There was about to be a lot of work to do. Grace would be in charge of choosing and presenting over two dozen horses for Breyerfest Online, and Skye had talked Grace into participating in the MEPSA (Model Equine Photo Showers' Association's) Mini Makeover.
So the girls did the smart thing. They got in some riding time while they could.
Grace chose a Paint stallion that she nicknamed Ono for the day's ride. He got the name because when he arrived he wasn't having any part of anything. He didn't want to come out of the trailer. He didn't want to move around much in the turn-out pen. And then once he did get moving, he didn't want to stop. He didn't feel like greeting anyone...his response when taken to his stall...oh no. No no no. It took him several days to get acclimated. Once he did, Grace found him to be highly alert and a bit cautious, but willing.
They rode out at dawn under a cloudless sky that would quickly warm. Grace had found a thing. The high desert is full of things that point to a once thriving past. Whole towns. Mining operations. Ranching outfits. Caverns, tunnels, hideaways. Grand theaters and outdoor amphitheaters. And those are just the things still visible.
An older past lay erased by wind and fire and time. Covered by a thin layer of soil, indigenous settlements and bandit's hideaways are forever under foot in this harsh paradise. Tiburcio Vasquez lived in Chilao for the better part of 18 years, holding out against a changing world. Before the colonization of California, five different tribes - maybe more - made the resource-rich region their summer home.
The structures that remain are from a much more recent but equally vacated past. A time when Albert Einstein had a favorite chair at Mount Wilson Observatory and the Mount Lowe Railway catered to a constant stream of tourists. (Late at night, or sometimes just before dawn, you can still hear the train whistle blowing, crisp and clear). A time when whole communities resided in the forest; when the asphalt ribbon of Angeles Crest Highway was brand new, when there was a community here.
The girls rode toward the thing. Ono stopped at some distance from it, looked long and thoroughly, finally continued forward. Baron and Hobo were the first to enter. It was a massive sort of vault, made of huge slabs of local stone, concrete and iron. It was cool inside. Dark. Deep. Empty. Skye and Precious went in next. There was not enough room for two horses to turn around if anything went sideways inside. Grace and Ono went next. Ono was brave. Grace had him go about a third of the way in. That was enough. That was exceptional, really, for what Grace was pretty sure was a green-broke horse.
Back at home it was time to get the MEPSA horses ready. The mini contest is a benefit for MEPSA. The horses entered become the property of MEPSA and are used as prizes or fund raisers for the club. Skye was donating her first ever custom model, a resin draft foal that was gifted to her by Deb and Randy Buckler of Resins by Randy. She told Grace it was somewhat traditional to give away your first piece of artwork. Now, she couldn't recall if that was a Native American tradition or an artist tradition or even where she'd learned about it being customary, but she was convinced it was the right thing to do.
Grace was conflicted about donating her horse, her own second ever piece, a bay roan mustang sculpt by Summer Prosser that Grace named A Little Crazy. But it was hard to argue with Skye's benevolence. The third horse was being donated by the owner of Redbird Ranch. Soon as the photo shoot was over, the horses would be packed up and shipped off, and there would be other things...many other things...to take up space, talent and time.
aSpring, however short-lived, is a magical time in the Angeles. It was a busy time for Grace and Skye.
There was the work of the ranch itself, with new horses coming in and selections to be made among the horses already in residence. Grace's goal was to position the ranch as a reputable and premier stud farm with a separate western performance element. The bulk of her charges were draft, stock, Spanish and sport horses. But there were also a smaller number of Arabians, and horses that did not fit into a specific program, and of course, here and there, the rescue horse.
There was also art. Both Grace and Skye had caught the bug. When the riding day was done, pencil, paint and pigment called out to them. And Grace wasn't one to do things in a subtle way. She purchased a life-sized sculpture with no less than four animals...The Bremen Town Singers by Kitty Cantrell...because if painting one is fun, painting four will be a blast...
Skye meanwhile was also beginning to explore her heritage, such as she understood it. When she came across a series of posters and books designed for young native students, she became aware of less than romantic realities. The stories and posters sought to bridge a cultural gap between native youth and their ancestors. They addressed the negative impacts of the changes indigenous people have endured in the recent past - the replacement of an active lifestyle and wholesome food with reservation life, commodity groceries, and a dominant consumer culture that places little or no value on traditions, on spiritual connection, on land, on human rights.
It was a lot to try to comprehend. At the same time that it brought up a mixture of conflicting feelings, it did not damper a dream that had been stirring in Skye. She wanted to make a regalia for riding. The whole thing. A proper dress and moccasins for her and a saddle and bridle for her horse. It was a dream complicated by reality, however. "Proper" meant knowing the specific style of your nation...the symbolic language spoken in the designs and the materials. And all Skye knew in a generic fashion was that she hailed from Oregon. And the horse issue also needed to be sorted out, although that was actually simpler. They were spoiled for choice as horses were concerned.
And then there was the why. The motive. Did she want native regalia so that she could compete in shows? Certainly part of the whole spring fever involved the preparations they were making for a couple of online shows, and a live show at the ranch. Was she getting a bit caught up in that? Or was there something deeper going on behind her desire for a riding regalia? There was nothing wrong with wanting to compete in a costume class...but a competition-style regalia was not going to happen in time for the biggest of the shows unless they just went out and bought one made by someone else.
The pony-horse Skye had chosen was sturdy and unflappable, and would have looked great in regalia, but he would not have been able to show in Breyerfest. Grace and Skye had a conversation about intention. Not about curbing it or redirecting it, but about understanding it. And sorting out the difference between a material goal (regalia) and a spiritual journey...becoming oneself. (Eckhart Tolle might suggest here that we already are ourselves, and so we don't need to go on a journey to find ourselves, but of course he would say it more eloquently, so let's just make some space for that idea...)
Finally, there were some physical spacial realities. A proper ranch outfit was going to need a better tack room. And some updated tack. There were heaps and piles of vintage leather and big rusty buckles and clips, some of it usable, most not so much. Among the old leather there were other treasures. Each process, each task no matter how mundane, gave the girls opportunities to build their sisterhood.
See more wonderful sculpture by Kitty Cantrell at https://kittycantrell.com
There is a little back story on Jesse. In September 2015 we lost a dear friend, Jesse Gutierrez. He had some sort of medical issue that took his life. He was with friends, riding his motorcycle, up here, on Highway 2, in the Angeles National Forest, when it happened. He lived in some place like Bellflower so that he passed away here in his second home, on his favorite road, among people who loved him...not on a busy freeway...was a great blessing. There is an offrenda for him at Chilao School and a beautiful memorial where he passed away. He was a good friend to many and a good provider to his family. He worked hard and he played hard. And although in truth, I did not know him well, we had a mutual admiration and love for each other and we never missed the opportunity to say hello, to share a hug, a few words in his not exactly smooth English. I saw him just a few minutes before he died. He helped me water the hanging plants at Newcomb's Ranch. He had Simon and Richie help also. He took one of the hanging plants from me and his grasp missed the hanging wire and caught my hand. I recall it was a very strong grip, too much grip for the simple task of hanging a potted plant. Perhaps whatever took him was already affecting him. I don't know. None of us will ever really know. About fifteen minutes later, he would leave us. I would learn about it via Facebook, from a post by Darren Martinelli. And I would cry for two years. And even now, the tears still flow. He is our highway angel, although in truth there are many. He is the one I call upon all the time. The horse Jesse was released a few days later. I tried to get one and couldn't do it. So Richard Rudman purchased the horse on the wildly inflated secondary market for me. The horse Jesse is a lot like our beloved Jesse. His face is slightly crooked, and he is not very big or flashy. But he's quick, responsive, hard working, kind. And as I grasped to hold on to something, and struggled with overwhelming loss, denial and grief that I could not even really explain, I had the horse...and the broken bits of plastic from Jesse's helmet, and his motorcycle.
In March, Grace decided she would campaign a horse for the Breyerfest Online Show, and the Model Equine Photo Showers Association. She had so many horses to choose from, and she started with the more obvious choice, Cookie, a black and white paint mare with all the potential credentials.
Two things became obvious pretty quick. Grace loved riding and training and the real work of ranch life. But not showing. She didn't have or want the flashy attire of the show ring. She didn't care for the "pretend reins" that you carry in your off hand in many western riding show disciplines. She didn't like the super slow western lope. She didn't like having a horse carry its head so low that it looked like it was vision impaired and trying to find the ground. In short, Grace isn't show ring material.
And she didn't give herself much time to choose a horse, or get photos of said horse performing in all of its potential classes....good photos that would stand up to judging.
Finally, she did something sort of silly and ridiculous as professional horsemanship - or showing - is concerned. She went with her heart choice. And her heart choice was Jesse, the little palomino mustang.
He was tough, willing, smart, and afraid of nothing. He was a natural with cattle. He had heart. Whatever you asked him for, he gave it one hundred per cent. He was honest and sure-footed. Maybe he wasn't very big or fancy, but he had everything else that made for a great horse.
Cookie had all the same attributes...and she was big and real pretty. But Grace chose Jesse. Barrels, poles, roping, western equitation, western trail, open range stock work...he did it all.
Grace knew Jesse was a long shot, both because of her own shortcomings in the show ring, and because she had given him so little time to be ready for the challenge. But maybe life isn't all about ribbons. Maybe it is about taking part. Maybe life is about the ride, the journey...not just the destination.
National Model Painting Month (Jennifer Buxton's NaMoPaiMo) goes like this. During February, the shortest month of the year, you paint a model horse, of any scale, from start to finish. You cannot start painting before 12:01 AM in your time zone on February 1. The goal is to have the model completed before 11:59:59 PM on February 28.
NaMoPaiMo happens on Facebook. It is not a contest. Nothing bad happens if you do not complete your horse. But it is a commitment. You must commit to a model and a color. And you must do that in advance. You don't get to keep changing your mind. You commit. And that is that.
There are random prizes. They are generally very nice. But that is not why people from around the world participate. People participate for the fun, the challenge, the motivation, the sense of community. People participate because they have never tried to paint a horse before. People participate because they are well known artists and their work will get a ton of exposure. People participate because it is an unparalleled chance to be a part of an equine art community and to learn from experts and peers in the field in a friendly atmosphere.
And then there is Minis Painting Minis, its own institution within NaMoPaiMo.
Grace chose to paint an arab mare in foal that had been languishing on a shelf for many years. She ended up needing a lot more work than Grace anticipated, and there was some concern that she might not get her done in time. And then there was Skye's horse, the little draft foal. For both of the girls it was a first time experience. Skye's youthful enthusiasm drove her to finish her foal well before the end of the month.
Grace had some unexpected motivation...a buyer. Her NaMoPaiMo horse - and her first ever artistic creation - sold before she had it completed.
There is another common phenomenon that happens when thousands of people try to engage in an art project in the dead of winter, and that is things that don't go to plan. We would fall into that category in 2021. The idea is that February is typically a quiet month, but for us it would be a month of life-changing family medical issues. NaMoPaiMo became a hallmark of personal triumph over circumstances...or at least that was the intention. For the owner of Redbird Ranch, that meant completing a hair by hair roan traditional scale resin. At one point, in the middle of the night, huddled in the garage on an old couch with three dogs, instead of doing the tick-tick-tick pencil strokes of a hair by hair pattern, said certain owner, in a semi-conscious state, wrote "CRAZY" on the side of the horse. And so was the horse named.
Grace and Skye would finish their horses on time and in fine style. NaMoPaiMo unleashed their inner artists, and we all look forward to doing it again in 2022.
She came from Massachusetts by way of Colorado, on a windy day in January 2021. Elecktra Field, affectionately known as Little Elecktra, was touring the country, and her arrival coincided more or less with the beginning of NaMoPaiMo.
Elecktra's arrival directly coincided with a wind storm - not as bad as the winds of Thanksgiving, but enough to keep girls and animals indoors for several days.
Grace was a bit concerned about Skye. Would she get possessive over Grace? Or material things?
Thankfully, no. Skye was eager to make new friends, or in this case, family. If Elecktra was Grace's cousin and Grace was Skye's adopted sister, then Elecktra was Skye's cousin also. And happily, Elecktra made good family. She was easy going, open minded, grounded, confident. While the wind howled outside the girls talked and talked. Skye decided Elecktra should have the top bunk. That way Skye could play with the animals and whatnot. As soon as she mentioned it, Elecktra climbed the ladder and lay down. She pulled her hat down over her eyes, took a long, deep breath...and fell asleep.
The weather provided an ever-changing backdrop for Elecktra's visit. The wind blew for several days. Skye ventured out alone to meet Mikki, (Makakanta N'antaka) while Elecktra and Grace discussed art and NaMoPaiMo and horses. She returned with gifts...a buffalo robe for Grace, a gourd bowl, a healing crystal, and for herself, a bear fetish. A winter storm loomed off the California coastline, but before it made landfall, there was time for riding, and ride the girls did.
Grace had virtually unlimited horses to ride...but only one western saddle rig. Laurel Dedes made sure Elecktra could be properly entertained by sending a staggering array of tack, including two western saddles that Grace could keep.
And so they rode. They rode the firebreak that stretched for miles through Chilao. They rode into Mikki's neck of the woods on a windy, chilly day that would prove more cold than Skye's wardrobe could accommodate. She would wind up resting at home for a little bit to recover from that ride. Grace and Elecktra practiced western games. They raced Charmer and Windy Boy. They rode in the snow. It was a bit of magic, that January.
They also showered some love on Skye. Had some more posters made to complete her side of the room. The girls made one of her dreams come true...sort of...Skye had been trying to learn how to ride standing up, but she just wasn't getting the hang of it. So they helped her practice on a lovely and patient draft, Snoqualmie Wilde (by Scarlette Wilde). It was fun! And really hard. There must be some trick to it that she didn't know yet. She did not have a horse to paint for NaMoPaiMo...but that was okay. She had a drawing tablet, and there were huge canvases in the old school house, and there was paint in one of the sheds...she could still do art.
And then, a real surprise came. A resin foal called First Draft, a gift from Deb and Randy Buckler. (There are actually two First Draft resins, but Skye hasn't seen the second one yet).
Elecktra didn't get to stay through NaMoPaiMo. She headed back across the country in early February to spend time with friends there. But the girls had all the fun they could pack into her visit, and she's welcome back any time.
Elecktra is a portrait doll of Elecktra Field, by Anne Field, Field of Dolls Studio
First Draft - Resins by Randy