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.