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).