April 30, 2022. It was upon them. MIM 2022, the Tiburcio Vasquez Challenge Chilao Live Halter Show. As members of the hosting entity, Redbird Ranch, Grace and Skye could not show any of their horses. They got to enjoy the show, the horses, and as the day wore on, the riding.
Guest's horses were turned out in the arena to the pleasure of the crowd. Grace took Jesse for a spin. He was focused and on task. She was keenly aware that the last time they'd had an event at the ranch was the time that she'd busted a cinch and taken a fall off of Jesse. She made certain the tack she put on him was sturdy and unlikely to fail.
Tara Reich was the artist behind the most exotic horse and hair cut Grace or Skye had ever seen. The horse appeared to be an Akhal Teke cross, lacking the iridescent glow but clipped to look like a Pegasus, wings folded down against his side. He was stunning. All of Tara's horses were crowd pleasers, beautiful, spirited and interacting with a great deal of personality.
Horses at liberty occupied the arena in the morning. Later in the day, performance horses dominated.
Grace and Skye got to spend a little time with Dahlia. She was quick witted. You had to pay attention when she spoke, because her words were few and well chosen.
Grace got to ride a reining horse, one of Tara's. Dahlia suggested she hold the reins like a butterfly and use only her body weight to offer cues.
Skye fell in love with an aged Lipizzan mare (owned by Janice Kall).
Dahlia saddled up the fiery winged steed on May 1, Sunday morning. The show was over and there was time to for riding.
Skye brought Dani Girl down just so she could ride too. One of the judges was still there on Sunday. He yelled something to Skye about minors and head gear. Skye was used to his yelling. Dani Girl not so much.
Skye didn't actually own a helmet, but Tara loaned her a hat. It got mixed reviews. The guy they called Screaming Man seemed pretty pleased with it, even if the judge wasn't.
Grace got to ride another pretty incredible horse, owned by Julia Turner. He was fast, unusually marked, incredibly responsive and versatile. Poles, barrels, reining...this was a fine tuned horse.
Around noon, as the day warmed, it was just too nice to ride in the indoor arena any more. Dahlia, Grace and Skye rode to the outdoor arena. There, Dani Girl got her first glimpse at young cattle, and she seemed quite at ease with them.
Grace got to do some more riding on Tara Reich's reiner.
Dahlia looked relaxed no matter what was happening beneath the saddle.
Grace turned down no opportunities to ride. Tara and Julia had some very fine horses. Finally, the day's heat chased the girls back to the arena, where it was time to say goodbye to their guests. The girls returned home tired, but smiling and full of good memories.
It had been a long but really fun weekend.
"Did you sell anything Skye?"
"Oh! No, I didn't. I had kind of forgotten all about it. I was having so much fun."
May 9. Grace and Skye rode out as the sun was cresting the ridge. They hadn't seen any wild horses in some time, and Grace had a hunch she knew why.
They rode across the strange Chilao monolithes, with its highways of flat stone. The stone's face was full of life, with colorful lichens and lizards emerging from crevices. They rode slow and easy over the rocks.
Deer Medicine was calm and sure footed. Dreamboat picked his foot falls carefully. His steps were deliberate and measured.
The sun was just about to crest the ridge. Soon the night's cool air would be chased away. They came to the place Skye called Mustang Rock just as the sun arrived.
And as Grace suspected, there was no water. Not even a trace in the pools at the summit. There was life though, to be sure. And the sun felt wonderful after a rather cool pre-dawn ride.
Dreamboat stepped carefully around the edge of one of the dry pools. Skye rode into one of them. No local water, no local wild horses. Mystery solved, they headed back to the ranch.
They changed horses and went back out to the big outdoor arena. From the north the girls watched the sky, with its weird tendrils of white drawing upward. Mare's tails, Michelle Seipol called them. Grace has less kind terms to describe the things she did not believe were natural clouds. Boney fingers*, she'd heard the boss call them once, and she liked the description.
From the south, beautiful, natural clouds began to spill across the sky.
Grace and Cookie brought the rather diminutive range calves in for inspection. They'd been brought up for MIM, but before they were turned out again, Grace couldn't resist working them a little.
"I remember one of the first times I saw you ride" Skye recalled. "You got on Cookie with a neck rein. And nothing else. You made it look like you were born on a horse."
"I was showing off" Grace laughed. "I wanted the job. And Cookie is that good."
"You work with them a little" Grace suggested to Skye.
Mista Spot did whatever Skye asked. And he seemed to understand the idea of holding the cattle in an area. But he wasn't as young or as athletic as Cookie.
Grace decided to put Skye on Cookie. Skye did not hesitate.
"Which one should I choose?"
Cookie was quick! With very little direction, Cookie singled out the blondie.
Skye had a natural seat. Even though her feet did not reach the stirrups, she quickly figured out how to sit Cookie. When they took a break, Grace left Skye watching the horses for a few moments. She had a surprise, she said.
Skye took in the sights as she waited for Grace. The northern sky turned white. The southern sky still lovely. The lizards and insects. The flowers emerging from the parched soil.
Grace had a surprise all right. She came back with Mojo, and the Argentine Criollo bull. Cat and bull followed her. She lead the bull into the arena without a lead rope...using only a tuxedo cat.
And then she stood there in front of him. And nothing happened. Even Cookie and Spot looked a little concerned.
"I talked to his previous owners" Grace called over her shoulder as she walked away from the cat and the bull, and Mojo followed, and the bull started to follow too.
"His name is Toro Toro Taxi."
Skye clung to the fence, regardless.
"And he's been handled since he was just a little baby. We've been scared of him for no good reason."
Skye came down off the fence. All that snorting and pawing and those deadly horns...were, according to Grace, nothing to fear. And she was willing to prove it by turning her back to him.
In the sky, the things Grace called boney fingers descended toward the clouds. And the girls watched the sky, and marveled too at spring emerging in the ground.
They heard the cry of a red-tailed hawk and saw it streak across the sky, landing about half a mile away, and then as quickly as it landed, lunging down toward the ground.
It was so far away, they could barely see it, but still, it was exciting. Skye had stopped feeding the birds because every time she did, coyotes came out to see what the fuss was about. The birds reluctantly got the memo, but every now and then, thy still followed her around, vocalizing.
For a time in the afternoon the clouds piled across the sky. Real clouds. Moisture bearing clouds. The girls watched the ever-changing sky. They felt the breeze and drank in the moment. They hoped. The wished. They prayed for rain.
April 1, 2022. The girls saw a lone coyote on their way home. It moved through the brush at dusk, melting into the surroundings, blending into brush and rocky ground, but never giving much quarter. It moved off slowly, like it meant to anyway, like the girls and their barking dogs did not matter. Skye had to watch which way the dogs were looking to see it some of the time...when it held still, it became part of the landscape. She pointed the camera and just kept shooting.
"We caught him shape shifting" Skye said, reviewing her images. "His fur looks purple and green." Grace looked carefully at the image. He really did look purple and green. Was it a he though? Grace thought she recalled the local male coyote being a bit more robust.
At the house, The dogs were restless, on high alert. Skye searched for movement on the landscape. But soon the cause for their concern become audible. Coyote was not entirely alone. The call of two coyotes could be heard just at sunset. And then the calling stopped abruptly, leaving just the songs of bird against the silence.
April 4. It was time to chose the horses for Breyerfest.*
They would not be going to Kentucky Horse Park, but they would be participating in the online show, which was likely going to be bigger, and the competition just as tough.
The mares and geldings they'd turned out were all strong candidates. It was a beautiful day, and you could not help but to feel alive in the presence of the horses.
It was cool inside the indoor arena, not nearly as nice as being out in the sunshine, but Grace had a surprise for Skye. The sponsor banners were all up. Including Skye's logo for Models In The Mountains, affectionately known as MIM.**
"Wow, you liked it enough to put it on the wall!"
Grace had taken a version of Skye's Models in the Mountains logo and made it into a poster for the arena. In fact, it appeared several times on the arena wall.
April 8. Suddenly it was spring. Popcorn flower covered vast tracts of the landscape. It was wonderful to walk among native plants in the wake of the controlled burn. Acres of them. Flowering glorious despite a very dry winter and not much hope for a wet spring.
Before Skye could spend much time in the flowers, Grace was on the hunt for wild horses again. The girls went on foot, and soon, they pressed themselves down to the earth, exposed on the fire-opened pasture land, hoping not to startle the horses.
They could hear them coming. They didn't have to wait long. It was Storm and Rain Man.*** The bachelor stallions looked for all the world like they were at war. But they were always together. Together and alone, without mares. And without mares, there was no reason for war. Just endless bickering and posturing and the occasional bite. Storm seemed to be emerging as the more aggressive of the two.
The swirling and squealing lasted but a few moments before both horses dropped to the ground and enjoyed some fresh grazing. And in a few more moments, they were off, as abruptly as they had arrived.
Skye and Grace saw something moving in front of them as they headed for home. Coyote.
Coyote trotted away, and then, presumably curious, took a seat on a rock outcropping, and watched, calmly, as the girls made their way home. Skye had more time to take pictures. She was pretty sure this was in fact the male that the boss named Lives Among Them. He would be three or four years old, and if the average life span of a coyote in the wild really was four years, that would make him an elder.
There was a sense of peace about the evening. For a moment, all was right in the world.
April 10. A marine layer tumbled quietly up the mountain, bringing moist, cool air. Grace and Skye were still working on the outdoor arena when the cool clouds ushered in the night.
It had taken most of the day, but the outdoor arena was ready, except for fencing. Keeping a nice soft layer of sand was a constant struggle in such a windy place.
"I think it looks fantastic" Skye said. "Do you think we'll be able to get some horses photographed tomorrow morning?"
Grace thought for a while before answering.
The marine layer was welcome, though it had an odd smell...oceanic, yes, but also sort of musty. It was a scent Grace couldn't quite describe. Together they watched the sun set, overlooking the Station Fire burn footprint in Chilao, below Mooney Road.
"I don't have to ask" Skye said. "I can clearly see the things that are not clouds. But the marine layer coming in underneath it is real."
Even before dark the owls were calling. Skye tried to get pictures, but as soon as she did, they flew away.
April 11. The morning weather was nothing short of perfect.
The girls worked quickly, while the sky was clear and the wind was calm. Glamour shots, Grace liked to call them. They turned one horse after another out in the big outdoor arena, and did their best to get award-winning photos of them. It was approaching 9 AM by the time all of the horses had been turned out individually.
"Can we do Spot?" Skye asked.
"Of course we can."
Skye borught her beloved old appaloosa gelding out into the pen. He stood, attentive, ready to do whatever Skye asked of him. "There's your champion" Skye beamed.
Horses returned to their stalls, Grace and Skye were admiring a fast growing yucca flower.
It seemed like spring was reaching a fever pitch in the last week, and this yucca, located in the controlled burn area, was especially eager to flower.
Three short, loud blasts of sound came from a raven, flying fast from east to west. Raven calls are never random. The girls watched the bird, and then turned their attention to their surroundings on the ground. When their eyes rested upon the earth Grace and Skye saw the coyote.
"I think that's the female" Grace said.
She sauntered up the road, looking tired, and rather round. The girls tried to see if they could detect whether or not she'd had her pups already. They couldn't see any evidence that she was lactating, and her belly looked round but not distended with pregnancy. If she was going to pup, and hadn't already, it should happen any day now.
And a few moments later, flanking the ranch along its eastern boundary, the male, Lives Among Them.
The coyotes weren't the only ones stirring. The hills were alive with the sound of music...bird music. And Skye's generous feeding had drawn the entire local population of band tailed pigeons, ravens, a red-headed bird that was not a sparrow but she wasn't sure what it was; the occasional robin, black birds, and a most unusual visitor, a Stellar Jay. Stellar Jays were a common sight down the road a piece, in the thick of the tree line, but not here on the high desert transition of Redbird Ranch. And rodents. Bird food was not the exclusive joy of the birds. Ground squirrels and chipmunks relished in the feast. They in turn would make good food for hawks, bobcats, and the rather close neighbors, the coyotes.
"I suspect the coyotes are denning in or near the old forest service buildings" Grace said. "Once the pups are on the ground they'll be more protective of their territory. We should probably avoid the area in general with the dogs."
Two coyotes didn't seem like much, Skye thought, but soon enough there'd be more than two.
Outside, as predicted, the weather changed. The marine layer returned, cool and thick, cloud shadows laying on the landscape, and then the cool hush of moist air blanketing the ground.
April 16. It was another lovely, windstill morning. Perfect for photographing horses. Relempago en la Pampa was the name of this one of the buckskin pinto Mangalarga Marchador.
"This is the first horse I rode when I got here" Grace told Skye. "He was very good to me. I had to ride him bareback, and I had no idea how to sit his gaits, but I got to stay on with the ranch, so I guess we did okay."
Then the latest draft mare, a Brabant Grace thought. She was so lovely, and so good natured.
Black Velvet, A Tennessee Walking Horse, still moving strong. One of the oldest horses Grace knew of.
And then Ansata D'hib. Probably the tallest Arab Grace had ever encountered...but then, she wasn't really well versed in Arabians. D'hib had been through a bit of an ordeal, getting lost on his way to the ranch and then, when he finally arrived, bearing the scars of whatever misfortune befell him in transit. She wasn't sure why she liked him so much...but she did.
Next, Precious, Skye's beloved 1996 Thomas Bainbridge mare, gifted to Redbird Ranch by Laurel Dedes.
There had been no coyote sitings all morning, and the girls were thus emboldened to go for a walk-about, beyond the arena, into the boulder-strewn landscape that surrounded them, now open and accessible since the controlled burn.
Skye thought one of the rocks looked something like a male grouse, or a prairie chicken. And the girls had company. Nine dogs and Mojo.
The air was cool but the sun was warm, and real clouds danced across the sky.
From their vantage point atop the rocks, perhaps they could see horses. The dogs all knew what stay meant. Mojo might have known what stay meant, but clearly, commands are for dogs.
Alas, there were no wild horses to see.
They headed home across a vast and mostly flat rock escarpment, with a couple of crevices. Too wide for the pups to navigate, and risky for the elders. So they were lifted across.
New growth sprouted and gleamed green in the controlled burn area.
The ground was alive with lizards, and the dogs were very happy to chase them about. Miner's lettuce grew among the grass. Birds were everywhere.
April 23. Evening shadows grew long. Grace and Skye had worked on preparations for Models in the Mountains all day. Grace didn't have the energy to saddle a horse. They took Shades of Autumn for a short walk, to overlook the campgrounds and watch the sun set.
"Did you hear that?" Skye said.
Grace strained to hear whatever sound had caught Skye's attention, assuming it must be an animal noise. She scanned the bluff, looked under the trees, watched for movement. Nothing.
"What do you hear?" Grace finally asked.
"I don't know all the words" Skye said.
"Can you sing the melody?"
"I...I don't know."
Skye did her best.
"She was like oh my God, this is my song, I been waitin' to hear it all day long..."
Grace could faintly hear it.
"I didn't know you liked Country" Grace whispered.
"Neither did I!"
April 25. The indoor arena was done. For now at least. The girls celebrated with a turn-out of mares, geldings and a foal.
Chili Pepto, a roan quarter horse gelding with live show wins. Summer Lover, a palomino Morab with Arabian on both sides. The new Fjord show pony. Boots, a roan quarter horse mare with beautiful moves and a great personality. JM's Fabulous Flash, a seal bay morgan gelding, took a liking to the new pony girl. Pretender and Impressive Goal, the sport horse mare and foal. The Grail, a palomino sabino anglo-barb mare distantly related to Skye's Deer Medicine. What a beautiful bunch of horses.
It was the last chance the girls would have to use the indoor arena as a turn-out ring. In just a few days, Models in the Mountains 2022, the Tiburcio Vasquez Challenge Chilao would be upon them; a live halter show hosted by Redbird Ranch.
* Unfortunately, the Breyerfest online shows would not include a regular open division in 2022. But there was always The Collective, a horse show series on PonyBytes.com spearheaded by Redbird Ranch. They could show in any division that they were not also judging.
** MIM - Models In The Mountains is a North American Nationals, Gold Coast and Western Conference live halter qualifier show held at Chilao School. The next show will take place April 28-30, 2023.
*** Storm and Rain Man are Nemesis and Wahoo, traditional scale resins sculpted by Kitty Cantrell and painted by Corina Roberts
The sky darkened rather suddenly and a flurry of snowflakes began to fall.
Skye scrambled around for her shoes and coat. Where was her coat? She saw Grace's coat laying at the end of her bed, and put it on...and then as she made her way outside, the sun broke through.
Hobo and Skye and White Dog went on a walkabout. It was quiet, cold, the world their own. The clouds gathered again, and a light snow resumed. So peaceful, and beautiful. They wandered along the edge of the tree line. Then up into the rocks. The light changed constantly and flurries of snow came and went, melting as soon as they touched the ground, or a dog, or a girl.
Or a horse. As they stood at the base of the steep rock ravine, It took Skye a moment to notice that White Dog was focused on something behind her.
She spun around to see Petrichor. For a moment he seemed tense, and also spun around. Skye stood up tall as she could. Her silhouette was something like that of a very furry animal...perhaps a bear...dark head and round, silver-black body.
For a tense moment, Petrichor used all of his senses to determine the true nature of this approaching creature. And then he let out a long snort...not an aggressive sound, but almost like releasing...as if a perceived threat had passed and danger was over. No wonder Grace was so in love with him. Something about him was just...magnificent.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the first new horses had arrived, and whether Grace was keen on indoor arenas or not, it was proving mighty handy to have one today.
Just another stallion, Grace told herself. But he was pretty spectacular, really. A deep red bay Akhal Teke. Possessed of a ground-eating way of going, a fine head, a kind temperament, and a lot of training. All of it in english disciplines, but still. Okay. Maybe she was a little excited about the new horse. Maybe.
Grace marveled at the clouds...real clouds, every one of them...as she lead the new stallion back to the ranch. By the time she had him settled in, another flurry of snow began. The wild birds seemed to enjoy it.
March 6. The morning began clear and relatively warm, and noisy. A pair of coyotes defiantly announced their presence at dawn. They positioned themselves by the garage of the fire station, where the sound of their calls was not only amplified, but reverberated off the bluff to the south. The result was magnificently loud.
The day seemed like it would be one of endless sunshine, but by the time the second new horse arrived, it was cold and cloudy. Grace brought him to the indoor arena. A big, easy going chestnut Morgan with a strong, almost floating trot.
Skye took a liking to him right away. She ran next to him as he worked his way up and down the arena.
"He reminds me of Moose!"
The clouds lingered for most of the afternoon. After spending some time at the arena, Skye tried to figure out how she would display some of her art in The Barn Art Show. It would be a part of this years' Models in the Mountains show. High on the walls of the arena were hooks for hanging flat pieces...but some of her work was big, and not flat.
Not so long ago the studio seemed empty, but now, in addition to Skye's art, other horses moved back and forth from the studio to their room. Grace especially loved the deer that Skye transformed. She could sell those for sure, Grace thought. Maybe not at MIM, but somewhere, if she tried.
"I want to sell Padronis, too" Skye said.
"Are you sure? She's pretty nice Skye." I think we can list both of our NaMo horses in a certain place in the NaMoPaiMo group. But we have to put a price on them. And I want to do a little touch up on the face on Puddle Jumper."
Skye was silent for a moment. "I have no idea what the price should be."
The girls went back to their room. Somehow, all at once it seemed like a little bit of a crowded house. Grace looked around.
"We could take down the posters and put up shelves" Grace mused.
"Oh, no, I don't think we should do that" Skye said.
The cloud cover parted in the late afternoon, but enough clouds lingered to make a trip out to see the sunset seem like a good idea. It was a bit cold to be out without jackets on. The sun broke below the cloud line just as they turned for home. They watched for a moment longer before retreating to the shelter of their somewhat crowded room.
Grace found some reasonably priced frames for Skye's two watercolors. Of everything she'd done so far, Skye was still insecure about her watercolors on paper. The frames helped them look more pleasing somehow.
March 13. The forecast called for the wind to resume, but dawn came still and warm. So Grace and Skye rode out in style, on the long legged sport horses, Gunner the pearl Akhal Teke, and Dani Girl, the young appaloosa-colored warmblood mare. And wherever Skye went, the birds followed, hopeful.
The recent burn had left the landscape open. They could see all around. New grass was growing. The soil still retained a touch of moisture. It was a glorious day.
Grace's goal was a head count. They would look for all the wild horses they knew of. Where there was water, there was wildlife, but the seasonal streams were already dry, so they had to do a bit of searching. Highlander and the dun mare were the first wild horses they found.
Highlander had probably seen the girls approaching long before they had seen him. He began to retreat. Then he spun around. He was a lot of horse. There was no need to get closer. Just something nearly irresistible about being close to wild horses. Grace drew Gunner in. They were close enough to see that both horses were fine and there were still just two of them. Highlander and his mare moved off.
Crazy and his band had moved north. The smallest of the stallions, he was a fireball. He scrambled down the granite boulders to join his mares below. You always knew where you stood with Crazy. He did not like company.
The nanny mare, Lady Godiva Skye called her, was keen on keeping the single foal of the herd safe.
The girls watched from a respectful distance. These were some beautiful horses, and they were always active. Finally, Crazy had had enough, and charged toward Grace and Skye. The girls backed off, leaving the colorful herd to their wild ways.
Further north still, Skye spotted the pale mare of Petrichor's band. It was nearly noon, and the still air grew warm. The pale mare and her jet black foal were in the stream bed, but it was dry, grass replacing water.
The horses were spread out. They saw the bay mare and her spotted foal on the knoll above the stream bed. Further away still, Grace spotted Petrichor. The mares and their foals turned away, back towards Petrichor. There would be no friendly greeting today. He seemed nervous, distant...wild.
Except for the two big stallions that had no mares, Rain Man and Storm, they had found them all. It had taken three hours and a good piece of riding, but their horses were still fresh as they turned for home. And as they did, they heard the wind in the pines, a whisper to a roar in just minutes.
Another new arrival greeted the girls when they returned to the ranch. A spotted drafter was Grace's guess. He was lovely with a kind eye and a gentle demeanor.
"We have a matched team, actually" Grace said. ""But I guess they'll be arriving separately."
"He's gorgeous" Skye replied. "What is he? Are we keeping him?"
"I'm going to take a guess at North American Spotted Draft, and I'm not sure if they will be staying or not."
"How many draft stallions does Redbird Ranch have?"
Grace thought for a moment. "About 23. Or maybe 25. Enough, for sure. You know, let's get some of them out."
One by one they took the draft horses down to the arena. Not all twenty-however-many there were, but a few.
Gypsy Gold. "Are we keeping this one?" Skye asked. "He's fun!"
Grace shrugged, uncertain.
Jake. "This one I hope we can sell" Grace said. We aren't doing much with him."
"Now this is a great horse" Grace explained. Paddy Wagon, an Irish Drought. This one is a keeper."
"Silver Moon, a shire, also a keeper."
Brownie, an old style Belgian.
"Keeper" the girls agreed.
"And this is the sweetest horse you will ever meet in your life. This is Shy Thunder. Also a keeper."
Then the horses got put away and the dogs got to come down to the arena...ten dogs and one cat, to be exact. There were decisions to be made...lots of them. It was time to address the bare white sponsorship wall of the arena, thus far adorned only with a Highway 2 decal.
"Do you think this NaMoPaiMo decal could be bigger?"
"Not too much bigger" Grace answered, "or it won't fit."
Grace was rather fond of the Protectibles decals herself.
But before all those decisions were made, Grace wanted to make sure the arena would function as intended for The Barn Art Show. So they took one of Skye's two framed watercolors...one of the heaviest pieces they hoped to include in the show...and tried it out.
Once on the wall, Skye kind of liked it...
They made it back home before the sun went down, with ten dogs and...Mojo. Grace and Skye watched apprehensively as Mojo and Ginger Cat shared the table top with fine art. There was a collective sigh of relief when the cats got off the table. Another lovely evening unfolding. Spring in the air.
March 20. Skye and the dogs made their way across the rocky ravine they had seen Petrichor move through effortlessly so many times. It was steeper and more rugged than Skye remembered. The trek was proving tough for Little Spot.
Skye hadn't really intended to wind up here. The wind had blown all day long and she decided to go for a walk, and then perhaps to see if she could find Petrichor and his band, as he had seemed so nervous last time they saw him. They started out in the grassy meadows, but found no horses there. So into the ravine they went. But everyone seemed uneasy there. The dogs were on high alert...and poor Little Spot. Skye decided to head for home.
Finally, they were out of the rocks and back on relatively flat ground. But the dogs kept looking back behind them, even the pups.
For a girl who didn't like indoor arenas, Grace was spending a lot of cold and windy days inside of one. The walk from the stables to the indoor arena was fairly long, and the wind didn't make it any easier. Grace took the golden stallion, La Barilla, in the last hour of sunlight. He sure could move.
Grace used very few aids. No stud chain. No lunging whip. He knew how to lunge. But he needed more. It was time to focus on him.
She imagined what he would be like to ride. As lovely as the finest Spanish horse she'd ever seen. And gleaming gold.
It had been a good session. Time to head back, before dark.
The sky was clean and clear, the night cool, the wind laying down as the sun was setting.
March 26. Grace snuck out for an early morning ride on Jesse. It would be a busy day, and this would likely be her only chance to get some time in the saddle. The rest of the day would be spent somewhere pretty special.
Both Grace and Skye were a little young to recall The Singing Cowboy, but he'd left behind a wonderful legacy...The Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum. There was a particular show the boss had recommended. It was the 25th Masters of the American West show.
The first piece their eyes fell upon was a masterpiece of workmanship - The Maverick by Kyle Polzin.
"I guess there's a couple artists in the show that the boss knows" Grace commented as they looked at a painting called Garden Light, "and this is one of them...Jeremy Lipking."
The show was wonderful. The girls could have spent all day there. Skye photographed her favorite pieces. Somehow they managed to leave the museum with a magazine, but not the show program. Skye had been moved nonetheless. They had witnessed many styles of fine art, and oen is always left richer for that experience.
Back at home, Skye was excited to show off her own work, the logo design for Models in the Mountains. Grace was visibly stunned - or perhaps startled - by it.
"Is it too vague?" Skye asked.
"It's totally not what I expected" Grace replied. "It's not vague. It's...it's very insider. I was expecting horses."
"I can do something with horses..."
"No, this is awesome. I think you should add a little length to the bottom of the first tree so it sits flat. Then let's get's a good picture of it."
Slowly, a storm system began rolling up the mountain on Sunday afternoon. At last. A bit of rain to go with the incessant wind. Skye spent the soggy morning inside, playing around with her design. Adding a little grass, which in the end she wasn't sure she liked. And adding her new signature...SL, for Skye Little.
February 14, 2022
Valentine's Day it might have been, but for the girls, it was the half-way mark in the month of NaMoPaiMo. Skye's horse was proving to be quite challenging, but she was not unhappy. It was coming along.
Grace didn't really want to talk about her horse. And instead of working on her NaMo horse, Grace took Skye down to the new indoor arena at Chilao School. Along with some horses that needed a turn out.
"It's a work in progress" Grace explained, "and constructed almost entirely from recycled materials. Which is awesome, but sometimes difficult. We've had to cobble things together here and there. It's getting closer."
Grace didn't much care for indoor riding. But it did make a great turn out arena and it would be nice in bad weather. They spent the morning bringing down a couple of horses that hadn't been out in a while.
Grace was also not a huge fan of Araloosas, except for the weanling filly they'd brought down for some exercise...Cali Girl.
On February 18, Grace made her declaration. She did it. Her NaMoPaiMo horse, Puddle Jumper, was done. Bi-colored eyes and chestnuts and everything. In fact it was not until she got to the end of it that Grace started getting some feel for the acrylics. Mostly she promised herself that she would never attempt another pinto in acrylics again.
It was dinner time. And Grace was spent. She had worked since sunrise on the new arena. It was near completion now.
"How did we get ten dogs anyway?" Grace asked, sighing.
"Twelve if you count the shepherd pups that the boss took. Don't worry" Skye said, "I'll feed them."
Skye paused on her way to get the food started to gaze at the latest inspiration piece that the boss had loaned the girls, a model named Chalice. What a beauty.
"Oh! I almost forgot!" Skye was suddenly enthusiastic. "I want to make a logo for Models in the Mountains. I have an idea!"
"Oh," Grace replied without moving, "Well I did forget. I brought you something that might help with that. It's under the pillow of the bottom bunk." Skye made short work of finding the forgotten surprise. A set of pigment liners. Grace suspected Nel Graham was using something similar for the details in her wonderful watercolors.
"Oh wow! This looks cool! I have never used a pigment liner" Skye said, "but I'll sure try!"
Skye glanced up to see the sunset as she wrangled the feeding of the dogs. If Grace had thought the clouds were real, she would have been outside, no matter how cold it was, no matter how tired she was. The sunset went on and on, from pink to a sudden flash of orange to grey and purples and turquoise blue. "Someone got carried away with the fairy dust" Grace would likely say. And Skye sort of wished there was no such thing as clouds that weren't really clouds, because she just wanted to love the colors and the beautiful red-purple alpine glow. She just wanted everything to be as wonderful as it looked.
The sun warmed the landscape. Water dwindled in the creek and its tributaries, but there were still pools here and there. Ice lined the surface of the water. The sun's warmth would melt it soon, and thaw the ground as well, but for the moment, the ice was an obstacle. The moon was just setting. The girls picked their way carefully across the soot, sog and ice.
They climbed a rock outcropping, seeking its relative visual shelter. Skye noticed something growing between the rocks. They were almost stepping on it.
"Chalk Live Forever" Grace said softly. "That's its common name. It's a member of the Dudlia family, I think. It'll flower in late spring."
What a boulder-strewn wilderness. The wet ground made tracking the horses easy. This was Petrichor's territory right now, and what a fantastic bit of wild land it was. They found the herd in a draw full of new grass. And they found that Petrichor's herd included a new foal.
With the landscape opened by fire, there was abundant food, and no real way to sneak up on the herd. The new foal, born to the bay mare, appeared to be a peacock appaloosa. The mares milled about with their foals, but there was no panic, no move to higher ground.
The last time Grace had seen Petrichor, it was terribly windy, and they were in a steep, rocky ravine. Today was very different. Today was calm, and they were in an open landscape. Food was plentiful. A healthy foal had been born. There was water. The air was warming.
Grace left their place among the rocks, and walked out into the open grassland. Up the draw. Toward Petrichor. The stallion moved down the draw to meet her. They stood close to each other, exchanging breath. Then Grace reached her hand out to touch the side of his face, caress the the space behind his chin, feel the velvety softness of his muzzle.
Grace had known a lot of horses. She definitely had her favorites. But she'd never known a horse quite like this one before.
The mares grew restless. Grace took a step back. Petrichor turned away, and rejoined his herd.
Moving carefully over the rough terrain, now thawed and muddy, the girls slowly made their way home. There weren't many words they could think of describe that experience, and so they walked mostly in silence. The day was particularly magnificent.
Clouds drifted across a blue sky and new grass pushed up from the burn. Skye had brought her horses out just past the ranch for a day of fresh grass and sunshine. In a small meadow cut by a tributary to Chilao Creek, she watched the clouds go by and delighted in the peaceful grazing and occasionally playful antics of the horses. She day-dreamed of what life might have been like not so long ago, in a buckskin dress instead of blue jeans, a time before cars and airplanes and computers and cell phones and square houses. although in truth she was fond of square houses. And warm beds and soft clothes and fireplaces and refrigerators. But still. What it must have been like. What unbroken paradise.
Most of the horses had eaten their fill and were content to bask in the sunshine. The air was beginning to cool, as it did in the early afternoon in winter, even on a sunny day. Probably a good time to start heading back. Only one horse was still actively grazing, the big bay roan, but as far as Skye could tell, that horse could eat all day long.
And then Ladyhawk threw up her head and snorted. White Dog scrambled up a rock outcropping to get a better view.
It was Highlander and his single mare. Ladyhawk, Deer Medicine and her colt trotted toward the approaching wild band of two. Donkey and Dinky were content to watch. The roan mare turned to get a better view, but didn't let the newcomers disturb her meal.
Skye whistled...like it would help somehow...which it didn't. Ladyhawk was a BLM mustang. Skye would have some explaining to do if she lost Ladyhawk to a wild stallion. Deer Medicine was an anglo-barb...Spanish Barb and Thoroughbred to be exact, and never spent a day in the wild. She was probably Skye's favorite mare in the whole world and had a foal by Cloud Nine at her side. Those were not horses she could lose. What to do?
The wild dun mare rushed past Highlander. In a moment she was across the creek from Ladyhawk and Deer Medicine, squealing, gnashing her teeth, making it clear she was in no mood for company. Ladyhawk paused. Deer Medicine took just a few more steps forward before turning around.
Highlander may have wanted to add more mares to his herd, but the mare he already had seemed to be calling the shots.
Just like that, the show was over. Ladyhawk, Deer Medicine and her colt trotted back to join their domestic herd. Skye nudged her mount, Mista Spot, into motion, rounding up her assortment of equines, taking them home.
The final details took forever, but on February 23, Skye got to say "I did it." Her NaMoPaiMo horse was done. Pan pastel, earth pigments, oils, colored pencil, acrylics, all layers sealed in dullcote. Padronis, she named her. And this mare she hoped to sell some day. Tired but happy, she and Grace made their way from the tack room back home as night consumed the day.
It was a little chilly when the girls got back to their room. Baron was eyeing a spot on the bed at Grace's feet.
Skye thought Little Spot looked kind of cold, so she carried him up the ladder, and under the covers. The rest of the dogs were headed for the bottom bunk. Even White Dog was considering. From under the warmth of their covers, the girls took in their life. The lovely posters and pictures, art and memories. The texture of wood all around. The gorgeous bucking horse resin painted by Meredith Warren.
The bucking horse didn't have a name yet, at least not that they were aware.
"I think we should call him Over The Moon" Skye said.
"I like that" Grace responded.
February 28. Perhaps it was just a wind effect. Skye and Hobo watched the clouds. The wind remained, relentless, but it was warm, and the clouds...Skye was pretty sure the white ones were clouds...were fleeting. Grace was at home, not quite herself today. Maybe the wind blowing for weeks on end was wearing on her nerves. The ravens followed Skye, hopeful for food.
The wind warning would end at 3 PM. It was warm and glorious out. It always seemed to be the most beautiful days when Grace was struck with a touch of melancholy. A bit of a hole in her gut, a loss of spirit that she couldn't quite pin down. It didn't really help that Baron was glued to her side, proof positive something wasn't right. NaMoPaiMo was over, and The Collective's first show was done, and the new arena was complete save for some very minor details. Maybe it was just that...all those conclusions coming at once. But there were new things coming too...things she should be excited about. There were new horses coming. Today even that seemed monotonous. There were more or less always new horses coming. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but somehow the sunshine and blue skies didn't seem to make it any better.
Maybe when the wind quit. Maybe then she'd feel like herself again.
February is NaMoPaiMo...National Model Painting Month, an anticipated tradition recently begun by Jennifer Bray Buxton on Facebook. There are thousands of followers from all over the world and for Grace and Skye, this would be their second year participating. But February was full of other happenings also.
Holding the art theme for a moment, one of the first NaMo surprises was when the boss decided to loan a piece of artwork to the girls as an inspiration for them. That piece was none other than Rayvin Maddock's Little Bucker resin, painted by the incredible Meredith Warren. It was inspiring, yes...but also intimidating, especially for Grace. Grace had sold her first ever custom horse and first NaMoPaiMo project before it was complete; the next horse she painted went on to win a contest. Her prize was the horse she'd chosen to paint for NaMoPaiMo, a mustang stallion by Kitty Cantrell. But this time Grace did not find success easily. The resin had a ton of prep work needed, and she was painting in acrylics for the first time. It was hard. All of it. She struggled with the details, with the paint itself, with how difficult it is to blend acrylics.
Skye would struggle also, using the kitchen sink approach to painting a vinyl Arabian model sculpted by Deborah McDermott. But her struggles were somehow...lighter. She did intend to sell this horse...that would make her feel like a real artist...but she was loose and experimental every step of the way. She used acrylics, oils, pastels, colored pencils, mica powders...if you could make a colorful mark with it, she tried it.
And there was the indoor arena near Chilao School. Grace was participating on its creation on many levels, including procuring the major elements. The bulk of the structure was made from recycled materials, which sounds very romantic, but in practice, it can be a lot of work to cobble together elements that are warped or stiff with age, or have been coated with who knows what. At one point the girls even used a draft horse to haul some heavy lumber...but without a fitting saddle or proper harness, the weight of the wood proved tough on Grace's shoulder.
All the while, in the controlled burn area, the grass was poking its way through the blackened soil and moisture lingered in the seasonal streams. And all of this brought the wild horses. It was a rare and fleeting time of plenty. When the girls weren't painting or sleeping, they were trekking through soggy soot to find the horses. And it was on one of these adventures, on the thirteenth of February on one of the most beautiful days in the world ever, that Grace turned Skye's world all around.
"We have to change your name."
Skye did not see that one coming.
"Your given name" Grace explained. "Her Many Horses."
"When the boss lady gave you that name in honor of the family members she had met, I don't think she had any idea what a prominent family name she gave you. Just out of curiosity I poked around this morning on Facebook. That is an Oglala Lakota family name. and that family is very much alive and active."
Grace paused for a moment. The sooty black soil was yet unstable, and she needed to focus on keeping her balance.
"The women in the family are very strong. In fact one of them was recently the head woman for the Gathering of Nations powwow. That's the biggest powwow in the world. And the name is one word. Hermanyhorses. All together."
"Am I in trouble?"
"Not yet. And it wouldn't be you in trouble anyway. But we need to never use the name again."
Skye fell silent. The sun was warm and glorious and the grass was greening and the rocks felt warm against her hands. She tried to stay in the present. It was a beautiful day. Even if they didn't find any horses. And even if now she had no name again.
Then Skye thought she heard a noise behind them.
"Did you hear that?"
Grace and Skye spun around. The horses had found them. Crazy and his herd. Crazy pawed and postured and made it incredibly clear they were not welcome visitors. He is small, and tough, and somehow magnificent. The girls braced themselves against the rocks, waiting quietly for Crazy to go back to his herd.
They saw the mare they called Lady Godiva...and beyond her, a surprise.
Slowly, quietly, they made their way closer.
The quiet mare had a foal by her side. A red foal, perhaps a chestnut sabino, perhaps a red roan or a strawberry roan. Skye imagined it was a filly, but she couldn't be sure.
"That foal must of been born right after the last time we saw them" Grace whispered.
They watched the herd. Crazy was vigilant. Lady Godiva seemed to be a very diligent auntie, keeping an eye on the your one as if it were her own. Skye was absorbed in the moment. She'd forgotten all about the name thing.
"So" Grace continued as the herd retreated slowly to higher ground, "I'm going to name you."
"Little. From here forward you are Skye Little. That's a perfectly respectable name."
Skye pondered her new name for a moment.
"That's...your name...so...so we're sisters now for sure."
Skye felt her arms turn like chicken skin even though the sun was awfully warm. She'd lost a name and gotten a new one and more or less been adopted, all in the space of a few minutes.
January 24, 2022
The wind had finally subsided. The day was beautiful.
The snow melt that filled the creek was cold, but the air was warm, and the horses were fit, and needing some exercise. Mares and geldings made up the small herd.
Once upon a time the creek in Chilao ran for most of the year. Those days were over. Grace didn't want to miss this opportunity to experience the cold, clear water.
The creek crossing was the easy part. Some rigorous terrain lay on the loop Grace chose through Chilao. Skye lead the way on the mare Dani Girl as they returned to the ranch, through the recent burn. Grace brought up the rear on Jesse. The whole endeavor had gone without a hitch, until right then.
Without warning, Charmer bolted.
In a flash he was off, running full speed over the rugged terrain, running for the sheer joy of running. Grace went after him on Jesse. Skye worked to hold the rest of the horses together on the bank of the seasonal stream that fed Chilao Creek.
Grace heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter as L.A. County Fire made a pass directly overhead. And Charmer ran even faster. Jesse gave it everything he had, trying to close the gap on the bigger, longer legged, made to run Charmer.
And then, Charmer made a sweeping turn, back toward the herd. Past Grace and Jesse, past the other horses, past Skye and Dani Girl, plunging himself into the stream, leading the way home.
And the rugged land fell silent again.
What a ride!
Back at home, Skye had found the rest of the deer herd, and solved their tipping issues, although not before the fawn had sustained some minor injuries in a tip-over and fall. It would be all right. Nothing Skye couldn't repair.
Grace and Skye watched the sunrise unfold.
"What do you think?" Skye asked.
"There's some clouds in there" Grace answered. "If you paint it, you could title it 'suspicious skies.' I think it would be hard to paint though."
It wasn't quite as warm as it had looked when they went out to see the sunrise - 39 degrees. Jackets probably would have been a good idea. As Skye tried to get warm, Grace produced a shiny gold box.
"This package came for you yesterday Skye."
Packages were always exciting. Skye read the tag out loud.
"To Skye from Little Elecktra."
And then she made short work of the packaging. A new shirt, custom made for Skye, a commemoration of very sad events in Indian Country as the graves of hundreds of boarding school children were being unearthed in Canada, and yet an affirmation in the same breath. Every Child Matters, it read, with a bear paw beneath the words.
"I love this. I love it. I love it. I'm going to try so hard to keep it clean."
Except for the sun's rise and the sun's setting, Saturday was cold and cloudy, but at Studio Skye, things were happening. Deer things.
As Skye settled in to paint, Grace noticed the clouds taking on color, and went outside just in time to catch the last few moments of the sunset, with its strange and glorious beams of light.
Sunday morning found Skye back in the studio.
"I have more work to do on the fawn still."
"While you're waiting for the paint to dry, let's go for a ride" Grace said. "I want to see if we can find Petrichor, and if he still has two mares."
"Can I ride Dani Girl again?"
The wind picked up just as the girls approached the rugged pass that Petrichor frequented.
Skye held Gunner while Grace traversed the jagged rocks.
The wind made it difficult to know for sure, but Grace thought she heard what might be horses, so she pressed on. Her persistence paid off. soon her beloved Petrichor came into view.
Petrichor appeared conflicted. He recognized Grace; his ears swiveled forward and sideways and his muzzle twitched, but he would remain at a distance.
After a few moments, he turned and trotted away from Grace over the rough terrain. He returned to his small band, and together they slipped away into the wild land. At least she saw him, and the new mare and foal. They all appeared to be well, and Petrichor seemed to become more and more like a real wild stallion as his herd grew.
Grace noticed the singe and the greening in the controlled burn. The heat singe in the trees can take a while to be visible. And likewise it can take a while to be replaced by fresh pine needles. The yuccas were already greening up.
Skye was quick to return to her studio when the ride was over. Grace soon followed.
"Should I add flowers to the doe and fawn? Or something to the buck?"
"I like them they way they are" Grace replied. "What was your goal in painting these?"
"I was hoping to show them as part of the landscape. You know the way you can be looking right at them and not see them, or the way they appear out of nowhere on the highway."
"I would leave them just as they are then" Grace replied. "You have achieved an...organic cohesiveness, if you will...with the colors, a natural simplicity that says, I think, what you intended to say with minimal explanation."
Skye liked the sound of "organic cohesiveness."
And so it was. Another piece for the barn art show completed, and January brought to a close.
January 3, 2022
Grace and Skye slogged on foot to the creek, in the burn footprint, where a rapidly melting layer of snow was still thick in some places, alternately icy, then hard enough to walk on top of.
They came to see who had made fresh and un-shod hoof prints in the snow. They did not have to wait long to lay eyes upon an absolutely stunning mare. She was energetically flanked by the stallion Grace suspected was sporting some draft horse DNA, Highlander. His mare was not remarkably cooperative, and Highlander's squeals attracted the attention of another draft-influence stallion...Petrichor.
There were some more squeals and some posturing and pawing, but all from a considerable distance.
Petrichor and the bay mare moved off. The dun mare seemed as if she wanted to follow them. The bay mare seemed reluctant to leave. Petrichor insisted. Highlander and the dun mare headed down the draw. The mare seemed far more interested in the other horses than her suitor. Perhaps the bay mare was known to her. Whatever was the case, she was keeping Highlander on his toes.
There was succulent new grass growing in the burn footprint. For a short while, the bay mare grazed. But it wasn't long before she started walking. Following Highlander and the dun mare. Petrichor followed his mare, uneasily.
Grace and Skye tried to follow, but the path the horses chose was more suited for hooves than boots. It was a sculptural jumble of rocks, mud, water tunnels, sand, ice and deadfall, uniquely beautiful and ever-changing...and dang hard to navigate. It was not long before the horses out-paced the girls and vanished into the soggy, blackened landscape.
January 8, 2022
They were in open country, and there wasn't any place to hide, so Grace and Skye just tried to be still. This time they were on the trail of Petrichor's band, and they were in for more surprises. Another new mare, with a jet-black foal. The stallions had more or less worked out territories. Petrichor stayed close to the ranch, and right now, it was good country to be a wild horse. The new mare and foal had probably wandered into his domain.
The mare put herself between Petrichor and her foal. Her instinct to be with a herd was strong, but her parenting instinct was equally strong. Stallions do not always accept foals sired by other stallions. The black foal was not a newborn...he was strong and agile.
The horses danced around for a while, the pale mare nervous about her foal. Eventually the bay mare started to move off, the foal started to follow, and pretty soon there was a loose sense of order.
While Petrichor and the bay mare were accustomed to Grace and Skye, the new herd members were not so relaxed. The girls followed on foot at a distance. watching the horses use the seasonal stream bed like a trail, wondering how common it was for a palomino mare to have a black foal.
Then, without warning, the bay mare changed her course and her calm tempo. In a few bounding strides she was out of the creek bed and galloping away, the rest of her herd close behind, disappearing into the boulder strewn landscape.
The rest of the day went by quickly. As evening approached, Skye stared at the most frightening thing an artist regularly encounters...a blank surface. In this case, watercolor paper. She was hoping to recreate the sunset she'd seen the night before but couldn't quite photograph. Or maybe the moon, with stars in the sky beyond.
Meanwhile, across the studio, a small herd of model horses waited patiently. Two of them would be chosen for this year's NaMoPaiMo.
It was Skye's first time using watercolors on watercolor paper. This was going to be harder than it first appeared.
January 9, 2022
Skye painted until the wee hours of morning. The second work was as delicate as the first one was heavy.
Outside a cold wind blew as the sun's rays crept slowly across the tree tops. Seemed like it had been blowing for days. And it appeared that Skye would be sleeping for a while.
Every ranch manager, no matter how good they are, will occasionally make indefensible decisions. Like going out for a trail ride alone on a windy morning...on a spirited stallion, using that squeaky, stiff new saddle that didn't have a back cinch and that didn't want to give on the left stirrup...without a coat, or gloves...
...all of which Grace forgot about fairly quickly when she came upon Highlander and the dun mare. Highlander and the mare moved away at first, Highlander flanking the mare. And then, Highlander spun around to face Grace and Gunner.
An excellent time, Grace decided, to spin around also.
Skye was having far less adventure in the studio. Three out of three pieces did not come out as she envisioned them. Especially the last piece. It got away from her quite entirely, and she was completely perplexed. What on earth to do now.
Skye went looking for Grace, and found her in the new tack room, having just finished putting a waterproof sealant inside of the terra cotta pots that they had finished painting just as the Bobcat fire erupted in September, 2020.
There were 27 sets of hand painted pots. And one finished set. Over the coming months, Grace planned to finish all of them.
"We have plenty of time" Grace explained, "but I thought I'd start preparing now for the upcoming shows...Models in the Mountains, and eventually The Collective..."
"I forgot how pretty these are!" Skye said. And she forgot all about her own painting troubles for a while.
"Do you want to help me get them photographed?"
The girls had narrowed it down to four potential horses for NaMoPaiMo. Grace gave the arab mare a good study. Skye was thinking this was her number one NaMoPaiMo choice. She wanted to try chestnut, or bay. And she wasn't completely sure, but she thought she might want to try paint as opposed to earth pigments.
Grace was leaning toward the mustang stallion resin she had received as a prize for winning the MEPSA Mini Challenge. It was a highly accurate and detailed sculpt. They both loved the resin drafter, and the resin draft foal, but both of those models still needed a lot of work. They were kind of stuck. Grace resolved the afternoon's dilemma.
"Let's prep them all" she suggested. "We still have a little under three weeks to register. Maybe by the time we're done prepping we'l be able to make up our minds."
Skye had pretty much decided on the arab mare. Just not what color, or if and how much white. Grace was still on the fence.
January 16, 2022
Grace and Skye listened for the sound of hooves, or breath, or the crackle of brush.
The plucky sabino mare that had briefly belonged to Petrichor took the lead. Crazy brought up the rear. The horses traversed a rock ledge that lead to a small meadow, moving single file down the rock face.
And there was a new mare in the middle.
The sounds Grace and Skye waited for came in the form of squeals as Crazy pawed at the soft earth. Grace noted that the sabino mare was looking rather plump. Something seemed to be upsetting Crazy. The small herd milled about while Crazy pawed and postured. Then, they moved away, departing as suddenly as they had appeared.
The new mare looked much too calm to be in Crazy's family.
When the girls rode down to where the horses were, they saw droppings...probably those of another stallion, hence his squealing and displeasure. The new mare raised a lot of new questions. Could she be related to the sabino mare? These family groups that were forming now had thus far seemed random...Highlander's mare and Petrichor's mare seemed to know each other. Petrichor's second mare, the palomino with the black foal, assimilated smoothly. Maybe it wasn't random at all. Maybe these family bands were reassembling after some sort of disturbance.
After the horses moved off, the girls passed and pondered. The day was lovely. Like winter was done and spring had sprung.
The girls had other plans for today. But a 30% chance of showers turned into actual rain. That almost never happens. Indoor projects would have to keep them busy. For days, as it turned out. Because once the rain was over, the wind came, and the wind did not stop until January 22. And when it finally did, it was night already.
Skye fussed with a terra cotta deer.
"Weren't there three of those?"
"There are" Skye replied. "I...just can't remember where I put the other two."
"You are way too young to be forgetting where you put large, heavy objects."
Grace was bored. Really bored. All of the NaMoPaiMo candidates were in what Grace sure hoped was their last coat of primer. Maybe they would need another coat of primer but please, please, no more prepping. It had been far too windy to be outside, and cold. She stared unenthusiastically at wood siding selections on the internet.
"Okay" Skye announced, "I'm going to try something with this doe. But she's tippy. How can I fix that?"
"Make a base for that leg with two part epoxy. Make it like grass or something."
"Should I paint her first? No, I should make the base first, right?"
"I think I would make the base first. Otherwise almost certainly you'll do an amazing job painting her, and she'll fall over and break."
At least it would keep Skye busy for part of the evening.
December 11, 2021
Petrichor and the bay mare picked their way through the burn. The ground was cool except for a few places where dense layers of dead wood still smoldered in the cold morning air. A light breeze moved the smoke through the trees at dawn. The landscape was reborn...known to the horses, and yet unfamiliar.
It was a controlled burn of piles with some minimal landscape modification. Grace surveyed around the ranch as soon as the sun was up. A good portion of the burn piles had been addressed , particularly near homes and structures and in the most heavily used recreation areas.
The cold air kept the smoke close to the ground overnight, dissipating with dawn's warmth.
The burn opened up the seasonal stream behind the ranch. Grace rode along the burn edge, noting rock formations she had never seen before. This area was open for the first time in memory. It was endlessly rugged, and lovely.
Grace marveled at the precision of the burn.
She also noted that the birds seemed unbothered, even in areas where there was still some smoke.
Grace was already gone when Skye woke up. That was all right. Skye had been wanting to put her ribbon dress back on and practice the steps she saw the other ladies doing. They were graceful and measured. They were reserved and yet somehow they flowed. And always the women stood up tall in their dresses.
Grace watched Skye for a few moments, realizing how little she knew about what the dance was supposed to look like, but It appeared that Skye had watched very carefully. She did recall something about northern and southern styles of dance, but not the nuances that separated them.
"Tomorrow morning let's go for a ride through the burn area" Grace said after watching for some time. Hobo perked up his ears.
"Okay" Skye said. "Let's do it."
They were up before the dawn on December 12, investigating the controlled burn. USFS firefighters had burned carefully around the ranch, the nearby buildings and the creek bed. Grace made sure Skye got to see the way the smoke played with the sunlight in the trees.
They headed for some trees along the creek bed. Grace had been learning what she could from the firefighters when they did their burns.
"The first time I saw the base of a tree with fire at the bottom of it, I freaked out a little" Grace said. "But it turns out a small amount of fire at a tree's base can help harden the tree and make it more resilient."
"So these trees are going to be fine?"
"Maybe" Grace replied. "They were already stressed pretty bad. Remember we thought the big one was going to die before autumn? And then it got a little rain and seemed to rally. If they die it won't be from the burn. It will be because they were already compromised."
Grace pointed out the yucca.
"These will green right back up. Like literally, in a few days we are supposed to get rain and I bet if we go out and look at these after the rain we will see new green."
"This is a rare moment in time" Grace explained. "This burn will never again look exactly as it does this morning. The wind will change it, and we have rain coming, and new growth will push through the soil. Take a good look around, because this will be completely different after the rain." And as she looked around, Grace saw a path through the boulder-strewn landscape.
Beyond the controlled burn and the firebreak, tall stands of manzanita interspersed with coulter pines and yucca glowed dusty green, and the rising sun shone warm through the cold morning air.
A cacophony of sound followed the girls wherever they went. The scrub jays recognized Skye, and they were keen not to let her forget how much they looked forward to being fed.
It was still fairly early in the morning when they returned home, and still fairly chilly inside.
"That was incredible" Skye said. I want to keep going back and seeing how the landscape changes."
December 18, 2021
Skye was awake as the moon was setting, just before dawn. it wasn't too much colder outside than it was inside, except for a gusting wind that made taking a proper picture of the moon pretty much impossible. It was fun to try though.
When the sun got high enough, Grace and Skye took a walkabout to see what they could see. And of course, as soon as they committed to taking a walk instead of riding, the wind stopped and the day warmed. Mojo the cat was with them for their excursion. And Mojo decided to do a rather un-cat-like thing...walking on water. Skye just had to give it a try.
"Hold on to Baron" Grace said from the soft silt of the creek bed, trying hard not to sink boot-deep into the loose soil.
The ice was very slippery, and very clear, and it was melting fast, and the cracking of its surface was alarmingly loud.
The stream bank was slippery too, but thank goodness nobody was looking when Grace lost her battle with it.
Later in the day, as the last light fell upon the meadow below the ranch, Skye noted a stump, and then another...new stumps, she was pretty sure. If memory served her correctly, last she had looked, they were still-standing trees. The landscape seemed to be in a state of constant change, and it seemed accelerated now.
When evening came, silent and windless, Skye tried once again to photograph the moon rise. Her results were much improved. The moon and the trees and the night seemed...particularly magical.
December 19, 2021
Before the day got too busy, the girls took a ride through another portion of the controlled burn. Grace opted to ride one of Skye's favorite mares, Deer Medicine. It was nice, being able to ride through a more open country, and the recent rain had glued the ashes to the soil.
Skye had quite the reputation among the local wildlife, and they followed along expectantly, hoping for bird seed handouts. Even a California Thrasher joined the fray!
The ride was quiet, and pleasant, and uneventful. The day that followed would be full of activity and visitors and work and distractions.
Skye was already asleep that evening when Grace noticed that Baron wasn't in the room, or just outside, or anywhere that she could find him. And that was very strange.
Grace found him...out on the fire break, well past dark. He was calm, and warm despite the night's oncoming cold. Baron was a mixture of happy to see Grace, and nervous...as if he was quite aware being out by himself was not okay. There were a million questions in Grace's mind...how long had he been out wandering alone and when had she seen him last and how could that happen to her heart dog. When she brought him back inside he seemed ever so slightly aloof, or perhaps still a bit nervous...just not quite himself.
Well. Everyone was accounted for now, and Grace was definitely awake. All eyes were upon her, except for Skye, who slept soundly. This would be as good a time as any to get some things in order for Christmas...such as it was. She really didn't have anything that was actually a gift for Skye. But she had planned a little surprise of sorts, if she could pull it off. Not that she felt very confident at the moment.
December 20, 2021
Weather was coming. Grace had wanted to wait at least one more day, to be a little closer to Christmas, but rain was on the way. It was now or never.
She brought Skye out to the big arena just before daybreak...but she'd worked most of the early morning to get Skye's little herd there ahead of time. Everyone was ready. As they walked, she told Skye about losing Baron. At first Skye was distracted. She knew something was happening...the dogs weren't in the house, Grace, normally quiet, was talking up a storm...then her story started to sink in. How scary it would be to lose a dog. Your favorite dog in the world. Skye tried hard to listen.
The tree in the arena was...well, a fake tree, non-edible, which the horses were quick to decipher. But the box was moving. Grace stretched the Baron story as far as she could before losing Skye's attention completely. The box was moving a lot now.
White Dog got brave and looked inside. The box really started moving. There was a sudden burst of commotion, horses and dogs scattering...And re-grouping. The contents of the box revealed itself just as the girls approached, just as the sun crested the ridge. The pups...the pups Grace had seen in November at PetCo, hitherto still not adopted...tumbled out of the box. Bringing the total number of dogs to ten...or twelve, if you counted the shepherd pups that went to live with the ranch owner. Seemed like they might fit right in. And the tree was pretty cool too. Skye watched the animals interacting with the new pups. And the tree. She was fascinated by the artificial tree. She'd never seen anything quite like it.
"Did you make this Grace?"
"Well it's awesome, even if you didn't make it yourself."
December 4, 2021
Grace and Skye went to Redbird's blanket drive and mini powwow. They got there early enough to see it slowly unfold. It seemed a bit like a family reunion. Then the sound of bells on the dancers and the activity level began to intensify. There were a number of drums.* When they were ready, a singer came from one of the drums** and spoke about what would happen next. Special songs would be sung for certain reasons and then the dancers would come out.
The songs began. The dancers came out. They danced in different ways but the drum orchestrated their steps. The drums...they were the center of it. The sound had a reach beyond one's ears. The sound got inside of you somehow. It seemed there were different styles of dance for different songs, and everyone knew them. Women danced some dances and men danced others.
There were a lot of children dancing, and they were showered with encouragement. Grace often noted that some of the adults - particularly the men wearing what she presumed were eagle feathers - would stand when others were dancing...even the young children.
Skye went out for the last round of intertribal songs. Just to see what it felt like.
And finally, they got to hang out with the (virtual) Kat Warren, UCR Powwow Princess...they just didn't have any scissors handy to free her from her background.
The gathering was only a few hours...four or so...but the girls really tied to lean all that they could and take it all in. And as a result, they were exhausted.
"I'm just going to get under the covers for a few minutes, to warm up" Skye said.
It was late by the time the girls got home. Their room was cold and even though they'd spent most of the day just taking in the sights and sounds, they were tired.
*Blue Star, Bear Springs and Hale and Company joined us as well as the calderon family as vendors, and Carla Tourville and Chuck Cadotte of Soaring Eagle Enterprises, as vendors. It was Redbird's 26th mini powwow and blanket drive and one of the first local, family powwows to happen since Covid.
**Ben Hale of the Hale and Company drum served as our MC. everything about the blanket drive is done by volunteers. As we did not have a formal grand entry (head man, head woman, flags, etc) the way the drums chose to orchestrate the gathering was to sing the honoring songs while the dancers stood and then, when those honoring songs had been observed, all the dancers came in together.
The blanket drive was our most successful ever. It took weeks to ship all of the donations we received.
Dateline November 6, 2021. Grace moved quietly across the room, boots falling soft as possible on the wood floor. She heaved a very large box onto the table, then, with louder footsteps, walked to Skye's bed where she lay, still sleeping.
"Rise and shine. There's a special delivery here for you."
Skye blinked, turned her head toward the table, saw the box.
"Holy moly. That's a big box. What's in it?"
"I don't know. But it's for you."
Grace knew. There was a letter.The letter described each wonderful item.
Skye started to try on a very cute pair of boots. Then she paused. There was more in the box.
She pulled out the moccasins. They were beautiful. Brand new. Amazing, soft hide. They were going to fit perfect.
"These are so wonderful! How did you know how much I wanted these?"
"I didn't have anything to do with it" Grace said.
"Seriously!!! Thank you!!"
"Seriously" Grace replied, in her serious voice. "I had nothing to do with it. Really. I was looking for someone to make dresses out of the pink and blue fabric. I met this incredible artist on Facebook. She raises heirloom livestock and does amazing artwork, including clothing."
"Who is the artist?"
"Michelle Sepiol" Grace answered.
"What is this?"
"I don't know" Grace said in her serious voice. "When I was asking about the dresses, Michelle asked for our address. I thought wow, she's very detail oriented. I'm going to get a quote for the dresses that includes exact shipping. And then we chit-chatted a little bit and the tack room was getting finished and I kind of forgot about the dresses for a little bit."
"So you really don't know what this is?"
"Nope. I opened the box and I could see the boots and the moccasins. I read the letter Michelle sent. I know the rest of the items in the box are for you. I closed the box back up."
Nice, new, full length blue jeans. "How did Michelle know I needed new pants?"
"Well you know" Grace said, "winter is coming..."
In the letter, Michelle mentioned what was in the box.
Even though Grace had read the letter, seeing the white buckskin dress left her speechless.
"She made me THIS?"
"This is...this is sooo...wait what is that? There can't be more. There can't still be more."
But there was more.
There were two cloth dresses, one with long ribbons. A pair of boots, a pair of moccasins, a white buckskin dress, made proper. Blue jeans. Skye was completely overwhelmed, and could barely breathe.
The tack room was ready to be populated with things.
Grace marked what she felt would be a comfortable height for hanging bridles and halters. Skye raised her own arms but where she would have wanted to hang bridles and halters was considerably lower than Grace's mark.
Ginger cat ventured out for the first time to to tack room. The other cats were already there. She wasn't too much smaller than the big boys, but still...it was a little intimidating at first.
Arranging the tack room seemed very exciting. For about an hour. It was warm but windy - a perfect day for painting inside - and Skye took advantage of the lovely weather and the newly available space to finish her first-ever life-size piece - a blue tick hound by Kitty Cantrell. She was very pleased with how he came out and wished she could magically make him come to life.
Grace worked a while longer on the tack room. But maybe Skye had the right idea. She was very close to finishing Kitty's donkey. Just the details left to complete.
While Grace contemplated, Skye slipped up to her studio. There she tried on one of her ribbon dresses from Michelle Sepiol. It fit absolutely perfectly.
White Dog seemed a little uneasy.
"Awe, you've never seen me in a dress! It's okay! You'll get used to it!"
It was almost sunset now. Skye had an idea. She went back to the tack room. There was still room in one corner to make a space for Donkey. She was concerned about the elder long ear. She seemed listless and somehow just not quite right. So Skye moved all the things that weren't essential to the other side of the tack room. And she brought in straw. And then, in the same space as the life-sized donkey sculpture, she brought her Donkey, leading her to the corner with the straw bedding.
There. Nice and thick. Just as the red glow of sunset warmed the last moments of the day. She would have brought Precious along too, but there was an awful lot of stuff in the tack room already.
"You lay down and sleep well, okay Donkey?"
November 14. Grace swung by the tack room on her way out to the horses. She was surprised to find Donkey inside. And even more surprised as she got closer.
Donkey took a quick spin as Baron approached. Definitely the fastest Grace had ever seen Donkey move. Baron took note. And Grace took her first good look at the newest addition to the equine collection at Redbird Ranch.
Skye was not far behind. Donkey turned to greet her.
"I didn't see this coming" Grace confessed.
The baby was thin, slab-sided and a little gangly. Probably born in the wee hours of morning, way out of foaling season, probably a jenny.
Skye was mostly silent.
"She's so freaking cute" Skye finally said. "And so tiny! I'm gonna call her Dinky."
After the morning's surprise arrival of Dinky, Grace got back to the business of working horses.
First, the flashy Andalusian. The winter sale was coming up. And love this classically trained mulberry beauty though she did, she wasn't riding him much. He wasn't standing at stud...he had no show ring record. He was not a kill pen rescue. He had cost a good price.
He was gorgeous though. And really sweet. Maybe he would be put up for sale. Grace couldn't decide.
Next, La Barilla, the deep golden palomino with lush silver-white mane and tail and almost-sabino stockings. This boy was the first horse she met when she came to Redbird Ranch. But no one had made much progress with him. He was not unkind, but he was very full of himself. He was going to be gelded, but the decision had been put off.
It was thought that he was a a relatively pure genetic descendant of the Barilla Mustangs of Central California, who were almost certainly of old world Lusitano bloodlines. Grace could work him pretty well back and forth in the arena. He lead with a halter. He stood for grooming. You could pick up his feet. He needed a lot more effort. One more winter, Grace thought. We'll keep him one more winter.
No need to sell the deep bay Andalusian, Impressionante. He had a good halter showing history. He threw lovely foals. He should be standing at stud for the public.
Bzou, the lovely grey Andalusian stallion out of Alborozzo, would stay forever. He was by far the most awarded stallion on the ranch. Perhaps, however, she should be more assertive with his breeding program. He was a very fine horse, possessed of a beautiful mind.
Skye usually loved to watch the stallions being exercised. Grace had a couple hunches why she wasn't watching this afternoon. It was going to be Dinky, or dresses.
The white buckskin dress from Michelle Sepiol was hard to describe in words. Very special. A little work to get into it. But it was going to be much, much harder to take off. Because Skye was spellbound, breathless, and intimidated all at once. Somehow this gift was just something she didn't feel worthy of. And she couldn't believe how it felt to wear, how she looked inside of it...and she had no interest in taking it off.
It wasn't until late in the day that Grace got back to work on the Kitty Cantrell piece. It was almost finished. But it had been a big day. Grace decided to wait to put the very last finishing touches on.
Meanwhile, Skye did laundry...a well-overdue task.
Skye came to the tack room in the lighter of the two ribbon dresses by Michelle Sepiol, wearing it for the first time. it fit her perfectly. But moreover, she looked so natural in it. She found Grace packing up a lovely, older english saddle.
"Did you sell the saddle?" Skye examined the english saddle closely, perhaps for the first time. It was made from wonderful leather, and it was broken in.
"No" Grace replied, I'm going to give it to someone. We've been gifted so many beautiful things, including saddles. I'm going to take it to the post office today."
Before Grace left for the post office, there were new arrivals to greet. Like the cutest palomino pony mare. A sensational Andalusian stallion. No show record, no breeding record, but that could change over time. And a Brabant mare that was truly giant. The wind was blowing and she was a bit skittish of the ribbons on the make-shift fence, so Grace encouraged her to loosen up by trotting along next to her. It seemed to work. Soon the mare was moving freely.
And finally, Dinky. Mama Donkey was much more accepting of Baron now, and Dinky seemed to be enjoying the great outdoors.
Skye would have welcomed the new arrivals too, but her clothes were still drying...her excuse to wear her ribbon dress all day...and she was concerned about getting it dirty. Probably a valid concern. Grace would fix the clothing problem when she got back.
The sky was interesting and the air was cool as Grace traveled to the post office. She thought it closed at 3:30, but it actually closed at 3 PM. She pushed and shoved but she just could not get the saddle package through the drop box. A nice attendant still in the back, hearing her continued banging about, came out to take the package from her. And so the saddle began its journey.
She passed by Petco and decided to stop in. A pet adoption had just finished. The volunteers were packing up the temporary crates. Only two pups remained unadopted.
"We did really well today" explained one of the volunteers, "but it was a day for little dogs. These were the only two big dog pups we had and no one was interested in them."
Grace noted the name of the rescue. She was up to her neck in dogs. But those were two fine pups...maybe the ranch owner would take them, like she did the shepherd pups...
Grace came home with more surprises for Skye. Much needed clothing.
Skye slipped quickly out of her ribbon dress. The evening air was cool and her first ever in life pair of fuzzy flannel pajama pants and a soft long sleeved tee were very welcome gifts. Then Grace unveiled another surprise. A decorator model, a coveted piece of model horse collectibility.
"We are babysitting this model horse" Grace explained. "It's a gift to the owner from Julia Turner, but she asked if we'd like to have it on display here for a while. She said she's got too many German Shepherds and it's getting covered in hair at her house." And so it was.
Skye sank into bed, indescribably warm and cozy.
November 21, 2021
The wind tossed about dry branches and pine needles as the girls made a morning trek, through the tree line and out onto the rough high desert terrain.
Hunters had mentioned siting absolutely no deer, but two wild horses in the dry canyon draw between the chaparral and the tree line. There wasn't really a line...but there was a place where the trees gradually gave way to open chaparral. Grace and Skye knew it well. And they had a hunch the wild horses were also known to them.
There were just two. Petrichor and the bay mare.
"I will have to remember to tell Ariel Williamson about this...she was asking about Petrichor" Grace whispered.
Scrub jays followed the girls with interest. Skye was known to them. She often fed the wild birds. And the birds were noisy. Soon, they had given Grace and Skye away with their excited chatter. Petrichor and the bay mare took note.
Grace and Skye sat on the jagged rocks, breathless, as Petrichor approached.
The bay mare stayed just out of reach. The sabino mare was nowhere to be found. Petrichor moved, slow and hesitant, toward Grace. Closer and closer he came. Then, he released a long breath, shook his neck in a loose, relaxed fashion, and with confidence, took the last few steps that separated them. He put his face right against her own, exchanging breaths. Grace touched his muzzle, his cheek, gently wiped a bit of dirt away from below his eye. After a minute or two, Petrichor moved off, back up into the chaparral with the bay mare.
The girls walked back in a blissful sort of silence. The ranch owner had filled the humble little bird bath. Coyotes had not marked their territory here in several days, and there was a shift in the behavior of the wild birds. They were very interested in the water, where before they had been more keen on the bird seed. Perhaps hunters had disturbed the routine of the coyotes...almost certainly some other local source of water, be it a leaking pipe or a seep in the rocks...had dried up.
Back at home Grace and Skye studied The Julia Turner grail pony in daylight. And the rooster. The one Grace just could not seem to get finished. Today. Maybe today she would finally get it done.
November 25, 2021
Completed at last...although Grace wants to noodle a few things, still...The Bremen Singers sculpted by Kitty Cantrell.
Donkey, cat and rooster by Grace, dog by Skye. And a gratitude list, in celebration of Thanksgiving. It read like this:
We have YOU to be Thankful For!
Deb and Randy Buckler
Southern California Edison
And all of our friends!
November 28, 2021
Thanksgiving 2021 was a lot like 2020. The wind was not as bad, the damage not as severe, but there were fences down and animals loose.
Now herding calves and even cattle wasn't that hard. But herding a big bull seemed a little more potentially precarious.
He would sort of follow, but only for a few paces. You could sort of drive him...but only until he decided he didn't want to be driven. Then there wasn't a lot they could do to get him going the right direction again.
But Grace and Skye and their sturdy mounts, and Baron, Hobo and even White Dog tried.
Suddenly all the dogs stopped and stared. Then Grace and Skye saw it. Even the birds saw it. Something was coming...the cat known as Mojo.
Mojo greeted the bull, ribbed his head against the bull's lowered head, purred and made soft cat squeaks. And then Mojo headed back to the ranch. The Criollo bull followed.
"So now we know" Skye said. "In order to herd a bull, you need a cat."
The sun was low on the horizon when the last two horses of autumn arrived.
The pinto was handsome. Well put together. Moved nice. That was all Grace knew about him. Breeding, training...she'd have to find some paperwork.
The Fjord was lively and almost certainly had a high level of training. She looked and moved like a show horse. The day's last light made her coat gleam in warm colors.
Grace thought she might turn the Fjord pony right around and put it in the winter sale. But the more wha watched, the more she became enamored with her. Maybe she could stay for a little while.
Skye brought out Donkey and Dinky as the sun set. Grace could tell Skye was concerned about something.
"I'm not sure I should keep them" Skye said. "What if they need special care that I can't give them?"
"Well," Grace said thoughtfully, "I don't think you should put them up for sale necessarily. Maybe you could put them up for adoption. You might find better quality people that way."
Back at the tack room there was a little surprise. Ceramic deer. They were stylized and cool and...black. A little note came with them. "Thought you might enjoy doing something creative with these" it said. Skye really liked them.
As night fell and the day drew to a close, Grace showed Skye a poster for a blanket drive and mini powwow.
"Do you want to go?" Grace asked.
Skye studied the poster. A blanket drive and mini powwow. With the Redbird logo on it. She was washed in waves of excitement, and nervousness.
"I do...but I've never been to a powwow...I don't even really know what a powwow is. But yes. Yes. Let's go."
Hi, my name is Corina, the official story teller for Grace and Skye. Grace owes her beauty, style and charm to Anne Field, Field of Dolls Studio. Skye does too, for that matter, as Anne fostered her for a while, giving Skye a complete makeover in the process. The horses, dogs, cats, saddles, bridles, furniture and so forth are the work of many artists. I'll do my best to acknowledge them as we go from day to day.
This is the ongoing, unfolding story of grace little, manager of redbird ranch, and her little sister, skye