Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Sense of Belonging and Expressions of Joy

The Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, gallops along paths in the snow with his Sorraia Mustang mares and foals at Ravenseyrie

When Kevin and I lived in Michigan, we had cows as well as horses and mules. There were roughly 70 acres, most of which was fenced and gated in a variety of conjoining pastures (with the connecting gates virtually always left open), one of which contained a pond. The family of cows, calves and venerable Mr. Bull had access to this great network of pastures as well as a large barn and two "loafing" sheds.

At that time we had just two horses and they had a separate pasture connected to their own barn. Their stalls were always open and accessible allowing them to choose for themselves whether they wanted to be out in the weather or sheltered inside.

Neither situation (that which the cows enjoyed and that which belonged to the horses provided sufficient pasturage) and we typically had to feed hay from late June until May. The bovines had the better deal, however, because theirs was a much more variable and interesting environment, within which they were always moving from sector to sector depending on the conditions of the day and their collective mood. They appeared to have a fulfilled existence, rich with play, reproduction, family bonds and a high degree of self-government. They never seemed bored.

I cannot say the same for the horses (one of which is Mistral, who made the move to the island with us). The environment Mistral and Phoenix (and later Mistral and Sizuna, and later Mistral and Zeus) found themselves in was much more limited (about five acres) and with little to no grazing most of the year, they mostly sloughed about, waiting for their next delivery of oats and hay. They didn't play and only rarely did they cavort about if something happened to spook them into a display of energy.

Following the leader up a snow path at Ravenseyrie

I was mostly oblivious to this at the time, thinking we were providing them with good living conditions--much better than my days of keeping Mistral at a boarding stable in a box stall with very limited turnout and that in a dirt paddock.
Looking balanced and elegant, here we have nine month old Animado enjoying his winter day -temperature was a whopping +8°F

But I knew something was missing, and I always wanted for them a situation more like what the cows had.

This is why living here at Ravenseyrie is so terrific! Here the horses have a vast, varied environment to call their own and they appear to make the most of every element of it. They exude a true sense of belonging. Kevin and I feel this "sense of belonging", too. We love it here!

An exciting piece of digital video--our entire group of primitive, ancestral horses galloping as one!

The Sorraia/Sorraia Mustang colt, Interessado, enjoys the high mood of the day.

Even in winter (when they do come to depend upon their human servants to provide them with their breakfast oats and numerous piles of hay) they do not shuffle about with bored expressions awaiting their next meal.
Himself, the majestic young Sorraia stallion, Altamiro

Even when the ground is covered in snow and the temperatures are well below freezing, they play, argue, explore, browse in distant realms, doze in sunny spaces, dig through the snow for dormant grass and break ice for water. They gallop over the open landscape, they trot through the edge of the bluff and wind their way through the deeper woods.

Always ready to remind the increasing prideful Altamiro of his subservient place in the herd, Mistral gives a show of force, intimating that Altamiro should take his high spirits elsewhere.
Bella is on the left, Zorita in front, Mistral doing his thing and Altamiro redirecting himself elsewhere upon "request"

Zorita feels the high energy of the sunny winter day, too!

Winter is not a time of dormancy or hibernation for this group of equines...they do not appear to perceive the winter season as something that one must begrudgingly wait out in a semi-unconscious state until spring awakens the landscape once again (unlike most of us humans), rather each day remains as full of wonder and activity as any other day in the more temperate seasons.

Zorita on another day, looking lovely in the magical slanting of the late day sun

I feel very happy as I observe how much energy these equines put into the day, even when the thermometer reads -15° F or lower! They, like our dogs, seem so delighted to express their "very joy of being"--it is infectious and I find myself more and more wanting to be like them. I may have said it before, but I guess its worth repeating--I am becoming more accepting of whatever the day may bring and pausing to appreciate what "is" rather than longing for the past or throwing my heart too far forward into the future.

A series of snapshots taken this past Monday during a nice nap Animado and Interessado were taking in the afternoon sunshine, with the temperature only +12°F. I sat with them for awhile, it felt much, much warmer than what the thermometer was reading.Interessado and Animado look quite comfortable, wouldn't you agree?

Surprisingly, it seems even hearty islanders have expressed some grumblings this year about how difficult a winter it has been--"It came too early", "It's too severe" and "Spring is too far away", etc. I can honestly say that I might be grumbling just as much if not for the way the horses and mules at Ravenseyrie make the most of each winter day--observing their response to the winter world continues to provide me with a greater appreciation for how much pleasure each day can hold.

I hope viewing the images and brief video clips infect you with the same inspiration and "very joy of being" that such images have done for me.

Another high-spirited dash from the east across the open landscape

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wild Horses Galloping Through Time

WILD HORSES GALLOPING THROUGH TIME was published by Darby Creek Publishing in Plain City, OH in the autumn of 2008

Last year, Leslie Town was approached by an author who was writing a book about wild horses and she was hoping to purchase rights to publish a few photos of Altamiro that Leslie had taken when she visited our Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve in October of 2007.

Leslie contacted me to see if I was agreeable to this arrangement and I relayed that I was, with the caveat that they make sure to differentiate between the Sorraia and the Sorraia Mustang. Then I rather forgot about this business until this past week when Leslie emailed me saying that she'd finally received copies of the published book and had put one copy in the mail for me. I received that book on Friday.

This book is beautifully put together and though it is considered a children's book for ages 8-12, it is something that all horse lovers can appreciate. Beginning with the evolutionary process of the horse (nicely illustrated by Mark Hallett), the author profiles a sampling of wild and feral horses, zebras and asses from all over the globe.

While I am pleased to see Altamiro and Ciente's visages in this book, their presence in the segment Ms. Halls has written about the Sorraia is misleading. Because the text makes no mention of the very important sub-culture of Sorraia horses that have been present in Germany since the late 1970's, nor does it discuss the genetic link via mitochondrial DNA with some of the North American Mustangs, and it neglects to provide a caption under the photo of Altamiro and Ciente, the reader is obliged to assume that these photos illustrate Sorraia horses living in Portugal. As such, it would have been much more appropriate for Ms. Hall to get in touch with Jose Luis d'Andrade (grandson of Dr. Ruy d'Andrade and president of the Sorraia association in Portugal, Associação Internacional de Criadores do Cavalo Ibérico de Tipo Primitivo - Sorraia) or with Hardy Oelke, both who would have been pleased to contribute excellent photos of Sorraia horses living Portugal as well as important information pertaining to these endangered, primitive horses.

A line or two about the Canadian importation of a purebred Sorraia stallion from a zoological park in Germany who became the foundation sire of Sorraia Mustangs at our Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve would have served as a more exacting backdrop for Leslie's wonderful photos.

It's intriguing to me (and sometimes agitatedly frustrating) how frequently articles and books which have the goal of disseminating historic, scientific and referential information do so with distinct incompleteness and/or careless inaccuracies. Often times it seems like the same misinformation is copied and repeated with little thought to acquiring the most up-to-date facts on a given subject. Information on the Sorraia and the Sorraia Mustang suffer from such shabby journalism on a regular basis. At one time, Wikipedia had an entry for the Sorraia that said it was a 12 hand pony that was either gray or palomino in coloring!

So, as you click on the images of the pages of this book (this will open a window making them appear large enough for you to read more easily), keep in mind that not everything that is written is accurate and much more should have been included in this book's coverage of the Sorraia horse. Another error in this book, is that although in the box listing the photo credits, Leslie is credited for her photo on page 28, she is not given credit for her photo which appears on page 31.

It is obvious just from reading this portion of the book that Ms. Hall made use of the internet to acquire some of her information, and the reference to the article on the Sorraia in the Conquistador magazine assures us that she is aware of Hardy Oelke (who wrote the article for Conquistador) and his excellent body of work on Sorraia horses and Sorraia Mustangs. For this reason, I'm really quite surprised at how lacking the article is in meaningful substance. Some entries for the various wild equines provide more depth and others are even more truncated than what we see offered on the Sorraia. Perhaps it was the editors call to leave out so much vital information? Whatever the reason, it makes for some disappointing reading.

I am not the only one to be surprised at how lacking in pertinent information this book is. I have a literary French friend in Quebec who does a lot of translations from English to French for equestrian magazines. When I shared the book excerpt with him he wrote the following, which sums up my feelings quite well:

"It's nice that Mrs. Milner Halls could use the pictures of your horses to illustrate her book, though I find it difficult to understand why would anyone bother to write a book about wild horses if they are not willing to come up with every possible information related to their subject."

The saving grace is there are some really lovely photos throughout this book, two of which are very near and dear to me! How much I appreciate the good looks of Altamiro and Ciente! Thank you, Leslie for your wonderful photos, and for sending me a copy of WILD HORSES GALLOPING THROUGH TIME. And everyone, let's give a hearty nod to Leslie--this represents the first time her photos have been published in book form. Congratulations Leslie!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Recently Published Articles / II

This is the second article I wrote for the online magazine, HORSES FOR LIFE. The first article was in the October 2008 issue. This one was published in the November 2008 issue. Some of the content has already appeared on this blog in the "How It All Began" topic series.

Continuing our story of the Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang horses from last month's issue of Horses For Life, in this article the author shares how she and her husband came to establish the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada.

"A neigh pierces the air and echoes forever..."

It is like a dream...
or a mythic vision?
Or is it, more rightly, a summons?

An ancient equine neigh - more felt in the breast than heard with the ears...
Shapely, smokey, convex-headed forms, dancing behind closed eyelids...
Has some delusional madness taken me over?

Epochal passings aplenty have not stilled the galloping of Iberia's ancestral horses. Then, and now, their hooves thunder over sensate earth...
I feel their vibrations mingling with my own heart's oscillation, our magnetic fields combining...
--"Come, be with us, dance with us...share our world!"

How could I not join them?

Was it all triggered by the book? Or were there other preparations along the way?

Surely there were.

After a handful of years showing dressage, I had acquired a passion for classical equitation and, leaving the competitive arena, immersed myself in the world of the old masters and the realm of artistic riding. Academic study of haute école - historical, biomechanical, philosophical - developed within me a considerable admiration for Iberian horses.

Always lovingly supporting and encouraging my interests, on the day of the 2004 Winter Solstice my husband, Kevin Droski, took great pleasure in presenting me with a copy of A HISTORY OF THE HORSE: Volume I/The Iberian Horse From Ice Age to Antiquity, by Paulo Gaviao Gonzaga.(This photo was not included in the original article, but I'm taking the liberty to include it here.)

Bibliomaniacally inclined, I have in my library already many special books - some antiquated and filled with period etchings, others more contemporary, swelling with glossy, artistically composed photography - each providing some meaningful element in my studies. It therefore surprised me when Gonzaga's seemingly ordinary book affected me so profoundly. From cover to cover the images of cave paintings and artifacts decorated with equine motifs stimulated a flush of curiously intense emotion. The review of ancestral horses in this book is one of the most concise accounts I had read thus far, and I found myself especially attracted to the Sorraia horses, awakening some dormant seed within me.

Gonzaga's book included a descriptive paragraph written by Ruy d'Andrade, who we learned in last month's article is the Portuguese hippologist credited with saving these Sorraia horses. When I read it, I was deeply moved. Describing these primitive horses' appearance after a long, harsh winter, d'Andrade wrote:

"But after the winter hardships, the months from April to June are easily enough to make them fat and, once more covered by flesh they change completely in appearance, especially the stallions, which in full flesh show a curved neck and, so much changed, they look close-coupled and full of life, moving with a lot of elegance and gracefulness, and become beautiful Andalusian horses that can rival Arabians, as they become fine and swift, full of movement and fire. At such moments they reveal the Iberian form of the highest class of animal, on a smaller scale."

As with all germinations, latent potentialities await the culmination of key conditions which trigger the eruption of life. I had certainly read about the Sorraia before and had an admiration for its primitive form, but it wasn't until just this particular time that I felt the warmth of the sun elicit something out of previously inert soil.

You see, at the time of this book's arrival, Kevin and I were preparing our immigration to Canada, and were exchanging a groomed, limited pastoral setting for an expansive wilderness on a rather remote island in northern Ontario. During a maddening state of limbo awaiting the processing of our applications for permanent residency by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Kevin and I used this time to scour the internet for information on Manitoulin Island and life in Canada. After receiving Gonzaga's book, I also began to research ancient horses, specifically the Sorraia.

Google led me to the multi-faceted website provided by Hardy Oelke, where I learned more about the plight of the Sorraia and the potential of a surviving genetic resource among rare Spanish Mustangs which possessed the Sorraia phenotype. Sorraia Mustangs, he called them. Looking at the photos, something looked back at me, and I once again heard that piercing, prehistoric neigh. I quickly ordered Hardy's book, BORN SURVIVORS ON THE EVE OF EXTINCTION/Can Iberia's Wild Horse Survive Among America's Mustangs? (Kierdorf)

Expanding upon that which I had learned from Gonzaga's book, BORN SURVIVORS went even further. With his evocatively written vignettes and personal photos describing encounters with wild horses in the American West, Hardy skilfully interspersed constructive research findings and suggestions of how best to conserve and nurture the rare Sorraia Mustang lest its rich genetic resource be lost. Like rain softening the earth after the slumber of winter, Hardy's book became one more element in creating the right conditions for sustaining the awakened seed.

Hardy's website brought my attention to Sharron Sheikofsky and her partner Dave Reynolds and the horses of Caballos de Destino. Sharron and Dave breed authentic Spanish Mustangs in captivity on their ranch in South Dakota and have been selecting the Iberian form and grulla coloring as one part of their program for decades. Some of these selectively bred horses possess the distinctive phenotype of the Sorraia, and Caballos De Destino happened to be offering a few of them for sale among their other attractive Spanish Mustang youngsters. Here was another potent showering of rain, and soon an idea uncoiled a tentative tendril...

Would not our new property on Manitoulin Island be a wonderful environment to raise these ancestral horses?
Fada and her dam, Belina down at the beach at Ravenseyrie

Kevin didn't hear that prehistoric neigh piercing the air, but he could appreciate that his wife was feeling a part of something mystically potent, and so fell quickly into step with the idea. (Kevin is a very indulgent husband, but also knows that my imaginative tendencies typically enhance our lives without completely depleting our finances.)

Beginning with two fillies obtained from Caballos de Destino, our Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve was quietly founded in July of 2005. [author's note: the story of importing these semi-feral horses to Canada, and learning from them a new way of interacting with, and training horses will be the subject of a future article.]

In the pre-spring chill of 2006, Kevin gave me the financial thumbs up, and I enthusiastically began a search for the appropriate suitor to join Bella and Belina on the island.

Thankfully, Hardy Oelke himself agreed to review any potential stallion candidates because I was still very green in my skill of detecting the Sorraia phenotype within the various grulla and dun colored mustangs. The Sorraia phenotype is much more than primitive coloring as they have distinct conformational characteristics which set them apart from other horses - something we learned about in last month's issue of Horses For Life. My neophyte grasp of these matters was compounded by the difficulty of attempting to determine how well a young colt might mature (something even grey-bearded, experienced breeders find hard to predict) and also because I found something endearing about all the young weanlings and yearlings in the photos being sent my way.

With our finances limited, and because I didn't want to impose a mature stallion on our young fillies, it seemed prudent to narrow our search down to stud colts who were two years or younger. If Caballos de Destino had happened to have a non-related stud colt, I wouldn't have hesitated buying from Lady Sharron Sheikofsky again; however, for our preserve, Hardy thought it best to look for Sorraia types coming from different bloodlines than those represented in Sharron and Dave's herds.

There were many youngsters available from folks who were breeding mustangs in captivity out in the western United States...breeders with names like "Double L Kigers", "Spanish Sage Ranch", "Karisma Kigers and "Circle S Ranch"...each candidate, however, had one or more features that kept him from being the ideal stud colt destined to be the foundation sire of his own Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

I nevertheless kept up my search, knowing that one day "Mr. Right" would present himself.

Imagine my astonishment when Hardy relayed to me that there was a purebred Sorraia yearling colt, born at the Wisentgehege zoological park in Springe, Germany, which might possibly be for sale. This surprise, of course, was accompanied by a loud laugh on my behalf, for surely a purebred Sorraia (with less than 200 of these horses walking the earth world wide) would be far too costly for Kevin and I to consider. Hardy checked into the matter and in a day or two, relayed to us that the zoological park would indeed sell us the colt and the sum they were asking was within our reach.

Great news, right?!!!

Ah, but wait...

...sure we could buy this colt without incurring financial hardship. But flying a horse from Germany to Canada was an extravagance beyond our humble island means. How could I possibly even discuss this with Kevin, knowing that since our immigration we necessarily had to live extremely frugally, especially while much of our disposable income lay tied up in our yet unsold farm back in Michigan?

Of course this was all true...but you just know I had to at least discuss the offer with Kevin.

"NO!" he said, "It's absurd!...Duckie, we cannot do it!"

Yes, he was right. Considering our limited finances and our dedication to focusing on paying off our mortgage on Ravenseyrie - to assume the financial burden of importing a horse from Germany was a ridiculous undertaking.

So, "No" it was...

...besides, having once been a peon at a boarding stable where dressage queens were frequently importing horses from Europe, I knew our manner of living was far removed from the "well-heeled" lifestyles where such things were done.

So, this was impossible for us, right?

I don't remember sulking about it (perhaps Kevin remembers differently) but I do recall lying awake at night ruminating over what a huge contribution we could make to the plight of the endangered Sorraia horse by having a purebred Sorraia as a key player on our Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

While staring at the dark ceiling, listening to the soft slumbering sounds of Kevin next to me, I went over what I had been learning about the attempts to enhance the preservation of the endangered Sorraia horse by consolidating and nurturing the amazing atavistic anomalies in certain North American Mustang horses.

Twice before, Hardy had assisted in the export of purebred Sorraia stud colts from Germany to North America, with the high expectation that these Sorraia stallions would be bred to select mustang mares which exhibited the Sorraia phenotype.

First, in the spring of 2000, Erin Grey, a breeder/trainer of mustang horses in Oregon, obtained the yearling stud colt Sovina from Hardy, and after some initial anxiety due to his slow rate of sexual maturity (belated sexual maturity and fertility issues in stallions have been problematic concerns with the highly inbred Sorraias), Sovina sired three colts and one filly out of Sulphur Mustang mares. After a visit to Portugal, however, Erin Grey came away with the impression that the individuals there who were preserving the primitive Sorraia horse were displeased with Hardy Oelke's Sorraia Mustang Studbook (a simple registry to keep track of those mustangs which might serve beneficially in preserving the Sorraia phenotype) and his efforts to encourage breeders to consolidate the Sorraia characteristics by breeding like with like. From that point on, Ms. Grey relayed in the Sulphur Horse Association's forum that she would not breed Sovina to any mustang mares out of respect for the opinion of the breeders she met in Portugal.

The difficulties that arise, and for which Ms. Grey no doubt has cause for concern, is that too many times people who own dun or grulla colored mustangs begin referring to them as Sorraia horses. Even when a mustang horse exhibits identical characteristics of the Sorraia horse, it would be inappropriate and misleading to call it a Sorraia. There have been genetic tests done with mitochrondia DNA which link some mustangs to the Iberian Sorraia, and the existence of the Sorraia phenotype in some mustangs also reflects the survival of these ancestral genetics. The name Sorraia Mustang seems to me to be a good and proper moniker for mustangs which exhibit the Sorraia phenotype, whether a little or a lot. In Hardy's website, devoted to sharing information on the Sorraia Mustang, he writes, "The term 'Sorraia Mustang' was chosen because these horses have a mustang background. The goal is to preserve the Sorraia genes, not to deny their mustang background, or deliberately cover their origin and try 'selling' them as being the same as Portuguese Sorraias. Another aspect is: Portuguese Sorraia people appreciate the Sorraia Mustangs for what they are, and recognize their Sorraia ancestry. They would certainly frown upon anyone declaring their mustangs simply 'Sorraias', and would likely oppose the Sorraia Mustang project if they felt something 'fishy' was going on."

Whatever impressions Erin Grey has regarding the role the Sorraia Mustang may play in the ongoing efforts to preserve the Sorraia horses in Europe, we must counter with the words of one of Ruy d'Andrade's grandsons which Hardy has quoted in his website, along with important quotes from other Portuguese breeders of Sorraia horses who do support the preservation of the Sorraia Mustangs. José Luis d'Andrade states, "The mustangs definitely look as(sic) our Sorraias, which are, as you know, an endangered species. I gladly confirm that these mustangs should be preserved and support your endeavor wholeheartedly, also as president of the Sorraia association. As you know, it was my grandfather, Dr. Ruy d'Andrade, who discovered and rescued the Sorraia horses, and he, too, would be excited about these horses in America."

With the export of another of Hardy Oelke's purebred Sorraia stud colts, Tejo II, it seemed that once again the potential of bringing together the blood of the Portuguese Sorraia with the mustangs of Sorraia type in North America would soon be a reality. Karen Dalke of Wisconsin took delivery of Tejo II in 2001 and has had him in training for dressage, with a few tentative attempts at breeding to her own mustang mares which so far has not resulted in any foals. Tejo is a full brother to Sovina and is an extremely good looking stallion.

With sleep still eluding me and the methodical review of these two situations, it seemed to me that efforts to create a vigorous outcross by mating these Sorraia stallions with mustang mares showing atavistic Sorraia traits had lost momentum. While it is not essential to introduce the blood of a purebred Sorraia into the Sorraia Mustang populace in order to preserve the phenotype among this rare type of mustang, I kept thinking about a statement in Hardy's book, "There would be the possibility to introduce Sorraias from Portugal to America, to take a huge step towards consolidation of the subspecies."

Transported (corrupted?) by that particular ether that impregnates the mind when trapped in the dual agitated states of absolute fatigue and insomnia, I imagined that the good spirit of Dr. Ruy d'Andrade himself had aligned the fates in such a way that Manitoulin Island, in the great country of Canada, was being provided the opportunity to carry the torch, if you will, and participate in something larger than life - what a folly it would be to let such an opportunity pass us by!

The next morning at breakfast, I explained to Kevin all my thoughts from my sleepless night. "Are you sure, Kevin...there is no way?"

We began to study what type of paperwork and financial commitment was required to import a horse from Germany. A lot! But, in reality...not all that much more than what it would cost to have a horse trucked from western U.S. to Manitoulin.

Deciding to put off for a year or more some of the things we had hoped to accomplish on improving the farm, we found that while it would put us very tight, we could actually free up enough cash to be able to pay for flying the colt across the ocean after all.

Hardy immediately put things in motion and the process was soon underway. On August 23, 2006 in the after-10pm darkness, with a calm curiosity, not the least bit unnerved, the purebred Sorraia, sixteen-month-old, Altamiro, stepped into his new world at Ravenseyrie. I loved him immediately.

Two more charmed acquisitions have been made since then to complete our foundation herd. In April of 2007 a beautiful two year old Kiger Mustang filly, Ciente (an excellent example of Sorraia type) joined the herd, and just this past September we were fortunate to be offered the six year old mare, Sovina's Zorita. You can imagine our excitement at being able to add this half Sorraia/half Sulphur Mustang mare to our Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

Each of these foundation horses, Bella, Belina, Altamiro, Ciente and Zorita provided us with interesting experiences just getting them to the island, and the challenges of integrating them with our two domestic horses and three draft mules, all of whom share 360 acres of varied wilderness - but this article is too long already and we will save these stories for upcoming issues.

Likewise, we will certainly share in a future article the quick development the environment at Ravenseyrie brought out in these young, primitive horses, culminating in three foals born this year! The surprising birth of Animado in April, followed by the filly, Fada in May, and Animado's brother Interessado in August have advanced our efforts here sooner than expected.

It seems when one follows the summons of the ancestral horses, fanciful dreams become a beautiful reality in a very short time.

Photo: 2007 Leslie Town Photography

Lynne Gerard is an author, artist and calligrapher. Her business, Ravenseyrie Studio and Gallery on the Gore Bay waterfront has attracted many tourists visiting Manitoulin Island (Ontario, Canada) and also serves to share information on the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve founded by her and her husband. Ms. Gerard and her husband Kevin Droski live close to nature with their horses, mules, dogs, cats and geese up on Gore Bay's East Bluff overlooking Lake Huron's famous North Channel.

Recently Published Articles / I

To make up for some lapses in journal entries, I thought I would take this opportunity to share with readers some recent articles I've written. The first article I will be sharing was published in the online magazine HORSES FOR LIFE, a subscription periodical that boasts a readership in forty-three different countries and covers topics from Classical Equitation to Rare Breeds. I was very honored to be asked to write a two part article about the Sorraia horses and our efforts here at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve. The editor, Nadja King, was very kind to show interest in these horses and provided me an opportunity to write the articles in ways that most magazines never allow space for. Thank you, again, Nadja, for the "free rein" you allowed me, it was such a pleasure to have no word-length constraints.

Many of you who have been following this blog have already read these articles, for others who do not have a subscription to HORSES FOR LIFE, you might appreciate the opportunity to find out more about the history of the Sorraia. The reprinting of these articles here will not be in the same, attractive "virtual paper" format available on the HORSES FOR LIFE website, but I will paste in the photos and illustrations that were in the original version.

It is cool here and slightly moist. The darkness divides itself, making room for the dancing of a crude oil lamp, its subtle light warmly illuminates the cramped, sacred space. I sit upon a bed of fragrant pine boughs and ready myself for the ceremony.

The venerable crone, adorned with dried seeds, braided horse hair, feathers, hollow bones and polished teeth makes haunting music with each poised movement. "She of the Horse" prepares the sacrament, blesses it and presents it to me on the flat of her ochre stained hand. I gather her offering into my own palm.

The three dried mushrooms seem like strange living creatures as the flickering lamplight flirts with their twisted forms. I look to "She of the Horse" for reassurance, but her eyes are fixed and de-focalized on the wall of the cave...she is softly chanting. I put my trust in the goodness of our intentions and ingest the sacrament, chewing each mushroom with slow deliberation and allowing myself to slightly sway with the rhythm of the chant.

Nothing happens, at first...

And then, as the crone's voice becomes louder and is joined by the chanting of her two male assistants, I feel their hands lift me. I am astonished to realize my legs have no strength of their own! I am carried into a deeper recess of the cave, where the light does not penetrate at all, and yet, strangely, I can see. I am placed upon another bed of pine, but instead of sitting, I am kneeling before a raw umber stained section of cave wall. I feel a bit disoriented and slightly afraid. The smell of yarrow and cannabis sativa wafts out from the small, ritual sensor the crone keeps with her always. It's aroma soothes me. I regard the cave wall before me. There are deep crevices here and there and an evocative relief pattern to the otherwise smooth surface. My skin is being pricked from the inside out by so many unseen thorns, but the sensation is not wholly unpleasant.

I hear the sound of hooves approaching. A neigh pierces the air and echoes forever...

And then...there they are!

The horses!

How can this be?

Elegant forms of several dorsal striped, long-necked horses flow over the cave wall and play out a scene of a carefully executed equine dance, as if for my entertainment. These horses collect exquisitely on their haunches, performing poised leaps, joyful turns and rhythmic "on the spot" maneuvers. Before they dash off into the crevices within the wall, I hear the voice of one of them say, "Come, be with us, dance with us...share our world!"

"She of the Horse" strokes my face and I awaken in the dark, confused. One of the assistants brings forward flickering oil light, and there, painted on the wall are the dancing horses, floating free. They were not there before. Am I dreaming? I reach out to touch them and notice my hands and arms are covered in pigment. I trace a finger across the smoke-coloured croup of one of the horses and look at the crone, questioning.

"You have done well here!", she exclaimed. "The ancestral horses allowed you to paint them...this means you have been invited to their world, in flesh and in spirit. They will teach you now, as they have taught those who came before us and as they will teach those who have yet to come."

Above drawing is after a charcoal image in the "Horse's Tail" chamber in cave of Altamira in Northern Spain

I realize I have been looking too long at the Upper Paleolithic artisans' fantastic images, captured in photos and printed in the pages of scholarly books on parietal art. My romantic flight of fancy into the prehistoric world of horses has taken great poetic license with piecing together a possible explanation for the exquisite renderings of equines we see all over European caves dating back as far as 30,000 years ago.

Thirty thousand years ago! Greek mythology pales by comparison!

Whether these Upper Paleolithic people looked upon the horse as a spiritual icon, a means of sustenance or a beast of burden is open to interpretation. What is certain is that the images of these ancestral equines figure prominently in most every area where mankind's first forms of art have been discovered.

How remarkable it is that even now in the 21st Century we can find in our midst horses who exhibit the same characteristics as those portrayed by the sure hands of the first human artisans!

"A neigh pierces the air and echoes forever..."

Researchers continue to quibble over whether wild horses descended from just one ancient type or from more than one type. However it appears that Ebhardt's classification, which divides ancestral horses into four distinct types, is presently accepted as the most probable. While many people are well aware of Przewalski's horse (the wild Mongolian pony) which displays the characteristics of Type II, too few people know about the existence of a carefully preserved specimen of Type III. We find both types of these horses were documented in the artwork created by Upper Paleolithic peoples. For the purposes of this article, we are focusing upon Ancestral Type III.

In his book, A HISTORY OF THE HORSE/Volume I: The Iberian Horse From Ice Age to Antiquity, Paulo Gaviao Gonzaga describes Ebhardt's type III horse form thus:"Type III had a long head with a small narrow forehead and convex profile, a fine delicate muzzle, straight jaw, small teeth, long ears and eyes placed higher on the head, a long neck and clean throatlatch.

"The prominent withers, higher than the rump, reached far on to a medium to long back, long inclined shoulders, narrow chest and body, and sloping croup. Long legs, cannon bones and pasterns ended in oval, medium sized hoofs [sic] with no feathering. These characteristics made him capable of moving with collection, placing the hind legs under the body mass and the nose vertically, the ideal requirements for a good riding horse.

"Probably the dark mane, with intermingled light-coloured hairs at the bottom, was long and lay on the neck, although some sub-types may have had upright manes. The coat was dun or grullo (mouse dun) with a darker face. Type III always had a dorsal black line, and zebra stripes on the legs and very often also on the shoulders." (pp. 30-31)

This description very keenly describes a well known wild horse that dwelled in the southerly realms of the Iberian Peninsula. Prior to the mass agricultural cultivation of the landscape in the region, these horses flourished in the area, along with other wild horses (likely specimens with various combined characteristics of types I, II and III of which the extinct hybrid referred to as the Tarpan is just one example). Our ancestral Type III horse was described in antiquated texts with the name, "zebro", "marismeño, "encebra" and "cebro" depending on which territory of the region they happened to be. There remain, even today, locations in the landscapes of these areas (such as the Vale de Zebro) that retain names inspired by the horses which inhabited these regions in earlier times.

Early human inhabitants would capture horses from these wild roaming herds and used them extensively in daily life and warring raids. However, as local breeds were developed according to the needs and predilections of the people, the ancestral wild horses were soon considered sub-rate and deemed suitable only for use by peasants. The continuous cultivation of the landscape marginalized the dwindling herds of wild horses, forcing them into less hospitable realms in the mountains and forests where they managed to maintain a tenuous existence into the twentieth century.

It was our good fortune that during the last days of this tenacious wild horse a gentleman of great knowledge chanced upon a group of zebros while on a hunting expedition in 1920. Acclaimed Portuguese zoologist, Dr. Ruy d'Andrade, a noted breeder of exquisite Lusitano horses, was so moved by the primitive characteristics of the horses he saw on this fateful hunting trip that several years later he decided to acquire a breeding herd to preserve on his own property. The horses he had originally observed were no longer there, however some of the landowners in the vicinity kept and bred horses, a few of which conformed to the primitive phenotype d'Andrade had so carefully documented from his earlier expedition. From these private owners' herds, the esteemed hippologist was able to select seven mares which displayed the characteristics of the ancient zebro. Using four stallions, also of identical primitive type, d'Andrade was able to establish his preserve and documented a consistently homogeneous offering of offspring.

Purebred Sorraia stallion, Altamiro of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve
Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada

Dr. d'Andrade gave these horses the name Sorraia, linking them to the river that ran through the "Sesmaria" estate in Coruche where he had first seen them. If not for this gentleman's efforts, and the subsequent dedication of his son and grandsons (and later that of the Portuguese National Stud and a handful of individuals in Germany), the Type III ancestral horse of the Iberian Peninsula would have completely vanished altogether.

Or, perhaps not!
Altamiro, with Belina and Fada

"A neigh pierces the air and echoes forever..."

Our next great man on the scene is the German author, horse trainer and equine specialist, Hardy Oelke. A long time admirer of the American Paint Appaloosa and Quarter Horse breeds, Oelke had travelled numerous times to the United States to research the origins of these domestic horses. In the 1980's Oelke included in his visits the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Ranges where he happened to notice a very curious thing. At the time, while never having seen a Sorraia horse in the flesh, Oelke was nonetheless very familiar with this ancestral equine's precarious flirtations with extinction (even now fewer than 200 Sorraias exist worldwide!) and was therefore stunned with excitement when introduced to the Kiger Mustangs. Here in the rugged North American west, half a world removed from Iberia, roaming as free as in ages gone by was the quintessential Type III ancestral horse! The striking similarities between many of these Kiger mustangs and the Sorraia horses in Portugal heretofore had gone unnoticed and unappreciated by horse folk in the United States. Inspired and energized, Hardy Oelke began a parallel journey that day and soon immersed himself into the historic and scientific study of the Sorraia horse and their phenotypical twins which he came to call Sorraia Mustangs.

Ciente, 2 yr. old Kiger Mustang filly on the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

Historic texts tell us the evolution of the horse took place in North America, with unrestricted movement taking place between here and Eurasia when land connections still existed. We've been told, however, that horses in the Americas became extinct along with other large mammals, with a variety of speculations as to the cause.

Most everyone knows that the reintroduction of equus caballos to the New World came by ship across the Atlantic, along with the European explorers and subsequent colonization of the continent. What is less appreciated is that within the intrepid man's own journals we are made aware that the finely bred Spanish chargers Columbus hand picked to accompany him on his 1493 journey were unscrupulously switched with "common nags" (our afore-mentioned zebro, marismeño, encebro so often captured from the wild and forced into serving peasants of the era).

It appears that the primitive ancestral Type III horse, in the form of the Iberian "zebro" was one of the first equines to revisit the Americas. Given these "nags" proved admirably suited to the rigors such an expedition were fraught with, it is likely that among subsequent shipments of horses from Iberia, more zebros travelled in the bellies of great ships in slings alongside their high bred cousins. And so among the melting pot of the many immigrant steeds (French draft, English coach, Spanish destrier and others) who later managed to escape their enslavers and adopt a feral existence, reproducing extensively and migrating north, south, east and west in all of the Northern Hemisphere over several hundred years, we find the atavistic phenotype of the primitive wild horse of the Iberian Peninsula reemerging among the Sulphur Springs, Pryor Mountain and (especially) the Kiger Mustang herds in the western United States.

Referring once again to Gonzaga's work we note, "One important phenomenon verified many times over (with the Mustang and the Sorraia, for example) is that the original 'types' tend to come back when domestic horses escape from man's control and revert to feral status, or even sometimes when selection is abandoned. When this occurs, characteristics resulting from cross-breeding will be eliminated and the animals will revert to the original wild form and from then on will not change again, no matter the number of generations." (ibid, p. 34)

Arrogant man, haughtily disdainful of primitive qualities and always eager to impose his ideas of "improvement" upon nature, repeatedly made an effort to "upgrade" the mustangs - with each well-meaning manipulation representing the personal tastes of those humans living among mustangs during different time periods. This was man's preoccupation when he wasn't attempting to outright exterminate these feral horses altogether in obvious and not so obvious ways (a practice we see going on currently under the "protection" of the U.S. BLM).

While some folks who breed mustangs in captivity have come to prize the primitive coloring of the Type III ancestral horse, they unfortunately make attempts to breed away from certain key conformational features, preferring wider heads, heavier legs and broader croups...many even disdain the noble, aristocratic convex profile, favoring instead the look of an Arabian style head for their mustangs!

Even today, many years after Hardy Oelke published his observations and scientific findings on the link between the Sorraia and some of the North American Mustangs, we find precious little support to nurture the phenomenon nature has played out for us to learn from. This means the future of the Sorraia Mustang - the perfect example of the ancestral Type III horse existing in North America - is even more precarious than that of the Iberian Sorraia in Europe.

That the primitive Type III ancestral horse, tens of thousands of years later, continues to resurface like a fossil pushing up from ancient soil, seems to me like some sort of shamanic magic. Research continues to determine the exact science behind such "magic", but the playful enchantment of the beautiful forms of these horses displayed in cave paintings is more convincing to me than any science. These compelling horses have charmed my very being, enticing me and my husband to give them a place to reappear in the flesh here at Ravenseyrie.

"A neigh pierces the air and echoes forever..."


--Clottes, Jean and Lewis-Williams, David. The Shamans of Prehistory (1996 Harry M. Abrams, Inc. New York)

--Cordeiro, Arsénio Raposo. Lusitano Horse Son of the Wind (1997 Edicoes Inapa, Lisbon)

--Curtis, Gregory. The Cave Painters (2006 Anchor Books, New York)

--Gonzaga, Paulo Gaviao. A History of the Horse (2004 J.A. Allen, London)

--Hancock, Graham. Supernatural (2005 Century, London)

--Leroi-Gourhan, André. The Dawn of European Art (1982 Cambridge University Press, London)

--Oelke, Hardy. Born Survivors on the Eve of Extinction (1997 Kierdorf Verlag, Germany)

--Oelke, Hardy. Sorraia Folheto Informativo,

--Oom, d'Andrade and Costa-Ferreira. Stud Book da Raca Sorraia (2004 Associacao Internacional De Criadores Do Cavalo Iberico De Tipo Primitivo-Sorraia)

--Ramos, Pedro A. Saura. The Cave of Altamira (1998 Harry M. Abrams, Inc., New York)

--Ryden, Hope. America's Last Wild Horses (2005 The Lyons Press, Connecticut)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wintering Well

Sovina's Zorita, feeling good on a sunny afternoon with the temperature reading -2°F

Sovina's Zorita, the Sorraia/Sulphur Mustang cross mare who came to live with us last September is wintering well here at Ravenseyrie, despite our persistent deep freeze temperatures of the past week (getting as low as -37°F one morning!).

Prior to her Canadian immigration, Zorita lived her life in the more temperate regions of Oregon and her former owner, Bonnie, has been worried that the harshness of this island winter might be too much for Zorita to cope with. I took a series of photos during yesterday's late afternoon hay meal, which I hope will allay Bonnie's concerns. Zorita has adapted splendidly, which doesn't surprise me at all, given her genetic make up predisposes her to thriving even in harsh environments.

This is our fourth winter here on Manitoulin Island and keeping horses in a semi-wild setting up on a rugged, windswept bluff, has been as educational as it has been challenging. To read most of the literature discussing how to keep horses in winter, one realizes how far removed from the natural world most horses' situations are. It has become apparent to me that the vast majority of information provided on winter horse maintenance is designed for the convenience of humans and the whims of usage they subject their horses to, as well as being heavily influenced by our own culturally shaped aversion to the cold. From this, an entire industry of stabling supplies and horse clothing has evolved over hundreds of years, with the modern horse being outfitted "against the cold" in ever more highly technological ways.

"Against the cold" is a phrase that strikes me as worthy of our contemplation.

We know that exposure to cold can be a thing that is life draining when ill-outfitted and poorly prepared. What we don't realize in these modern times is that the technology which has liberated us from the potential harm of the cold, leaves us poorly outfitted and ill-prepared when the infrastructure of technology malfunctions. We have become totally dependent on expensive living arrangements which keep us at a medium range of acceptable temperatures we consider necessary for our comfort. I think of us now as being much more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the weather than our pre-industrial ancestors were with their warm fires and animal skins. We have separated and isolated ourselves from Nature, whereas our ancestors lived "with" the rhythms of Nature in ways that provided them simple means of shelter and sustenance.
Zeus, a thin-skinned, hot-blooded Thoroughbred has adapted marvelously well to our Canadian winters. Shown here nibbling afternoon hay with five month old, Interessado.

We have been conditioned to believe that early humans spent every waking moment quaking in fear of impending death from predators and harsh environmental conditions while constantly concerning themselves about their next meal. We imagine this is the same situation for animals living in the wild. Many humans go as far as to say that Nature is flawed and ours is an unending struggle against a hostile world, whether one is a city dweller or a rural landowner. My observations here at Ravenseyrie of our equine herd as well as the natural fauna we share this environment with suggest to me that it is our cultural conditioning that is flawed not Nature. If there are troubles in Nature, it is more likely an imbalance caused by the actions of humans. And aren't we modern humans toiling madly for our livelihoods, stressed by financial concerns, living in fear of terrorist attacks and constantly complaining that we never have enough time to do the things we most desire to do--the very things we thought our modern lifestyles liberated us from?
Eight month old, Fada

Because we have become intolerant of the cold, we feel that all life dwelling out in the cold suffers. If this were so, how is it possible that so many living things not only survive winter, but depend upon it for survival? Some plants and creatures will only thrive in climates where harsh winter seasons are part of the yearly cycle. The glorious equine evolved in such climates--how could we imagine that horses cannot find some enjoyment out of winter conditions?

Some days are stressful for creatures living in the wilderness, but we should also keep in mind that even as much as we insulate ourselves from the harshness of nature, we find ourselves experiencing stressful times and times of suffering and handle it not nearly so gracefully as do our wilderness animals. I've come to appreciate that struggling a bit from time to time (like those strenuous hauls to bring hay out to the horses in the forest) is much healthier than remaining slumped in an easy chair watching television. I've no doubt it is the same for the animals. The easy life is not necessarily the best life overall.

Years ago, when I was showing dressage with Mistral, I spared no expense for his comfort and was convinced he had the best possible care I could provide. A blanketed horse locked in a stable, knee-deep in fragrant wood shavings, shielded from the weather, with a belly full of rich alfalfa hay and sweetened grains and a warmed bucket of water always available tends to give us humans a sense of comfort...our beloved equines then share some of our luxuriant living and we need not feel guilty as we rush back into our overly heated homes.

Years have passed and I've come to realize that such a comfortable situation comes with a price, however, as our best intentions to provide our horse with an environment that insulates him from the weather are at the expense of our horse's autonomy and ability to regulate his own situation. If the temperature rises overnight and he becomes too warm he remains trapped in his blanket and stable until the human comes out to help him out of his discomfort. Likewise such comforts are proven now to be responsible for a long list of troubles stabled horses suffer: hoof disorders, allergies, digestive ailments and under-appreciated mental disturbances, just to name a few.
Animado, Fada and Interessado, enjoying late afternoon hay.

Horses that are allowed to live "with" the rhythms of Nature develop exceptional thermal regulatory capacities allowing them to cope with the changeable weather and extremes in temperatures (actually handling cold better than heat). When provided a truly natural environment which contains variations in the landscape, wooded areas, higher and lower ground, etc., horses are constantly flowing with the mood of the day, choosing for themselves the best location to be depending on weather conditions. I can tell you from experience that there is a huge difference in the feeling of blizzard conditions inside a man-made, wood-sided structure versus the sensation one experiences when walking in the middle of a Cedar forest or even in the open but down the slope of the bluff.
Mistral is definitely lost in the moment and savoring his hay meal.

It continues to be a wondrous thing watching the way the horses and mules and wilderness creatures adapt themselves to whatever the day's weather might be, and I find myself more and more emulating their graceful behavior and sharing in their capacity to find comfort where they find it. I'm learning from them that winter is best experienced by being in the moment and acting accordingly.

An erudite Japanese fellow, Masanobu Fukuoka sums it up in this way, "What I am talking about here definitely is not a return to the past. I suppose one could call it a return to the present. It involves neither attachment to the past nor expectations for the future, but simply living in the nature of the today. All that is required is that we surrender ourselves to the current of nature."

Totally in the moment, the next morning the horses nap contentedly, with the sun on their faces and the temperature a balmy 11°F on the thermometer. Gracefully, they live in "the nature of today".

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Reprieve

Sovina's Zorita

The past string of days have put a skip back in my step. The temperatures have been very cold, especially right at dawn, but there has been no wind to speak of and lots of radiant sunshine. We've been able to feed the horses near the house and with no shoveling duties, chores have been a snap (well almost).

One snafu that has caused no small amount of irritation is that it seems one of the huge tarps we had covering a carefully stacked pyramid of round hay bales developed a rip just under one of the cedar poles Kevin used this year to keep the upper sides snugged in tight. This must have happened shortly after the hay was stored up because every bale that the pole was resting on has been compromised with deeply penetrated rotted spots. These spots are as frozen as ice making it impossible to peel off the layers as usual. Out came the pick axes again as both Kevin and I discovered how much warmth the body can generate when trying to pick through frozen, rotted hay! Then came the task of sorting through what remained of the hay that was edible. A tedious job that in the end Kevin pulled away the frozen mass (it was so large and heavy that it required the tractor) and we put it out in the field for the herd to sort through. They seemed to enjoy returning throughout various times of day to pluck the hay that was still good (but stuck to the frozen rotty part) and disdainfully shaking off or pawing and kicking away the dark rotted clumps. After several days we were able to hoist the remaining rotted, rock hard clump into a toboggan, sled it back out of the field and roll it on to the mulch pile at the side of the yard. You can imagine how pleased we were to not have to perform these extra duties in stormy winter weather. We will have to buy extra hay before the grass comes on. With the early, hard winter we've been feeding more than expected, and now, these rotted portions set us back a bit too. Thankfully it was a good year for hay-making last year, and hopefully Bill Fogal will have a few yet that he can set aside for us.

It has been so incredibly serene and surreal going out these past few mornings to take care of breakfast chores. Our first full moon of the new year has been allowed to show itself and not been hidden by thick cloud cover or snow fall. We can manage to see very well, and the only light we turn on is inside the shed. I always find moonlight to be magical, but even more so when it is falling on a snow covered landscape.

This morning there was a film of thin clouds that the moon would dip into and out of as it continued its journey across the sky. After laying out the last hay pile and picking up the oat pans to store in the shed until tomorrow's breakfast, I went into the house to fetch my camera. It was so well illuminated outside I wanted to take some photos to share. Before heading out, I turned the focus dial on the camera to the "night scene" setting and then the pups and I walked way out to the east so I could get a photo of the horses eating their hay, with the house and its cheery warm interior lights with that big moon hanging up overhead. It was still quite high in the sky, with about an hour yet to go before sunrise and I had to get quite a ways out from the house to capture all that I wanted in the photo. I took quite a few shots, rewarming my fingers in between (it was about +9°F), and eagerly looked forward to see how they turned out. Well...they didn't turn out, as you can see below. The moon was captured, a wee bit of the house light, but all else is dark--as if that moon wasn't illuminating anything. Phooey! I wish I had tried the automatic focus setting, because the night scene setting sure didn't show things right.
I'm sure this never happens to Leslie Town, and that's why she's the pro and I'm the novice! :-) (Of course Leslie, if you were trying to go for a moonlight scene I'm betting you'd be trying while it was still in the east part of the sky during reasonable evening hours and rather than in the world of the predawn.)

Just as dawn arrived things got frosty and the horses were all eating with white fringe everywhere on their bodies. By the time I went back out an hour or so later, things were warming up a little and it appeared the thing to do was settle in for a nice nap.
On the left is Interessado, then Fada and Belina. Dee is nibbling hay in the background.

Animado is on the left and Altamiro is on the right. Mistral is nibbling in the background.

I decided to sit down next to Interessado. This little colt was so warm and snoozy that he only briefly opened his eyes as I snugged in next to him. I was far too close for a decent photo, but I took one anyway.
Interessado, dozing while laying down in the snow.

I was far enough away from Fada that I could fit her into the frame easily and so took a photo of how her nap was progressing.
After a bit, I got up, went over to where Altamiro was dozing and proceeded to free his tail, mane and forelock from the grip of the many opportunistic Burdock seeds that had been part of Altamiro's attire for weeks. I was also able to free up Belina's tresses as well as Animado. While working on Animado's forelock, Jerry came over and made it known he wanted to be next. While I was working on Jerry, Kevin came out to tell me he was heading off to fetch some timbers from the forest. I asked him if he would take a few photos of me and Jerry. When I am pulling out burrs and de-tangling tails in the winter, I like to get in as close as I can to the horse (or mule) because their body temperature helps keep the numbness away from my fingers. It's always especially pleasant when working on Jerry's tail--he has such a nice big warm rearend!

When I was a participant in the Nevzorov Haute Ecole forum, there was quite a bit of discussion on how awful it was for horses to live in cold climates. Lydia Nevzorov had definite opinions about this, one of which was to say that horses who are live outside in the winter do not get enough sleep because they will not lay down in the snow. I just haven't found that to be the case here at Ravenseyrie, as you can see:



Altamiro and Zorita

After nap-time, it was play time! Well, Animado wanted to play, but Fada wanted me to itch her bum. It was difficult to do both at the same time, especially when Animado's antics kept making me want to stop and take photos:

I'm going to end this entry with some video footage I pasted together showing a new game Altamiro has devised for himself and Jerry. It seemed to me that Jerry wasn't in quite the same playful mode as Altamiro and frequently he tried to politely walk away, but Altamiro wouldn't let Jerry quit so easily. He kept pestering the poor mule for over fifteen minutes with this crazy game. I happened to be washing dishes at the time as filmed it from the window over the kitchen sink. Enjoy!