do the thing properly, I will share in this blog how I came to paint upon these marvelous rocks. For now, I will simply say that, like what Eva experienced, when I first beheld these lovely rocks (which I find down on the Ravenseyrie beach) they "spoke" to me. These ancient rocks have been sharing intimate conversations with me ever since, and I owe them much respect and gratitude for what they have brought into my life.

For now, I will simply close by sharing two more Raven paintings and also one of my poems featuring Ravens which serves as one more wish for a splendid birthday for Eva.


Why not dream in expansive, extravagant ways?

Why not engage in flights of fancy?

Become one with the Wind, like Ravens do,

Unlearn learned limitations,

Embrace a new awareness,

Live enthusiastically!

"Raven With Sun and River"

Friday, June 13, 2008

Horses and Poisonous Plants

Annemiek has left her thoughts and a question in the "comments" section of yesterday's journal entry. I am reprinting them here with my follow up commentary.

" Hi Lynne, Thanks for your answer, this is all so very fascinating! I am also very interested in what your horses eat. In my study we had a lecture about poisonous plants and the professor on this subject told us domestic horses are not capable anymore to avoid those. I doubt this very much, I’ve read a lot of stories about domestic horses turned lose, which seem to have no problems staying alive without human interference. However, they tell us over and over again that green oak leaves are poisonous for horses as are the green acorns. Our horses eat them both if we don’t prevent them. Maybe you don’t have oak trees at your place, but there must be other “poisonous” trees and plants. How do your horses cope with them I wonder?"

Most traditional texts on equine health (and human health for that matter) are quick to frighten us away from certain plants if they have been found to be problematic when used for food or medicine. Large, bold words like "toxic", "harmful", "noxious" and "poisonous" are very effective in creating an aversion to these powerful plants. This is a good thing, I think, because so many humans are unfamiliar with nature's intelligence and tend to abuse plants in ignorance.

But, as is so often the case, in reality, "toxic" plants are wonderful foods and medicines when they are understood holistically as opposed to reducing them to their isolated constituents.

The many varieties of Oak (Quercus spp.) contain tannic acid (among other compounds) and were used medicinally for its astringent, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Most of my books tell me that it was the inner bark that was used medicinally, but one text cited use of the leaves and the acorns as well. Native Americans enjoyed acorns as a food and many wild animals find acorns essential to their survival.

There are a few Oak trees growing here at Ravenseyrie, but they are a distinct minority.

We do have a host of other "poisonous" plants in abundance here, probably the most frightful of which is Water Hemlock (Cicuta Maculata). It's alternative name is "Cowbane" due to its dreadful effects when ingested by cattle. All parts of the plant are poisonous. This is the plant that ended the life of Socrates and it takes very little to have its effect.Water Hemlock

I was quite startled to meet the plant for the first time, down on our beach. I had read about it so often and it was quite something to see Water Hemlock in real life. I was surprised how unsettled I felt around it! I gave it a nod of greeting and took a wide berth. The next time I was down at the beach I was horrified to see that several plants had their flowers bitten off. Did the horses eat them? Was it the Whitetail Deer? Black Bear? I have no idea what animal dined on approximately four flowers, but to my great relief neither my dogs nor I came upon any dead carcasses.

Alsike Clover ( Trifolium hybridum) is another plant considered to be quite toxic to herbivores and we have quite a bit of it growing out among the prairie grasses, the Red Clover and other herbs. How do the horses know the difference? I don't know--but they don't seem to eat it, at least not in any quantity that would be harmful. Most likely the plants have an unpalatable element that acts as a natural alarm to the horses, or perhaps an aroma that is off-putting.

Alsike Clover and Water Hemlock are just two "toxic"plants that our horses and mules pass their muzzles over...I could do an entire article on the offerings that grow here side by side with the non-poisonous edibles!

My opinion is that none of these "poisonous" plants are cause for concern when there are plenty of other beneficial and nutrient rich plants for the horses to feast upon. I believe the horses "self-medicate" as needed from the various trees, plants, roots, etc. that are part of their environment. All of us have inherent knowledge about such things...being far less removed from nature than we are, it seems the horses have no difficulties trusting their instinct as it directs them how to make the most of their environment, including what to eat for food and what to nibble upon for medicine.

We have a pretty yellow flowering plant, Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) which grows in abundance. In addition to its reported toxicity, it has been known to be used as a stomach tonic and an insect repellent. Our horses eat it frequently. They eat the flowers and the leaves and in the autumn and winter they eat the dried stalks!The above photo shows Tansy, growing next to Foxtail Barley Grass--another plant textbooks would prefer to not appear in pastures.

Like Annemiek, I doubt that domestic horses have lost their sense of discernment and I believe they do just fine (in fact better!) in a varied, natural environment, if they have the entire plant buffet to choose from. In Annemiek's case, the Oak leaves and acorns could be problematic if eaten in isolation and not in combination with mixed pasture grass and wild herbs.

At the top of the page as well as at the bottom are two non-toxic plants that grow at Ravenseyrie, Wild Mint and Bunch Berry respectively, aren't they lovely?

Thanks for bringing up this topic, Annemiek! I enjoyed writing about it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More on Coping With Biting Insects

In the comments segment of the Journal of Ravenseyrie blog, Annemiek inquired: "Lynne, I was wondering, do they ever go into the water? Would this help to ease the itches? Or maybe, after they go into the water and roled in the sand they would have a mud coat to protect them?"

I'm surprised that I forgot to include rolling in yesterday's listing of options the horses use to find relief from the biting insects, so I'm glad you brought up these questions, Annemiek.

I have observed the horses stepping into the water to take a drink (and even spend time gazing off into the waves as you see Doll doing!) but I haven't witnessed them going in deeper to get their bodies wet and cool themselves off in the lake.
They may do it, and I've just not been around when it occurs.

On the other hand, our beach at the water's edge is totally covered with stones and rocks--which are incredibly slippery. We humans wear rubber soled swimming shoes when we want to play in the water...perhaps Kevin should design some for horses, similar to the hoof boots folks use instead of metal shoes?

The North Channel (which is what the portion of Lake Huron is called where our beach is) is very shallow by the shore and you have to go quite a ways out (35-50ft) before it drops off and gets deeper than mid-thigh level. This coupled with the slippery footing may be discouraging the horses from going out for a good soaking.

They do roll in the mud down there, though, as you can see here by Zeus' clinging clay coloring. This lake shore clay is incredibly adhesive, and is very difficult to brush off if they have rolled in the wettest areas.
When you walk through it, the clay mud clings to your boots in layers, and just keeps building up until you feel as if you have forty extra pounds on each boot! Better get if off before it dries, too, or you've really got a job removing it later. I typically just walk through the water until it all rinses off.

A good pair of rubber boots are a must here at Ravenseyrie, if you want to be able to walk wherever you please. This time of the year rubber boots can get pretty hot...
but if you are down by the lake, you just take them off and cool your feet in the pristine lake while sitting on a big rock observing horses and taking lots of photos. It's a bit too cold for swimming just yet.

Back up on the bluff, just outside the kitchen window the herd has made a favorite dirt rolling spot.

And they roll a lot.
In thinking about the discomfort these flies and mosquitoes cause us, I remembered something I'd read in a book several years ago titled, MUTANT MESSAGE DOWN UNDER by Marlo Morgan. This is a true life account of an American woman who went on "walkabout" with a group of Australian Aboriginals and had a pretty horrific experience with true hoards of flies. When she asked the leader of the group how they could possible stand having flies crawling all over them he replied:

"There are no freaks, misfits, or accidents. There are only things that humans do not understand. You believe the bush flies to be bad, to be hell, and so for you they are, but it is only because you are minus the necessary understanding and wisdom. In truth, they are necessary and beneficial creatures. They crawl down our ears and clean out the wax and sand that we get from sleeping each night. Do you see we have perfect hearing? Yes, they climb up our nose and clean it out too." He pointed to my nose and said, "You have very small holes, not a big koala nose as we have. It is going to get much hotter in the days to come and you will suffer if you do not have a clean nose. In extreme heat you must not open your mouth to the air. Of all people who need a clean nose, it is you. The flies crawl and cling to our body and take off everything that is eliminated." He held out his arm as he said, "See how soft and smooth our skin is, and look at yours. We have never known a person who changed colors merely by walking. You came to us one color, then became bright red, now you are drying and falling away. You are becoming smaller and smaller each day. We have never known anyone who left their skin on the sand as a snake does. You need the flies to clean your skin, and someday we will come to the place where the flies have laid the larva and again we will be provided with a meal." He took a deep sigh as he looked at me intently and said, "Humans cannot exist if everything that is unpleasant is eliminated instead of understood. When the flies come, we surrender. Perhaps you are ready to do the same."

I'm not sure I would be able to surrender to the flies of the Australian Outback in the way Margo Morgan did...though perhaps if I had no choice, just as she had no choice, I would yield my body and learn to appreciate the good that the flies can do. I surely have learned that every element of this mysterious world has its right to be here and that to not be constantly fighting against such things makes for a happier state of mind.

The herd has shown me that one can find numerous ways pass through the buggy times and when the more pleasant sensations can be had, they don't rush through them, but they savor every blessed moment, even more so after having come through the unpleasant times.Tomorrow, or the next day, depending on how much extra time there is, I intend to share a story from this past Sunday at the beach and relay just how sure-footed these horses and mules are while negotiating their way over those rocks.

Thank you for your question Annemiek. I really appreciate your interest!