Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Enchantress

(Sorraia x Sorraia Mustang)

Yesterday's journal entry was rather sober and heavy, so today I wanted to share some photos and a short movie clip that I took of Encantara a couple of days ago, shortly after a nice spring rain. A little wetness, a bit of mud detract not one bit from her darling primitive Iberian essence.

She's utterly captivating.

I find all the horses have this capacity to take me out of myself and wrap me up in their splendid timelessness.

Should I never ride a horse again (though I do hope to) or train along with any of these grullas in haute école, it is enough to be absorbed by their presence.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Influencing Destiny

Sorraia x Sorraia Mustang yearlings, Animado and Interessado
(For more photos of our yearlings available for purchase see this journal entry.)

I am not the same person that I was when the idea of establishing a preserve devoted to the conservation of Sorraia genetics first became part of my earthly world. Studying the writings of Alexander Nevzorov and Imke Spilker have prompted me to evolve my thinking regarding my relationship with horses - something I see I was already headed for, in light of how I felt about other animals, plants and even the elements themselves.

Interessado running with Animado and Bella

The ethics of "using" a horse for pleasure, financial gain, or labor, without considering whether or not the horse would agree to this "use" if truly consulted and given an opportunity to express an answer, is not something that I had given too much deeper thought to, (which strikes me now as so strange). Do our draft mules want to pull logs out of the woods? Do any of the horses desire to learn haute école? Does Bella want to be pregnant? Does Fada want to move to a new home in Florida? How do I best hope to understand their answers?

Altamiro playing with his firstborn son, Animado

At the very least, I must now realize that all that Kevin and I envision for these horses deserves as much input and participation from them as is possible in determining things that impact their future.

Purebred Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, with Animado and Fada

Some people manipulate the breeding of horses down to the finest details, leaving nothing to chance and provide the horses no choice in any of it. Some people find the idea of breeding horses an unethical undertaking altogether. The Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve belongs to neither of these mindsets. It seems we will be forging our own way--a way which I will call "Influencing Destiny".


We think of horses that are living in the wild in North America (setting aside the perverted disruption of the United States' Bureau of Land Management practices) as having absolute autonomy over how they go about their affairs. They represent freedom, and our hearts swell when we think of them roaming their great open spaces...never feeling a rein of restraint, or the confinement of four walls - theirs is an unlimitative life . And yet, within the network of herd dynamics there are a great deal of limitations imposed on each of them. A lead mare determines where and when they should move to graze, take a drink, roll in the dirt. A stallion determines who is allowed into the herd, and when an established herd member should be expelled. A young filly brusquely driven off by her father has no choice in where she goes, but, rather, goes along with whatever stallion from a neighboring band lays claim to her.

The delightful, Half-bred Sorraia yearling, Fada

Of course, I am thinking of these matters as they relate to the dynamics of our herd living a semi-wild existence:

>>Altamiro has recently banished the domestic geldings to the outer parameter - will he do the same now that Animado and Interessado appear to be showing interest in sexual activity?

>>Will the young colts join up with the domestic geldings, or form their own "bachelor band"?

>>And when will Fada be driven off?

>>And if Fada is driven off, will she be claimed by one of her brothers?

>>In the wild is it possible that fillies are sometimes claimed by their half brothers?

Three hundred and sixty acres does not compare to the tens of thousands of acres that are the territory to multiple bands of wild horses. Ravenseyrie has a bit of room to take on more horses if Altamiro and his harem of four mares continue to reproduce, but it cannot expect to provide for the natural diffusion of offspring. We will have to influence destiny.

Sequence of morning playtime for Animado and Interessado:

We have a complex, self-imposed mandate here at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve. Our raison d'être initially was to bring together a breeding herd of mustangs possessing the Sorraia phenotype, provide them an environment in which to live as naturally as possible and send their offspring off to others who were also interested in conserving the Sorraia type. Being offered a purebred Sorraia stallion to be paired with mustang mares of Sorraia type was an opportunity that provided an exquisite boost to establishing an alternative genetic pool should the highly inbreed populations of purebred Sorraias in Portugal and Germany collapse altogether.

The noble yearling, Interessado
(Sorraia x Kiger Mustang of Sorraia type)

If our only interest were to spread Altamiro's seed as far and wide as possible, we would have begun to collect semen from him and sell it to those who have Sorraia-type mustang mares (and with a horse as endangered and rare as the Sorraia, we would have made a tidy profit as well!). Or we would book outside mares for breedings to him. Or we would send him out west on lease, where he could breed many more Sorraia type mustang mares than he could here in Canada. But Kevin and I feel that environment, living habits, herd dynamics, etc. all play vital roles in how genes express themselves and so we've provided living conditions that are as close as possible to those a small band of horses would find in the wild.

(Sorraia x Sorraia Mustang)

Further expanding our criteria, I now find it of great importance to consider as much as possible what the horses might prefer when we are faced with having to make a decision that affects them. This means that when contemplating the futures of Animado, Fada and Interessado, of much greater importance than what price they will fetch, is what kind of environment will they have to live in and what type of human handling will they receive?

Animado and Fada

If I am now understanding and relating to horses as equal beings, then it is obvious that while their destiny is influenced by me, it is yet uniquely theirs - they have a karma directing their present states of being even as I do. Though it may have little impact or perhaps it may have definite impression upon how events unfold, I am using today's journal entry to make a declaration on behalf of Interessado, Animado and Fada:

>>I believe that these young horses would prefer to live in a setting as similar to Ravenseyrie as possible; an expansive, varied environment among other horses and not in isolated box stalls or segregated dirt paddocks.

>>I believe these horses desire to be considered as equal beings and allowed to express their opinions and desires and have these appreciated and taken into consideration by humans.

>>I believe Fada, Interessado and Animado would enjoy learning new things with humans and will excel at and take pleasure in whatever they learn to do if the learning is self-directed with human guidance as opposed to being imposed, coerced or inflicted upon them by humans.

(Sorraia x Sorraia Mustang)

This journal entry makes known to the public that our half- Sorraia mustang /half purebred Sorraia horses are for sale, with certain prerequisites attached. Interessado, Fada and Animado are now officially available for purchase. Prices begin at $2,500 and are negotiable by private treaty. (Profit is not our focus here, however these are genetically valuable, half-bred Sorraia horses and potential buyers should not assume otherwise...therefore a starting price has been established on this basis.) Potential owners of these horses must be able to provide for them in the manner described in the above declaration. Those who are dedicated to conserving the genetics of the endangered Sorraia horse will be given first consideration. Contact us, via email at:

(Sorraia x Sorraia Mustang)

In response to Encantara's recent emergence, Kris commented, "May she live a long and happy life, and know only love and kindness at the hands of human beings." This is my hope for Fada, Animado and Interessado as well. May the expressing of our hopes and desires that their futures be filled with only good things make it so!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Way of Things/The Emperor is Ousted

A peaceful moment at Ravenseyrie
Zorita (left) and Ciente enjoy the spring grass

The way life plays out in front of me here at Ravenseyrie is so filled with lessons...some that are unsettling. One thing impressed upon me over and over again, is this: If you are going to place your horses in a vast open wilderness, you must realize how very little control you have over their daily affairs.

The difficulty for me, coming from a background where every element of my horse's day was structured and dictated by myself or other attending humans, is to determine when to remain "hands off" or when to "help, assist or interfere".

A major dynamic between Mistral, Zeus and Altamiro demonstrates the dilemma quite dramatically.

Mistral, Zeus and Altamiro shown just a few days prior to the arrival of Encantara.
Mistral was feeling a bit edgy and had been having sharp discussions with Altamiro throughout the morning.

Mistral and Altamiro have for the past couple of years played at challenges for ruler-ship, inventing a variety of sparring games that were never injurious and always left Mistral's god-ship unquestioned.

Since the arrival of Encantara, Mistral has been demanding to get closer to this new herd member, after all he considers himself the Emperor God of Ravenseyrie. He also considers it his royal duty to haze all newcomers, regardless of age. You might recall he made such attempts last year when Interessado was born (interestingly he did not attempt to haze Animado or Fada when they were born).

This year finds Altamiro a very confident, robust four year old stallion in full command of his spectacular body. So we find him insisting that Mistral keep a respectful distance and Mistral insisting that he go where he pleases.

Altamiro exchanging pleasantries with Ciente

For the first couple of days, Mistral, Zeus and the draft mules were easy for Altamiro to convince to stay a respectful distance, and a certain peace reigned. This truce did not last long, and soon once again, Mistral was determined to get closer to the filly. Altamiro deftly turned him away each time. You will say I am anthropomorphising and surely you are right, but as a very disgruntled Mistral stood outside the parameter with his stalwart second in command, Corporal Zeus, they both appeared to be plotting more than comiserating. Then something shocking happened...Zeus charged into the grulla group and began trying to round them up and drive them over to where Mistral was waiting! Zeus has never ever before exhibiting this type of behavior!

I was out visiting with the herd and breathlessly tried to take photos, keep an eye out for the pups and also make sure that I wasn't in the way of these galloping horses! At one point I became really quite concerned because Zeus was acting so much like The God of Thunder and no longer appeared to care about anything except stealing herd members to take back to his leader, Mistral. Zeus and the herd were running at a frantic pace at times, over an extremely difficult section of the prairie where there are numerous holes and rocks and tussocks where such a chaotic chase could trip a horse easily and break a leg. And, Ciente (who is nine months along in her pregnancy) was getting the worst of it...I feared such stress as this would cause her to lose her unborn foal.

Ciente on the run

But these horses seem to know precisely how best to negotiate the terrain even at top speed. There were no falters, trips or falls and, thankfully, no injuries. Sometimes they even moved with great elegance as Bella demonstrates here with her beautiful trot which shows wonderful extension arising from natural collection:

Zeus actually succeeded in claiming Ciente and the mules and for about an hour. While all was quiet with everyone focused on grazing, Ciente casually grazed her way back into the grulla group.

Over the next couple of days, Mistral and Zeus made nearly incessant attempts to penetrate the nucleolus of primitive grullas. Altamiro would chase them away, and turn around to discuss things when they would attempt to follow him. What a show he would put on! If they retreated, he felt okay with them on the parameter and had no hard feelings. But they just kept at it, sometimes working as a definite team with Zeus diverting Altamiro's attention enough that Mistral would make a dash to penetrate the grulla herd, with Altamiro having to instantly pirouette and gallop over to position himself once again between his herd and the intrusive, aged, yet powerful, Arabian gelding.

I managed to get a few sequences of moving footage of "episodes" of these sallies by setting up the camera on its tripod and using the teleconverter lense. Unfortuantely, the lense was quite compromised by the dirt blowing up by the wind. Even so you get a sense of the drama that has been taking place here.

On the day that I took these moving images, Mistral and Zeus kept up their harrassment of Atlamiro and the grullas all day, all evening and into the morning with brief "cease fires" where both camps could take some rest.

After these breaks for napping and grazing, Mistral began again:

There was a point where it seemed that Altamiro said, "enough is enough" and somehow put an end to these challenges once and for all. I was not around when the final decision was made, but by the next day, Mistral and Zeus were definitely expelled and the mere look of Altamiro in their general direction was enough pressure to cause them to move further off and there have been no new attempts since then to penetrate the grulla herd.

During all this sorting out of things, no one was coming up for their breakfast oats. Once the official ousting of the Emperor took place, the grulla group resumed coming up for oats at sun-up and the mules and Mistral only came up half-way. I brought their breakfast oats out to them and tried to make them feel good.

I counted 39 wounds on Mistral, none requiring attention, most just patches where the hide was exposed but not penetrated. Zeus had two such wounds. (Altamiro doesn't have a scratch on him--truly!) If I had attempted to intervene by removing Mistral and Zeus by creating a separate paddock for them, I certainly would have been able to spare Altamiro the hassle Mistral and Zeus put him through as well as protect Mistral from these wounds - but Mistral would have had a complete nervous breakdown. (Separation anxiety has always been a huge thing for this Arabian.) Clearly this is something he needed to go through...he could have chose to just let the matter rest and not keep challenging Atlamiro, but he didn't, he kept going back and going back until Altamiro managed to take over compelete authority.

There is such a different feel now when I go out to spend time with Mistral and Zeus, like an era has ended. Sometimes they seem a little depressed, but other times, they seem mostly accepting. And there is plenty of room and an overabundance of food for all, and still lots of freedom. It is my hope that Mistral realizes he is still master of his own world, even if he is no longer master of Altamiro's world.

Zeus for his part, has definitely chosen to remain with his old leader and their friendship appears deeper than before. Mistral is more allowing of Zeus (will even let him share his oats, something he never did when he was still the Emperor). This last photo I captured with one hand while I was itching Zeus with the other and Zeus was itching Mistral. While it appears that Mistral has lost his rulership, I'm so thankful he hasn't lost his friend Zeus.

Friday, May 15, 2009

And Her Name Is...

Belina's new filly is remarkable in how obviously pleased she is to be who she is.

Like all new foals, she is curious, but unlike her adorable older sister, Fada, she is much less timid.

Fada and her new sister share a moment of touching

This filly appears completely at ease with being the center of attention and like a flirtatious starlet flaunts her prodigious charms, seeming to have full awareness of their effect on all who stand by hoping for some contact with her.

On the other hand, she is at times, completely self-absorbed in experiencing of the variety of ways she can use her body. Imagine how wonderful it must feel after being folded up for nearly a year in a cramped amniotic realm to be released into a completely novel and boundary-less new world!

I don't believe I've ever seen a horse enjoy rolling in the grass as much as she - puppy-like, wriggling her back into the earth with her long legs curled in tight, then she pauses, poised upside down on her back, unfurls one front leg then the other, stretches all four full out and waves them side to side, forward and back, twisting her head and watching them move above her...flops to the side, flips her self completely over and begins again. And then there are the unexpected sprints--not straight like a Quarter Horse on a race track, but willy-nilly, pell-mell like a highly caffeinated house-fly which has just been released from a glass jar. And OH! how frantic Belina gets during these mad-dash episodes as she tries to keep up with her newborn to protect her from all the harm that all mothers know can befall such a wee creature! Just this morning, while her mother was grazing, this filly noticed Jerry (the big draft mule) standing a ways off, looking at her --and so off she saunters with determination to make his acquaintance...almost made it there too before Belina realized what was up and quickly put a stop to such forward behavior from her daughter.

With her obvious delight in her own self and her capacity to captivate the rest of us, the name "Encantara" would seem to fit her perfectly. A variation on "encanto" and "encantar", words shared between the Portuguese and the Spanish, which mean to delight, to charm, to enchant. We are pronouncing it as "N-can-tar-ahh".

Encantara with her dam, Belina

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Altamiro's Firstborn for 2009

Purebred Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, May 2009
Foundation sire of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

It was August of 2006 when Altamiro came to Ravenseyrie with the destiny of growing into the duties of a herd sire. Even as a long-yearling, Altamiro was already practicing the passionate craft of studmanship, but since the "crown jewels" hadn't yet made their official appearance and it had been relayed to us that Sorraia stallions typically were not able to settle mares until they were in their fourth year, I didn't think there was a need yet to keep track of heat cycles and matings.

I did note in my calendar (with tremendous relief!) on April the 15th of 2007, Altamiro's testicles finally descended, but trusting in what I was told, I didn't feel this Sorraia colt (now two years old) was delivering viable sperm yet, so only loosely kept track of heat cycles and matings. When Bella delivered Animado one snowy April evening last year, we were utterly flabbergasted. (And Bella participated fully in this clever game by not bothering to look or act the least bit pregnant all the while!) There was much anxiousness and anticipation knowing that if Altamiro had gotten Bella pregnant in 2007, he likely settled Belina and Ciente too, but not having steadfastly marked down heats and matings, I didn't know when to expect the next foals. As it turns out, unlike Bella, both Belina and Ciente looked pregnant and provided us with signs when they neared their foaling times.

To read about the births of last years foals, readers can follow these links:

Since then, I have kept scrupulous records of heat cycles and matings. This was how I knew that Belina was due to deliver a foal this year in early May.

Here is how Belina looked on May the fourth:

A five year old Half-Spanish Mustang/Half-BLM Appaloosa Pony mare

On Saturday (May 9th), Belina's udder looked twice the "usual" size. I write, "usual" because as part of our mandate for our Sorraia Mustang Preserve, we adhere as much as we can to the dynamics of a wild horse herd and so have not weaned and separated last year's foals. This means Belina has been lactating and nursing Fada all this while and her udder always appears "ready", so I didn't think it would provide a viable indicator of whether or not a delivery was immanent. But certainly, it looked quite a bit bigger than it had since Belina delivered Fada last May, and I definitely made a note of it.

Sunday morning (May 10th, Mother's Day in CA and USA) after the herd had finished up their breakfast oats and were heading back off to graze, I mentioned to Kevin that Belina was moving quite slow and heavy and Altamiro was persistently following her and sniffing her rear-end with great interest. Her hip muscles didn't look slack, but Belina's abdomen had altered and I suspected she was very close, and would probably deliver sometime over the course of the evening.

We had signed up to attend a barefoot hoof trimming clinic being held on the other side of the island and so were gone the better part of the day. When we returned, sometime after 4 p.m., the first thing I did was look to see where the herd was. They were off in the southwest sector, slightly mingled at the edge of the wet area on the south fence line, grazing just in front of the Poplars trees growing there. I thought I could see Belina with the others and I also thought I saw something small and light-shaded close to her. The domestic horses and the draft mules were quietly grazing further off, but the primitive group was mingling all around Belina. Kevin quickly fetched the binoculars and we all ran up to stand on top of the old barn ramp to gain a better view. Had I just seen dry grasses or was that really a small horse form? It was definitely a foal!

We went out to have a closer look, camera in hand.

Just as she behaved when Fada was born, Belina was hyper vigilant in her efforts to keep everyone at a respectful distance and only allowed Altamiro and Fada the briefest of touches before instructing them to move away from her and the newborn. Thankfully, Belina allowed me to come to within three feet so I could follow them closely and get a look at whether the foal was male or female. Finally, the wee tail lifted straight up and I could see for certain that it was a filly.

After we'd spent a good long time admiring and praising and singing songs of thanksgiving, we walked back across the field. There the dogs found the afterbirth and we could see that the foaling had taken place out in the open grass. Judging by the way Belina's back end looked, the fact that the filly was dry and nursing and now seeing the condition of the afterbirth, we are guessing that the foaling took place just an hour or two before we came home.

Belina not only delivered a perfectly formed healthy filly, but she provided exactly what Hardy Oelke and I have been expecting from the crossing of a purebred Sorraia with select mustang mares of Sorraia type.

I have not seen such distinct striping over the neck since the drawings d'Andrade made of specimens of the remnant herd of striped wild horses he came upon while on a hunting expedition in the lowland areas of the Sorraia river near Coruche back in the 1920's!

And there are good stripes on this filly's legs, even visible through the light colored foal hair. She's a solid grulla with excellent bi-coloring in her mane and short this filly displays all the qualities of the primeval Form III Ancestral horse described by Ebhardt. Likewise, she reflects the descriptions we find written about the Iberian wild horses by St. Isidore of Seville and by authors of hunting texts in the middle ages who called these horses, "zebros".

The Sorraia horses in recent times have shown a reduction in the primitive striping of their ancestors, a phenomenon that is likely due to the genetic bottleneck they have experienced and also the fact that with the exception of Hardy's Oelke's group of Sorraias living completely wild on a private refuge in Portugal, all others are to one degree or another pressed into the mold of modern breeding practices. How much of a role a wilderness environment plays in how colors and markings express themselves in offspring is something that some researchers need to explore further.

It is my habit to wait until a definite connection is made between me and the new foals so that they themselves provide direction into what names they should be given. It has been my habit thus far to use Portuguese names, as a way to honor the contribution Dr. Ruy d'Andrade made to saving these wild Iberian horses from extinction. It took four days before Belina felt comfortable enough to let Fada investigate me, and it make take this long with the new filly too.

I don't know who is more excited - me, or Hardy! Both of us are feeling especially pleased that the distinct conformation and primitive color of the ancient wild horse of the Iberian Peninsula has emerged so vividly through the pairing of Altamiro and our carefully selected mustang mares. Belina's latest contribution is thus far the best example yet of what genetic treasures this type of consolidation of the Sorraia phenotype can provide for future conservation efforts.

In my next journal entry, I will share with you some of my worries and misgivings about what we are hoping to accomplish with this Sorraia Mustang Preserve, and how this new birth has provided me with the validation I needed to continue moving forward.