June 4, 2022
Grace's guess was accurate. The boss had brought the shepherd pups to the Children of Many Colors Powwow, and they needed more or less constant attention. Skye took them for walks on the smooth, green grass, such a luxury, damp with moisture in the cool of dawn. They were in Oxnard, just a few blocks from the ocean. The air was laden with delicious moisture.
It was early Saturday morning, and still quiet. Many of the vendors had come in on Friday. Still more would set up this morning.
"Are you at least going to take your chaps off?" Skye teased.
""Maybe a little later. There's still chairs and trash cans to move."
Grace never did get a chance to take off her chaps and relax. The powwow demanded her full attention. It seemed there were endless tasks essential to the smooth flow of the gathering. But on Sunday, chaps still on, she joined Skye at the arena for several hours.
Throughout the weekend they'd seen a lot. Before Grand Entry on Saturday, while all the dancers watched and waited, three young grass dancers went out before them to prepare the dance arena. Skye was struck by how the adults were respectful of those youngsters, and waited while they did their job.
Once the powwow began it was often a riot of sound and color. Skye listened to the master of ceremonies as best as she could. There were many young people in the arena and everyone seemed friendly and relaxed. Eventually Skye mustered the courage to go out into the arena. There were a lot of women in the arena too. A large group of Chumash dancers...local native people...took part in the powwow.
Skye watched a thing called a Switch Dance...it was a fun dance, where women and girls danced in the regalia and the style of men, and vice versa...Skye watched a powwow princess become a chicken dancer, and she was good!
At the end of the day on Sunday, the boss took Skye around for the last few intertribal songs. They stopped for one song at a drum called Blue Star, and danced in place in front of Bear Springs, while other dancers interacted with the drum as they sang in a way that seemed personal and meaningful.
The drums and the singing and the dancing lingered inside of Skye. The powwow ended Suday evening, but Skye stretched it out a little, putting her dress back on and practicing her steps, drum beats etched into her head. In the tack room she found, Grace surrounded by new saddles and tack. Fiona Covert had donated western, english and saddle seat saddle and bridle sets, as well as other supplies. Grace was a bit overwhelmed by the generosity. Skye was a bit distracted by the sound of drums still in her head.
Skye went out before the sun was up, walking about, saying hello to the horses, and to the little iron pony. It was cute, even if it ws missing some things and needing some things.
She loved her dress. She didn't want to take it off. But she couldn't quite work out how she would ride in it. Mista Spot stood patiently, waiting for her to figure it out.
In the indoor arena, with La Barilla in a halter and a bareback pad, Grace was eager to see if the english saddle and bridle would work the way she had hoped.
Skye was busy trying to make her blanket double as a shawl, but it was bulky.
The bridle had a lot of moving parts. La Barilla looked a bit suspicious of it.
The saddle was less concerning. He was comfortable with the bareback pad now, and the saddle was small, light, and didn't squeak. He'd already had a western saddle on his back. Grace expected this to go smoothly.
The saddle fit neatly atop the bareback pad and the stirrups were run up high so as not to flap around. La Barilla took the addition of the saddle in stride. Grace asked him to move in a slow circle.
Skye walked around with La Barilla, admiring his beauty, admiring Grace's work with him.
Grace would need to do some improvising with Fiona's saddle. It needed a girth, and the one from Trail's End Studio would do nicely. She would also need long reins for the bridle, once she'd put it on him and made sure it would fit. For today, she decided to let the saddle be enough. She would put a bit in his mouth another time.
At home, Grace searched pictures of snaffle bridles and proper bitting.
"Are you wanting to make sure you put it on him right?"
"Yes I am" Grace replied. I've seen real simple snaffles used for training, but this is a full english bridle and cavasson, or at least I think that's what it's called. I'm not exactly sure how to adjust all of it. And I need to find a blanket too".
"Oh, I can help with that." Skye hurried off. She returned quickly, donning her home made riding hood.
"Remember this? I made it to go for a ride with you and Elecktra when I didn't have a jacket. There's plenty of material and it's real soft. I guess I could wear it now with my dress, huh? But it's okay. You can have it. I can make another one next winter if I need to."
Skye clambered slowly up the ladder to her bunk.
"Are you ever going to take that dress off?"
"Yes" Skye said. " I just wanted to see if I could climb the ladder in it."
The saddle portion of making the long rein rig was coming along fine. But as it turned out, the snaffle bridle did not fit La Barilla's big head. Grace briefly contemplated dismantling it, but it was such a nice bridle, and she fairly quickly abandoned that idea.
Grace watched La Barilla move at liberty. He would be beautiful under saddle. She wanted to make sure he had the best possible start. They would find another way to do a long rein rig. There had to be a simpler snaffle bridle around somewhere. Or perhaps a different headstall altogether.
Grace and Skye went for a ride as the day cooled. It was the first time Grace had let anyone ride Loch'sha, the appaloosa mare, whom she had started over a year ago. Skye sat her comfortably, and Loch'sha looked relaxed.
The dogs were alerted to something while the girls talked bridles. Soon the what would become evident as the loud yipping call of a coyote tore the warm forest silence apart. They collectively stopped and listened. Another call from another coyote. Then briefly, a chorus. Three coyotes...the third one with a gruff voice that sounded more like a dog trying to become a coyote. They were able to get an accurate conception of the location of the coyotes from the sound and it was in fact coming from where they suspected the coyotes had denned; not very far at all from the ranch and more or less right behind the fire station. And the sound of at least three coyotes meant one of two things...more coyotes than they really wanted, or at least one pup.
"I really really really want to see puppies" Skye said.
The commotion ceased and the forest fell silent again, except for the sound of campers in the meadow below.
"Me too" Grace said. "Let's go look for them tomorrow morning. Without the dogs."
They put the dogs inside, and in the last light of evening rode for a little while longer inside an arena. Grace was cooking up plans. Skye could tell. She had that far away look.
"See if she will respond to shifts in your body weight" Grace said. And so Skye released the bosal reins. Loch'sha thoughtfully worked with Skye's direction. Grace studied the bosal. It would work.
"Skye, can you make me a bosal to fit La Barilla? It will need to hold two sets of reins."
By the time Grace and Skye set out to find the coyote den, at least one of the coyotes was already in the campgrounds, making a lot of noise. They decided to follow the sound as the sun rose.
As they walked, it seemed like the coyote's call grew more distant, but it was a beautiful morning, so they kept on.
They went past the group camp, back into the cool shadows. They came to the creek crossing, and as they did, the coyote calls ceased. They were greeted by another territorial resident, the hummingbrid.
They walked the recently dry creek bed, cool and still surrounded by green grass. They walked until the came to water. And Crazy's band, having a morning drink.
The watering hole was popular with all forms of life. The girls ducked down, moving quietly toward a rock outcropping, seeking visual shelter.
Crazy seemed to have caught wind of something, or perhaps they had simply drank their fill, but he moved his band away shortly after the girls had arrived.
There was time enough for Grace and Skye to be certain that there was still only one foal in the herd. All the whie the hummingbird was busy. Chasing finches, chasing horses, posturing to show the girls whose homeland they were trespassing on.
The sun's rays were already warming the cool creek air.
Grace and Skye walked to the water's edge. The pool disappeared into the ground, but the water looked clean and smelled fresh. As long as there was water here, survival was possible for the wild thigs.
The walk back was long as the air warmed, but it had been worth it. Skye thought she saw something move as they neared the ranch.
Sure enough. The male coyote was there, in plain sight and daylight, perusing the land between the fire station and the ranch. He was alone. Completely distracted by insects. Blending seamlessly into the landscape at all times. They would have to go out again to look for the den. But not now. Perhaps they would try again in the evening.
The afternoon was warm, but in the dappled shade of the trees, Grace and Skye turned out some of the pony mares, foals and geldings. The only thing cuter than a pony is a baby pony.
Dinky was a little bit shy and stayed close to mom.
The little black pony was very flashy and fun to watch. As the afternoon progressed, the shade thinned. Grace brought out some stallions one at a time to let them stretch their legs.
Grace hadn't spent much time at all with the Arab that Skye nicknmaed Big Blue. For an Arabian he was very large, and she was entirely uncertain that they owned a headstall which would fit him.
This was the pup Yeller's first encounter with horses. He wasn't sure he needed many more of them.
They turned out the silver-grey Andalusian stallion, River. Gifted the the ranch by Laurel Dedes and as splendid as ever.
It seemed a long day. At last the cooling shadows began to engulf the land. Skye and Grace went back out, on foot and without dogs, in search of the coyote den. They were in the right place, and it was the right time.
They waited, and listened. Nothing.
The shadows deepened. The insects emerged.
Skye pointed her camera at rock formations in the failing light. They were in here somewhere. She examined her pictures, then went along the horizon and took more. She saw something that looked like perhaps a ground squirrel standing on top of a rock, acting as a sentinel.
And then she took a closer look at her picture. There it was. One lone coyote pup. Waiting for its parents to return with the evening meal. Already aware of Grace and Skye's presence. Already old enough to know its place in the world. The girls watched for a while, until shadows consumed the land and the pup hid itself among the boulders. A long day came to a wonderful close.
May 14, 2022
As the sun set and the air cooled, Grace and Skye ventured out to note the moon's position on the horizon. Spotting Skye, a pair of ravens came, ever hopeful for a handout. Tomorrow night, the moon would rise already involved in a total eclipse. Grace reckoned it would be like nothing they had ever seen, and she did not want to miss it.
The ravens continued to circle.
"I wish I could feed the birds" Skye lamented.
"I know. Maybe when these coyotes move off you can again."
"Do you think they'll move off?"
"Well...no. They'll always be close. But I think their den is really close this year."
The western sky still glowed with the sun's departure.
Grace went back out after the horses were put up to look at the moon. As she stepped out the door she saw something, close, moving in the near-darkness. It was the male coyote, disappearing at a quick trot into the night. The night time was theirs. The night, the forest, all of it. Once the sun went down it was a different world outside. And moreso lately than Grace recalled it being in the past.
May 15. Grace watched the pre-dawn clouds. She did not care for what she saw. There would be no rain from this. These were some real clouds mixed with what the boss called the "boney fingers", which she did not believe were natural clouds at all. Moments later, the dogs began barking. Graced turned and looked toward the north. Coyotes were drinking from Skye's little bird bath.
They blended so perfectly into the surroundings. But it was not thirst alone that drew them. They were hovering nearby, even after the sun rose. They were holding territory. Skye saw them also. She knew even the water for the birds would have to go.
"I'm sorry" Grace said. "Are you going to leave it empty or take it away?"
"I'm trying to think like a coyote. And so I think ... I think I will lead them away. I will put the water bowl somewhere else. I will fill it one more time. And then let it go dry."
Skye chose a spot where coyotes would be visible to anyone on the road. She walked the old bowl there, theoretically leaving a scent trail, theoretically saying "your offerings will be served here now." She did her best to think like a coyote. The dish only held one gallon of water, but hopefully that water would last long enough for the coyotes to become accustomed to going somewhere else to find it. Water dish relocated and refilled, Skye had an idea.
Skye brought in a big, clear plastic tub.
"We have a lot of these you know. What's the chance we could fill them with water and leave them around the forest for the wild critters?"
"We don't have any way to transport water. And that tub will hold a lot of water."
Meanwhile, out on Chilao Flat, horses gathered. In the sky, the clouds with their boney fingers would bring no rain.
The pale mare had taken the lead as Petrichor's small band headed for the watering holes atop Mustang Rock. The bay mare let her go.
The horses scrambled up the rocks to the pools. But the pools were dry. The pale mare snorted in alarm. Petrichor responded. It was Highlander. He had come with his single dun mare to look for water, just as Petrichor's band had.
Highlander squealed and snorted and postured. The mares saw their chance. The bay mare and the dun were known to each other. Perhaps they were related. They broke rank, each leaving the invisible boundary that separated one band from the other, coming together to greet each other.
Petrichor pawed and shook his head...but avoided actually engaging Highlander. There was no water, and so there was nothing to fight over. No reason to risk getting injured.
The clattering of the stallion's hooves broke up the mare's reunion. The bay mare began to move off, and her herd followed, Petrichor bringing up the rear.
Dusk, May 15. The sun's last glow colored the mountains.
"I don't know exactly where the moon is going to rise" Grace said, "but it will be somewhere in this general direction."
The eclipse was already under way so the full moon rose partly in shadow. The shadow came over the moon quickly. The totality phase lasted a long time. There was a hush that came with it. A primordial sort of silence that harkened to a time of omens and goddesses...and it was as dark as a night with no moon.
But when the shadow departed, the brilliant reflection of the moon quickly lit the night again.
Although the eclipse was over before midnight, something about it kept the girls up and chattering until the wee hours of morning, so it was not until noon that Grace took La Barilla for his inaugural spin with a saddle on May 16.
And he did do a little bit of spinning. The air was hot, and as they walked, the long way, to get to the arena, a dry, restless wind came in gusts. It was somehow unsettling. Skye lead the way, slow and calm, on Deer Medicine.
They reached the indoor arena without incident.
"Are you going to turn him loose?" Skye asked.
"No. For one thing, this is a really nice saddle. For another, the cinch isn't very snug. It's just snug enough to hold the saddle on under normal circumstances. If I turned him loose in something, it would be your bareback pad to start."
Grace hadn't really planned on making it all the way to the arena. But La Barilla was doing so well. You could see that he was thinking, concentrating, trying to work with the awkwardness of a thing on his back. He wasn't angry, or frustrated, or frightened. He was trying to work it out.
That horse is going to be fantastic under saddle, Skye thought.
May 20. Returning to Chilao in a wonderfully cool mist, the first thing the girls came upon was an irate coyote in the campgrounds. It was howling mad, vocalizing at a man with two large dogs and a lady in a truck who also had two large dogs. How dare campers bring dogs along with them into her territory, she seemed to be saying.
Chilao Fire Station came into view. Ah. Home again. Home always felt good. They found a note on the table, and flowers.
"I love popcorn flowers" Skye said. "I'll find something to put them in. What does the note say?"
A new pony.
Heart of steel
Stout and square.
She may need
You treat her
And so they looked, although they were not entirely sure for what. They looked south toward the campgrounds. They went up into the rocks to the northwest, and based on the greeting they got from coyote earlier, they went without the dogs.
Atop the yucca they saw Band-tailed pigeon, or as their neighbor Darren called them, mountain chickens.
They went into some of the still-blackened parts of the controlled burn. Surely anything there would leave a track, a trace. But they saw nothing.
They headed back toward home, as the fog and clouds moved silently across the landscape.
"We'll go out again tomorrow" Grace said.
"It's not an actual horse...the boss would never leave an old horse out there. Unless it was a sculpture. But a sculpture...a sculpture wouldn't take us places. I mean not literally."
"Right, right! Oh this is so exciting I can't stand it."
As night fell, the wild things took over the land. Even more than they were already doing while it was still light out.
May 21. It was high spring. Skye was mounted up and ready to go before Grace. Grace saddled up Jesse. It wasn't too long before Grace and Jesse caught up to Skye.
They searched along the outer perimeter of the property, and then beyond it. Redbird Ranch was just shy of 37 acres proper, and they'd covered a lot of it on foot yesterday.
They rode out onto Forest Service land. They were pretty sure they were looking for a vehicle. They split up, criss-crossing the burn area above the ranch.
They headed up into the rocks where they often saw Petrichor and his small band of mares and foals. But they saw nothing today. Not even coyotes.
They made their way back to the fire break, and headed home, empty handed.
There was only one part of the property they hadn't searched yet. The firebreak on the eastern flank of the property. Cheatgrass had made a sudden appearance, going to seed, drying out and becoming just so much light fuel in a matter of weeks. The soil was loose in some places and hard in others and there were holes big enough to trip a horse throughout.
Grace stared toward the setting sun. Where. Where was this "new pony" hiding?
Skye broke the poem down line by line.
"In the vastness of the land you will find her, it says. It says 'the land' not 'this land' so I think that could mean anywhere, not just right here on the ranch."
"I'm pretty sure we're looking for a car" Skye added.
"I hope not" Grace said. "We need a truck."
Skye set the note down. She had an audience, and they didn't much care about the piece of paper. It was dinner time.
May 22. The girls followed Skye's hunch about "the vastness of the land." They left the Redbird Ranch property and headed out onto USFS land. The first clues they found were potentially not encouraging. A scattering of vehicle parts, sun-faded and worn by time. And then the Jeep.
There were no campers, no drone pilots, no weekend warriors, no lost hikers around. They stared in silence. Finally Grace spoke.
"This must be it."
There was nothing but the sound of the breeze and the cooling air as the shadows grew long. They waited for a bit. Skye broke the silence.
Despite which, Skye seemed rather fond of it already. She slipped down off of Mista Spot, and circled the Jeep. It had four round tires. Seats. Steering wheel. It was dusty...but it was more or less a whole vehicle.
She fumbled around with the glove box and when it finally opened, she found a single key. It fit the ignition.
"Should I start it?"
"Sure" Grace responded.
It started. It didn't sound very powerful...but it started, and it kept running.
And it drove. A little weak, a little slowly, but it drove.
"Are there some things missing here?" Skye called back to Grace.
"Yes. There's a lot missing. The windshield. And the roof. I think most vehicles have some kind of roof. I think it might also be missing seat belts."
Skye had never driven anything before, but this was pretty simple. And slow. Still! She was driving!
And then she came to an abrupt halt.
"Shouldn't a jeep be able to go through a hole?"
"Well" Grace said, "I don't think this one has enough power to fight its way out of a paper bag."
The breeze swayed the flowers. All was silent except for the sound of the little Jeep. And then it too fell silent.
"Well, doggone it...it's cute! It's so little. Now what are we going to do?"
Grace stared silently for a few moments before answering.
"I have an idea."
Grace decided to try horse power...old fashioned single horse power...to bring home the Jeep.
Skye had never ridden two up before. She wasn't sure where to sit, and wound up more or less on the cantel.
"Do you think this is gonna work?"
"We'll know pretty soon" Grace answered.
It was working. The little Jeep started again, and it ran as best as it could. Skye learned how not to jab the brakes on the down hill portions, and Loch'sha learned when to lean into the rope, and little by little, they made their way back to the ranch.
That little Jeep may not have been worth much...but using Loch'sha to bring it home was priceless.
La Barilla moved more freely with the bareback pad. And no wonder. It didn't squeak, it had no flapping stirrups, it was light and soft.
Grace talked aloud. Skye wasn't sure if the words were meant for herself or the horse, but she wanted to listen. "This little bit of pressure from my hand, it doesn't bother you at all. Some day such a light touch will give you direction."
After a successful second saddle session with the golden stallion, the girls decided to bring some other horses to the arena.
Slowly but surely Grace was getting to like the indoor arena. The walk could be a bit challenging with the wind blowing, but it was worth it. Simba appeared to agree.
Valiant was one of the first horses Grace rode when she arrived and she had a special fondness for him.
"Moose!" Skye had a particular fondness for the big, gentle stallion...probably a Morgan/Paint mix.
Grace hadn't spent a lot of time with Indrafez. He was a very fine Arabian horse, with kind eyes.
Windy Boy was still one of her most beloved mounts.
(halter by Jennifer Buxton)
Horses put away and the sun moving swiftly toward the western horizon, Skye turned her attention to the upcoming weekend, and the powwow. Redbird's 20th Children of Many Colors Powwow was coming up. Michelle Sepiol's dresses would finally see the light of day again.
"I'm bringing the cloth ones for sure" Skye said.
"You might get a chance to wear both of them" Grace replied.
"I'm so...I'm a little intimidated by this one" Skye said, gently holding the white buckskin dress.
"Don't worry, the time will come for that one. Besides, the boss is bringing the shepherd pups along. I bet we'll get to babysit them."
Skye could just imagine what those two rambunctious rascals might do to a buckskin dress...a giant leather chew toy...she carefully put it back in her chest, and packed the cloth dresses, and the wonderful moccasins they came with.
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.