Sunday, May 23, 2010

Equine Beach Bums

This spring, Manitoulin Island is experiencing a bit of a drought and temperatures are already tickling the 30's°C. Also, the biting insects are out in full force and these combined factors have altered the daily routines of the horses. While Altamiro and his family still come up to the house for breakfast oats, Mistral's group has become conspicuously absent, not just in the morning, but all the day long.

I had a suspicion the first day that the absentees had decided to spend their days grazing their way down the bluff to hang out at the beach, where the cooling lake breezes provide a welcome relief from the heat and the bugs.

When I refer to Mistral's Group, I speak of those equines who have joined together to form a herd separate from that of Altamiro and his mares. Here is the member list of this alternate herd at this point in time:

The Domestics:

Mistral / 29 yr. old Arabian gelding

Zeus / 16 yr. old Thoroughbred gelding

The Mules:

/ ~15-18 yr. old molly draft mule
Doll / ~15-18 yr. old molly draft mule
Jerry / ~15-18 yr. old john mule

The Primitives:

Animado : 2 yr. old half-Sorraia/half Sorraia Mustang colt

Fada : 2 yr. old half-Sorraia/half-Sorraia Mustang filly

Interessado : 2 yr. old half-Sorraia/half-Sorraia Mustang colt

Encantara : yearling half-Sorraia/half-Sorraia Mustang filly

I had opportunity to spend a little time at the beach with Mistral's group on three different days. During these visits I took many photos documenting how these equine beach bums spend their time on the shore of Lake Huron.

The half-mile of Ravenseyrie beach is referred to as a "cobble" beach and is covered by massive boulders, large stones, a variety of rocks and pebbles as well as several forms of clay.
Amazingly, there are many plants that grow down here and many appear to be enjoyable eats for the equines.

Let's explore some of the lake shore smörgåsbord nature has at the ready for our equine friends...

There is a sedgy grass (I've not yet found its true identity) that is abundant on the beach. It's slender, very stiff and rather coarse to the touch. It must have an appealing taste for the horses and mules spent much time grazing the different regions of the beach where this sedgy grass was prominent.
Grazing Beach Grass:

Discussing an anecdote involving bears, here is an interesting tidbit about sedge grass gleaned from Judith Somner's book, The Natural History of Medicinal Plants:
"Barrie Giblert of Utah State University has observed Alaskan brown bears preparing for hibernation. He postulates that the occasional swallowing of whole sedge leaves (Carex sp.) may serve to remove tapeworms from the bears' intestines, before they settle down to a period of prolonged inactivity during which the parasites could do considerable harm to their ursine hosts. The coarse, sharp-edged leaves of sedges may serve to scrape the worms from their points of attachment in the intestines."

Aside from serving nutritional value, what side benefits might sedge grass provide horses, I wonder?

There is a type of Willow shrub that grows among the rocks and this year is the first time I happened to be a witness to the horses browsing it, with apparent relish! From what I can tell this type of willow is identified as Salix bebbiana or Bebb's Willow. All willows are said to provide the beneficial pain-relieving effect that aspirins contain, in fact the Salix family, most notably Salix alba (White Willow) served as the precursor to the modern day synthesized aspirins made in laboratories.
Herbal Horsekeeping by Robert McDowell and Di Rowling tells me that the actions of willow are: "Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, febrifuge and tonic." Common uses of willow are to "relieve pain, inflammation and fever."

Might this lake shore shrub also ease the swelling and itchiness of insect bites?

Browsing on Bebb's Willow:

Another treat for me was to observe the horses sampling the offerings in the cat-tail canal. I was surprised that the horses ingested not only the new shoots stems and leaves, but also the downy seed cotton left over from last year. The Common Cat-tail (Typha latifolia) is a plant consumed by many creatures, with the shoots, leaves, stems, pollen, fruit, seeds and rhizome roots providing nutritional value. Various parts of the cat-tail are also useful in nest building, basket making and as soft-packing material. It's quite an amazingly versatile plant and I hope that the severe browsing the horses engaged in has not caused irreparable damage. There are, of course, other areas on the bluff (specifically in moist road-side ditches) where cat-tail abounds, but I always liked having this section of the old boat canal colonized by cat-tail.
Browsing on Cat-tails:

In between dining courses, the horses engaged in a variety of mutual grooming sessions, and at one point the primitive youngsters blended into a four way grooming/yawning fest:

There also was a lot of napping going on:
Sometimes, with a rock as an unlikely pillow:
Sometimes interrupted by those pesky flies:

Mostly, though the napping appeared sublime:

As you can see, the Ravenseyrie horses have no need of fly masks, or insect repellents or electric fans in a deeply bedded barn--they have learned to make the most of each day, symbiotically flowing with their natural environment, altering their routines and habits and predilections to fit seasonal changes and climatic fluctuations.

Their way of life has much to teach me, and I am thankful to be a student here in this wonderful place in time.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What's In A Name?

"The gestures of another being, the rhythm of its voice, and the stiffness or bounce in its spine all gradually draw my senses into a unique relation with one another, into a coherent, if shifting, organization. And the more I linger with this other entity, the more coherent the relation becomes, and hence the more completely I find myself face-to-face with another intelligence, another center of experience." --David Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous

Being a woman of words who also embraces the fullness of animism, names and their meanings are important matters for me. For myself, names have a greater significance if they evoke an essence of that which the name refers to and in this way I feel a reciprocal exchange occurs between those who speak the name and those who answer to it.

In ancient times, there was much more significance placed upon the choice of a name and in many aboriginal societies, names changed as a child grew and acquired experiences that further shaped her character.

Names have a certain power or magic, which is largely ignored by modern man, yet nevertheless the implications of names influence in subtle ways.

I should like names to reflect positive potential and the greater good, therefore if a name appears to generate a negative sensation, I have no difficulty finding a new name to use, and in the case of my animal friends, it is important that whatever name is used is one that he or she has influence over and acceptance of.

Dr. Deb Bennett, founder of The Equestrian Studies Institute, equine conformation specialist and author, has much to say regarding the significance of the names we give horses. For the most part, she abhors "pretentious" or "cute" names and believes that the names people give their horses stifle the animals' true natures and places emotional and sentimental expectations on equines that are overall deleterious.

Dr. Deb has a forum she manages and dispenses advice and caustic criticism within, and it is here that she has expressed her views regarding horses and names. The Equestrian Studies Institute home page specifically requests that a link be provided to relevant information rather than "dubbing" out information published there and pasting it elsewhere on the web, so I will have to give my own accounting of the specific things I want to highlight which serve as counter point to my contention that the selection of a name has great significance and can positively influence a horse's destiny.

Desiring her students to have a better understanding of "what kind of animal a horse is", Dr. Deb stresses that "Horses are livestock" and that to get to know them better we should "depersonalize" them and not call them by names we humans choose from projections of our subconscious minds which serve only to illuminate our "hidden obsessions". Rather, we should call horses by their colour and so begin a dedication to release ourselves from "sticky-smarmy attachment" enabling us to see how "utterly different are animals from ourselves".

One can perceive that probably there are many situations where horses are treated inappropriately because of the name and image people have of them based on their names, and so her advice to depersonalize the horse and take him for "who he is", is not necessarily inappropriate, if it also prompts people to see the horse's potential as well.

Spending time with our horses and seeing how they respond to us, to their environment and to their pasture mates provides us with a rich encyclopedia of information whereby we can better perceive the unique beings horses are, each possessing a depth of individualized personality. It does the horse little good to pick a name simply reflecting his colour, "Blackie" or behavior, "Witchy", or a combination of depersonalized names like Dr. Deb suggests, "Old Grey"--this itself can be as stifling to the horse as is a cute name like "Muffin" or a grandiose name like "Gladiator".

However, to suggest that we depersonalize our horses also puts distinct limitations on their potential for self-actualization and provides humans the justification for all manner of disrespect and abuse. If one perceives "horses as livestock", one creates the capacity to "use" horses for human pursuits until their usability diminishes or ceases to please us, after which they can then be disposed of in whatever manner the human finds acceptable. No need for a positive, influential name for a creature so doomed.

As I contemplate things further, I realize that what Dr. Deb has done, by determining (and naming) horses as "livestock" exposes the projection of her "obsessions", by placing a label on them that defines what they are in human terms only.

The philosophy of Dr. Deb isn't right, or wrong, it is simply a learned choice of perception which has been perpetuated since the first domestication of animals by humans, and it has coloured the way we humans see horses by placing limits on what type of being horses are through defining and naming them as "livestock".

But we are not beholden any longer to such traditional thinking, and we realize that horses have their own "center of experience" like that described in the opening quote by David Abrams.

If we accept horses as equal beings with whom we desire a friendship with, it behooves us to delve deeply into their personality (definitely personalizing them) and horse and human together come to a determination of what name is best suited to bring them to their optimum selves.

It took me two weeks to receive the right name for Belina's filly. She was enigmatic from the very beginning. As Eva noted, this filly seemed much more meditative than her full sister, Encantara, and certainly not as lively as her slightly older half sister, Pinoteia. To be honest, my first impression of this new filly was that she was awkward to the point of causing me to wonder if she was structurally challenged. But she'd keep trying to move fluidly, just the same. She was also very aloof and shy (as all of Belina's fillies have been at first), and yet she would exhibit courageous curiosity and a definite determination to over come her fears. I soon noticed a pattern in her behavior...she would reach out to touch things that interested her and make a determination thereafter if she should further explore or return to her dam's side.

At first, I tried out "Atingir", which means "to reach for", but when I would speak this name in her presence, she either ignored me, or would hide behind her mother. Later, after further observing her touching things with her muzzle, I presented her with a variation of "tocar" which means "to touch" in Portuguese. This filly, brightened when I called her "Tocara", and she kept her attention focused on me for many minutes, and shyly walked forward to reach out and touch me as she has so many other things. Though she isn't quite ready to let me touch her, I'm sure that we will connect further in this way in due time.

Tocara is pronounced, TOO-car-ah.

To end now this journal entry about the significance of names, I want to say that I did not give our stallion his name. Altamiro was given his name by the people at the zoological park in Germany where he was born. During that time and before we even contemplated importing a purebred Sorraia colt, Kevin had given me a book on the Upper Paleolithic paintings in the Altamira cave in Spain. Altamira means "high view". Ravenseyrie refers to "eyrie" a high remote dwelling place (where ravens also live) and aptly describes our property here up on top of the East Bluff of Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island, over looking Lake Huron's North Channel. Can you appreciate the synchronicity of it all?

From the very beginning I knew that the name given to Altamiro was perfect for him and he would grow into its significance. I do wonder (had I known of Dr. Deb's advice) if maybe I would have changed the yearling stud colt's name to "Muddy" or "Dull-boy", since these reflected his colour and his behavior at that time...and if I had named this young stallion, "Muddy" or "Dull-boy" if he would have turned out to be a spectacular herd sire with an aristocratic "high view" of himself and amazing chaser of birds--or would he have shuffled his way through life because of the connotations such a depersonalized name like "Dull-boy" or "Muddy" would have forced upon him?

Altamiro, purebred Sorraia stallion, chasing birds on the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve