Monday, March 11, 2013

Claudia Radbauer - Safeguarding the Sorraia Mustang

Levada (Altamiro x Sovina's Zorita)

(all photos for this journal entry kindly provided by Claudia Radbauer)

While preservation efforts for purebred Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang horses have quite a number of admirers and "virtual supporters" the truth is that "real time" safeguarding of present-day equines who have retained phenotypic and genetic "tarpanoid" characteristics, remains limited to just a scant handful of breeders and conservationists in Portgual, Germany, Canada, France and the United States.

Levada nurses her 2012 filly, Alegria in the Viennese woods...reminiscent of the forest she knew well when she lived at Ravenseyrie

At this time the registered Sorraias in Europe continue to be plagued by infertility issues provoked by dangerously low numbers (less than 250) and severe inbreeding.  In North America, mustangs exhibiting tarpanic Sorraia type are spectacularly fecund, but apathy for mustang horses in general means their numbers are even lower than those which originated in Portgual.   It hasn't helped that there has been a debilitating economic depression on both continents, further limiting interest in preserving a horse that is better suited to grassland habitat management projects than domesticated life as a saddle horse (though many Sorraia type horses do lend themselves to riding and driving quite well).

Given the sense of isolation Kevin and I can sometimes experience with carrying on our conservation efforts for these horses here in Canada, we have been deeply appreciative and impressed with an Austrian woman, named Claudia Radbauer.  Claudia felt a longing to lend her spirit and resources to establishing a preserve for Sorraia and Sorraia  Mustang horses at a rehabilitated ranch on the outskirts of Vienna.

Claudia's ranch, "Aktivstall Mauerbach", is based on a system of horse management where the environment has been designed to stimulate healthy movement ("aktiv") throughout the day as the horses seek out food and water in a rather structured, limited landscape in the village of Mauerbach.

An adjacent tract of more naturalized land has now been made available for Claudia's growing group of grulla girls.  Little Spanish Annie is a captive bred Pryor Mountain mustang mare of Sorraia type that Claudia imported from Wyoming.  Tocara and Levada are two of Altamiro's exquisite fillies born here at Ravenseyrie who began new lives in Austria in August of 2012.  Alegria, Claudia's first Sorraia foal, was born to Levada (sired by Altamiro's son, Interessado) shortly after taking up residence at Aktivstall Mauerbach.  Another Sorraia type mare (a Portuguese crossbred from France) will soon join this group - her name is Baïka.  Claudia is actively checking into leasing or purchasing a purebred Sorraia stallion to breed her mares to and will likely make progress to that end in the near future, which will be of great benefit to both the Sorraia and the Sorraia Mustang populations.

Sorraia Mustangs dining at the feed station at Aktivstall Mauerbach

While a small village on the west side of Vienna may seem completely out of place for the preservation of "wild" horses, Austria happens to be located in the middle of vast range where, in centuries past, regional strains of the European wild horse (referred to as tarpan and tarpani) roamed from Iberia to central Russia.  One of the first descriptions on record for the Tarpan was chronicled by the German naturalist explorer Samuel Gottlieb Gmelin in 1774 and it was this description that Helmut Otto Antonius (Director of the Schölbrunn Zoological Gardens in Vienna) used to categorize the Tarpan as Equus ferus gmelini in 1912.  If modern Austrians are unfamiliar with images of rustic, mouse-grey, striped horses, their ancestors were not.  Unfortunately wild Tarpans became extinct in Europe during the early 1900's due to over-hunting, loss of habitat and hybridization with domestic horses.  

The first Sorraia Mustang born at Aktivstall Mauerbach is the lovely filly Alegria! (Interessado x Levada)

But conservation of the Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang is not an attempt to "breed-back" or recreate the extinct Tarpan, rather its intent is to consolidate what survived in the Iberian strain of this type of wild horse, believing that both the remnant populations in Europe and in North America require a genetic exchange to assure that the remaining characteristics of the Tarpan that persist in these horses do not wither away into oblivion.  One can never truly recreate the past, but one can provide a foothold for what remains of the past to assure that it flourishes as a contemporary expression of its extinct predecessors.  The Polish Konik horse is one example of a tarpanic strain that has successfully been reclaimed by consolidating and preserving what persisted within indigenous hybridized peasant horses from the  Białowieża Forest.  The Sorraia and Sorraia Mustangs suffered very little dilution of their "wild"  tarpanic genetics from hybridization with domestic Iberian horses - made quite obvious when viewing the homogenously authentic offspring that have been born here at Ravenseyrie.  What a gift of nature we have in these Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang horses and how important it is to provide them the same recognition and advantages that the Konik horses have!  

It is an extraordinary and laudable effort Claudia Radbauer has aligned herself with!  Given Claudia's sensitivity, sagacity and resourcefulness, she is sure to bring a higher-profile to the preservation of Sorraias and Sorraia Mustangs, perhaps even inspiring others to actively participate in the safeguarding of these horses before they, like their wild Tarpan ancestors, become just a memory.

To follow Claudia Radbauer's preservation efforts check out these links:



Article and Radio interview with Kate Farmer

There are many ways to go about preserving a nearly extinct type of "wild" horse and while Aktivstall Mauerbach is less of a wilderness than is Ravenseyrie, it nonetheless offers the Sorraias and Sorraia Mustangs another opportunity for not only surviving, but thriving well into the future.  Kevin and I are very happy that two of our Ravenseyrie fillies are part of this marvellous venture Claudia Radbauer is undertaking.

The former fillies of Ravenseyrie, Tocara and Levada, along with Alegria are wintering well at Aktivstall Mauerbach