Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Karen Parker and Susan Watt Visit Ravenseyrie

Sovina's Zorita among the family band at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada (photo:  Karen Parker)

In the later part of 2010, I was contacted by Susan Watt, the program development director (and much more) for the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary and also by designer, wild horse advocate and photographer, Karen Parker.  At that time Karen and Susan were working together on a new feature devoted to information and tourism that highlighted the various strains of Spanish Mustangs living at the BHWHS, some of which are Sorraia Mustangs.  They were seeking input on the Sorraias from both Hardy Oelke and myself for the historic text Karen was writing.  The result was a very nice informational pamphlet with loads of photos (including some from Ravenseyrie).  You can access this pamphlet through the webpage for their program titled:  Spanish Mustang Spirit , or download the pdf here by clicking on: Don Juan's Iberian Equine Roots

The existence of such a fantastic place as the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is result of the phenomenal foresight of founder, Dayton O. Hyde, whose capacity for weaving memories of past and present into entertaining stories (see his many published books in the BHWHS gift shop or at amazon.com) has done much to inspire people from all walks of life  It is that type of inspiration and terroir/"sense of place" that has caused both Susan Watt and Karen Parker to fall in love with the iconic wild landscape and the 500+ horses that call the 13,000 acre sanctuary home.  Susan, in fact, lives completely immersed in the world of these horses, much like Kevin and I do here at Ravenseyrie - only what stressors Susan has to cope with on a day to day basis are on a much higher magnitude!  To get a glimpse of just what type of woman, Susan is, please read this brief biography of her that Dayton's niece, Mary Williams Hyde wrote.  (Double click on image to enlarge)


Karen Parker, wild horse advocate and photographer

Karen lives and works in Colorado, but is a regular visitor to the BHWHS, volunteering her time and talents in innumerable ways.  When I asked Karen about the first time she went to the sanctuary, she responded with a wonderfully informative account of how she came to be so devoted to the BHWHS and mustangs:

"In 2004, hearing of the many injustices wild horses faced in the hands of the BLM, I took an interest in the history of the wild horses of the American west. I literally stumbled on the BHWHS during a visit to the Black Hills region in 2005 from a billboard advertising a sanctuary of over 500 wild mustangs. I found them after hours on the last day of my trip but just couldn't forget the long winding drive into the setting sun of the most beautiful territory I had seen in the Black Hills...lined with striking silhouettes of horses all around me. The sign within the sanctuary for IRAM (Institute of Range and the American Mustang) was the only photo I took as I knew it was a place where I would return to learn about the history of the American mustang.

The impressive dun Sorraia type Sulphur Mustang stallion, Don Juan from the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary (photo by Karen Parker)

"So it was my return in the Spring of 2006 that I enjoyed my first official visit to the BHWHS. I saved my pennies and returned in 2007 for an all day adventure tour with Dayton O. Hyde, a man bursting with insights and historical perspective. I was hooked and my need to learn more was insatiable! Susan Watt was away visiting family in the south when I was there in 2007. But when I returned in 2008, I met Susan AND Don Juan!! That is when my interest and involvement exploded. As I wrote in my 2011 story about Don Juan, I was awestruck by his presence. I knew I was looking at something special but I had no idea why he was so different from all of the other American mustangs I had photographed at the sanctuary. I started asking dozens of questions of Susan and our shared love of the Iberian-influenced horses have grown exponentially since. It was also in 2008 that Susan introduced me to Caballos de Destino, just one of many important relationships she has helped me to foster since, including my admiration for Hardy Oelke's work and your very own Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

"The trek has really just begun. I still have so much more to learn. My new found interest in de-domestication efforts to allow the wild forms to evolve as nature intended trumps any interest I once had in finding the perfect trail riding companion. This journey with Equus has been an amazing and gratifying "ride!" It is my hope that my photographs and short stories of my experiences will help to provide an awareness that will influence others to recognize what we have before it is lost forever." --Karen Parker

Karen Parker, Tobacco, Lynne Gerard and Kevin Droski on the beach at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada

It was Karen who handled all the arrangements when she and Susan found they had a mutual desire to pay a visit to Ravenseyrie to see our purebred Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, in the flesh and get a personal perusal of his offspring. The nearly eight hour road trip up from the Toronto airport after their international flight put them in Gore Bay late on Wednesday evening of July 20, 2011. They checked into the Stone House for a good rest and came up the East Bluff to Ravenseyrie the following morning. These ladies visited with us Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning before making their journey back the great U.S. West.

Karen Parker seemed to me a bit like a movie star, yet very down-to-earth, sensitive, world-traveled and very comfortable in her sense-of-self with a great desire to put people at ease while down-playing her obvious multifaceted talent and expertise.

Susan Watt, Lynne Gerard, Kevin Droski with Ganja, Maeb and Shelagh on the beach at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

Susan Watt is an Alabaman belle whose life-altering move to South Dakota has generated a fusion of southern gentility and wild west audacity. Susan is a marvel of energetic conceptualization - her mind and heart seem often twenty-steps ahead of the mundane mechanics of putting great ideas into motion. This, coupled with her emotional connection to the plight of humans and horses in dire straits finds her over-extended physically and financially as she tirelessly lends a helping hand to those in need. Her heart continues to stretch, making room for just one more horse -again and again- and her reserves of energy have not yet been exhausted, but one hopes there are many more people like Karen Parker who step forward to help Susan and Dayton O. Hyde keep the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary afloat. One thing that they desperately need right now are donations to help them purchase enough fodder for those equine members of the sanctuary that will require nutritional support over this winter. Any donation, small or large can help make a difference.

I will share now the variety of photos Karen took during her time on Manitoulin Island. (Please have the courtesy to contact Karen through her website before copying and pasting any of her photos for use elsewhere - a professional photographer deserves credit even moreso than amateurs like me.) The entire body of Ravenseyrie photos by Karen Parker are viewable on a special webpage she has made. It is Karen's habit to donate the proceeds from any prints she sells of the photos back to the sanctuary or preserve where she took them, but I asked her if she would send any print sales from Ravenseyrie to Caballos de Destino, where our first two Sorraia Mustangs were born. The persistent drought in South Dakota and economic difficulties in the U.S. economy have made times especially difficult for Sharron Scheikofsky and Dave Reynolds, the couple responsible for so many beautiful Spanish Mustangs bred at Caballos de Destino which have come to be loved by people all over the world. It is an amazing gesture for Karen to donate proceeds from her photos to places that truly need support.

Ravenseyrie Sorraias (Photo by Karen Parker)

In addition to a few words Susan recently shared about her visit to Ravenseyrie, I am also including a few quotes from emails she sent prior to coming to Manitoulin Island to meet Altamiro and his family band. It was these thoughts and more that we discussed during Karen and Susan's visit, and they are as timely now as they were then.

"I came to South Dakota 15 years ago to learn about wild horses and make a difference but I realize that they have helped me far more than I could ever have helped the wild horses."--Susan Watt

Purebred Sorraia stallion, Altamrio (Photo by Karen Parker)

"As I read your blogs which are so enlightening, I feel that we are on a parallel journey. The blog on “Influencing Destiny” in May 2009 really touched my heart. As we go on life’s journey discovering our mission here in this life, our purpose and whatever lessons we need to learn, I feel that the pages of knowledge turn and maybe the next page will hold the answer." --Susan Watt

Altamiro and Belina (photo by Karen Parker)

Profile of Altamiro (photo by Karen Parker)

Belina and Bella (photo by Karen Parker)

"The real fascination for me would be to see if the Sorraia characteristics are expressed when the Sorraia type mustangs are left alone but still have human contact such as with Ravenseyrie."--Susan Watt

Ravenseyrie Sorraias (Photo by Karen Parker)

The orphaned filly Esperanda (left) with Altavida and Bella (Photo by Karen Parker)

"In a perfect world it seems to me that Ravenseyrie is the paradise needed to see if the end results are the same except with human contact. Some advocates over the years have emailed me stating that feeding and human presence changes behavior and the animals are no longer wild. I say after 15 years on the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary some behavior is altered but the horse is still wild. Their off spring is often more gentle as they have not been rounded up with helicopters."--Susan Watt

Lynne Gerard converses with the Sorraia stallion, Altamiro (photo by Karen Parker)

Lynne Gerard exchanges pleasantries with Belina (photo by Karen Parker)

"When I see your photos of interaction with your herd or rather their interaction with you, there is great love and respect shown. That is the goal. I feel that the horse is here today to teach us rather than man to teach them."-- Susan Watt

Susan Watt and Lynne Gerard mingle with the family band on the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve (Photo by Karen Parker)

Pinoteia and Destemido and the big sky over Ravenseyrie (photo by Karen Parker)

Sorraia filly, Tocara (Altamiro x Belina) who now lives in Austria (photo by Karen Parker)

The orphaned filly, Esperanda (Altamiro x Ciente) shares a conversation with Susan Watt and Lynne Gerard (Photo by Karen Parker)

Ravenseyrie Sorraias (photo by Karen Parker)

"I enjoyed my visit to your lovely farm with your delightful husband, and wonderful dogs. The Sorraia Mustangs will forever be my greatest joy in watching and learning from them.  Ravenseyrie is magical from the lovely land to the images I have of a wonderful lady dancing with her beautiful horses. It could have been an image from a 100 years ago in the forest of Portugal. I am so happy I got to experience your herd that goes back to primitive times. It was every horse lovers dream!"--Susan Watt

Karen also captured a few images from Gore Bay:

View of part of the marina at Gore Bay.  The red roof building  on the waterfront is home to Lynne Gerard's art studio and gallery (photo by Karen Parker)

Susan Watt in conversation with Lynne Gerard at the Ravenseyrie Studio and Gallery in Gore Bay, Ontario (photo by Karen Parker)

Kevin Droski of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve can sometimes be seen riding not a horse, but an e-bike around Gore Bay (photo by Karen Parker)

It hardly seems like an entire year has gone by since Karen and Susan were drinking good wine and eating homemade vegan fare in our little home exchanging animated discussions about wild horses and the amazing challenges that face their freedom all over the world. It would be a shame if free roaming horses only exist in the future on private preserves and sanctuaries - let us hope this never happens. But if it does, how fortunate for all of us that there are places like the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary which provides a virtually natural lifestyle in a wilderness setting for a wide variety of horses who would otherwise have no place else to go but the grave or the slaughter house - and is also dedicated to the preservation of important strains of Iberian mustangs. If you read the reviews from those who have traveled to South Dakota to see this amazing sanctuary and its inhabitants, you recognize how important it is for humans to see horses roaming freely in a wilderness habitat and also sometimes having magic moments of direct contact with them. Many of the BHWHS horses seem to enjoy interacting with humans who come to visit them in their own realm, just as the Ravenseyrie horses do. There is obviously something inside a great majority of humans that is moved deeply by close encounters with horses - encounters where there are no restraints, or confinement to force horses and humans to interact, rather the mutual attraction (likely an ancient connection based on admiration and respect) makes such encounters seem like the most natural occurrence and provide a lasting memory of how wonderful it is to live in a world where some natural places continue to exist despite the oppressive domination and desecration of the earth by modern man.

Zorita, Altamiro and Belina (photo by Karen Parker)

"In my quest to learn more about the wild indigenous horses of the Iberian peninsula that live on in certain strains of the American mustang, I was determined to satisfy my desire to see a purebred Sorraia stallion in the flesh.  Meeting Altamiro and his family was an amazingly rewarding experience I will never forget.  Altamiro is more regal and glorious than any photograph can convey.  It is no surprise that his charming disposition is producing such impressive offspring.  I can't thank you both enough for sharing some rare moments on your private preserve.  Your humble preservation efforts and natural approach are admirable to say the least."--Karen Parker

And thank you, Karen Parker, for your splendid photos and the way you and Susan Watt work tirelessly on behalf of horses in need. You ladies make the world a better place!