November 21, 2022
Skye stared at the glossy new Breyer with his incredible detail and lovely dappling. A very nice little horse.
"He's tippy" Grace said. "I'll bring him back up to the main house soon, before the cat knocks him down."
Grace's face twisted a bit as she read through her emails before walking out the door.
"The boss sent us a link. A mountain lion killed a dog on a leash in the Hollywood Hills. They think it's the Griffith Park cat, P-22."
"Poor dog! But weren't we just talking about that? Couple weeks ago when it was walking through neighborhoods? Matter of time before something happened?"
"Yeah we were" Grace replied.
"In other news" Grace continued, "it looks like the boss found a home for the bullies."
"But they're good dogs..."
Skye was a bit conflicted about them leaving. she wasn't sure how they came about...where they came from or who owned them first, but for as love as Skye could remember, the were part of the family.
"Well, we do have ten dogs" Grace responded.
Skye fell silent for a few moments.
When she spoke again it was about the mountain lion.
"I want to talk about this mountain lion thing."
"Talk or write?" Grace asked.
"Write" Skye said. "I want to write an article or story about what's going on, about how habituation and the lack of deer cause these behaviors."
"What about doing a blog post on the Redbird website? I bet the boss would let you."
Grace reached for her hat, then decided to leave it behind. It was early, they were only turning out a few horses, and she'd likely be fine without it.
Grace ws wrong about the hat. It was nearly two hours later before they were able to turn out horses. With the recent rains had come fierce winds, throwing down the fence, blowing away the fine, soft sand that made up the arena footing. The girls picked up fencing and kicked rocks all morning in an effort to get the arena useable again. Grace still didn't like it. She could hear the horses' hooves striking rocks every now and then.
There were some surprises in the arena for Skye to feast her eyes upon. A pair of mares the boss had been hoping to get for a very long time. And a mule - a jack Grace thought it was, that she ws pretty sure Skye hadn't seen before.
Cassie Cotto-Thorner Black was his breeder, so the boss had named him Black Jack. Grace had never ridden a mule. She was intrigued with this one.
Then there was the shagya arab mare. She was big, and lovely. Skye was more or less immediately in love with the older pinto mares. They were nearly identical.
The sound of rocks against the horses' hooves was uncomfortable for Grace. There was nothing she could do to fix it. They were out of sand, and even if they had more sand, it would have to be spread, and thick...there was nothing but hard dirt and rocks left after this last wind. They would take the rest of the horses to the indoor arena.
In the thick, fine golden sand of the arena, Grace turned out Scottish Magpie, her mane done up in ribbons. She was a mover and a looker.
And then Cloud Nine. probably one of the rarest bloodlines in the boss's herd, a Thoroughbred and Spanish Barb cross. Although looking at him, you couldn't see much but Thoroughbred.
"He's so tall I get a neck ache trying to look at him" Grace said.
And finally, Windy Boy. Grace had spent a lot of time with him when she first came on board. Watching him, she promised herself she'd be on him again soon.
November 14, 2022 Chilao
The domestic horses had tipped Grace and Skye off to the presence of the wild equines. The girls could tell that something was out there, and it wasn't something to be afraid of. They went as fast as their legs would carry them in the direction that the stabled horses were gazing and whinnying toward. Skye had never seen Grace move so quick or nimble over the rocks.
"That hat must give you super powers" Skye whispered. "I can barely keep up with you!"
"I'm going to spend the next week picking coat fuzz off of it" Grace whispered back. "But I have to stay in front of you this time."
"Just in case horses aren't color-blind. That's the reddest red sweater I've ever seen in my life."
Skye tried to giggle quietly.
The sun's light rolled out across the landscape. Grace and Skye moved in and out of morning shadows, clamoring over boulders and scrambling up rock outcroppings.
When they paused for a moment, they could hear the muffled sound of hooves on rock.
Petrichor caught their scent. The mares paused. They could also smell a human presence in the cool morning air.
Petrichor doubled back, leaving his herd on the other side of an escarpment, making his way down a short and narrow draw.
Grace was thrilled. And nervous. They would emerge at the bottom of that draw. And Petrichor would hold the higher ground.
And then there was another sound. One Grace never liked to hear around the wild horses. A helicopter. Flying directly toward them and then, directly overhead.
"It's okay" Skye whispered. "They aren't coming for the horses. It's not that kind of helicopter."
The helicopters made Skye uneasy too. Too many people talking about the horses...it could be bad. But Grace needed to stay focused on the stallion right now.
Grace took a deep breath, centered herself, and stepped forward, out from behind the shelter of the rock outcropping, into view.
The mares and their foals waited, restless but not afraid.
Petrichor paused. A second helicopter flew almost directly over them. Skye glanced up. "It's going to the fire station" she whispered. "I think it's a sky crane. Probably contractors for Edison."
The helicopter circled, then landed at the fire station.
Skye paused. Just in case the red sweater wasn't to Petrichor's liking. And then, in a few bold strides, Petrichor was upon them.
Grace couldn't think of any words to say to the big feral stallion.
There was still a wall of stone separating them, but Grace was in a vulnerable position. Petrichor's body language lacked aggression. He danced, but he did not strike. His ears moved in every direction. His breathing was deep but not loud; Grace took a deep breath and then exhaled, and he did the same to her, and they repeated this ritual several times, Petrichor knowing whatever a horse knows from the scent of another being, and Grace knowing the warm delight of his breath. She could feel its warm moisture as he reached his muzzle toward her hand.
And then he took a few steps back, and spun around, returning to his herd.
Petrichor and his band moved off, the bay mare in the lead.
Grace and Skye walked back to the ranch. Keeping up with Grace was easy now. The soil, having received both rain and snow, and freezing overnight where the surface still held moisture, read like a book.
"Come to the indoor arena with me" Grace said after a long spell of blissful silence.
"Okay" Skye replied, wondering what, if anything, could top the adventure they just had.
Inside the arena, Skye stood, speechless, in front of what might have been the most amazing equine art she had ever seen.
They were limited edition prints by the equine artist Sacha Phariss. Grace was saying something. Skye was having a hard time listening.
"I think this one might be my favorite" Grace said. "One of my favorites, anyway."
Grace kept talking. Skye did her best to listen. Something about twelve or fourteen prints, and having them on display for Models in the Mountains 2023, at the end of April, and hanging them being a challenge because linseed oil on wood paneling.
Skye could not speak.
And then she saw Little Spot. He was staring at a beautiful spotted horse as if seeing his own reflection for the first time.
Skye giggled. "I know how you feel!"
We take a moment in the final two images to congratulate Skye on her first sale, the arabian mare Padronis, her 2022 NaMoPaiMo horse. To find the amazing art of Sacha Phariss, visit https://www.pharisshorses.com
November 6, 2022
Grace worked on her resin mustang stallion in the tack room, where there was plenty of room and good light. Puddle Jumper had turned a corner.
"I've got to fix two spots on his hooves" she said as Skye examined her work. Finally, she was starting to like him.
Across the room, a big, bright box lay waiting. It had Christmas design on the lid, but no tags, no ribbons...just the box.
"What's this?" Skye couldn't wait for an answer.
"Can I open it?"
"Sure, go ahead. It's from the boss."
Thank goodness they didn't have to wait until Christmas, Skye thought. The box opened easily, to an overwhelming mass of pink.
"Oooooooohhh...somebody got a blanket set with leg wraps!"
Grace moved in for a closer look.
"Who are they for?"
"La Barilla" Grace replied. "Why hot pink, I'm not really sure, but the color combination is gorgeous."
"Wow that's pretty."
Grace pulled the blanket from the box. It kept coming and coming out of the box, one fold of fabric after another.
"It's huge" Grace said. "It's way too big for La Barilla. But it's awful nice."
"The boss is awful good to us" Skye mused. Do you think she sort of feels like we're family? She doesn't have any kids, does she?"
Grace started to say no. She thought the boss was just...well, generously eccentric. After all, the boss owned the horses...the ranch...so the blanket was a "gift" of sorts, yes, but...that wasn't the answer Skye was looking for. Skye was always trying to pull together a sense of family. Grace thought for a moment.
"I don't know" Grace answered.
"I mean, maybe. She is pretty good to us."
Monday morning dawned gloomy and damp. A light mist found its way to the ground and the morning came slow.
"Remember when Elecktra came to visit?" Skye said. "That was fun. You think she could come out again some time?"
Grace remembered. It was a lot of fun having Elecktra stay with them.
"I'll see if Anne will let her come out and visit for a while."
The girls opted to use the indoor arena to see how La Barilla liked his new digs. La Barilla stood still while Grace wrapped the shipping boots on his front legs.
"I think I should have gone the other way" Grace said, "attaching them on the outside. But I don't want to take them off and start over."
Walking with shipping boots on was another matter. His already highly animated movements because even moreso with these foreign objects wrapped about his legs.
After a few minutes he settled down a little bit, but Grace decided two boots were enough for one morning. As for the blanket, it was, predictably, much too big for him.
Grace and Skye were so focused on La Barilla that they didn't see the boss.
"He does look sharp in those colors" she said. "Too bad the blanket doesn't fit him. He's really not very big, is he?"
"Not really" Grace said. "He's got huge presence though."
"I know who that blanket would fit" Skye said innocently.
Grace thought about it for a moment.
"The black mare?"
"Go ahead and try it on her" the boss said.
The girls walked La Barilla back to his stall, light mist swirling on a gentle, not-too-cold breeze.
The black mare looked pretty in pink. And the blanket fit her giant frame perfectly. She followed Skye, no lead line needed.
"Well," said the boss, "looks like that blanket found a home."
And Skye gathered, though she didn't have the nerve to ask, that if the pretty pink blanket found a home on the black mare, that old black mare had probably found a home here.
And finally, in the afternoon, the tail end of the storm made its way up the mountain, and the gentle mist turned into a gentle rain.
October 10, 2022
Grace stared long and hard at the horse she called Puddle Jumper. It was her first attempt at a pinto in acrylic paint, and she wasn't satisfied with him. She was not convinced she could fix him, but she had made up her mind. She was going to try.
"I'm going to re-do him. In colored pencil."
Skye was having a hard time listening. She was mesmerized by the rainbows. They came from the window decals that were supposed to deter birds from hitting the window. They filled the room with rainbows in the late afternoon. It made an already magical space even more enchanted.
Grace had been wanting to hike down to a portion of Chilao Creek that usually had water when the rest of the creek was dry. The weather was lovely and the autumn light equally beautiful. The girls took a different route than they would have on horseback, and it proved to be slow going, but it was nice to see bits of the forest they had never seen before. Rock formations that looked like easy chairs and a glow to the light that brought everything to life.
Skye was fascinated with the tree rings.
"This was not a very big tree for all of those rings" she remarked. "Somehow I thought a tree with this many rings would have been much bigger."
"Good point." Grace had more questions than answers as she looked at the stump. She started counting the rings. There were many. And they would never get to where she was trying to go if she started counting tree rings.
After climbing over half a dozen tree trunks and navigating the dry creek bed for about a hundred yards, the girls emerged in familiar territory...except it looked so different. It was covered in plants, not water.
Frequent thunder showers had moistened the soil. Theirs were the first tracks on the wide sand bank. Grace could see no sign of water.
"Let's go a little farther."
They did in fact find water. And there were birds flying about. But there were no tracks of any kind leading to the water. Perhaps because there had been a light rain last night. Or perhaps because these tiny pools were no longer viable water sources.
On the return trip, they took a familiar path, past the giant oak and up a steep incline.
"I bet we have a nice sunset tonight" Skye said.
"I think you might be right."
"Do you like him better?" Skye asked. Grace was staring at Puddle Jumper again. She had begun the colored pencil re-creation.
"I think so. I've just done part of his side so far. I mean, no doubt, this is better. Now I've got all these white pencil flakes in the brown areas. And then I slip with the pencils sometimes. It's kind of hard. But I don't want to wrap him up and abandon him at the Goodwill store any more."
Skye was shocked to hear her talk about the piece that way. There were more things right about it than Grace was giving herself credit for.
"No! Just keep swimming. You'll save him. I know you will."
Skye shifted the conversation to another piece of artwork. "I wish I could paint like this" Skye said, admiring the Little Bucker sculpture by Rayvin Maddock, painted by Meredith Warren.
"You can" Grace said. "You paint a couple hundred horses and stay focused and keep learning new techniques, and you'll get real good. You'll be unique; your work won't look just exactly the same as anyone else's, but you'll get good to where you'll look at your own art and have a sense of satisfaction and pride."
As the words rolled so easily off her tongue towards Skye, Grace realized the same advice applied for her own work. Puddle Jumper was only her fourth piece, and the first one to give her real problems. She needed to embrace her own advice, and be gentle and courageous in her work.
A cloud layer cam in the afternoon, on the heels of a brief wind.
Predictably, the boss had asked the girls, when they had a chance, if they could track down some of their beloved wild horses and get good pictures of them. She even had a list. It was mostly mares and foals. But whether it was hunting season, or lack of water, noisy campers, predators or something else, the wild horses had been scarce for weeks now.
Skye watched a pair of ravens, flying about excitedly. But not because of her. They were preoccupied with something else. She just couldn't tell what.
Even if by some miracle they found horses, this was not great weather for anything but artistic photos.
The wind picked up again, ushering in the cool, damp air. Just cool enough to make Grace wish she owned a sweatshirt.
Skye welcomed the change of seasons. Autumn felt very alive to her.
Skye pretended she was still sound asleep as Grace prepared to go down to the indoor arena. Once Grace was well on her way, Skye struggled with the chunk of stone and other nicnacs, setting them aside so she could open her pine chest.
The thing was almost as heavy as that chunk of stone. The boss had shown it to her. It was a horse head, painted on metal with enamel, and it looked an awful lot like Petrichor. The boss suggested that she buy it for Skye to give to Grace, perhaps for Christmas. Skye really couldn't refuse. And she loved the piece.
It was very different from everything else they had, but Skye was pretty sure Grace would love it.
Skye put everything back, and headed to the arena. There were new horses to behold.
The boss was there taking pictures and Grace was handling. As best as Skye could figure, they'd acquired a real circus horse.
"He's not quite a circus horse" the boss said. "He performed for a number of years at a dinner theatre. Something like Medieval Times. He came with all of his finery."
Grace and Skye removed his finery. Skye couldn't resist but to try on the head dress.
"This is so heavy! Why is it so heavy if it's made out of feathers?"
"Now there's a costume" Grace said, laughing.
Underneath all the trappings was a lovely horse, with a smooth way of going and a kind eye.
The next horse was a show stopper. A gloriously colored standardbred trotter. The arena was barely big enough for the kind of speed this horse delivered.
The third pair of new horses were as different as different could be from the previous two. A substantial pony mare. And her incredibly cute foal.
Skye swung herself up onto the mare's back.
"She has high withers and a very short back, but she's not little" Skye noted. "She really feels like a...like a short horse. I can't get over how cute this baby is! I just want to squeeze her!"
Grace brought La Barilla down, but just to turn him loose. She hadn't ridden him in over a week.
And then, two by two, Grace and Skye brought some mares and geldings down to the arena to let them stretch their legs. It was gorgeous outside, but every time Grace thought the wind was over, it came back again. The wind could be so unsettling. For today, the arena would do.
The girls had meant to get out before daybreak. The sun was up, but there will still long, cool shadows to ride through.
Birds were making a tremendous racket. A pair of spotted towhees made their presence known. Quail darted about beneath the chaparral.
They searched for signs of the wild horses...any wild horses...but found none. The thunderstorms of summer and early autumn were not enough to fill the seasonal streams, but they were enough to keep wildflowers blooming.
And heading south across Meadow Campground, they discovered a water source...a broken pipe spilling a small but viable amount of fresh groundwater into a shallow depression. Plenty enough water for bears and coyotes, and probably enough for horses, two or three at a time.
The thunderstorms had caused a sort of "false spring" in the seasonal stream beds. There was, at the moment, plenty of fresh, tender grass. Still, no sign of wild horses. They headed home as the sun warmed the cool morning air.
It was a good day. Wild horses, no wild horses...a day in the saddle was a good day.
Back home, the girls found a surprise laid out o the table.
"What's this?" Grace said. "Looks like the boss was here."
Skye read the note out loud.
"The pumpkin is ceramic but the fudge and peanut butter cups are edible. Happy Halloween!"
"Sounds like a perfect breakfast" Grace said.
"Oh yes, I agree."
October 2, 2022
Grace and Skye took a pre-dawn drive while the horses ate their breakfast. They went through some of the hotter parts of the controlled burn.
The now-dry washouts were easiest to navigate. They approached a gully that didn't look terribly treacherous. But as Grace maneuvered the Jeep down into it, things rather quickly did not go to plan. And the modifications that had been done to the floorboard caused them to high side just as the rear wheels were not getting good traction already.
They came to rest in the gulley gently enough, but not where Grace had intended. They needed to be on the left side of the boulder they were currently lodged against. They were stuck.
Cool morning air and silence. The occasional sounds of birds. The girls circled the Jeep, looked at it from every angle, circled it again. Yup. They were stuck.
Dozens of band-tailed pigeons watched Skye's every move from the power lines as the sun crested Yucca Peak.
The girls began their walk home. The rocky parts were slippery in boots, with loose ravel appearing stable and then giving suddenly.
Skye was having a lovely Sunday morning walk, exploring everything.
Grace had this strange sensation. Like this was an epic journey of some sort. It was going to be if she couldn't figure out how to un-stick the Jeep.
Something blue caught Grace's eye in the shadows. Half-buried in the sand, a blue hat, black ears, and big eyes.
Skye looked up to see Grace examining something on the ground. That got her moving.
"It's Mickey Mouse all right!"
Skye made short work of digging the hard plastic mouse - and his sedan - out of the sand wash.
"He crashed a little worse than we did" Skye laughed. "There's not much left of this car."
"Go ahead and leave it there" Grace said. "We'll get it on our way back."
It took an hour to get the horses saddled up. At first Grace thought to take two heavy horses, but the only other saddle that would fit them was all taken apart. It had no cinches and no breastcollar. As it was, Ananda was so big that Grace could not attach the breast collar to the cinch.
As their earlier analysis suggested, there was no way to go forward. They would have to pull the Jeep from the rear and hope it came out of the little gulley as easily as it went in.
Grace put the Jeep in neutral, key in the on position. As she attached a rope to the hitch receiver, she slipped repeatedly in the loose soil. In that area of more intense burn, the fire had gotten into the organic matter in the soil, changing its composition, removing what plant material might have held it firm before. No wonder they lost traction. The soil was like powder.
There was room for error here. This could possibly be more problem than she had horsepower for. Or if Skye put the Jeep in drive instead of reverse, or the soil caved in more...
The moment of truth came. Grace nudged Ananda forward. The rope tightened on the saddle horn, the saddle snugged against Ananda's body, the big horse took one step forward, felt the weight, took another step, and then leaned into the work on the third step. The Jeep tipped back down onto the rear wheels and started to roll out of the gulley.
"Good! Good! Keep going!" There was nothing for Skye to do at this point but observe. Watch the rope, the wheels, the soil. So far so good.
The Jeep was on all fours, and the steepest part of the pull was coming.
"Are you ready Skye?"
"I'm ready! A little farther!"
Ananda was powerful and steady. The Jeep was coming up.
"Almost there!" Skye called.
"A little farther..."
Skye bailed out of the saddle and into the Jeep.
"Put your foot on the brake with gentle pressure and start it" Grace called to her.
The Jeep started. Skye pulled herself fully into the driver's seat.
"Put it in reverse, ease off the brake and give it a little gas."
Skye was nervous. She had to get this right. A little gas. She didn't feel anything happening. She gave it just a little more gas.
"Keep going, keep going, little more gas, good, good, turn the wheel...no the other way...perfect...keep going, keep going..."
It was a little exciting, and bumpy, but the Jeep kept backing up while Grace kept some tension on the tow rope. And then it was over.
"Put your foot on the brake firmly and put it in park. The top gear."
"How'd I do?" Skye said, smiling confidently. And just then there was a terrible cracking sound. The windshield fell forward, onto the hood.
"You did fantastic" Grace said.
"Do you want to drive it home?"
Skye thought about it for a moment.
"No. That was enough really. My heart is kind of pounding still."
The girls had forgotten all about their earlier discovery, but his blue beret caught their attention once again on the way home. Grace stopped and picked up the tattered remains of the long-forgotten Mickey Mouse toy. He was a fitting find for the morning.
"We don't need no stinking windshield, right Mickey?"
September 2, 2022
The light was beginning to change, from the harsh, flat dryness of summer to the magical gold of autumn. The heat had been intense, and tomorrow was supposed to be hotter. Occasional thunder could be heard in the distance. Somewhere it could be raining...but not here in Chilao.
The prospect of rain looked more promising on Saturday. The heat took your breath away. And then the wind would come. That wind that tells you a change is coming.
"Today could be the day" Grace said. A restlessness possessed the girls. The air was charged with positive ions, and they were charged too, charged with anticipation and chaotic energy.
There would be a little time before it was likely that anything would happen with the weather. There was still a lot of blue sky. And the day was still young. The girls decided to use the indoor arena, just in case. And they decided to use a walkover pole with La Barilla. Skye maneuvered the pole through the deep, soft arena sand. It was heavy!
La Barilla took none too kindly to the pole. Considering his level headed demeanor thus far, it was a bit of a surprise. One thing was clear. He had no intention of engaging it, walking over it, or even going around it.
"Apparently giant blue and white serpents are a thing" Grace said as La Barilla protested approaching the pole.
Skye started giggling.
"What's so funny?"
"I thought of a new name for him. Spaghetti Western."
"Please tell me you're kidding."
Patiently, reminding herself to stay loose, Grace urged La Barilla toward the pole again and again. Not fighting him. Not struggling with him. Re-centering herself, mentally and in the saddle, after each refusal. Eventually she could feel him give in. A step at a time. Slowly.
"I think we've got it now" Grace commented as La Barilla gathered himself together. It was a bit dramatic, but indeed, over the pole they went.
Not so bad really. Maybe he could do it twice.
"He looks a bit as if he's going to stomp it to death" Skye noted.
This pole thing took some getting used to. He did indeed go over it a second time. He more or less side-passed over it. But all in all, much less drama on the second try.
"What a fine, brave stallion you are" Skye praised.
"Yes you are" Grace affirmed.
After a bit more riding, they took La Barilla back to his stall. Grace paused to take in her favorite smell...petrichor. For a few delicious moments, it rained.
A strike team had assembled at the fire station, with trucks and crews from all over the southwestern region. There were so many crews that trucks were parked along the road. They did not all fit at the fire station.
Higher up the mountain, there was action, and the teams left in groups of four and five vehicles. But in Chilao, the sprinkling of rain and some cloud to cloud lightning was all the storm cell offered. The girls waited, hoped, and decided to bring out some more horses.
Just in case there was thunder and lightning, they decided against very excitable horses. Instead they brought down a few of the new arrivals, and Skye's rather wildly mismatched herd, minus Ladyhawk, who seemed particularly restless and agitated today.
Donkey seemed to be holding up well. Dinky with his escort, Baron. The new golden mare from Denmark had an easy-going temperament with the other horses.
A sunshine bubble pervaded Chilao. The storm threat was over. At least here, for now, there would be no real rain. Another lovely sunset unfolded, the heat diffused, the air was bearable again.
And a half moon, cloudless and bright, illuminated the mountain.
The girls had been up since a little after 5 AM, when coyotes heckled something from north of the fire station all the way down to the creek crossing. The barking of the dogs alerted them, but they decided not to go out and see what it was the coyotes were tangling with. And they could only hear two coyote voices clearly. Grace wondered silently if the patriarch coyote had succumbed to his wounds.
But when they did go out, before sunrise, they were not disappointed. Storm and Rain Man were sparring over water rights.
Storm, a big bay stallion going grey, was the more aggressive. Although there was enough water, they fought over it...like they often did.
"Let's get closer" Skye whispered.
Storm lunged at Rain Man. As he did, he lost his footing, scrambling awkwardly. He slipped, falling into the water flat on his side with a terrible sound. Here was Rain Man's chance to trample his opponent. But he seemed startled by Storm's fall, and did not press on with an attack.
The sun crested the mountain. And then, just as quickly as they came into view, the horses caught wind of Grace and Skye...and they were off.
Dawn's light came and went in between the clouds.
"I hope Storm is okay. That was quite a fall." Skye looked and looked for the stallions, but she couldn't see them. They vanished into the thickness of the landscape.
Grace edged her way carefully up to the pool that Storm had fallen in.
She wasn't sure if they were lichens or moss. She marveled at how one bit of rain cues the plant nations. As soon as the clouds departed, it was warm. Fortunately, the sky was full of big, beautiful clouds, so the morning temperature stayed pleasant as they made their way home.
In the indoor arena, Grace turned out three mares.
Wega, a lovely light grey Lipizzan mare, was recovering from an injury to her left front leg, and that recovery appeared to be going well.
Skye was struck by how similar in color the two golden mares were.
Grace was presently enamored with the grey mare. She was graceful, composed and elegant.
"Do you want to take these two out for a trail ride?" Skye asked, referring to the golden mares.
Grace thought about it. The day was in fact lovely. But the presence of all those clouds made her suspect there was a chance of stormy water still to be had. And then, just as they were bringing the horses back to their stalls, it began to rain. A light rain at first. It remained light long enough for them to finish their chores. And then, down it came.
Sheets of wind-driven rain poured down.
"Maybe we'll go out for a trail ride tomorrow" Grace remarked, watching the rain washing through the sky like an endless curtain.
Monday morning was indeed a glorious one for riding. Grace opted for La Barilla and Skye for Ladyhawk, whom she had not ridden in some time.
Lured by the greening plant life, Grace chose a narrow path through the boulder strewn landscape. Ladyhawk followed La Barilla effortlessly.
The girls were relaxed. The coyotes had moved to another part of the campground. The USFS firefighters had modified the dumpsters to make them inaccessible to bears. And perhaps most importantly, hunting season had begun. Twisted as it was, hunting season pushed the predators back.
The plant life clinging to the rocks was beautiful and mysterious. Grace didn't know enough to give them a name other than "probably lichen" which she understood to be a community of plants cooperating with each other, like moss and algae. She saw what looked like yellow flowers, and sought to get a closer look. But no, not flowers...it was another life form...perhaps an algae, perhaps a moss, collectively lichen...
Skye's voice broke Grace's focus on the flora.
"Did you hear that a bear is walking around in some neighborhood down below with an arrow hanging out of it?"
"I did not" Grace replied. She pondered the idea for a bit. "I don't think I would hunt a bear with an arrow. I seem to recall it doesn't always go well. Poor bear."
Sunday's thunderstorm had left some scars on the land. The ground had managed to soak up some little bit of the water, but most of it ran straight away. Presently, clouds moved across the eastern sky, cooling the September sun and making the morning quite pleasant.
The dogs were still wary, and the wet ground likely held the scent of everything that had recently passed through even better than the dry soil might.
Sometimes the washouts made better travel, and sometimes not.
Baron picked a slightly precarious path for the return home. Skye decided to take the lead through this particularly rough terrain. Grace followed as Skye rode the high-headed grey mare over loose rocks and soft soil.
"Skye, does that mare ever look where she's going?"
"Not really. But she doesn't trip very often either, so..."
La Barilla may have been afraid of blue and white ground poles, but actual rough ground did not seem to phase him. What he was trying to adjust to was the weight on his back. It was still new, still something to get used to, balancing a human while navigating terrain.
"How many coyotes do you think you've heard lately?" Skye asked.
Just saying the word coyote put the dogs on high alert.
"Two for sure. And I think we should name the momma Whiskey. She has that gravelly bar-room voice. I am pretty sure I am hearing her."
"Do you think the old male coyote made it? The one the boss calls Lives Among Them?"
"Maybe" Grace said. "Maybe his throat hurts and he can't make a lot of noise right now. Or maybe the pup isn't very loud yet so that's why we think we are only hearing two coyotes. He could be fine, and just laying low. He was never a very vocal coyote. Always just appeared out of nowhere. He might be okay."
Funny. That big old male coyote had kind of grown on them both.
The tack room was still cool. Grace steadied a saddle while Skye swung a leg over it as it rested on the saddle stand.
"Gosh Skye, you are vertically challenged."
Grace surveyed the space between where Skye's legs ended and where the stirrups began. It was vast.
"How does the saddle feel otherwise?"
"It's kind of wide."
Skye looked at the seat on some of the other saddles.
"What about this one? Isn't this the saddle we got last year, brand new? The squeaky one?"
"Yes", Grace responded, "Laurel Dedes sent this one."
Skye pulled herself into the seat as far as she could before releasing her foot.
"Oh there goes the stirrup again..."
"It does feel nice to sit on though."
Grace studied the stirrup to foot ratio. There was not going to be an easy fix for this problem.
"You know" Skye said, "I started making a traditional saddle...well, I thought about it anyway, I didn't really get started...but if we can't find a saddle that fits me, maybe I'll just make my own. You ever see anyone ride performance in a native saddle?"
Grace fell silent. No, she hadn't seen it...but probably ladies had done all kinds of riding in their traditional saddles. And Grace had no problem whatsoever in supporting Skye's idea. Skye could ride without a saddle better than most people could with one. If she wanted to make her own saddle, and it wasn't a western saddle...Grace could definitely support that.
The girls had taken shelter inside during the hottest part of the day. As the afternoon wore on, they decided to venture back outside. Grace took a quick glance at the computer, paused, smiled.
"What?" Skye asked.
"We placed a couple of horses in The Collective."
"I'll read the full results a little later. For now let's do your glamour shot."
"You know what would be really cool?" Skye posed the question, and then answered herself. "Another Jeep adventure."
The dogs didn't know exactly what that meant but Skye's tone was promising. So they gathered. Adventure...perhaps they knew what the word adventure meant.
Skye wanted to make another attempt at selling her work. If she kept it any longer she was going to grow attached to her pieces and not want to part with them. She needed pictures of her work, and a picture of herself...a studio shot, an art bio.
"I think we've got it" Grace said after taking numerous pictures. "And now, I'd like to show you something."
"Where's the black mare?"
"In the indoor arena, stretching her legs...sort of."
The girls walked to the arena. The mare made her way toward them at a relaxed walk.
"I don't know if she'll let me do this again" Grace said.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to roll her upper lip up so you can see inside of it."
The old black mare wasn't in the mood to have her lip pulled on. She put her head way up in the air and started moving forward, slowly, right into Grace. She had a funny way about her. She was gentle, but also her own boss.
"What's on her lip?"
"She's tattooed. It's so faded I can't make any sense out of it, but on the inside of her upper lip there is a tattoo. And that means she is either a registered standardbred or a thoroughbred and probably was a race horse."
"I could totally picture her as a race horse" Skye said.
"What are we going to do with her Grace? Should we try to find her a home?"
Grace watched the old mare move. She was not as stiff as when they found her, and she held her weight fine; there was nothing skinny about her.
"She looks pretty much at home here. Let's not worry about it too much." They left the mare in the arena a little longer. The sandy arena soil was deep, but surely easier on her legs than the terrain they had found her in.
Skye's request for a Jeep adventure could be fulfilled if they kept the adventure short and close to home.
The brief but wonderful series of thunderstorms had left dry gullies and washouts everywhere. Even a short drive could be adventurous today.
Highlander and his single mare appeared in front of them. And then they quickly turned away again.
Normally pretty assertive about territorial rights, perhaps the Jeep spooked him. He called for an immediate retreat. The mare moved off quickly, and Highlander followed.
"You know" Grace said. "A lot of times when we see Highlander, Petrichor and his band are not far away."
And so they looked, hopeful, everywhere they could. But they did not see Petrichor.
"You know" Skye said, almost as if she was talking to herself, "I like this little Jeep. There's not much to it, but it's a lot of fun."
Grace smiled. "Yes it is."
The girls were up before dawn. Grace showed Skye some images of manufactured saddle trees.
"Where did you find these?" Skye asked.
"Michelle Sepiol gave me the link. This is a man's saddle and so is the one underneath it." The men's saddles tended to have low profiles.
"This women's tree is like the saddle we saw at the Autry" Skye noted.
"Do you think I should make my own tree? Or use something like this?"
Grace thought about it for a moment.
"I think you could do both. What would it hurt?"
First light greeted the girls. The morning was pleasant. Grace decided to try her luck at ponying La Barilla.
For the most part, things went smoothly. She rode Skye's beloved Deer Medicine, wanting to be on a horse that she could trust just in case something went sideways. Skye rode Ladyhawk, because she looked as if she wanted to be out on this glorious morning.
All in all, there was only a little bit of sideways, and it never involved an attempt to break free.
La Barilla's reward was a turn out in the big outdoor arena. The girls gave him his space, and watched as he reared, spun, pranced and cavorted around the arena.
"Well that wasn't so bad" Grace said. "Another new thing for him and I think he did pretty well."
The day went by fast. The western sky was cloudless but to the east, a bank of clouds clung to the horizon as the sun set. Grace suspected the colors of the evening would not disappoint, and so the girls found a suitable rock outcropping from which to watch the sky and the land and the clouds turn colors. As they made their way home, they watched a hare in near darkness, foraging near the ranch house, its large eyes and incredibly long ears keen to every sound, every movement as the day slipped quickly now into night.
Skye is hoping to buy one or two of those saddle trees she and Grace looked at, so she's listed her own artwork for sale. You can find it here:
Dusk in Chilao
The Way of The Deer
Running in Heaven