Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Autumn Images

I've got two "essays" presently fermenting in my mind, one expanding more on horse/human relationships and the other discussing the various theories, conjectures and assumptions surrounding the ancestors of the Sorraia horse. Both essays need a little more aging before we can "drink" them. Until they are ready for consumption, I thought I'd share an assortment of photos of how autumn is progressing here at Ravenseyrie.

Here, Kevin plants garlic, with his helper, Tobacco making sure things are done right!

The Ravenseyrie beach is very quiet and picturesque, though the autumn color was best appreciated from on top of the bluff as you can see in the following photos.

Of course, high winds and heavy rain have taken down most of these leaves now, and the landscape is much less colourful. The brisk air has the horses feeling playful. In the next sequence of photos we observe long-yearling colts Animado (Sorraia x Spanish Mustang) and Interessado (Sorraia x Kiger Mustang) "horsing around".

Here is a video clip showing a game that Animado used to play with his father, but now imposes upon Interessado, who doesn't really seem to mind.

And when all is said and done, a good yawn of satisfaction is in order before settling down to graze away the rest of the afternoon.

Yesterday it rained, almost continuously. During a very brief lull, I went out for a walk and found the family band clustered in a small copse of Cedar trees.

There were several Whitetail Deer moving along the northern treeline. Zorita and Segura stepped out to get a better view. Then the rain took to falling again, so I put the camera away and hiked back to the house.

I'll close with a few photos of Segura, the 3/4 Sorraia filly out of Sovina's Zorita by Altamiro. Segura is especially precious genetically, now that her grandsire, Sovina, a purebred Sorraia, has been gelded. Sovina's owner, Erin Gray, relayed to me that she has stored up some frozen collected semen from Sovina, for those interested in using artificial insemination for their breeding projects. However, with Sovina gelded and Tejo II apparently sterile, Altamiro and his offspring represent the only hope for naturally bred crossings of Sorraias to mustang horses which exhibit the Sorraia phenotype--until some other intrepid preservationist imports one or more purebred Sorraia horses to North America.
Altamiro's offspring remains an integral feature of any serious preservation project dedicated to the Sorraia type horses. It is my hope that more people with natural resources at their disposal will set up similar preserves like Ravenseyrie. Please contact me if interested in such a venture.
Altamiro's offspring remains available for preservation projects, and I can put you in touch with others who have good examples of Sorraia mustangs that would cross well with our half-Sorraia youngsters. To explore the possibility of importing more Sorraia horses to North America, please visit Hardy Oelke's website link shown in the side bar of this blog.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Sorraia Waterhole in the Forest

The "Zen" Elm tree stands tall over the north-central grassland sector of Ravenseyrie

I treasure and jealously guard my days off from work because these are the times when I don't have to be ruled by the clock and can give myself totally over to "horse time".

This morning, after T'ai Chi practice at the bluff's edge and a nice hike with the pups, I traced a route that would have us intersecting the grassland sector to the west where Altamiro and his family band were grazing. After simply being still, among them, feeling the aroma of the autumn grass being lipped and cut with teeth, and smelling the sensation of whiskers and muzzles low to the ground, I recognized, once again, that to be within a group of contented horses is to find one's senses intermingling in a most transportive way.

Soon, Bella walked up to me and after exchanging greetings and providing itches, I set about removing some of the burrs from her mane and tail. It wasn't long when Silvestre came around to investigate what we were up to, with his typical gregarious foal insistence of inclusion. I did my best to continue ministering to Bella, while occasionally pushing away the prodding nose of the three month old colt, but in the end, Bella decided that she'd rather graze than share time with Silvestre in our midst.

Silvestre got his favorite itches and also a few burrs removed that he had picked up in his short frill of a forelock. While we were thus engaged, I noted that Ciente had decided to head for the forest and shortly--one by one--the other mares and foals followed her, leaving just me, Silvestre and Silvestre's sire, Altamiro (who was still grazing nearby, but totally focused on where the mares had headed).

I have been asked before if within Altamiro's family band there is a "lead mare". For the most part, there has been no distinct "lead mare". My impression is that these young mares (who are very clear about where they fit in with each other as mares) are still tentatively exploring their places within this exclusive world that the Sorraia stallion, Altamiro has imposed upon them.

Those following the Journal of Ravenseyrie will remember that prior to Encantara's birth this past May, all the equines that inhabit Ravenseyrie lived as one herd. It's curious to note that as a three year old, when Altamiro's first offspring each made their appearances last year, he did not feel the need to break away from the presence of the domestic horses (Mistral and Zeus) or the draft mules (Dee, Doll and Jerry). It was only as a four year old when Altamiro felt the urge to assert his over-bearing leadership, and he spent most of the late spring and summer splintering the herd in two...first beginning with Mistral and Zeus, then the mules, then his yearling sons and finally (by her own choice) Fada too left the family band.

To assure that HIS new rules were rigidly adhered to, Altamiro has assumed the role of a tyrant/dictator. Not one of the equines here have remained unscathed by his teeth and hooves and he keeps the mares and foals especially intimidated persistently driving them hither and yon for reasons neither they, nor myself, can understand--except for that testosterone has empowered Him into flexing his muscles as Supreme Dominator of the Harem!

The two photos above show that Altamrio even hazes his young son, Silvestre (
Sorraia x Kiger Mustang), who is beginning to show his attractive Iberian form and grullo coloring much more than we would have guessed from how he looked as a newborn.

Most of the time the family band is bound to be traveling only where Altamiro directs them to, but from time to time, I have observed each of the mares (Bella, Belina, Ciente and Zorita) carefully assessing Altamrio's mood and then venturing to chart their own course of travel. Of all of them, it is Ciente, the Sorraia-type Kiger Mustang, who will amble off with some specific idea in mind and the rest of the herd follows.

What readers will find of particular interest is that within the so-called "pecking order" hierarchy of the mares, Ciente represents the lowest rung of the ladder. In the mornings, as I wheel my garden cart out among the family band to lay down for them their pans of oats, the first pan is claimed by Altamiro, and no other family member would dream of hazing him away from his breakfast. The next pan is claimed by Bella, and the next pan of oats is claimed by Belina and the next pan is claimed by Zorita and the pan after that is claimed by Ciente. Bella can take any of the other mares pans if she so desires and while Belina cannot take Bella's oats she can lay claim to Zorita's and Ciente's. Zorita wouldn't dream of chasing either Bella or Belina off their pan of oats, but she will deftly move Ciente off from hers. This is why I always lay out one extra pan so that if the mares and Altamiro begin shuffling between pans, there is always one free for Ciente to fall back upon. (The foals may or may not share in the pans of their parents, mostly only Encantara at this point is interested in eating oats.) This is the flow of the hierarchy and it hasn't varied since Zorita's integration with the herd last September. The fact that Ciente, much more than any of the other mares winds up being a trusted leader appears to be an example of horseman/author Mark Rashid's description of a "passive leader":

The horse we tried to be most like was a horse with a completely different temperament and role within the herd--a horse that leads by example, not force. A horse that is extremely dependable and confident, one that the vast majority of horses will not only willingly choose to follow, but that they actually seek out...

...The question then is, how do we get our horses to want to choose us as a leader? It has been my observation that before a horse (or person) can even be considered as a passive leader, it must first exhibit the qualities that make it desirable for it to be chosen. Those qualities are quiet confidence, dependability, consistency, and a willingness not to use force. (--Mark Rashid, from the introduction to his book HORSES NEVER LIE.)

All the mares possess the qualites of "quiet confidence", "dependability" and "consistency", but it is only Ciente who specifically prefers to act without force. Though the other mares will haze her away on a whim, they will follow her when she determinedly charts a course to some other sector of Ravenseyrie--and at these times, even Altamiro tags along devotedly.

Such was the case this morning, as Ciente lead the mares into the forest. I'd like to take you on a pictorial tour as we follow Silvestre and Altamiro who are now trying to catch up with the others...

Here, Altamiro and Silvestre have gone off at a trot to try to catch up with the mares as well as Segura and Encantara. Can you see Altamiro's rump up ahead?

While the horses nimbly negotiated the uneven, rock-jutted trail, I stumbled and nearly fell...which caused Altamiro to pause and look back at me.

Satisfied that I was not posing some strange threat with all my clumsy jogging, Altamiro continued back on the trail.

We've almost caught up with the others.

The mares have stopped and are getting a drink from one of the seasonal ponds deep in the forest within a small clearing, which, after splendid autumn rains, is once again a favorite source of water for them.

I'm including several video clips taken while the family band was at the waterhole.

The foals did not drink at this time, nor did Altamiro, who instead wandered around the other side of the pond.

And after the mares had left the waterhole, Altamiro came in to take his drink.

While Altamiro was getting his thirst quenched, the mares and foals trotted off on a different trail away from the watering hole. In the final video clip, you will see Altamiro pick his head up and look at one of the dogs (Maeb) as she navigates her way over to where I am standing, and then, finishing up with his drink, Altamiro wastes no time leaving the watering hole and dashes off to catch up once again with the mares.

The pups and I then followed the trail we had seen Altamiro leave on, and discovered that it lead out to the southwest sector of the grasslands...
...where the family band was soon back into the timelessness of grazing on a fine autumn morning.

I found a rock nearby and decided to just sit and reflect on the thrill of following the herd for their morning "tea time"...and who should leave her grazing and come to visit with me, but the lovely passive leader herself, Ciente!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On Hooves and Living Conditions

In my last journal entry, Janet Grant left a comment with a query, which I thought I would address here today. Janet wrote:
Lynne, I have been reading your blog since the beginning and don't recall you having a discussion about the horse's feet. I am involved with the Paso Fino's, as you know, and they are very prone to founder. With your herd, do you ever have to trim their feet? Are their hooves in really good health because of the herd's constant movement? What percentage of their food are they getting from you in the form of hay and what are they getting from the land? I suppose my real question is what are we doing wrong! I think the Pasos have been bred in South America for 500 years, are recent immigrants, and don't tolerate our rich grass.

I specifically haven't devoted any prior journal entries to hooves, because I have not immersed myself too deeply in the study of the "natural hoof" and therefore feel rather unequipped to discuss or advise about such things. Nevertheless, there are some experiences and observations which have occurred here at Ravenseyrie that might be of interest to those who have studied hoof ailments intensively or those who have horses with less than perfect hooves.

Kevin and I did attend a barefoot hoof clinic held on the island in early May. Kate Romanenko was the instructor/farrier and she offered first a lecture and then worked on some of the horses that participants had brought to the clinic. I'm sharing some of the photos I took. Kate did an excellent job of relaying the benefits to natural horse keeping and stressed again and again how important it was to remove shoes and get horses out of their stalls.

Natural hoof advocate, Kate Romanenko

There appear to be many issues that trigger abnormalities in hoof growth and overall hoof health such as genetic heritage, environment, nutrition and what humans might "use" their horses for.

Kate Romanenko helps a horse with a severe case of founder

Here at Ravenseyrie, I put a lot of trust in the varied environment to supply the horses with everything they require to maintain themselves the best hooves suited to their lifestyles. Most of them have no issues that would require intervention from us, not even one nip or need for rasping.

Bella, pictured here with Belina and Zorita as they move across the autumn landscape

The registered Spanish Mustang mare, Bella, who came to us as a yearling, has always had poor hooves (flat, prone to flares and wicked cracks) and during the spring of her second year suffered from a laminitic episode that required some specific trimming on her front hooves. Despite a brief period of being distinctly lame, Bella continued to keep up with the movements of the herd, which more than likely hastened her recovery. While today Bella's hooves are still not "perfect", their shape and growth patterns have improved a lot and she has not had any further episodes.

Zeus, the Thoroughbred gelding, has massive hooves that, like Bella's, would persistently flare and crack. Zeus was often "ouchy" especially back in the old days after the routine farrier's trim. The first year here at Ravenseyrie, Zeus suffered from a bad abscess, but again, like Bella, despite being distinctly lame, kept up with the movements of the herd and quickly recovered on its own without digging it out or soaking it. Today, Zeus' hooves are much stronger and while surface cracks continue, the flaring has stopped and though they sometimes get ragged-edged, his hooves now self-trim to a nice looking shape which appears to suit his needs incredibly well.

I don't think that Zeus and Bella will ever have "perfect" hooves, but it appears that their hooves have adjusted to their environment in ways that have improved them and allow them to lead very active, energetic lives. It's possible their hooves are less than ideal due to genetic heritage and while micro-managing by highly skilled farriers might keep them looking more like ideal hooves, I suspect that the environment of Ravenseyrie actually does a better job of making them better functioning hooves despite their less than picture perfect appearance.

Occasionally, we will do a light trim of the toe or quarters on the mules, whose hooves seem to take longer to self-trim. From time to time each of the other horses will have a chip, crack or break in the quarter as their hooves go through the process of self-trimming, typically this is noted during the seasons when the ground is moist.

At Ravenseyrie, the horses are fed hay generally from December to early May. The hay is a first cutting of mixed prairie grasses combined with flowering herbs that grow among the grasses. The hay is put up into the large 500 lb round bales, off from which we peel copious amounts two to three times a day and spread this out into numerous piles wherever the herd has chosen to be on the landscape depending on the weather conditions. The amount we put out is based on the condition of the horses (both physically and mentally) and how harsh the weather is. In addition to hay, we feed one scoop (approx. 3 cups) of whole oats per horse (foals not included, though they nibble a little of it) in the morning. While we continue to offer breakfast oats even after we've stopped feeding hay, there is a period of time in late June and early July when the horses stop coming up for oats altogether...it is a time when I feel most unneeded by them--except that when I hike out to see them they remember how good I am at itching places they cannot reach themselves. Occasionally, we hand feed apple and compressed alfalfa cubes as special treats.

Kevin hands out some apples to Mistral's group
The horses at Ravenseyrie experience seasonal changes in body weight, gaining weight in the spring, losing a bit during the late summer, regaining again in the autumn and losing a bit over the winter. In March of this year, we noted that Ciente and Mistral had lost much more weight than normal and so supplemented their breakfast oats with black oil sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, fenugreek seeds and alfalfa cubes, which were no longer required once the early spring grasses flushed over the landscape.

There is no barn here at Ravenseyrie, so the horses take shelter in the forest, selecting for themselves the spots most advantageous to their comfort depending on the prevailing winds. The horses are almost perpetually on the move, except when dozing, and while they move less in the bitter winter weather, they nonetheless continue to traverse their territory. The horses obtain water in spring and autumn from the numerous seasonal ponds and creeks upon on the table land. In summer, when these sources dry up, the horses go down the rocky bluff to slack their thirsts in the the lake. In the winter they eat snow or visit the few spots in the landscape where the ground water under the snow doesn't freeze.

In addition to grazing the grasses and herbs, the horses at Ravenseyrie also browse on branches, leaves, bark, roots, even dirt at all times of the year. In previous journal entries I have also showed the horses partaking of the mineral/salt block we put out for them.

Here we see Animado seeking out and eating earth

Many breeds of horses, even though highly domesticated, nevertheless have metabolisms adapted to surviving and thriving in a landscape that presents them with seasonal changes, environmental stresses and constant interaction with herd mates and other wildlife. Our well-intentioned habit of taking horses out of these landscapes to make their lives easier, more comfortable and more convenient for humans to have them available to "use" for their own whims and desires comes at a huge price in overall health and well-being. Most domestically kept horses are lacking appropriate physical and mental stimulation, are fed too much and exercised too little, and their human handlers are scrambling furtively to tinker with elements they can never fully comprehend in an effort to create an equilibrium in an unbalanced situation. Even horses that are out on pasture are often on "improved" groomed pastures which are too rich and lack diversity.

I am not learned enough to give advice to those of you who are having health issues with your horses...I can only relay what the daily lives of the Ravenseyrie horses is like and perhaps this will reveal something about how beneficial it is to embrace even the hardships of a natural environment. I hope, Janet, that you can find a way to implement some or all of these "wilderness" elements in ways that help your Paso Finos.