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Sorraia StallionNews Update!! Altamiro's first foal! April 12th 2008

News Update!! Altamiro's first filly! May 24th 2008

Altamiro - Sorraia Stallion

It seems as if it was just yesterday that my sister and I started "Horse of the Week" back in 2005. We are not religious people, but we do believe in destiny when it involves horses.

One day a few weeks ago, I wondered if we'd ever run out of horses for our "Horse of the Week" site. After a count of all these past equines, I realized, to my surprise, that we were fast approaching our 100th horse! Janet and I agreed that this was indeed an important occasion and the horse we chose for that week would have to be very special.

As destiny would prevail, we found our horse on Manitoulin Island in the care of artist, calligrapher and writer Lynne Gerard and her husband Kevin Droski. (Read Leslie's blog for more...)

Article by Lynne Gerard... Read Lynne's Blog

The images of Altamiro and his small band of young mares as seen through Leslie Town's lens document the same archetypical form of early equine found in the cave paintings of the Upper Paleolithic artists in Spain and Portugal.

Differing from the stout-bodied, concave profile one also sees in cave paintings (representatives of the Mongolian wild pony and the Spanish Garrano), these horses are clean-throated, ram-headed "quality" horses with convex profiles.

Altamiro, our two year old Sorraia stallion, represents a modern descendent of these primitive wild horses, which with their dorsal stripes and leg barring were referred to as "zebros" in medieval texts. Born at a zoological park in Springe, Germany, Altamiro immigrated to North America in the summer of 2005, coming to live on Manitoulin Island and is the first Sorraia to call Canada his home.

Surviving the Ice Age within the geographically isolated region of the Iberian Peninsula, these prototypical horses nearly succumbed to modern pressures in the early 20th Century as their habitat was overrun by agricultural development.

Primitive HorseOne man, Dr. Ruy d'Andrade, a noted zoologist and expert horse breeder, foreseeing their imminent demise, gathered together a handful of these horses and gave them refuge on his land, naming them Sorraia horses (after the region where he first saw them) and kept a record of their offspring. D'Andrade's son and grandsons continued on with the preservation of the Sorraia and the export of breeding stock to Germany assisted in increasing the opportunity these horses have for survival.

After discovering the same phenotype of the Sorraia horse among some modern day Spanish Mustangs in North America, Hardy Oelke (renown German horseman and author of BORN SURVIVORS ON THE EVE OF EXTINCTION: Can Iberia's Wild Horse Survive Among America's Mustangs?, /Kierdorf pub.) began a campaign encouraging the consolidation of Sorraia type mustangs in an effort to create an alternate gene pool that might one day serve to infuse the highly inbred bloodlines of the Iberian Sorraia.

Sorraia HerdThere are roughly 200 Sorraia horses in existence worldwide. A handful of them are being used for breeding, with only one group being allowed to live and mate in a truly wild refuge, thus the purebred Sorraia is showing signs of lowered reproductive rates and a lessening of their archaic striping. These are non-issues with the North American mustangs, especially the strains of Kiger, Pryor Mountain and Sulphur Springs mustangs, which have vibrant fertility rates and often abundant primitive markings.

Altamiro Sorraia StallionIn pairing Altamiro with mustangs of Sorraia type, we expect his offspring will vigorously display attributes that are presently withering away due to modern breeding practices. The Sorraia Mustang Preserve here at Ravenseyrie provides these horses with a natural habitat well suited to supporting the primitive characteristics that have endured for so many ages. The herd has a territory comprising 360 acres of varied, rugged terrain up on the East Bluff of Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island. Altamiro and his mares live together as a family unit, foraging on a variety of vegetation, slacking thirsts in seasonal creeks or directly from Lake Huron's North Channel and taking shelter in the dense boreal forests - in essence living the life of wild horses. Semi-wild is more accurate, however, as each horse gets a bit of daily human attention, along with occasional grooming and light training with twice daily rations of hay once winter descends upon the island.

This manner of horse-keeping is far removed from my days back in Michigan when I boarded my horse at a show stable and competed in dressage! I still have dreams of putting together exhibition rides here at Ravenseyrie for select audiences, set to music and demonstrating the artistic equitation of Haute École, only this time on the back of a primitive Sorraia horse with no tack save a leather neck loop at the base of the neck - a far fetched, but obtainable goal inspired by these words of d'Andrade describing the Sorraia in full summer bloom:

"With bones once more covered by flesh they change completely in appearance, especially the stallions, which in full flesh show a curved neck and so much changed, they look close-coupled and full of life, moving with a lot of elegance and gracefulness and become beautiful Andalusian horses that can rival Arabians as they become fine and swift, full of movement and fire. At such moments they reveal the Iberian form of a high class animal on a smaller scale." (pg. 45 A HISTORY OF THE HORSE/VOL. 1 by Paulo Gaviao Gonzaga, J.A. Allen, pub.)

Lynne GerardI'm pleased that this is the image Leslie captured so well in her photographs taken here at Ravenseyrie. I am also thankful to Leslie's sister, Janet Grant for noticing the informational poster on our horses while visiting Manitoulin Island this summer and bringing them to Leslie's attention. Janet noticed the distinct look of our horses and straight-away remembered two Paso Fino mares she knew who share many Sorraia characteristics. The primitive genetics of the influential wild horse of the Iberian Peninsula live on in many modern breeds, atavistically cropping out from time to time, and with the Paso's connection to early Spanish horses we can be sure a distant ancestor of the Sorraia has left its mark.

For more information on the Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang and a detailed description of their phenotype please visit

Lynne has written 3 articles on her horses for the Manitoulin Expositor:
September 6, 2006
January 10, 2007
May 23, 2007

Congratulations to Altamiro for being our very special, 100th Edition Horse of the Week, October 15th, 2007!

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