Dateline October 23, 2021. The whole of the day was glorious, but it wasn't until late afternoon that the girls were able to go out for a ride, and as they did a cool mist soon moved up the mountain, swallowing the sunlight. They were hoping to catch a glimpse of Petrichor. They were guided by the sound of snorts and squeals and hooves on rock.
As mysteriously as the bay mare appeared, Petrichor had a second mare, and she was full of herself. The bay mare remained unflappable. The new mare, wildly sabino, appeared to have one blue eye. But it was difficult to tell. She didn't ever hold still for very long.
The bay mare retreated, if you could call it that, up into the rock escarpment. Grace and Skye stayed below. Petrichor watched Grace and Skye...flicked his ears and for a moment seemed conflicted. But then he turned his attention back to his mares, trotting away.
The appearance of the horses...first the new stallions, and now mares...it was all so mysterious. The Angeles National Forest was huge, but it was more or less landlocked. There was no direct or easy way that horses were finding their way to Chilao. And the new mare...her features were neither similar to Petrichor, or the bay mare. But on some level, the facts didn't matter much to Grace at the moment. She was just thrilled to see Petrichor, with a band of two mares, healthy and thriving.
The sun sank into a moist veil and the air quickly cooled as the girls headed home. Grace seemed to be at peace.
The following morning, Skye convinced Grace to go checking on a rather different equine...Donkey. Skye was concerned about Donkey. Her appetite was excellent, her functions were normal, but she was just so quiet. Grace looked her over. Ran her hand all down her spine, looking for some indication of pain and finding none. Her belly was certainly round...no doubt her appetite was good.
"She could have arthritis" Grace said. "You could try walking her every day, maybe just a little bit, just to help keep her joints moving." It seemed like sound enough advice to Skye.
The overnight forecast called for a 90% chance of rain. So as it grew late in the day, Skye made sure her senior equines were warm and settled. They loved her voice, and seemed content together. There was just enough room at the end of the barn that they could all lay down if they chose to.
Light rain and blustery wind came in mid-morning. Skye wandered up to the storage room...and found quite the surprise. A sign reading "Studio Skye" and a staggering assemblage of art supplies. But she only had a few moments to marvel at all the supplies and the chalk board sign. The Double Trouble Duo was on the move.....and headed for a painful lesson. The shepherd pups came barreling toward two big cats. Skye tried to intervene but Hobo more or less pushed her back in his own effort to avoid a feline confrontation. White Dog stepped in, a bit of a surprise, putting his own body between the cats and the mischievous pups...and the pups turned their attention elsewhere.
The pups abandoned their play abruptly when they saw Grace and Baron. Skye was equally joyful.
"Does this mean I get to make this space my studio?"
Skye asked a valid question. Some items had been removed from the storage room, but many remained. It was a little confusing.
"Yes it does. By and by we can get the rest of the stuff out."
Grace was pretty certain Skye would flourish here.
There was a lot of space making and re-imagining going on. Grace never said a word about renovating the old tack room. Skye, preoccupied with having her own studio space and being worried about Donkey and chasing wild horses around with Grace...never for a moment suspected anything. The space was big, and light, and smelled like fresh wood. And 22 pumpkins.
"We have all these pumpkins because why?"
"So they don't go to waste. Most animals will eat them. And the seeds are really good too."
Twenty two. That's a lot of pumpkins, Skye pondered.
The walls and the floor of the tack room were unfinished. Grace decided she could put a sealer on them herself. Maybe she could get started on that tomorrow. The weather was warm and summer-like at the moment, but sooner or later the weather would turn cold and it would be good to have the tack room done before it did. The tack room seemed extra big in the morning. Skye had help with the sweeping in the form of the shepherd pups.
Grace had linseed oil, but no proper rollers to apply it with, so she improvised. It would take most of the day, starting with the walls and working their way out of the building with the floor, to get a nice protective coat of linseed oil on the wood. But the result was lovely.
Grace proposed they reward themselves with "a different kind of ride." It had been a while since they'd taken out the big boys, Ananda and Snoqualmie Wilde. Afternoon shadows and cooling air chased them across a quiet landscape.
Back home, Skye decide to test the viability of the withering pumpkins, while Grace finalized a class list for the first online show of The Collective. It was condensed, to be sure, but it needed to be manageable. A starting point. She took Cory Hartung's advice and doubled the number of halter classes. She grouped performance classes in ways that might cause some unrest. And she took her own road entirely with a selection of scene classes. And then she stared at the screen for a very long time, hoping she got it good enough.
The temperature dipped below fifty degrees just before dawn. Grace borrowed one of Skye's saddle bags and took a ride at daybreak. She took several smaller pumpkins with her. Pumpkins are staggeringly heavy and a bit awkward to ride with. But if you drop them hard enough, they split themselves. And perhaps, Petrichor and his band would find them, some extra nutrition to supplement their wild diet.
Skye woke up with a similar idea. She chunked up pumpkin and piled it on top of a wheelbarrow full of pellets. Everyone appeared willing to try something new.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the high desert not too far away, Petrichor's honeymoon phase was coming to an end. With mares came responsibilities and conflicts. He would have to guard them from other stallions, and heaven knows there were plenty of bachelor stallions around. One in particular was making his presence felt. Crazy became a more or less continuous nuisance, and the confrontations became increasingly serious. He was not going to give up, ad he was tough, wirey and tireless.
Day two of the Pony Party started out a little rough.
Grace found herself heading for the ground rather suddenly, saddle and all, as she practiced pole bending with Jesse in the cool morning air. She landed hard on her left arm. The cinch had let loose.
Jesse hadn't had a rider mishap yet, and wasn't quite sure what to do, so he kept running.
Grace got up. Everything moved. Fingers and toes all wiggled. She never hit her head, taking most of the fall with her left arm. The keeper on the cinch had failed...something you didn't much worry about with old school cinch rigs.
She got back on Jesse for all the various reasons you get back on if you can after a fall, but mostly for the horse's sake. Jesse hadn't been under saddle all that long. In truth, she preferred not to ride him bareback...his movements were quick and sometimes not easy to sit...but just for a little while, she did it.
Skye came riding up about that time. She saw the saddle on the ground. She saw Grace was wearing a little bit of the arena.
"You want to do me a favor?" Grace asked. "Can you ride back to the ranch and get me the new black cinch from Rachel Mitchell?"
"Sure thing" Skye replied. Most any reason to ride Charmer was a good reason.
Skye returned with the cinch, and it looked great with the saddle. But by then Grace had begun to feel some discomfort in her left shoulder. Nothing serious. Nothing broken. But nothing particularly good about it either. The Pony Party drew to a close in the early afternoon. Then came the work of bringing all the horses home.
Gunner was starting to focus. He had a good head on his shoulders. Windy Boy had never even been ridden over the weekend, but at least he got to stretch his legs.
The girls decided to take their time bringing back the last few horses. It was a lovely morning for a walk. And Grace wasn't sure she could sling another saddle if she tried.
A week passed. Grace's shoulder was stiff and painful, but she could still sit a horse. And it was time to deal with Petrichor. He'd bee on a week long course of antibiotics, and his limp was gone. It was a wonder he had't escaped, now that he was able.
Grace made up her mind, and saddled the mare named Pretender. As they rode, she was struck by the harshness of the landscape. Beautiful, and unforgiving.
They brought Petrichor back to where they found him. At first he stood close to the other horses, but gradually the gap between them began to widen. And then away he bolted.
At first, she was hidden in shadow. But when the mare moved her hind leg with the white stocking, Grace and Skye saw her. The first mare they had ever seen out here, and looking eager not to be alone.
"That was like a fairy tale!" Skye bubbled. "That was the perfect happy ending!"
But Grace was not rejoicing. She kept looking back. Her shoulder was healing...but now there was an emptiness in her chest.
Baron hovered close to Grace. It was cold and drizzling but still, not like her to be under the covers, burning daylight.
The wild stallion Petrichor was still in his enclosure when the girls went to check on him early in the morning. He was eating, drinking...and limping. But if there was ever going to be a chance to get him seen by a vet, it would be this weekend, because the local ranchers and artists were having a gathering - a "Pony party" they called it, and there would be horse people in Chilao. So as Grace gave him his morning feed of pellets, she also gave him Dermosedan; a sedative that he would hopefully eat, and react appropriately to.
The first thing the girls had to do was bring some horses down to the common area where everyone was congregating. There were pipe corrals set up, and the big arena had been opened for everyone. There was no real agenda, and the girls really didn't know what to expect...so they brought along lots of horses and dogs and saddles and gear.
Grace ponied some of the horses down. Even if she did not have a chance to ride all of them, the experience would be good for them. She brought the new Akhal Teke stallion. She brought her favorite Paint, Windy Boy. she ponied them with her faithful, tireless little mustang, Jesse.
Skye got to ride Charmer, whom she dubbed "the super charger." Charmer was probably the most horse she'd ever ridden. He was well schooled and responsive, fast, powerful, and ready to run. He was smooth and easy to sit and very exciting to ride.
When all the performance horses had made their way down, Grace took Spot, and Deer Medicine with her foal, and a large contingency of dogs down to the gathering place. And one cat. Mojo, self appointed leader of the band.
It was a very interesting gathering. The ranch owners were, for the most part, content to socialize, share and work on art projects, and let their ranch hands loose. There weren't any structured riding events.
William Hadsell, member of one of the founding families of the Conejo Valley, came to visit briefly on his new Ducati. It was a glorious day to play Angeles Crest Highway with a different mode of horse power.
Roberto Ramirez brought along a veterinarian and vet tech, as Grace had heard he might. She made short work of engaging them.
She also said nothing about the fact that they were going to doctor a wild stallion.
Using Skye's rope bridle technique, Grace approached Petrichor. Her movements were a mixture of slow and easy...because this thing of slipping a makeshift halter on him had to go right the first time...and because her body language needed to instill confidence in the humans she had brought along with her.
"We gave him Dermosedan" Grace said, "enough for a thousand pound horse and he's probably lighter. And I'm pretty sure he's got something wedged in his hoof. I can't think of anything else that would keep him lame without visible symptoms."
The rope halter slipped easily over his neck and head. He was unstable on his feet. Grace tried leaning in to Petrichor to keep him steady while a vet tech approached him from the other side. Petrichor was none too happy about the stranger, but sufficiently impaired by the dermosedan and his injury so as to pose little threat.
There did appear to be something lodged in his hoof. Petrichor did his best to avoid the tech. After several attempts the tech was able to grasp what appeared to be jagged piece of metal and pull on it.
Petrichor jerked his leg free and tried to rear. The tech made another attempt but Petrichor wasn't having it.
"Can you get a proper halter with a stud chain on him? I've almost got the thing out, I don't want him to drive it back in."
Grace thought for a moment about how she was going to answer that question.
"Let me try" Grace said. The thing - whatever it was - was already mostly out of his hoof. She could pull it out by hand...if she could just get her hands on it.
It took several tries. Finally she made a swift and decisive move, clutching the exposed portion of metal shard with her bare hand and pulling. It came free, with a very minimal amount of drainage and no telltale odor of infection.
Skye missed the whole Petrichor adventure. There was a lot to see at and around the Pony Party.
Not far from where the owners gathered at Chilao School, there was an "Open Barn." Recently renovated by Tara Reich, Skye was just in love with that barn. And there was more. An indoor riding arena.
Tara had more talents to share. Archery! Skye had never seen an arrow fly in real life, and she was intrigued. Tara released one after another into a palm round target. And it turned out one of her ranch hands was a pretty capable mounted archer. But Skye was a bit intimidated by him. He was...loud and a little unpredictable. He was dressed in a cape...she couldn't quite place the genre of his trappings...and it was always hard to tell if he was being playful or serious. Or seriously not quite right. One minute laughing, the next screaming...Tara's horses paid him no mind whatsoever, taking his emotional outbursts in stride, literally.
Skye took the opportunity to get back on Charmer and see how he did with poles. He was enthusiastic and quick. By night, Grace rode the indoor area. Just to do it. As much as she preferred the great outdoors to anything, being able to ride at night in a controlled environment was pretty nice. They met Dahlia, one of Tara's newest ranch hands, an accomplished English rider. While the horses were unflapped by the screaming man in the cape, Dahlia appeared to be less at ease with him.
Altogether, day one went very well. Grace and Skye were both excited about Sunday.
(images include William Hadsell, Clarissa ad James Quinn, Tara Reich, and the art of James Quinn and Julia Turner in progress. Thank you Roberto Ramirez for your veterinarian support staff).
October 2021. Hard to believe so much could happen in a single month. Skye was on a roll with her artwork, exploring whatever mediums she could find. Her second piece was a large acrylic on canvas. She had fanciful ideas for it, but decided to leave the piece rather simple and expansive. Grace had begun painting a life-sized sculpture by Kitty Cantrell, the Bremen Town Singers...an ambitious leap for her third ever art project.
The world outside though...it was really alive, and full of surprises. Hunters, coming to Chilao for deer, were leaving empty-handed, but telling tales of encountering herds of wild horses. Grace and Skye set out to find them.
It wasn't difficult. Under skies still smokey fro distant fires they left on foot before dawn. There was squealing and stomping and the clatter of hooves on granite to guide them in te right direction.
There was such noise and commotion that other forest dwellers were distracted!
Highlander had been around for several years. Alone and rarely seen, he was a draft influence mustang without brands of any kind. Grace had a picture of him made into a poster. The feisty little bay roan was the closest thing to a "real" Spanish style mustang among them. He was a recent arrival, also without a herd. And then Petrichor showed up, also displaying draft influence, and an endless curiosity about ranch life and young ladies.
Now, here were two more stallions...big, well put together horses, nicer than any wild horses Grace had ever seen, in person or in pictures, in California.
Highander and Crazy, the bay roan, seemed to form a loose alliance against the two newcomers. Petrichor, aligned with no one, sought to keep the higher ground on the steep rock escarpments.
It was not war, but it was an endless struggle, sure to exhaust the horses in a season where water was hard to come by and forage was equally bleak.
It was not war because there were no mares. And that was another part of the mystery.
Grace and Skye made their way home amidst a little ocean of birds and rodents, eagerly consuming the seed Skye had left, like a trail of breadcrumbs, on their way out.
A bit of time passed. The days were beautiful, and in between chores Grace and Skye rode because they could...because it was too beautiful not to. Skye was concerned about her old donkey. The jenny was very quiet, although her appetite was just fine, and Grace was concerned about getting some new pasture fence erected. You couldn't really call it pasture fence, as the high desert was hardly a pasture...but they needed something.
Grace found some natural timbers that would do nicely along the fire break, and Skye went along one fine, warm morning to help her go through them. The dogs - Baron, Hobo and White Dog, came along. It wasn't long before the dogs were alert to something. In a few moments that something became clear.
It was Petrichor, by himself. And he was limping, favoring his front right leg.
"He can barely walk."
Grace nodded. She was silent for several minutes. Then she focused her attention on Skye.
"Go back to the ranch, and get...get Precious, and get the longest piece of light rope you can find."
There was no shade on the firebreak, and the sun was warm particularly for the dogs. Skye's quick return was welcome.
Hurt leg or no, Petrichor was interested in Precious.
Precious turned just enough to always face the stallion, but never lost her composure. She wore one of Skye's rope leads. The long lead was trailing on the ground. Grace, meanwhile, held a long, lighter rope, tying a loop in one ending moving slowly with the other end.
Slowly she moved behind the stallion. The wind helped carry the rope over Petrichor's rump. And then in the next moment the wind pulled the rope clean out of Grace's hand. Grace managed to slowly reach down and pick up both ends of the rope.
She picked up the lead for Precious. Skye slipped up quietly and took it from her. And so the very, very slow walk home began.
Grace let the rope around his neck fall to the ground once they had maneuvered him into a turn-out arena. It was nowhere close to a stallion pen. It would only keep him for as long as he chose to be there. But there wasn't anything else. Skye filled a tub with fresh water. Petrichor was clearly interested. He would need to figure out how to reach down and drink it with his gimpy leg. Sedate though she might be, Skye's donkey came to get a better look at the new arrival.
There was little more they could do at the moment but let the stallion settle. They went inside, covered in dust from head to toe. Grace examined the life-size burro sculpture and tried to focus on it. Why she had decided to do an incredibly complex life-size piece with four animals was a bit of a mystery. Maybe she could pull it off. Maybe Skye could help. The girls tried not to think too much about Petrichor.
Petrichor was still there when the girls went at dusk to feed and check on him. Alpine glow lit the surrounding mountains as the golden hour unfolded. He had no visible injuries. No obvious swelling. Nothing they could see in his hoof. And it might be hard to get a vet to agree to an examination. They would leave him be, and see what the morning brought.
Late September in the forest was...hard to put into words, but there's plenty of pictures to tell the story. It was a time of every-day adventures.
Skye had spent some time in the meadow below the ranch, and at sunset, that meadow glowed with magical light. So one evening, Grace and Skye rode to the meadow, where Skye has placed a canvas and a pencil, and as the sun set golden on the landscape, Skye sketched what she saw.
Bringing the canvas home was a bit awkward, but they were guided as dusk fell by the rising of the moon. It was glorious! And so they made a point of seeing the moon's rise over the ridge the following evening.
Skye worked on her sketch momst of the night. she had a canvas meant for paint, but all she owned was watercolor pencils. It was difficult to get the materials to cooperate, and she lost much of her original drawing, but in the end, she was pleased. It was her first flat work. And it wasn't terrible. Grace was actually rather impressed.
The full moon always rises just after dark, as if its glory must be noticed without the distraction of the sunset. And the full moon in September did not disappoint.
Not too far away, Petrichor, the wild stallion that seemed to have a fondness for Grace, watched the same moonrise.
September is also a time of fires. In 2020, it was the Angeles National Forest that was burning in the Bobcat fire, a fire that was never more than two miles away from the ranch as the raven flies. In September 2021, the northern forests were burning; the redwood forests and beyond. The smoke spilled in to the Angeles and clung in the canyons for days, making red sunrises and hazy afternoons.
Finally one morning, the wind had shifted the smoke away, and Grace and Skye hurried into action. They brought horse after beautiful horse out to a temporary arena that Grave had set up at the entrance to Meadow Campground. The day was perfect! One horse after another got their glamour photos taken. The morning went smoothly. As the girls were packing up the camera equipment, the dogs became alert to something. Petrichor!
All the horses had been brought back to the ranch, so Grace decided she would approach him. He wanted something...and if it had been horses, he would have come when there were horses present. And so Grace approached him, just a bit slower than she might have approached any other horse that she she was just becoming acquainted with.
He let her come close. He moved toward her. He stopped. Grace told the big stallion if he wanted to be a ranch horse, somehow they would figure it out. Then she turned, and walked away from him. He started to follow.
Skye and the dogs watched, frozen in place. One, two, three, four steps, fix, six seven, eight steps...and then Petrichor changed his mind and whirled around, slipping away like the summer itself.
September. Hot, dry September.
Skye had made up her mind. She wanted a regalia. But not just for herself. She wanted a horse regalia. That is to say she wanted to embrace her indigenous heritage and her passion - horses - and she was willing to do the work, both of learning how to make that regalia and the physical work of doing it. There were some inherent problems, however...namely, her lack of relatives. To be part of a culture, you need first of all to know who your relatives are and be taught the traditions of that culture. You need your people.
Skye decided to persevere, creatively. She would ask for help, and meanwhile, she would help herself.
On September 5, Skye went out looking for wood. It was everywhere, there was no shortage, especially along the fire break. She was looking, specifically, for two plank-like pieces and four gently curved round pieces (or two pieces with a perfect curved fork). She had a saddle tree to fashion. Old school. She was going to try to make her own saddle for a native regalia. Because she may not have a lot of details about her heritage, but if she made the saddle herself, no one could say too much about that. And no wonder the Nez Perce loved their appaloosas so much. Her gelding blended more or less perfectly into the surroundings. (Grace bought Skye a bareback pad from Anne Field's recent sale. Skye balked at the idea at first...she had been riding bareback her whole life...but it sure was comfy).
It was hot, and nothing she found would do. The wood was old, brittle, the right shape but not suitable, or the wrong shape entirely. This was not going to be easy.
On September 11, Skye returned to the fire break just after dawn to look for proper pieces of saddle making wood. Someone well versed in wood working could no doubt see this place as a pile of opportunity. Skye saw a fantastic supply of winter firewood. But nothing she believed she could fashion into a saddle tree.
Grace wanted to help Skye, but there was only so much she could do. She could offer moral support. And she could shop. She and Skye had seen some pictures of lovely cloth dresses, most of them in colors and patterns more suited for a mature woman. Grace imagined something slightly different for Skye. And it just so happened that she passed by a fabric store fairly regularly. So while Skye was out hunting for the perfect piece of wood, Grace pushed the lovely bolts of pink and blue fabric between her mattress and sheets. There was so much fabric. And had there been a bolt in sky blue she would have gotten that too, but there wasn't anything just quite right.
Spot and Precious spun around to face north. They heard something. Could it be Petrichor again? Skye took hold of her horses. At first it looked like it might be coyote pups. A little small fo September...coyote pups should be nearly grown by now. As they came closer, she was able to discern that they were definitely not coyote pups. A pair of German Shepherd pups tumbled toward Skye across the rocky landscape. Their ears were not yet upright and they lacked the coordination to navigate the landscape.
They were not alone. Wary of Skye and the horses, a white dog kept his distance from atop a rock outcropping. A dalmation cross of some kind, perhaps a terrier mix, small in stature, opinionated and none too friendly.
The pups seemed unafraid and continued to make their way toward Skye. Then the white dog began to bark. Short, abrupt warning barks.
White Dog had moved as far up the rock face as he could, watching with great concern. Hearing the warning barks, the pups retreated as fast as their awkward young legs could carry them. Back into the shadows and cool crevices of the rocks. When Skye glanced up to see White Dog, he was gone.
Skye told Grace about the German Shepherd puppies and White Dog. How the dogs did not appear to have collars or an owner. How adorable the puppies were. And how she intended to find them, or at the very least, bring them some food and water.
"Let me come with you" Grace said. "There's a horse I've been meaning to take out. Give me a few minutes to get him tacked up."
Between Grace tacking up and Skye making water vessels out of dried gourds, it was the middle of the afternoon before they were ready to head out. And Grace had made some interesting choices regarding her ride.
"Remind me why I thought this was a good idea" Grace called out as her fiery mount danced.
"Happily" Skye responded. "You said a Spanish horse comes from roughly the same latitude and mediterranean biome that we have in California, genetically predisposed to be adapted to our climate, and so this horse would be a good choice for a warm day."
Grace put a brand new saddle and the only bridle she could find that would fit on the champagne colored Andalusian. The saddle squeaked with every slightest move.
"I am going to call this one The Lion King, or maybe Simba" Grace said. "His mane reminds me of a lion."
The cantle of the saddle was stiff with newness - over time it would be fine, but for now it was tight on his withers. And squeaking.
But when they made their way toward the rocks where Skye had lost seen the puppies, Simba's high action found purpose on the rocky ground. Unfortunately, in the mid-day sun, there was little shade around the base of the rocks, and the terrain was proving more challenging with every step.
Grace and Simba carefully picked their way around the rock outcropping, looking for anywhere that the dogs might be taking shelter in the heat of the day.
Gradually both Grace and Simba came to ignore the constant squeak of the saddle and relax into their relationship, and into the moment.
Skye busied herself with the nuts and bolts of the rescue plan. Dog food was easy enough to disburse, but the metal water bucket had gotten quite hot in the sun, and Skye could only hold it in the place where it had been tied to the saddle to prevent from burning her hands.
Done! Skye put the water bowl in the exact spot that she had last seen the puppies...because she could not think of anything better to do. The water gourds had made it without cracking...but they were so heavy. She moved one several feet, set it down, rested. The gourds held just enough water to fill the bucket to the very brim. Skye sat down for a moment. Water is heavy.
Despite their quick response, they saw no sign of the dogs. They would go looking again. Perhaps lay a kibble trail toward the ranch. Perhaps go out early in the morning with Baron and Hobo.
Grace could only hope they would be more successful in the morning. Her bed was extra firm with the fabric for Skye hidden underneath the covers, but she decided tonight was not the night for surprises. It could wait.
They set out again on September 12. The sun was just about over the ridge. The air was deliciously cool. So cool Skye was sort of wishing she'd brought a jacket. But soon enough it would be warm, and with any luck, they would find the dogs.
Sunrise burst forth in all its glory. Grace stood back with the horses. Baron and Hobo immediately sensed a presence. Skye settled herself among the rocks, near the water bucket, but just out of sight. The dogs headed up into the rocks. There was silence...and then Skye began to notice all the birds. The kibble and water had not gone un-noticed.
Baron found the pups. Perhaps because he was a familiar color, or perhaps because they'd had enough of the great outdoors, they were more than happy to approach Baron. Hobo found White Dog. And White Dog wasn't having it.
Grace waited. All but for the sound of birds, it was silent. And then they emerged from the rocks. The pups were unafraid now, coming out into the open, following Baron and the horses. Grace began heading back toward the ranch.
"What about White Dog?" Skye asked, trying not to trip over the pups.
"If he's still around chances are he'll be able to figure out which way the pups went. Maybe he'll follow. He's got water for now. We can come back and try again, but let's get these pups home."
The following mornign it was time to get back to work. Dawn's light began to spread across a cool landscape. The day would be warm, but right now, the air was invigorating. One of the new horses Grace yet to ride was the Arabian stallion. More properly, a half-arab, or Pintabian. The bridle Rachel Mitchell of Trails End Studio gifted Grace fit the stallion perfectly. But there was no saddle small enough for him, so Grace borrowed Skye's bareback pad. Skye came down to the big pen on Deer Medicine to watch.
"He's really responsive" Grace said. "I turned him out to let him blow off some steam and see if he'd stay on the ground better, but he just has a lot of action."
As they came to know each other, horse and rider began to develop a mutual rhythm. "I bet I could teach him the Spanish walk. He's a natural."
Grace wasn't entirely sure she was doing it properly, but it was working for the colorful stallion, who still did not have a stable name.
"What about Rembrandt?" Skye asked. "Or is that the wrong palette for his color?"
It did sort of fit him...
Skye saw movement along the edge of the arena. White Dog. "Hey! Look who came to visit!" Skye started riding toward him, then decided to ignore him. Just in case too much attention might send him off again. He remained aloof, and when the girls headed back to the barn, he vanished.
Back at home, the shepherd pups were enjoying their new domain with reckless abandon. There were no shortage of toys, but their favorite plaything was the roll of paper towels they had liberated. Skye sat on the floor and was more or less immediately puppy-mauled. It was delightful. The older dogs watched the rambunctious pups form the safety of Grace's bed.
From her vantage point on the floor, Skye noticed something odd.
"How come your bed is so high?" Skye said. "Don't your feet usually touch the floor?"
"I'm hiding things under my mattress" Grace said as if she might be joking.
Might as well go ahead and pull out the fabric she'd bought for Skye to make some dresses from. Dresses to be part of her native regalia.
She got the blue bolt past Skye without her noticing. But the pink caught her eye.
"It's for you. I'm not sure what you were intending to make for your first regalia, but you can do a cloth dress in such a way that it's appropriate without appropriating anyone's personal...medicine." Grace was prepared for Skye to be less than thrilled about hot pink polkadots. Skye, whom she had never seen anywhere close to pink or a dress. That was not the case. In a few moments, Skye had more or less wrapped herself in the generous bolt of vibrant pink.
About half an hour of excited chatter followed. Neither one of them could sew cloth. What ribbon colors would they need. Who would make the dresses. How to make them so Skye could actually ride in them. And moccasins...
It was August 29, 2021. All the new horses arriving meant that Skye hadn't had much time for her own little herd. She took them out together to the big arena, before dawn, while it was still cool.
Practicing the techniques that Grace had taught her with the new horses, Skye put a halter and long line on one of her favorite mares, Deer Medicine, a Thoroughbred and Spanish Mustang cross called an Anglo-Barb.
Most of her horses were mares, except for the appaloosa gelding that arrived in July. He was coming along nicely. It took some effort, but she had finally managed to clean him up pretty nice.
Skye decided ground work might be good for Ladyhawk, the grey mustang mare. She was always high-headed. Perhaps lunging could help balance her. Ladyhawk seemed particularly distracted, however, and instead of getting the hang of ground work, she seemed to be getting more and more antsy.
While Skye was focused on Laydhawk, the other horses were focused on something in the distance.
And then the problem became obvious. Up from the south as the sun crested the mountain he came. Petrichor!
Ladyhawk spun and Skye held on. The lunge line was now across the grey mare's back. It was awkward, but she had a certain amount of leverage on the mare and was able to control her advance toward the unexpected guest.
Petrichor danced about at the fence line...the rope and ribbon fence line, hardly a barrier meant to deter a wild stallion.
Hobo slipped through the fence and approached the stallion. Skye gasped. She has seen Petrichor strike. Hobo wasn't a herding dog. And perhaps that was a good thing. He came in calm, and although colored an awful lot like a cougar himself, the stallion did not strike.
He didn't exactly come, but he got inside the fence, and maintained a line between the mare and the stallion. And then, after what seemed like an eternity, Petrichor moved off, trotting away, occasionally casting a glance over his shoulder as he did.
Skye decided to resume ground work another day.
There were several horses coming. Maybe more than several. The equine market of Breyerfest had come and gone and Redbird Ranch had purchased a number of horses.
This appaloosa sport horse mare, Dani Girl, was among the first to arrive. Well rounded in both English and Western performance, and pretty as they come.
Two more arrivals followed, a fabulous American Saddlebred stallion, and an endurance style blue-black arabian stallion. He was big, with a ground covering trot and a simply gorgeous coat.
And there was a treat for Skye. Kaleidoscope, a decorator model in wonderful, rich colors...something to hopefully inspire Skye and fuel her imagination and creativity.
The big horse delivery was still a day or two out. So Grace tried her hand at making something they would need. She studied her handiwork. She had made a number of lunging whips. They needed a little perfecting, but overall, they were colorful and functional.
Then she broke out something less artistic, but equally creative.
"It's a poor girl's fence" Grace explained to a puzzled Skye. You'll know all about it by tomorrow morning."
On August 21 they assembled the poor girl's fence, making extensions to their existing "rodeo fence" as Skye liked to call it.
"How is this going to work?" Skye asked. "Not the fence, but the horses. Didn't you say they are all stallions? How are we going to manage them?"
"Just like Circus Knie" Grace answered. "When they come into the turnout pen they will be in a completely new environment and they will be looking for their place in it, both physically and socially. And we will be the lead horses. We will establish that straight away and expect them to respond accordingly."
Grace had to sound convincing. Skye needed to believe beyond any doubt that this was going to work, and smoothly. Fact of the matter is, Circus Knie spends years training their horses to work together. Grace and Skye were about to receive five stallions whose only previous experience with each other was in the horse trailer. And they would have been in the trailer for several hours before their arrival.
They got the fence up just in time...the trailer arrived before dawn. One after another beautiful horse emerged...two golden horses, a stout pinto, a tall, blue-eyed cream-colored stallion, and a small but feisty part-arabian. They entered the rope and rail arena just as Grace said they would...observing their new space, and looking to find their place within it. So far so good.
Skye had never done this kind of ground work before. She watched Grace, and listened carefully to her direction, spoke in an even, confident tone.
"See if you can get everybody going in the same direction. Use the lunge whip to move them. They will move away from it, so go to your right."
All the horses were moving in the same direction as the sun began to crest the mountain.
"Ready to try a direction change Skye?"
"I'm going to turn them in now..."
"Keep pushing them in the new direction, toward the fence...good...good..."
"Okay Skye, one more time around in this new direction and then we're going to do the circus move."
Skye imagined all the stallions in a semi circle, rearing and walking on their hind legs. She was pretty sure they weren't going to be able to do that particular circus move.
"When they come around use your whip, your hand and your voice and ask them to halt."
Grace brought in the two stallions on the left flank
Skye addressed the three stallions before her.
And they halted, all five stallions facing inward, attentive, supple to Grace and Skye.
"And there you are...just like the circus! Good job Skye!"
While waiting for the last of the new arrivals, Grace saddled up one of the new stallions, the one she thought might be a Morgan.
"I think I am going to name this one Moose" Grace said to Skye. "I could barely get my tack to fit him. This boy is Big. If he's a Morgan, he's old school."
Late in the afternoon the final trailer pulled in. Grace hadn't mentioned anything about a bull. Or two cats. In fact, Grace didn't know anything about the bull coming with two cats."What is he?" Skye finally asked.
"An Argentine Criollo. For the Hertina breeding program. He'll be bred to Hereford cows. The bull calves should be ready to go to market about the time of Breyerfest 2022."
"He's scary. Scary big too."
Grace and Skye were speechless as one of the cats approached the bull. Not like there was much they could say. They couldn't call the cat back...they didn't know it's name. But after that, they gave the black cat a name...Mojo.
In the days that followed, Grace spent time with each of the new horses. One of the golden stallions was a particular favorite. She brought him into the big arena pre-dawn, beating the summer's intense heat.
"He's gorgeous" Skye said. "What is he?"
"I'd say he's...part Friesian. I don't know that a pure Friesian comes in any color other than black. But I don't know much about Friesians."
She spent a little time with him on the ground before she got in the saddle.
He was in fact very smooth, his steps bold but measured, as if upon his back were precious cargo.
"I think we'll call this one Dream Boat" Grace said. "He is really wonderful under saddle."
then the Akhal Teke. More like a speed boat.
No name for him was really coming to mind. He seemed a bit aloof yet, his true personality shielded under all that gleam and muscle.
"I was going to talk about the triangular dimension of lunging a horse, guiding with the head and driving forward with the whip and the balance in between...but I'm going to be dizzy pretty soon if this one doesn't slow down."
Grace could picture him English; an eventing horse, an endurance horse, maybe even racing. He didn't neck rein, and she didn't have a snaffle.
So she plough reined, and it worked. He appeared to enjoy poles.
The white barrels seemed to spook him, so Skye hastily painted one blue to see if that would help. It seemed to help.
"I am sure he has a fancy pedigree name" Grace said as the big horse covered ground across the arena, "but I'm going to call him Gunner."
Grace let Skye do ground work with Dani Girl, the lovely sport horse mare. "Let her move forward into your triangle a little bit more so you are right in the middle of her."
"Good, good...keep working her in that direction, I'll be right back. I have a surprise for you."
Skye was focused on the mare and didn't pay much attention about the surprise.
And what a surprise indeed.
She was an elder, and although Grace did buy her, it was a bit of a rescue purchase. The old girl looked tired, and Skye seemed to have a soft place in her heart for old horses. One more mouth would hardly make a dent in the feed bill.
It was August 7, 2021.
Skye left before dawn, slipping quietly past Grace who had spent half the night staring at her new resin horse. Her theory was, to catch up with a mustang, you should ride one; so she took Ladyhawk, and let the spirited mare more or less lead the way.
Thunderstorms earlier in the week had left pools of clean water in the rock outcroppings of the high desert and conifer forest interface. Petrichor had come for a cool morning drink.
Ladyhawk seemed distracted by something on the ridge above. And there he was! Petrichor!
Skye had hoped to catch a glimpse of the stallion. She was getting an eye full as the stallion approached, snorting, shaking his head and displaying, but not showing aggression. Ladyhawk was tense beneath her, but she also seemed distracted. As if they was more than just the big appaloosa stallion to keep an eye on.
And then, just as the sun crested the ridge, the sound of hooves against granite, and Grace's calm, even voice.
"Get up on higher ground."
Sweeping in between Skye and the stallion, Grace and Cookie locked on to their target. Stallion...steer...whatever. Cookie was ready to outmaneuver her subject. A high desert dawn dance ensued
They drew closer, wary but ever less tense. as if the stallion would soon reach out his nose again, as he had the first time Grace came close to him. But just as Grace thought he might, Skye startled all three of them.
Ladyhawk saw it first. All eyes now fell upon the big cat. While the mountian lion focused on Ladyhawk and Skye, Petrichor circled behind it.
The cougar moved swiftly to face the stallion, crouching again. It was no small cat. And it was not backing down.
Petrichor circled the cat, always facing him, moving ever closer. Still, the mountain lion held its ground. The seconds seemed like an eternity. Grace nudged Cookie forward, and she went willingly.
Still the cougar did not move. Skye rode in on Ladyhawk.
For a fleeting moment the cougar focused its attention on Skye and Ladyhawk. Petrichor seized his chance, lounging at the big cat, striking with his powerful front hooves. It was over in a second, the cat spinning and bounding away, over a steep granite precipice and away.
Snorting and shaking his head, Petrichor trotted toward the edge of the rock face, as if to make sure the big cat was gone. Then he relaxed, dropping his head, moving away from the girls, back up the water pools to fill hiself with cool, precious water.
Back at home, the girls were a mixture of exhausted, and very awake.
Skye bubbled with youthful enthusiasm. "I think that was the most exciting ride yet..."
Indeed. What a morning it had been!
(A little fun fact. You will always see the Frenchie and the Sheltie together because they both have vision issues and they rely upon each other to see. The Frenchie is almost blind, but we may be able to correct it with surgery. The sheltie is older and probably has cataracts, but still gets around pretty well).
Skye claimed the appaloosa gelding. And Grace was fine with that. The only way to really know an older horse won't endure a horrific ending after a life of faithful service is to make sure of that yourself...to keep them.
She started by trying to get him cleaned up. Skye took one of the near-antique halters and a long leather line from the tack room. The leather was starting to crack, but she found a halter that fit. She washed the spotted gelding as best as she could but the scuffs and scratches he had all over his body didn't appear to be ordinary dirt. For the most part, they did not come off.
And then, for the evening, she found him a place in the barn, and put on a blanket...a little big for him perhaps, but he did not seem to mind. He was patient, kind, and appeared to be enjoying all the attention. He was sound...his legs were straight and unblemished, he showed no signs of arthritis.
Grace got a nice surprise when her second ever custom model horse won the MEPSA Mini Makeover contest. It had been Skye's idea to enter the contest, and Grace chose not to object...but she surely wasn't thinking she would win. Her prize made her feel a bit better about giving up her little roan mustang...a resin by one of her favorite artists, Kitty Cantrell, small enough to put on her night stand, and happily, another mustang. Mustangs seemed to be playing a big role in their lives lately.
Which is where the mystery comes in. Grace and Skye poured over a map of the back country, but no matter how expansive the forest, it was surrounded by development. So where wild horses were coming from in this day and age was a bit of a mystery. Grace figured the BLM holding facility in Ridgecrest was the nearest potential source, providing they had lost some horses (and all of them stallions)...but Ridgecrest is a solid 120 miles from Chilao.
Realistically, it was impossible that the horses were coming from Ridgecrest directly. But they were coming from somewhere.
On July 18, after a long and brutal heat wave, the sky was wonderfully cool with clouds. Grace rode out early on one of her favorite mares, Sheza Looker, in the hopes of catching another glimpse of the wild horses.
The morning ride did not disappoint. Grace watched from a distance as big rain drops came dancing down from the sky. A stallion emerged, one Grace had never seen before; a sort of dark palomino appaloosa, with big hooves and a generous profile; and the dust rose as the rain pummeled the parched soil. And so she named him. Petrichor.
Petrichor would not be alone for long. The little bay roan that Skye named Crazy was quick to approach the new arrival.
She watched from a distance as the smaller bay stallion tested and sought to engage the bigger, light colored stud. He was pushy, that horse named Crazy. The big stallion squealed and pawed back but seemed uninterested in all-out war. With a sudden lunge he pushed the little bay back...but he didn't follow up with an attack. Eventually the two stallions moved out of view, more or less in the same direction...like being together was better than being alone, but not exactly like old friends.
On July 25, Grace went out again looking for the wild horses. She rode out before dawn, borrowing Precious, one of Skye's favorite and most unflappable mares. Finding the stallion named Petrichor would not prove difficult. He seemed more interested in Grace than the mare. Wary but not frightened. There was a moment when, in their dust dance, Petrichor was very close, and held the upper ground. Grace kept moving to the left, talking in a calm voice, as though she knew him like an old friend on an ordinary day, no special effort to be soothing, just talking. He reached his neck out for a moment, almost touching her with his nose...then, as if a distant sound had caught his attention, he drew back and turned away, casting a glance at Precious as he trotted off in a big, stiff stallion trot. Grace wondered if he really had other business to attend to, or if he just felt the need to make an exit. Either way, it was a very good first encounter.
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