September 2, 2023
Skye found the note on the table. The boss was so sneaky like that!
"Are you ready for an adventure? Find the Pavement Queen."
It didn't take the girls long to find the bright red truck. But a light drizzle had become an in-earnest rain by the time they did. And in the pavement queen they found a kayak. Skye bubbled with excitement.
"Oh my gosh, come on! Let's go to the creek!"
"Skye" Grace said, attempting to be the voice of reason. "It's raining."
"But it's a warm rain!" And indeed it was. But the wind. The wind was warm too. Tropical. Wonderful. But after a few minutes of getting soaking wet, the wind somehow made Grace feel chilled. Skye was apparently oblivious to the chill factor.
"Oh please, please please. Come on Grace. We'll be fine."
"Okay" Grace said. "But not now. I wanted to do something else with the truck right now."
Grace pulled a hoodie over her wet shirt, and the girls got in the truck.
"Where are we going?"
"To the campgrounds" Grace said. They ambled down the rod in the light rain. She stopped the truck rather suddenly.
Skye strained to see. And then she flicked her ears and became visible. In the tall grass and shrubs along the bank of the creek, she stood, concealed. And then, across the creek and up into cover of the mountain she went.
The girls drove the length of the campground road, but found all of the gates closed. Grace looked a bit annoyed.
"I know where there's fresh manzanita slash" Grace said, "but we can't get to it."
They turned around and went the other way. Plants had begun to grow in the cracked asphalt of the picnic area. Grace and Skye got out for a moment, to feel the silence. There is a certain hush about a forest trimmed in clouds. You can hear each rain drop fall, together making a chorus of life giving voices.
But this was not the place to find manzanita. It preferred the south facing aspect of the mountain. So back they went towards the ranch.
Towards the conifer and chaparral interface. To the firebreak. And there they found what they were looking for. Manzanita. Glorious, wonderful manzanita.
The wet ground glowed with reds, yellows and grey, the duff of the manzanita clinging to the textured grey mass of spent yucca.
There were several potentially ideal branches. Skye watched as Grace carefully maneuvered her piece around the tailgate, trying not to scratch the truck, trying to use the weight of the wood to her advantage, to find the tipping point where she would be able to push the branch onto the truck without having to lift it.
Success. Getting Skye's piece in would be slightly more complicated with this one already in the way, but they were motivated, and they got it done.
The boss had been busy in the arena, turning out the most recent arrivals to the ranch, minus stallions. Seven horses altogether.
"These are keepers" she said out loud. "For now anyway. All really nice horses."
Grace and Skye smiled and nodded. The boss would have more to say. They waited.
"You know, it's kind of like a mid-life crisis, except I'm really late. Maybe it's a maturity crisis. But I've spent a lot of time contemplating what's important in this life. I mean, on some level, we are so insignificant. Less enduring than a grain of sand, a tiny speck in the universe, a nano second in geologic time. But, here we are. Now, in this time. So what to do. Say 'nothing matters because I am a nothing in the face of time' or live with purpose. So that is the first choice."
Grace and Skye remained silent. This was a deeper than average dive into the meaning of things.
The boss continued.
"And in this moment in time, horses are becoming something of an endangered species. Luxury animals for the rich. No longer needed for labor. In some ways that's good because the abuse they have suffered as beasts of burden over the centuries...let's not dwell there. But what does the future of the horse look like? In fifty years will young girls still dream of nothing other than owning a horse? Riding like the wind? Being one with the spirt of equus? Or will immersive simulation be the only thing they know?"
Skye stopped breathing for a moment. Immersive simulation...what if the boss was right. No real visceral reference to the smell, the feel, the warm breath of a horse.
"Anyway" the boss went on, "I'm coming to a point of peace in all of this. A mission if you will. I'd like to shift the focus of our efforts a little bit, and give more attention, selectively, to promoting genetic diversity in rare breeds."
"Told you" Grace whispered. "Not a horse rescue."
Skye's face must have belied her fear.
"Skye, don't worry" the boss reassured her. "The horses you have are staying. We are going to put some more horses up for sale, but not any of yours."
"Oh good" Skye responded. All the rest of the talk slipped away from her consciousness as she watched the horses in the arena. She got to keep her horses. That was really all that mattered at the moment.
The horses in the arena were very nice. She was familiar with the palomino mare and foal. She'd been spending time with the filly, getting her used to the touch and sound of humans.
"Well, let's get these ladies and gents back up to the stable" the boss said. "There's one more horse I want to show you."
And he was quite the horse.
"Historical references reveal that the foundation stock of the Lippizan breed included much more color. And genetic diversity. And while the color is very gratuitous, it's the strength of the diversity that is the critical element here. The preservation of everything good while refreshing a narrowing gene pool."
The boss could have said anything really. There wasn't a lot of need to justify why this horse caught her eye. But the justifications were good. Appropriate for the theme of the afternoon's discussion. Anyone could see bringing this one home was obviously the right choice.
Back at home, Grace was still a bit chilled..
"Are you feeling okay?" Skye asked. "Baron always tried to be your favorite lap dog when you don't feel good. Don't get sick on me Grace. I want to take that kayak out tomorrow!"
Everybody wanted to be her favorite lap dog, it seemed.
"We'll see what the weather holds for tomorrow" Grace said. "There will be water for a few days. Don't worry. We'll get the kayak out."
The day dawned glorious, sufficiently warm, the wind still. Time to give the kayak a go.
The creek spilled gently across the road.
"If we could park right here it would be perfect" Skye said.
"It would, but we can't park on the road. You know what the boss always says".
"A fire truck could get around us no problem" Skye countered.
"The boss says 'When it comes my turn to be rescued, I want my first responders to be cheerful and motivated.' So, we shouldn't park in the road. We want to keep them cheerful."
"Okay fine. I guess that's why the kayak has wheels."
The girls eventually found their way down to the water with the kayak.
"This life vest is a 2XL!" Skye struggled to tighten the straps as much as she could, but it still fit like a cardboard box. "We'll take it along. It's big enough for both of us to fit in."
Skye pushed the kayak into the water, leaving the tail end on land, and slipped quickly and gracefully inside.
"Have you kayaked before?" Grace asked.
"Yes! But not in anything like this. I've been in sit on top kayaks. Ocean kayaks. It's the same principle though. To get in, you get the kayak on the edge of the water or in the water completely, and you get your butt down and your center of gravity low as smooth and quick as you can."
Grace's entry was not quite as smooth...the paddles were large and awkward, her boots notoriously slippery, and her desire to keep them dry pretty strong. It took a little squirming and paddle-shoving and rocking back and forth before the kayak broke free of the land and Grace got her center of gravity where it belonged. And then a few awkward moments figuring out the paddles.
And a few more moments to figure out how to work as a team to keep the kayak level in the water. And then the magic happened.
Skye fell silent. She let Grace experience it. The different view. The freedom of gliding across the top of a liquid surface. The closeness to Nature. Looking down through the clear water. The sky. The vastness of the sky from the water's surface. The sound of water lapping on the hull, rippling over the paddle. All of it.
Skye reached down into the water, splashing it on her face. It was cool but not cold, perfectly clear.
Grace broke the silence.
"How wet are we supposed to be getting?"
"Oh...I don't really know. In an ocean kayak you can get pretty wet, but there's holes in it, so the water is always moving in and out.
"Well I'm pretty wet" Grace said.
"Me too" Skye responded.
"And if I'm not mistaken we're starting to ride a little low in the water."
Grace let one paddle rest in the water. Slowly the kayak turned around.
The girls were more or less drenched.
"Okay so we got a little wet, but wasn't that awesome? Just indescribably fantastic?" Skye bubbled exuberance.
"Yes" Grace said. "But I'm not a little wet. I'm soaked. I have more water inside my boots than on the outside."
"But look! Here comes the sun! You'll be dry in no time. Those boots will be...well, if you leave them on they'll be custom-formed to your feet!"
Grace did eventually dry out. So did Skye. And as the afternoon shadows grew long the boss was also excited. Two new tied rope halters from Eagle Nest Ranch had arrived. Grace put one on Loch'sha, and Skye decided to try her luck on a fully trained but as of yet uproven horse...Dunsmoke.
Grace watched Skye's effortless riding. Dunsmoke responded flawlessly to only weight shifts and neck rein pressure.
"You know" the bosses' words broke Grace's attention for a moment. "...many moons ago I went to a doctor for some sort of female issue. And she examined me and said I had a very straight pelvis. She said 'It will be hard for you to ride horses, or have children, because your pelvis is so straight.' I was just shocked. I didn't know your skeletal structure could have that kind of an impact on what you do. I mean, if I were looking at an animal yes, I could tell you things about what it may or may not be capable of, but I never knew the tilt of your pelvis could determine how you sat on a horse."
Grace was silent for a long time.
"I have never heard that before" she finally responded. "But it makes perfect sense."
The sun's last light fell upon the place the locals called Indian Rocks. Grace wanted to go there. Perhaps in the morning if they could slip away. And the evening left them with just enough clouds for a fleeting and glorious sunset.
The day dawned lovely, but the wind blew strong. Grace and Skye waited and watched. There would be minutes of stillness...but then the wind would come again, gusting, forceful, singing its wild song with the pine trees. The arena would have to do for now. Grace took Ono through his paces, and decided to work on his ground tie. Perhaps the ground poles would help him get the idea.
So far, so good.
Skye called from across the arena.
"Whoops! Sorry about that!"
Ono watched the errant calf, rocked forward a bit on his legs, and then back, but did not lift a hoof.
"Good stand" Grace said. "Good boy."
Skye and Cookie were sorting out calves when Grace noticed the shift.
"Skye. Can you hear that?"
"The wind. It stopped."
It was a glorious morning. Not quite 11 am. The heat of summer was apparent once the wind stopped mobilizing the air. And it was likely much too late to catch a glimpse of wild horses, although the girls did think at one point that they heard something... and too hot to ride to Indian Rocks. But even if it was only for a few moments, being outside and on a horse was good.
Grace wanted Skye to get used to Cookie. The horse Skye called Twitch, the grey and white pinto that Grace suspected was a reiner, hadn't sold yet. The boss would drop the price a few more times but if she didn't sell, she might make a great horse for Skye.
Cookie was so bold and level headed. She picked her way along the rock escarpments with ease and confidence. Grace remembered riding her bareback, working cattle, when she first came to the ranch, using only a neck rein, and that mostly for her own balance. Cookie was a great horse. And Skye seemed to get along with her just fine.
The big Thoroughbred mare trotted up and down the length of the arena. She was inquisitive and unruffled, moving smooth and loose. Grace and Skye watched as she took in the sights and smells without breaking her stride.
They watched as her attention was captured by something along the rail. Visitors! The girls had been so busy watching the new mare, they hadn't noticed the entrance of the other young girls.
Skye smiled and extended her hand.
"Thank you." The dark eyed girl reached out to receive Skye's welcome. "We were here for your Christmas party last year" she said, "but we didn't stay very long. My name is Anahit, and this is my sister Lousin." Lousin smiled and shook hands, and then returned her gaze to the sabino mare. Lousin was captivated by the horse. Something Skye completely understood.
"I'm Skye, and this is my sister Grace. This mare just arrived and we're letting her unwind and get familiar with her new surroundings."
"What's her name?" Lousin asked without looking away from the horse.
Skye looked at Grace.
"I'm not sure what her registered name is" Grace said, "but I believe her stable name is Luna."
Anahit and Lousin looked at each other and smiled.
The three girls watched as Grace tried to gather up the new mare, but she wasn't ready. She trotted by, again and again, looking rather pleased with herself, rather pleased with her new surroundings. And so the four girls chatted amongst themselves while the mare named Luna made a few more laps of the arena with her big, ground-eating trot.
August 6, 2023
La Barilla's golden coat was slightly muted by the indoor lighting. Still, the boss did her best to get a good shot of him.
"I can't believe we don't have any halter photos of him" Skye said.
"Well" the boss replied, "If these don't turn out, we'll try again next weekend." And then she headed back up to the house with her camera.
La Barilla took advantage of the opportunity to roll, stretch his legs and kick up sand.
"I'm surprised we aren't getting show photos of everybody" Skye said after the boss was well out of earshot. "Isn't the show season in full swing?"
"It is" Grace responded.
When La Barilla had enjoyed a good turnout, Gunner got a chance to run.
"Do you think the boss is okay?" Skye continued. "She was pretty quiet today."
"I think she's okay" Grace said. "I think she's wrapped up in her head. Re-evaluating her goals and such. That foal that didn't suckle and then the dogs she found on the highway, I think those things had an impact on her. Like a wake-up call."
"A wake up call like...what?"
Grace thought about it for a moment.
"Like, what's important. What do you want to spend your energy on. When I got here she had horses that weren't doing anything and she wanted me to get them under saddle, in shape, sometimes in the show ring. Now it feels to me like she's looking around and trying to find her place - our place - in the bigger picture. I think she's getting more focused, really."
"Like a rescue?"
"No, I don't think that's what she's got in mind. I think she's looking to make her mark in the world and that might include things like...I don't know, the genetic viability of rare breeds, the environment...that seems to be the kind of things she's interested in."
"And rescues" Skye added. "Think about all the rescues. All the dogs, the black mare...she likes rescues too."
"True. I don't think we're going to be a horse rescue though. Not intentionally, anyway."
Evening light was fading fast. The wind had died down and the girls were in the outdoor arena, enjoying the warm glow of the sun's last light.
"We should change your horse's name from Precious to Pumpkin" Grace called out. "She is glowing in this golden light."
"So is that one" Skye said, watching the new horse, a well put together Quarter Horse gelding, intently. He did have a lovely glow. He moved well. Grace liked him.
"Does he already have a name?"
"I don't know what it is" Grace said.
"Let's call him Dunsmoke."
Grace smiled. It was fitting.
Grace brought La Barilla to the arena as tree shadows began to creep across the ground. The boss trotted down with the long lens on her camera. Some muttering followed as she struggled with the lens.
"I don't know Grace" she said after some twenty shots. "I keep thinking this lens is going to magically fix itself like it always does but it doesn't seem to happening this time."
"It's okay" Grace said, "We'll try again early tomorrow morning."
"Take the short lens" the boss said to Skye as she headed off.
The girls were getting ready to pack it in when the boss called out to them.
"Do you ladies have a moment for some cuteness overload?"
"Sure!" Skye responded.
She wasn't kidding. The boss had a surprise for the girls. A donkey. A big donkey. She thought he was a Mammoth/spotted donkey cross, as Mammoths hae a solid coat pattern.
"You are adorable!" Skye giggled. "And you're big! And those ears!"
"And why do we need a donkey, right?" The boss added. "I'm still working on the answer. I think she is what you call a...err...impulse purchase."
The boss had done two impulse purchases. The second was a cob type riding pony. He was very nice. Skye was perfectly comfortable on full sized horses but something about ponies always intrigued her.
The girls mounted Precious two up and got ready to head in.
"Where are we going to take La Barilla for photos tomorrow?"
"I thought we'd try the rocks. Where we saw that dun the first time."
"Yeah but the last thing I want is to run into a bunch of bratty wild stallions with La Barilla."
"Oh yeah huh. That could be...interesting."
And the sun slipped quietly away.
The sun was just cresting the ridge as Grace and La Barilla approached the rock formation where she hoped to stage her golden stallion. Skye came trotting up.
"Where's the camera?"
Grace was surprised to see Skye running up, empty-handed.
"The boss is coming. She said she's sorry she's late, she was up all night watching European nature documentaries."
And in a moment, Grace could hear the engine of the Pavement Queen as it approached.
The location they'd chosen was great for morning photos. It was, as so much of Chilao is, solid rock, but the rock had a good, toothy surface and this particular location was relatively smooth. But what Grace hadn't thought through was actually getting La Barilla to stand for a halter photo. He could long rein, cross water, address calves, get in and out of a trailer, navigate difficult terrain, and they were working on the Spanish walk. But she hadn't taught him to stand, tied or untied. It really wasn't in his nature. So when she told him to stand, and backed away from him, he really didn't have a clue what she wanted.
"I'm not really sure I can get him to put all four feet on the ground at the same time" Grace told the boss as La Barilla more or less acquiesced to the notion of staying in one place.
"That's fine, I think I got a nice picture. Now go ahead and take his halter off."
Grace opened her mouth to speak, but no word came out.
Skye started to move toward La Barilla and Grace, then stopped. Grace and Skye exchanged silent looks. It was going to go however it went. And they would know in a moment just what that meant.
Grace took a deep breath, and removed his halter.
Grace backed away from La Barilla, speaking to him all the while. "Stand. Good stand. Good stand." The back side of the rock face, beyond where they had chosen to take pictures, curved steeply downward. Chances were good La Barilla wouldn't bolt that way. It seemed unlikely he would bolt toward Grace or Skye just because he'd never done that. He kept his attention focused on Grace, ears swiveling, occasionally appearing frustrated with this barrage of new experience. The boss took picture after picture.
"Great" the boss finally said. I think I got some good photos. Can you turn him the other way?"
Grace walked to the left. La Barilla began to follow her. Grace put her hand up. "Stand..." He stopped coming forward, but continued to turn so he was facing her. "Good, good boy, good stand..."
Click click click click...finally the boss was satisfied. "Okay, I think we got something this time."
"Great" Grace said, fetching the halter. La Barilla, still uncertain what was happening, let himself be haltered.
"You are the best" Grace whispered. She turned to glance at Skye, who was smiling, a smile mixed with pride and relief.
And the sun took its path across the sky, another warm day in the making.
Clouds came rolling in with a strong breeze at dawn. TS Hilary, a hurricane downgraded upon landfall to a tropical storm, was making its way up the mountain.There was something delicious about the warm wind.
"Do you suppose it's going to live up to all the talk?"
"I don't know" Grace answered. "Seems like we've spent a lot of time waiting for big storms that never happened."
"Except that blizzard" Skye said. "That blizzard definitely happened."
in case it did start to rain, they turned the flashy chestnut pinto sport horse loose inside the indoor arena.
"Ooh he's purdy" Skye said. "Is he a keeper?"
"For now. The boss wants to get him a little more conditioned before she makes any decisions."
"He looks pretty good to me" Skye said.
Gradually the sky darkened, until the day took on a sort of timelessness. After a while the wind fell still, and a shadowless hush enveloped everything.
It was pretty late when Skye found Grace in the tack room, more or less by accident.
"What are you doing?" Grace asked.
"I'm looking for the old bosal. The one I made. I can't find it anywhere."
Grace paused before responding.
"How weird. After all this time, our go-to bit of gear vanishes. Maybe it felt unloved now that we have the new bosal bridles.
Skye smiled. "Maybe." She looked around a bit more.
"What are you doing?" Skye asked Grace. Another pause before she responded.
"I was going to shorten the stirrup leathers on this saddle."
"So you'd have a western saddle that fit you. I didn't want to try it on any of the other rigs 'cuz I'm not sure what I'm doing."
"Where did this thing come from?"
"It looked a lot better in the picture" Grace defended.
I bet it did. A lot better."
"Humor me and have a seat so I can measure it."
Skye got a stool.
"When you are done with the stirrup leathers are you going to replace the stirrups? And fix the flat cantle?"
"The cantle for sure. Do you hate the stirrups? I kind of hate the stirrups."
"You don't really need to do this, you know" Skye said. "Before you got here I had exactly one bosal. No saddle. Never seen a bareback pad before. It was okay."
Grace was pretty sure she could shorten the stirrup leathers and raise the cantle. She didn't have spare stirrups and she'd never made finished western stirrups. And then there was the cinch rigging. The leather was fine but the rest had to go. This was way more project than she's hoped for. And endlessly grateful Skye was obviously not impressed. She wasn't even trying to pretend to be grateful.
"How does it feel to sit in?"
"It's okay. Nice big seat. It sits fine."
The girls stepped back from the project saddle. It was going to be more work than it was worth.
"All right" Grace finally said. "We'll make this one go away. Are you ever going to work on your native saddles?"
There was a very long bit of silence.
"Sure" Skye finally answered.
"Do you not like them?"
"I love them. I love them. They're small. Front to back, the seat area. And I'm kind of nervous about them. I've never made a saddle before. What if I screw them up?"
"Then we start over."
Grace realized she was forcing the saddle issue on a child who didn't need a saddle to stay on a horse, or to be happy.
TS Hilary had brought the dry creek bed back to life. The girls took the campground road to the creek crossing as the golden hour reached its peak and shadows began to swallow the day's last light.
"Do you think the water is warm this time?" Skye asked. Previously the creek had been fed by snowmelt.
"It probably is warm" Grace responded.
"Let's go in." Skye turned Lochsha back in the direction they'd come from, looking for a good spot to enter the creek.
Grace looked and looked...it was hard to see any place to enter that wasn't steep. And from the vantage point of Dreamboat's rather tall back, she wasn't sure her depth perception was accurate. So she slid down from his back to get a closer look. In her famously worn-slick boots. And in to the water she went. It was indeed warm. Dreamboat held steady as Grace scrambled out of the water. She walked Dreamboat along the road edge to a small bit of sand bar. She coaxed him into the water, just along the road's edge, where she could now swing herself back on.
Skye emerged on Lochsha. Grace joined her on Dreamboat. The water was deep, and the ground very uneven. But the horses seemed to be enjoying its warmth. They went slowly, and not for a very long way. The golden light faded. Dark would come quickly now.
Skye watched curiously as Grace stood with her arms outstretched in front of the fan.
"What are you doing?"
"Yoga" Grace said. "This pose is called the five pointed star." Grace shot Skye a sideways glance, tried not to smirk. It was no use.
"I'm trying to get dry."
"Did you fall off your horse?"
"No. Worse. I fell off of my feet."
"Lourdey. I can't take you anywhere."
Two by two Skye brought her horses down to the arena in the morning's first light. It was going to be another hot, dry day. At least they would have a chance to loosen up, roll, socialize for a bit before the heat took over.
Tropical storm Hilary had made a mess of the arenas, and it had taken hours to clean them of debris and spread new sand. Now that the exhaustive work was over and Skye's herd made the first hoofprints on the fresh surface, it was all worth it.
Grace watched the horses milling about, trotting on the rail, taking in the sights. After a while she turned to Skye. "You know Models in the Mountains is cancelled for 2023."
Skye nodded. "I heard. Heard the road isn't expected to open until maybe the end of the year."
"I guess we have lots of time to decide how to hang all the artwork. And plan your review."
"Oh, yeah, the review."
When the equines were done with their morning outing, Skye brought down the Great Danes that the boss had rescued. She agreed to take them out while the boss was away on errands.
"Do you really think these dogs will ever leave?" Skye asked Grace.
"I know the boss is trying to find their owners. She put up fliers in Acton and Tujunga, and on the internet. So far no luck. Which makes me wonder if the dogs weren't actually abandoned, you know, on purpose."
As the sun rose in the sky, the girls retreated to the relative coolness of their room. The heat kept the girls indoors for the afternoon, as it had for days. They moved furniture around, relieving some boredom, getting better light to Grace's side of the room.
Skye liked the bigger dresser, but not losing the manzanita lamp.
"Do you think you could make another lamp?" Skye asked Grace.
Grace considered it. "If I remember correctly, that piece of manzanita was in the bulldozer line after the Bobcat fire. There was a lot of cut manzanita. And it was fresh. I don't know. I guess we could look around the campgrounds. There's been a lot of work done there lately."
The computer equipment was a little overwhelming.
"The boss bought it for MIM" Grace explained. "I think she got a package deal on some new but older equipment. The idea was to help us tabulate the performance division."
"Will there be another MIM?"
"Do we get to keep all this in the meantime?"
"Ummm, yes. I'm pretty sure we do."
"Cool. I think I can deal with that."
July 1, 2023
When the heat of the day broke, the girls went out to look at the moon. The mosquitos came upon them in clouds. The black mare swished her tail, stamped her feet and shook her head but it only deterred them for a moment.
"Is the full moon tomorrow night?" Skye asked.
"No, Monday night, but it will appear full tomorrow night. I'm not sure the sun will be quite all the way set, but it still ought to be pretty."
"Tomorrow night, if we decide to watch the moonrise, let's drench ourselves in fly spray first."
Coyote made his way slowly around the fire station as the girls headed to the eastern edge of the property. Just in case fly spray didn't do the trick, the girls brought a second line of defense with them for watching the moonrise, the truck. And they got to their lookout point just in time.
The moon was well on its way over the ridge when they noticed it, the pale sunset sky still bright.
"It comes up so fast!" Skye exclaimed.
They could hear the sound of fireworks, like distant thunder, even before the sky was dark. Blissfully secluded, they could not see them, but the deep booming sounds reached even into the heart of the wilderness.
And then the fly spray started wearing off.
"You ready to go home?" Grace asked.
Dawn came warm and wind-still.
"I never noticed that heart in the rock before" Skye said.
Grace had to look for a while before she saw it.
It was just a quick morning ride before the heat really poured on. Grace was eager to ride the baroque pinto whom Skye adored. And Skye decided to do something very different, and get Mischief out of the arena and into the big world. She was bright and fearless, and seemed to love being out on the trail.
"Did you see that?" Grace said.
"I saw something move up there."
"Like an animal?"
"Yes. Something big."
"Like a bear?"
"I don't think so."
They found their way through the maze of boulders and ravines, heading toward the movement.
It could have been a deer. A big deer. Grace searched the landscape. Nothing.
She saw another passage. Her mount seemed willing.
There! Not a bear. Not a deer.
Skye followed, reining in Mischief as soon as they reached level ground.
A single dun horse, with a sturdy build, watched them. He was indecisive. Somewhat curious. Definitely aloof.
Skye and Grace looked at each other. The compulsion to come a little closer, to get a better look...it was irresistible. And so off they rode, toward the dun horse.
"Is that a curly?" Skye whispered.
"He looks a little bit like one, huh? Like maybe this is what a summer coat looks like on a curly..."
Curly, dirty, whatever. Skye was in love.
They assumed he was young, and they assumed he was a stallion...a bachelor perhaps. He had the thick legs of a draft influence horse, and some feathering. He wasn't flighty, but he kept his distance.
And then, in another moment, he'd had enough, and went on his way.
A breeze began to stir the air and the sun's heat encompassed everything. Grace and Skye chattered the whole way home. Where did he come from? What was he? Was he really a wild horse or an escapee? Would someone be looking for him? So many questions.
A new arrival had come to the ranch. But not a horse. It was a steer, a gelded male bovine. Good for eating, but as Skye suspected, probably here for Models int he Mountains, the upcoming horse show.
"Well he sure came out easier than he went in!"
"That's for sure. I didn't think we were ever going to get him in the trailer. Forwards or backwards."
The steer wasted no time putting some distance between himself and the trailer.
Skye was hoping to go out looking for wild horses. But bringing home the steer took the better part of Friday, and Saturday was just as busy. In the morning they welcomed the newest edition to a growing pony herd; a lovely Fjord mare. She was the light type of Fjord, a show pony, and she was fabulous.
The boss had decided to put Remmie up for sale, so the girls were tasked with getting some good photos of him.
And she was looking to get some photos of the appaloosa mare too. The fast one. Pretty soon the day was about spent.
When they were done photographing the horses, the boss brought the Great Danes down to the arena. The two big purebreds were female. They were a bit detached, not terribly interested in engaging Grace and Skye's pack. The smaller dog, definitely some sort of Dane mix, did not have the luxury of detachment. Baron, Hobo, White Dog and Charles were all various degrees of keen to figure out who the new kid was.
"Where are the pups?" Skye asked the boss.
"They have new homes" she replied. "Unfortunately, when I went to PetCo, they didn't have a way to scan the big girls for an ID chip, so I'm going to have to take one of the them to the vet or something."
"What are you going to do with this guy?" Skye asked, pointing with her nose toward the spotted mix.
"He has to belong with the girls. So I'll hang on to him until I can reunite all three of them with their owner. The pups, I feel pretty good about finding new homes for them. But I have trouble believing that the big dogs were thrown away."
The girls and the boss watched the dogs as they interacted. So far so good...everyone seemed to be more or less accepting of the new spotted dog.
And so the weekend passed without a chance to go out looking for wild horses. Skye brought a package in pretty blue and white checkered paper into the tack room.
"Have you seen this?" Skye asked.
"Nope. What is it?"
"It's a gift from Daphne Headley! She sent it along with some donations for The Collective champ show. The boss just gave it to me."
"And what about the dog behind you? Did she give you that too?"
Skye giggled. "No, not yet. I like him though."
Skye tried to keep the pretty blue and white paper in one piece, but it was hard, because se really wanted to get to the gift inside.
"Oh wow! How the heck..."
Skye studied the tied rope halter in awe.
"I have no idea how to tie these kinds of knots, and I've been making rope bridles my whole life."
Grace wasn't much help. Skye was the expert at making tack out of nothing. Particularly impressive was the loop at the bottom where the matching lead rope with its hand-stitched leather accents attached.
After a spell, Grace's attention was drawn to the other side of the tack room, where saddle blankets concealed something. The girl took a peek.
"Oh!" Skye exclaimed. "I think it's a horse shaped object!"
They unveiled him carefully. A resin casting by Sara Mink. A smaller version of a horse called Stormwatch, a wild stallion, fabulous in his every incredible detail. It was several moments before Skye found something to say.
"Is he ours?"
Grace pondered the notion.
"I am pretty content just to stand in his presence" she finally replied. "I think he's ours to enjoy and admire and study, and possibly display."
Skye was silent for a long time before she responded.
"He's just...wow. Wow."
In the cool of the morning the girls let Remmie out for some exercise. The pictures they took were apparently good enough to get him sold.
"Are you going to miss him?" Skye asked.
Grace pondered the thought.
"I will. He's a good boy, and super pretty. I think one of the prettiest chestnuts I've ever seen."
"And he's so sweet!" Skye added.
"He is. But he's going to a performance shower in New Jersey, and she's so excited. I think she also has cattle. So he'll be busy, and have a great life."
"I guess that's all you can really hope for when you let go of an animal...that they end up having a great life."
As the day evolved, cloud cover dimmed the morning heat ever so slightly. The girls went through Chilao looking to see where there was still water. There were some deep pools where Coyote Canyon become Cougar Canyon. They would eventually stagnate, but for a few more weeks there would be some water there.
Closer to home, their own little portion of the creek had deer tracks, but no sign of horses yet. But they knew where to look, and pressed on, quietly.
And there they were.
Both bands were together, and there wasn't any time for hiding. So they held still.
It took the girls a moment to notice. Highlander's pale mare was also missing.
They watched, looked, waited. Only one mare with Highlander.
Highlander made his disapproval of their presence known, but from a safe distance, flinging rocks and sand and pinning his ears.
Petrichor drew nearer. His demeanor lacked disapproval. He would linger for a moment near the girls before leaving the water for the dry creek bed.
The black colt was aloof, like his dam had been. He kept his distance.
The cloud cover moved off, and the heat of the day grew. The horses moved on, down the dry part of the creek, and out of sight.
Grace and Skye made their way back to the campground road. It was molting season, and Skye found feather after feather.
"Are you going to collect them all?" Grace asked.
"So I found the big owl feather first. And then the black and white one. Then the raven and I was going to leave it behind. But I had this thought...either everything is sacred, or it's not...so I need to honor all of them...or leave them all behind and honor them that way..."
Sunset looked promising. Grace and Skye went through the campgrounds, looking for a place to watch it from.
The clouds were a mixture, a hybrid sky, things that were natural and things that weren't, but there seemed some magic about the evening, about its stillness...they took it all in.
There were blue clouds, Skye's favorite, caused by the absence of a full spectrum of light in the sky.
"We should go to a place where there are less trees" Grace said. "And less mountains directly in the way of the sunset."
Grace studied the sky quietly. Skye wanted to photograph the gaseous orange band, but hesitated. It wasn't water vapor and she knew it.
"Go ahead." Grace said. "I'm not here to stifle your creative process. I'm here to protect you from others who might. This is what we have to work with. Just humor me and get a picture of the whole sunset if you can."
And so Skye did her best to capture all of it. And every now and then to let the camera rest, and just look, and be present in the silence.
Back at the ranch, Skye took a picture of the lone deceased tree, still standing. Who knew for how much longer.
At home the girls prepared to reassemble the final portion of Grace's bed. The dogs had broke it apart in such a fashion that there was just enough of it still connected, they were able to figure out where the disconnected pieces went. Only the headboard was left.
Grace mumbled numbers.
"You know" she finally said, "there are five of these upright pieces. And each one of them could be installed with one or another side up or down in each of the five positions. So that's ten options per upright. There's like fifty different ways we could put this back together."
"Actually" Skye said, there's way more than fifty, because there's a fairly countless variety of ways that the five uprights might interact with each other as a whole."
Grace fell silent.
The girls were out before sunrise on Sunday morning. They were missing a steer. Grace scanned the terrain for movement.
There was so much cover. That steer could be anywhere.
At last, Cookie, the black and white paint mare, had a bosal bridle fitting of her calibre, made by Donna Allen. The reins matched her saddle, but more importantly, the bridle allowed her to be ridden with the freedom of movement that she deserved and needed to do her job. Grace was loving the feel of the reins and the way the bosal fit. She took the high rode, up onto a rocky bluff.
Skye took the low road, circling the rock formation. The flowers of July surrounded Skye. She came around the southern face of the rocks, and saw something move. Grace could see him from above. The steer was coming down, away from Grace, toward Skye. Skye backed away enough to give him room.
Then she flanked him, pointing him homeward. Grace made her way off the rocks, joining Skye. But as she did, something caught her eye. Skye saw it too.
Rain Man, the bachelor silver dun sabino wild stallion, like an image from a classic western movie, standing on a precipice above them, rearing.
The steer kept heading back to the ranch. Grace and Skye let him go, and took a little detour. Soon they found Storm, the other bachelor stallion, and the dun horse, which they had been searching for whenever they could since they fist laid eyes on him.
Storm appeared to be uncomfortable with the newcomer.
"I think he's trying to join them" Grace said, not particularly quietly, as Storm wasn't being particularly quiet with his squealing.
Rain Man was similarly excited, but less confrontational. Another young stallion to join their band of two. The new horse kept out of striking distance, but persisted.
"This is no place to be alone" Skye said. "I don't blame him."
And then it was time to get back to work.
"I reckon we ought to go find that steer" Skye laughed.
"I reckon you're right! I'll take the high road.
Steer secured, the weather took a turn. As if a thunderstorm were approaching. The skies darkened and the wind blew. The girls took a break for a little bit...and took their chances on the bed.
"It's sure not as pretty as when Katy Niles put it together the first time" Grace said as she balanced the final upright.
"Yea, but as much glue as we're using, it'll probably be dog proof from here forward."
While the wind blew outside, the girls spent the afternoon in the arena, along with the boss, who was fussing with Katy's artwork. Grace brought down a very tall sport horse.
"Is he new?" Skye asked of the big bay.
"He is" Grace replied. "He's a retired competitive driving horse. That's all I know about him."
"And he's tall."
"Yes" Grace laughed. "And we need to smooth the arena. Not only is he tall, but I'm standing in a hole."
Skye brought out the grey Morgan, and put Daphne Headley's rope halter to attractive use.
The boss moved things around. And around. Katy's artwork was stunning.
"We only have five easels" she said, "and thirteen pieces of artwork. "We can get more easels, that's not a problem really. But where to display them?"
Grace, meanwhile, brought down more horses, the big baroque Friesian cross and his sidekick, the paso fino. "Hold still big guy. I'll turn you loose in a second."
Skye listened on and off to the boss and Grace conversing. Little bits and pieces.
"You know I heard that work on the highway has stopped for lack of funding" the boss told Grace. "So I don't really know why I'm so focused on getting the arena ready for MIM. If the road stays closed, we'll have to cancel."
Grace went through the art pieces, and some of them were too small for full sized easels.
"What if we mounted them on the wall?" the boss asked. "I mean obviously you don't want a horse crashing into the artwork or a rider getting a leg caught...do you think that would be completely unacceptable?"
"I guess we can ask people what they think" Skye chimed in. "If it's too much or a safety hazard...pretty soon the arena is gonna look like our house!"
Then the boss brought down the big girls, and the dane mix.
"They are great with horses" she said.
"Did you find out anything about them?" Skye asked.
"No" the boss shook her head. "Drove all the way to a different PetCo with the harlequin, and they didn't have a chip scanner. And this one lady was looking at me like I stole the dog or something. You know I didn't want to say I found her. The whole pet rescue thing has become an industry unto itself and sometimes these rescue groups treat you like it's immoral for a regular person to rescue an animal. Like if it's a rescue, they own it. It's b.s., in my opinion. Real people rescue animals. Get over it."
Skye held back a smile. She had never heard the boss get wound up over anything. Kind of comforting, really.
The big Great Danes were impressive. Even to big horses.
Then, something in the atmosphere changed. The girls walked outside for a moment. The wind had stopped. You could feel it. You could smell it. Petrichor. Just the smallest few drops of rain.
And then the finale to a busy weekend. A glorious summer sunset.
Before the heat of day settled in, Grace was taking horses out for exercise. Valiant was full of himself. Grace was loving his new halter and lead, made custom for him by Shandi Gabriiella Cristel Bech. He was waiting eagerly for the moment when she would release him.
Her mind wandered in the relative cool of morning. This review coming up. Was that what the boss called it? What would that be about? How do you capsulize two years? No, three years really...almost four. There was a lot. Maybe that was a good thing...there was a lot of progress Grace could point to. Like for instance showing Valiant in western dressage.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the boss. The water tank that fed the ranch was empty. There was water at the school but non at the barn, the stables or the house. So while troubleshooting got under way to find the problem, the girls pulled water from the school with a series of hoses to fill water tubs in the arena. And then bring down horses in small groups to get water. They brought mares with foals first, and then they just went down the line, trying to be as efficient as possible, hoping the problem would be resolved quickly.
The Bask++ mare and her foal were doing well. (wearing another gorgeous halter by Shandi).
Skye was looking past the water crisis.
"Do you think it will be cool enough to ride this evening?"
Grace was also eager to see if they could catch up with Rain Man, Storm and their new friend, the young dun.
"I don't know if we'll have time to think about it. If we still don't have water by this evening, we're gong to be working all night to get the horses watered this way."
Skye brought down two of the newer mares. Her fondness for the brown pinto was obvious.
Grace chose her words carefully. If she understood correctly, there were some horses going up for sale...about ten, or maybe a dozen, and all the horses in the arena at the moment were among them. Probably not a good time for Skye to be getting attached to any new horses.
"You already have a high-headed mare, Ladyhawk. And to her credit, she has a great head on top of that long neck."
"Yeah but I think this girl would look fantastic all tacked up. And she'd probably be a ton of fun to ride."
"What about the other mare?" Grace thought the grey and white paint - she was pretty sure it was a paint, anyway - would probably be the better performance horse.
"She's twitchy! I like her though. Honestly I haven't spent much time with either one of them. Maybe I better do that."
She was twitchy. Maybe that would be her name...Twitch. But she did have kind eyes and she was very well put together, and very pretty.
Monday dawned gorgeous and ten degrees cooler. The hunt for wild horses was on. The girls traced their way through the rugged landscape where they had first seen the new dun horse.
Skye's mount, the grey Morgan, was substantial, with well sprung ribs, a supple neck and head and a big, easy way of going. But the granite pass held no wild horses.
They headed out behind the fire station. The grasses were tall, as tall as they had ever seen. They followed the creek bed, now dry. They saw no sign of horses.
The dark line in the stone told of how high the water had been in the winter, and though they lived through the epic blizzard, it was hard to imagine this parched landscape under nine feet of snow.
They went to the ammunitions bunker, not really expecting to find horses inside...but it was there, so...
Skye's mount had been in the entertainment industry. He'd done jousting, worn costumes, performed tricks for cheering crowds. He was fine with the bunker, although turning around inside of it wasn't easy. It was just wide enough. Grace decided not to push Anamar much past the entrance. Although he was smaller and would have a far easier time getting turned around, Grace was just getting to know him. He seemed comfortable enough near the mouth of the cavernous building. That would do.
"Let's go up the back side of the station before we head home" Grace suggested.
It was never too difficult to talk Skye into riding a little farther. Still, no matter where they went, there was no sign of wild horses.
June 10, 2023
Grace and Skye propped themselves up against the wall of the foaling stall.
Finally. Almost fourteen days overdue, but here he was. They had missed the powwow. They had lost countless hours of sleep thinking the mare would foal at night.
"He's got great color" the boss said softly.
"When he took so long to get here I started looking up potential problems. Turns out Arabs don't usually have much trouble giving birth, but there is one terrible thing called Lavender Foal Syndrome, and he obviously doesn't have it."
"He's definitely not lavender" Grace said. "Bay or black bay would be my guess."
The mare was a good momma. Skye gave her some love.
"What is Lavender Foal Syndrome?" Skye asked.
"It's a hereditary neurological disease that cannot be cured. The first clue is the color of the foal - pale, from silver grey to lavender, but the real problem is they can't stand up or sit up or nurse. They don't recover from it" the boss explained.
"Are all Arabs at risk for that?" Grace asked.
"Apparently Egyptian Arabs are usually the ones who carry it. So then I had to scramble and figure out if *Bask++ was Egyptian. And he wasn't. He was Polish."
The foal was trying to get those lanky legs under control, nearly landing in Grace's lap.
"Well" Grace said, "He was worth the wait. He's gorgeous. Just like his mom."
There were other new arrivals that Grace and Skye hadn't met yet. They were outside, enjoying some fresh air and sunshine. A lovely palomino mare and her mini-me foal. The feisty foal was robust and quite playful. And her mom was beautiful.. No wonder Grace had such a fondness for golden horses.
"Oh I really like her" Skye said.
"I can see that" Grace replied.
"Think the boss will let me work with her?"
"I don't see why not..."
Back inside, Grace was hoping for a few hours' nap. It was a lovely day for riding, yes, but she wasn't very mentally alert, and days and nights of sitting in and around the foaling stall had left her a bit stiff. As she eased into bed she heard the laptop. An email notification. From the boss.
"You ain't gonna believe this" Grace said aloud.
"What?" Skye answered.
"We need to get back to the barn."
"Oh no. A problem?"
"No, I mean I don't think so. I don't know. Come on, let's go."
The boss was there with another mare, Wink My Way, an off the track Thoroughbred. "Surprise" the boss said softly. "Another late arrival, except this one was wholly unexpected."
The foal was tiny. Well formed, healthy looking, but quite small. Skye edged a little closer.
The mare appeared to be a bit surprised about the whole thing herself. Grace guessed it was probably her first foal. She also noted that the mare didn't seem to have very full teats, but hopefully they would in fact be full of cholostrum-rich milk, and the mare would find her maternal instincts, and the foal would be able to stand tall enough to nurse. They watched for some time. The colt was slow to his feet, and didn't stand long when he was able to get up.
"I'll stay here with them for a while" the boss said. "You two go get some rest. Hopefully everything will work out okay in the next hour or so."
"He's adorable" Skye whispered.
"He is" Grace replied. "He looks good...he's just awful small. I guess we'll just have to wait and see how it goes."
"I don't really want to leave" Skye said.
"Well, let's give them a little space at least, and see how they work things out."
Wink My Way's little colt wasn't doing well. He had nursed twice, with assistance, but reaching the mare's teats required a lot of effort, and her milk production was scant. With the road still closed, there was no way to get a vet to come up, and not much a vet could do that the girls couldn't.
They tried one more time to help the colt feed. He just wasn't responding. Nursing was going to take supreme effort on the colt's part, and he didn't have it.
"Let's get him to a vet" the boss said.
"Do you want to take the mare too?" Grace asked.
"No, I don't think so. If her milk comes in we'll take her down but unless it does, there's no point. The only other option we have is to see if the Bask mare will let this little guy nurse, but he's going to get trampled by her foal."
"Can we bottle feed him from her milk?"
"I tried last night" the boss replied. "He had a little, but not enough to get him up and moving around."
It was a difficult awakening for everyone. The remoteness of the location compounded by the road closure meant that if anything went wrong, you were pretty much on your own. Most of the time nothing went wrong. But now there was a problem, and the clock was ticking.
In their room, Grace and Skye launched into action. Skye took the dog bed, leaving its owner looking a little puzzled.
Grace tore apart her bed, then realized putting her mattress in the back of the truck wasn't going to work.
"You'll be up too high" she said. "The bed of the truck is shallow. This isn't going to work."
"The buffalo robe will" Skye replied.
The girls fuddled around with the truck while the boss made some phone calls. Ultimately, the buffalo robe proved the perfect gurney for the foal, whom they hoisted carefully into the truck bed. Skye settled herself in next to the foal.
"You good?" Grace asked.
"Okay" Grace said. "Let's go over this one more time."
"Okay" Skye replied. "It is totally illegal in the state of California for people to ride in the back of trucks on public roads, so once we get off the mountain I am to bury both of us in blankets and stay under the blankets until we get to the vet."
"Correct. And if something goes wrong while we're driving?"
"Bang on the window."
"Yup. Okay. Let's do this."
Skye peered at the flowers blooming in the mist-shrouded forest. They made their way down the mountain.
All at once it was summer. Flies, sun, heat, all of it. The girls turned out a couple of mares including Wink My Way. She looked good, healthy, not in any discomfort. Her milk never did come in.
"Is the colt coming back?" Skye asked.
"No" Grace said. "Apparently one of the vet techs who has been bottle feeding him would like to keep him, and the boss agreed it would be best. She said it was kind of a rough awakening, having a horse that needed help and so many obstacles to getting it. She said the foal will be better off in veterinary care for now and in the future, in case there are any complications from the ordeal, or, you know, if there's something wrong with him. Something we don't know about."
"I bet he grows up just fine" Skye responded.
"He very well could."
When the girls returned home they were greeted by a rather unsettling and puzzling scene. Grace's bed was in pieces on the floor. Literally. Lots of pieces.
The sheets weren't ripped, the mattress was intact...it didn't make any sense.
"I don't get it" Grace said. "I can't wrap my brain around this."
The big dogs were acting a little odd. Guilty odd. Hobo was more or less hiding behind Baron who was more or less hiding from Grace. Which gave the pups the idea they should maybe hide too.
Grace sat on the edge of the table, watching Baron and Hobo mill around.
"Is there something we need to talk about?" she asked them.
"Well" Skye said. "Thank goodness we have this wonderful bunk bed. Until we get your bed put back together, I'll be happy to give you the top bunk!"
Grace pulled the laptop out from the wreckage.
Skye turned to Ginger cat - "You tore that bed apart all by yourself and told the dogs we're going to think they did it, huh?"
"Skye....we have more surprises in the barn" Grace said after a quick scan of her emails.
Big surprises in the barn. Dogs. Six of them.
"I found them in Upper Big Tujunga Canyon" the boss said. "I almost think I should call Search and Rescue and see if they can fly over and look for an accident. These are really nice dogs."
"How did you get them all?" Skye asked.
"They were hot, and their feet were burning on the asphalt, and they were thirsty, and there wasn't any shade. It was pretty easy. Driving with them all in the cab was not easy, but getting them in was a piece of cake."
There were two very large Great Danes, a Dane mix, and three puppies of who knows what origin.
Skye's attention shifted to the dog in the corner. He was at least part Dane, and his body language was mixed...he looked scared, but his tail wasn't tucked. He wasn't shaking. Just standing very still in the corner. Like maybe if he didn't move, no one would notice him.
"These two are sure friendly" Skye remarked of the pure Danes.
"They are" the boss said, "and really in good shape. Someone is missing them. These aren't throw away dogs."
And then Skye noticed the rest of them.
"This is a mutt mash" Skye giggled. "What do you suppose these guys are?"
The boss shook her head.
"I have no idea. They are young, and I don't think they are related to the big dogs."
And when the dog in the corner turned around it became immediately clear that he was neither aggressive nor overly shy. But he was completely disoriented, confused, and entirely unsure what to do.
"Oh by the way, when I first came home I went by your place to see if you could help me with these dogs" the boss said. "And I guess all of your dogs were inside and they about went crazy when they saw these two big girls. I heard something crash. I'm just hoping it wasn't a horse shaped something."
"No, no horses were harmed" Grace said. Her lips parted again to tell the story of finding her bed completely destroyed...but then she stopped. No need for the boss to know about that. She'd just feel bad. They would figure the bed out on their own.
"Oh my gosh" Skye said. "Six more dogs. I love them all."
"Oh I don't plan on keeping them" the boss said. "I'm going to find their owners. I won't take them to a shelter, but I'm not keeping them."
Grace turned her face away from the boss and smiled. She'd heard those words somewhere before.
Grace's bed was all salvageable. Somehow. But the sun was shining and the wind was still and the air was deliciously rich with the smells of late spring. And how exactly the pieces went back together was a bit of a mystery anyway. Probably if the girls left, and then came back, the bed would still be right there.
It was a much better day for getting horses out. Especially since Grace suggested Skye ride the big baroque Friesian sport horse. And so they took that ride Skye had envisioned and cherished the memory of. They took a small herd of horses across Chilao and through the creek. To have water in the creek in June was a blessing they needed to take advantage of, or as Skye liked to say, they needed to honor the water with their attention. Grace wasn't sure where she'd learned that way of thinking, but she liked it.
The water was clear and just cool enough to be invigorating. But the girls and their horses weren't really all that welcome. A coyote made it clear with its constant vocalizations that this land was coyote land, exclusively.
They had forgotten to bring the paso fino, Vivaldi, and they chose to take Charmer, the horse that had bolted last time they took him for a tour of Chilao.
Skye hadn't recalled the path through the creek being so narrow. The calves they had driven through a month earlier were significantly smaller than horses though.
At last, they came to the place where the creek widened, and the horses could find their own pace to get across. Charmer turned on the speed. Love Letters from Heaven gave him some competition. Outnumbered, the coyote eventually moved off. The horses stayed together for the trip back home. The girls kept an eye out for signs of the wild horses, but saw none. Grace quietly recalled the times before Petrichor had a herd of his own, and he would appear out of the rocks and chaparral while the girls were exercising the ranch horses.
The big Coulter pine, the last one standing from a group of three that had succumbed to age and drought, was finished. The prescribed burn some seasons earlier foretold its weakness. Instead of being nourished by the ash and strengthened by the heat at its base, as a fire can sometimes do for trees, the already brittle tree was compromised. Nine feet of snow and six inches of rain came too late to save it. Skye penned her observations in a note to the Forest Service.
"To the US Forest Service Chilao Station firefighters. Thank you for giving this tree a chance. We were sure hopeful it would pull through. But that doesn't look like it's going to happen. We understand why the tree will be felled. We know it is for our own safety, for everyone's safety. We will miss seeing it, like so many things that have gone away. But we understand. Thank you for all you do. With respect, Skye. "
A breeze was blowing. The girls watched the boss leaving in the Pavement Queen, the big red truck, with the harlequin Great Dane in the cab.
"Where is she going again?" Skye asked.
"To a clinic at PetCo. She wants to see if those dogs are chipped so she can find their owners" Grace answered.
"I think that dog is sitting on her lap! How did she get them all home in that truck?"
"I think she told a little fib myself." Grace confided. "There's no way she got all those dogs in the front. I bet some of them went in the back and she drove real slow and prayed the whole way here."
The girls took their own definitely-not-a-pavement-queen Jeep in the opposite direction. Skye stepped on something as she squeezed into the driver's seat.
"Grace! Your long lost hat!"
"No way...How in the..."
"We thought we lost it at Willow Springs but I guess it blew down onto the floor and we never saw it."
"It's tweaked! But I'm still so glad you found it."
"Well" Skye replied, "in this wind you'll probably just lose it again."
Skye was right. The afternoon breeze was growing stronger.
The girls took a ride up the road a piece, below the quarry, to the sand bank.
Grace marveled at the plants, like none she had seen before.
Skye sunk her feet deep into the red-brown sand, the stuff they used to make their best arenas, and the stuff the wind was constantly taking away from them. This was the source of that wonderful sand.
The gate to the hilltop above was open. The road beckoned.
"Let's go!" Skye said.
Grace pondered the idea.
"I think the bosses' old Suburban would be better. We don't have much ground clearance in the front."
Grace spotted something a little less challenging. The dry creek bed adjacent to the sand bar. The vegetation was lush, thick as they had ever seen.
And despite Grace's best intentions to avoid deep sand, they did end up pushing their way through a little bit of it.
While the wind had been blowing all afternoon, Skye had made a sort of display in her studio, showcasing an unintentionally growing herd of sculptures.
KS Twister, a 3D printed resin in brilliant white. Grace marveled at his smoothness.
Skye had forgotten his name and he wasn't a resin, but she was still completely smitten by the Criollo horse.
"You know he's plastic, right?"
"I do" Skye said, "but I just love him."
"And I love this one too. She's a tank." Skye ran her hand over the grey draft horse. (Maggie Bennett's introduction to 3D printing horses that she graciously offered for free so hobbyists could get a hands-on feel of the 3D experience...by printing their own).
"And I haven't forgotten you" she said to her NaMoPaiMo horse, still only partially painted. "I think about you all the time. I just don't know when that's going to translate into action."
Sunday morning dawned cool and wind still. The sunlight quickly warmed the mountain air.
The horses at the ranch had tipped the girls off to the presence of wild horses. But who. And from where would they emerge. On foot, the girls made their way to Mustang Rock. Soon they heard the clatter of hooves. Highlander's band.
The girls stopped, waited. Highlander saw them. The mares saw them. They seemed relaxed, keeping their distance, but unruffled.
Next, Petrichor's band. The bay mare, the two foals. The orphan black colt looked good. Highlander looked healthy.
The girls edged closer, found a place to sit among the rocks, and waited.
Petrichor's band fell in behind Highlander and started to move away. Grace's heart seemed to swell into her throat. Where. Where was Petrichor?
And then he emerged. Gleaming, golden, glorious.
He too was relaxed. More bothered by flies than the presence of the girls.
Grace moved closer to him as he made his way toward her. He was going to come right up to her this time. She just knew it.
It was maybe no more than a minute. She touched his face, gentle fingers running the length of his head, near his eye, along the contours of his muzzle. He flipped his head in a measured way to rid himself of a fly. His eyes were pools of calm amber.
And then he was off again.
Skye wondered how many people had such a bond with a wild stallion. Grace's relationship with that big horse was like the stuff of novels.
And the horses disappeared back into the forest.
May 6, 2023
"Pick a really steady horse" Grace told Skye. "We're going to do some rugged terrain."
Grace wasn't kidding. The mare Skye chose was one she hadn't ridden before, but the boss was gradually giving Skye more responsibility, and more horses to ride. The mare was level headed and sure footed, and older, so Grace chose their path with that in mind.
Except for the crevice. She didn't remember it being so steep or so wide when they'd hiked it with all the dogs some time back. She recalled lifting some of the dogs over and it really wasn't that big of a thing. As long as you didn't look down. Because it was a long way down. Survivable yes, and you'd be able to walk out at the bottom of it if you were a dog or a human...hopefully...but from La Barilla's back it looked somehow much more intimidating.
La Barilla felt her hesitation and halted. The rock face had excellent tooth. He wasn't going to slide in. He had room to go in any direction. Grace focused her intention on the other side of the crevice. After a few tentative steps at the edge, La Barilla went over.
But Skye's mare wasn't having it. Period. She tried getting off and walking her over. Nope. Not happening.
"I"ll ride around the way we came and meet you at the bottom" Skye said.
"Sorry Skye. We can come back across if you want."
Going up over the crevice would probably be less scary than what they had just done.
"No, it's okay, I'll go back, you go down and around."
At which point Grace realized she had never taken La Barilla this far from home without a riding companion right next to him. Her mount seemed to be reading her every thought, and bunched up underneath her a little bit. She focused again, weight down in the saddle, hands low and calm, and they made their ways in opposite directions.
It was not long before they joined up again, on smoother ground. They continued away from the ranch.
"So what's next?" Skye asked.
"Funny you should ask."
High above, a pair of red tailed hawks circled. Fo r a moment Skye forgot about whatever was next, and watched them.
The girls were both glad to leave the rocky country behind. Probably so were the horses. When they emerged from the rocks, the red and white gleam of the truck and trailer stood before them.
"Oh boy!" Skye said. "You do have a big day planned for us."
"Shi..." Grace exclaimed as La Barilla did a rather sudden side step and the saddle didn't exactly follow, and her foot came out of the left stirrup.
"The cinch is loose. Really loose. It's all right. I just wasn't prepared for that."
"See, if you rode bareback you wouldn't have to worry about things like that...Kidding, just kidding..."
Grace dismounted without incident. Skye's mare was apparently trailer savvy. She just needed to know what side to load into.
"Are you going to leave him saddled?" Skye asked as she pushed the side door open.
"I am" Grace said. "I think. At least for now. It might keep him from hurting himself. Or not."
From here forward, there was no script. Grace hadn't really thought the rest of it out too far. You couldn't. Things were going to go however they went.
Skye's horse went in. Without too much drama, La Barilla also loved into the trailer.
La Barilla had been in and out of the trailer before. But Grace had never actually trailered him anywhere. He was already at the ranch when she arrived. He seemed to be all right. A little stomping around, but he was more or less always stomping around and testing the world with his hooves.
"Let's see if we can trailer them home. It's only about a mile. If it doesn't go well, we'll stop."
Grace eased the truck forward, listening for the sound of flailing hooves or other thrashing. So far so good.
Slowly, carefully, they made their way back. The last part of the drive was steep, but it was straight and pretty much level.
Skye's mare unloaded quietly. La Barilla was a bit impatient to join her.
Horse and rig appeared unscathed.
"That was a good ride" Skye said.
"That was awesome" Grace replied. "We should all get some extra treats for today."
For Grace's next La Barilla adventure, she chose a much kinder, gentler terrain.
It would involve a water crossing. But not here, where they first approached the creek. This was a little steep and a little deep.
They could not escape the feeling they were being watched. It was quiet, they saw nothing, the dogs saw nothing...still.
Grace found a gentler place to cross the water. Still a nice, wide expanse, but an easy entry and exit.
La Barilla liked to splash the water, and that was fine.
Skye's mule lapped at it, drank a little, dribbled a little. What a great mount. The boss was encouraging her to take out some of the horses - and in this case, a wonderful mule - that weren't getting as much attention as others. What a great feeling it was to be given that responsibility.
La Barilla sank into the soft creek bed. There was a bit of splashing and a little more getting wet than Grace anticipated, but it was all good. They stomped their way across and back into the sea of fleeting green. The warm days were here now. The non-native grass would not be this verdant green for long.
The dogs saw something. They were off. The girls watched. Between rock outcroppings, movement. The signature bound of a deer. A small deer.
"Oh!" Skye exclaimed.
Grace whistled for the dogs. They did not stop immediately.
The girls kept their eyes trained on the rugged terrain, waiting to see another grey-brown bounding deer leap. But no! A coyote popped up from the thick brush and vanished into the rocks.
Grace called the dogs back again. This time they responded.
"I don't know what I just saw" Skye said.
"When are deer born...July? I could have sworn that was a baby deer..."
"I know. Well. We're being watched all right" Skye responded.
The water crossing was one of three elements Grace had planned for La Barilla.
The bunker was next on the agenda...the thing. Bunker, ammunition locker, whatever it was, old thing of a forgotten desert.
"I love this mule" Skye chatted, noting La Barilla's apprehension.
"He's not stubborn at all. He's pretty solid. Not too much seems to bother him. And he has a nice round back."
Baron and Hobo had done the bunker before. White Dog...not so much.
Skye rode about half way in. It was a long, deep structure and the back of it was dark. It was clean, there was nothing to worry about...Baron and Hobo had made sure of that.
Now it was La Barilla's turn. He hesitated. Slowly, tentatively, put one hoof inside, then another.
Inside. La Barilla wasn't comfortable. Grace decided not to push. He'd gone in. He'd done the big scary thing and didn't lose his head. There was enough room to turn around, but La Barilla did a sort of roll-back turn and his hindquarters touched the wall of the thing. He didn't like that. He came forward for a moment, and then instead of completing his turn, started backing out.
Grace was thinking he was probably going to spin the moment he was clear of the door. But he didn't. He stepped back until he was well clear of the mouth of the bunker thing, and stopped. That was plenty good enough for Grace.
"Another good ride in the books!" Skye said.
"I was going to ask you if you wanted to ride him when we got back" Grace told Skye. "But I wanted to get that wet saddle off of him. And maybe we've done enough for one day."
Skye watched the golden stallion, turned out in the arena to shake off the day's adventures. Wondered what it would be like to ride him. He was exceptionally good for Grace. Would he treat Skye as well? Perhaps she'd find out some day.
The girls turned out a red bay arabian stallion. He was pretty.
"Seems like we have the real typey little arabs and the great big tall arabs and not much in between" Skye mused.
"This might be the prettiest of the little typey ones."
They turned out a lovely golden mare. "She's a Morab right?" Skye was doing all the talking this morning. Grace was unusually quiet, but the question forced an answer.
"Yes, three quarters Arabian."
And then silence again.
Skye knew sooner or later she'd spill the beans. Finally she did.
"The boss wants to have a review."
"A what? What's a review?"
Grace took a heaving deep breath.
"I'm not exactly sure. In the corporate world I am pretty sure it's a performance survey. How much did you sell, how much profit did you make the company, that kind of thing."
"If that's the case" Skye replied, "we're probably in deep trouble."
"Right? Let's hope it's not quite like that. I don't think I've added too much cash flow to the operation."
Next came the big grill geldings, the twins. "But we still have these two" Skye said. "Cash flow can't be everything or she would have sold one of these guys. I know!"
"We'll give her a review all right. Let's put on a show for her. Like remember the day that big batch of stallions came in and we did Circus Knie with them? Let's do something like that."
Grace fell silent again. But in a good way. She kind of liked Skye's idea.
It was a glorious day. They should have been out riding some more. But the boss wanted to adjust the arena lights again. So every time Skye brought a horse down, she went the long way, so she could watch the light changing on the trees.
Gunner, glorious in his pearly cremelo coat, served as a reference for a light horse. 'This is as white as the lights go unless we pull the covers off" the boss said. "I think it's all the warm colors. The paneling, the rail, the sand. Grace do you think we should have painted the railing a different color?"
Grace thought about it for a while. Recalled how much thought and effort went into warming up the cold white of the arena after it was first built.
"No, I think you made appropriate choices with the color. I'd rather experiment with the covers over the lights."
At least they got to be outside in between horses and adjustments. When it came time for a black horse, Skye brought down the old mare, but slowly, savoring the day.
It was high spring. So many flowers, so many varieties of flowers, like the lupine...this one, Skye thought, ought to be called something like giant, spiney lupine.
Blanket on, blanket off...the slightly warm light brought out the sunburnt hues in the black mare's coat.
Next came Donkey in a colorful flower print blanket. "The lights are white" Skye said. "We just aren't getting the magic outdoor blue sky reflection."
The colors were true though. Pink, red, green, blue, yellow...
The last horse of the day, Precious.
Grace spoke softly.
"We have until some time in the fall to put something together regarding this review, and I like your idea Skye. Let's make a bit of a show out of it."
Skye pretended to be speaking to her beloved mare.
"All right. Let's do it."
May 20, mid afternoon
The thunder beings danced. It was hard to predict what they might do, and where, but Grace took a guess that they had enough time.
Skye had been clamoring about wanted to drive a herd of horses along the creek and through Chilao again. But Grace thought it might be fun to drive the calves. And so they did. Twelve not exactly one after the other in an orderly fashion little calves. Soon it became evident that in some places, the water was higher than the calves were tall.
They were apprehensive at first. Grace and Skye watched their little bodies slip deeper and deeper into the water. Probably everything would be fine. Probably calves could swim.
The thunder clouds added a sense of drama and immediacy. Skye watched the lovely black raramuri criollo slip into deeper water.
"Dear Boss" she chimed, "Do you think you could get us twelve more calves before October?"
"Dear Boss" Grace responded, "We really thought they would float."
"Dear Boss" Skye giggled, "This is not to be included in Grace's review."
"Dear Boss" Grace replied, "This was totally Skye's idea, and I tried to talk her out of it."
And after a little bit of tension and chaos, it turned out that they could in fact swim.
And then, after a proper initiation to the creek, and a little swimming lesson, back toward the ranch again, more or less. The calves seemed curious about everything.
Grace had that sensation again. The one that often came to her when they were riding in or near water or snow. Like living a dream, in a perfect world.
"Yee-oooooh! Get along little doggies!" Skye tried to keep them together, and heading the right way.
The distant thunder was a constant companion as they rode home, twelve calves still present and correct. And there were blue clouds. Skye's favorite.
Back at home, they waited on the thunder, the storm presently west of them. No real telling which way it would swing.
In the last hours of daylight Grace and Skye went out to greet two new arrivals.
"Who are they?" Skye asked.
"Couple of mares that need a new home. Someone with too many horses."
"There's some irony there you know."
"Oh yes" Grace said, "I know."
The mares took an interest in Skye as soon as she entered the arena.
"They're pretty horses. Are we keeping them?"
"That I don't know" Grace replied.
They were pretty. A little on the wild side but nicely dressed. Skye made a mental note not to get too attached to them. Just in case they weren't staying.
The thunderstorms continued Sunday, missing Chilao by about twenty miles and pouring down on the Acton area. The storm cell was powerful, but brief, the big puffy thunder beings blown out and gone by sunset. Still, it was worth a look.
While the girls were chasing sunsets and dunking calves, the boss had been busy working on the arena. Where she found, tucked in a box, the lovely works of Katy Niles. Grace and Skye brought them in and went through each beautiful piece.
"Weren't we supposed to hang these last year? And then things got kind of hectic and it never got done?" Skye asked.
"Yes we were. But what we didn't realize is that all the works were still here."
Skye put one after another on the easel. Each piece so unique. Landscapes and abstracts and abstract landscapes.
"This year let's make sure we get them up in the arena."
"Yes. Totally agree."
As the day drew to a close, Skye strolled past the dumpsters. Where she noticed a very large poop. Made entirely of vegetation. It was thoroughly dried so it was at least a few days old. And it was by the trash cans so it could have been a bear. A really big bear. A really big vegan bear. She looked for tracks...any tracks...and found none.
And the spring marched on. #
April 1, 2023
The scenery sped by. Grace and Skye had never been to Acton, never been on Soledad Canyon before. The boss plied the highway at a leisurely pace with her old favorite truck. It was no pavement queen, but, she said, it made a fine camper once everything was emptied out of it.
"Is that where we live?" Skye asked, pointing with her nose toward the snow-covered ridge.
"Yup" Grace said.
"We're on the other side of that ridge" the boss said, "and to the left of those big power poles."
Grace noted the wide open spaces. Thick vegetation. Wild canyons. There wasn't much but open country between them, as the crow flies. There was actually quite a lot of open country, dotted with the occasional ranch or fence line.
They reached their destination in the late afternoon. Willow Springs International Raceway. It was mostly silent now, the desert breeze making its way through low scrub, the sun moving across a wide open sky. The tracks were all behind locked gates, but there was plenty of open asphalt. As soon as the old truck was unloaded, Grace and the boss freed the Jeep from the tow hitch, and Skye took the wheel. It was a perfect place to get some driving practice.
Grace was lost in thought. Thoughts about what she's just seen. The big, wild country between their home in Chilao and the hills of Acton, a land still at least partially devoted to a rural lifestyle. There was plenty of room for horses there. And some of those steep canyons might even boast year round water.
The desert ground was hard, as if it had never rained. But it was also mercifully flat. Gradually Skye would relax, sit down in her seat, let her shoulders fall naturally. Driving the little Jeep was fun.
Grace took the wheel for the track day. The girls didn't have a lot of experience with motorcycles, so the whole of it was new and exciting. The smells, the sounds, the beautiful machines, the leather riding suits and shining helmets. Everyone seemed happy and friendly. Many people had dogs with them.
"You know" Skye said, "if we had a tent, we could do stuff like this more often."
Grace was quiet for a long time.
"If we had a tent..." Grace trailed off mid-sentence.
And the girls were not the only ones with an old Jeep.
The day had gone by fast. At some point, the wind claimed Grace's black hat for good. When it was over, the truck was packed back up, the Jeep hooked up behind it, and the journey back into the snow line began. Grace's head swiveled from side to side as the boss drove. So much open country. What if. What if the wild horses came from this place.
Monday dawned cold and threatening to snow in Chilao. Then the wind picked up. The girls were a little worn down from the weekend, and decided to turn out some horses in the relative warmth of the indoor arena.
"Funny" Grace said, "When I made these ponchos they were really just to hide your Christmas present under. I had them draped over the saddle trees. And now we've worn them all winter long, and it's spring, and we're still wearing them. When are you going to start working on those saddles?"
Skye let out a deep, long sigh. "I have...artist's block. Or something. I don't know. I can't seem to get things started, or finished. I want to, but then...I think I'm scared of the saddles. I don't want to screw them up, you know?"
The girls watched the twin grulla horses.
"There's still two of them" Skye noted. "Did the boss decide not to sell the lighter one?"
"I don't know" Grace said. "She hasn't said a word about it, and I'm sure not going to bring it up."
Skye went to see the old Coulter pine. It seemed to be clinging to life by a thread. It was a thin thread. But there was new green. It was sparse, it was tenuous...but there was green. There was a little bit of hope left. Maybe, just maybe it could recover.
Skye found Grace in the tack room. She was making quite the mess.
"So" Skye questioned. "I guess the calla lily experiment is concluded?"
"Yup." Grace answered. "I can't take it any more. I quit."
"Can we at least keep those two giant ones?"
Grace really wanted to say no.
"Even though we now have until October to see if they will bloom in pots, I don't think I can stand another minute of lugging them around trying to find the right place for them. They dry out, then they freeze, they get too much water, not enough water...we tried."
"The boss asked me if I wanted to do another guest blog on the website."
"Skye that's very cool. What will you write about?"
"The Raramuri criollo. Well, the criollo cattle in general and then specifically, the Raramuri. I wish I knew where Mikki was these days, she could probably help me. But there's a ton of stuff on the internet. I think I can do it."
"Yes you can" Grace affirmed. "Maybe we'll chase some calves around this weekend and see if we can inspire and inform your creativity. If I let you ride Cookie will you let me get rid of all these dang plants? I won't burn them at the stake or anything. I'm going to...liberate them. Yes, that's it. I will return them to freedom."
Skye laughed. "I'll think about it..."
"The boss helped me make these posters" Skye said. "We struggled with the words a little, because we don't really own the mare, but I wanted to do something."
Grace studied the poster for a few moments. It was a lovely image of Petrichor, the pale mare and her foal, taken on the last day they had seen her.
"I think it's good" Grace finally responded. "I mean, it assumes someone has the pale mare, but any other consequence is out of our control, so I think it's fine. I think she was probably further away than one hundred yards from the ranch when we saw her last though."
Skye looked perplexed.
"It's not a big deal. You get the idea. This horse is missing and we want her back."
"It's still light out" Skye responded. "Let's go out and calculate the distance."
The air was heavy with moisture. It was more than a hundred yards. And that was okay. Pretty soon the girls were entranced by the green. Green grass, green trees, everything so vibrantly green, the moist earth drawing close the moisture in the air, the dampness setting on them, invisible and yet present.
The sound, fainter now but nonetheless omnipresent, of seasonal streams everywhere.
They heard a sound. Skye jumped up and spun around.
They scanned the landscape.
And then they appeared, quite close. Crazy's band.
The twin foals were both in good shape. Crazy saw the girls, but didn't respond except to do a little more head shaking and hoof stomping than he normally did. They were going to wherever they went for the night, wanting for neither food nor fresh water.
And the night came softly.
Grace got her wish. Apparently the boss had connections. Arena sand from the quarry up the road had been delivered. The load was apparently thirty per cent water and the truck stopped twice on the way down to tilt and drain. But there it was. Arena sand. It just needed to dry.
The boss also got a new lighting system for the indoor arena. She asked the girls if they could bring out a couple of black horses. Of course the problem with black horses is you have to watch your camera metering. But as far as the lights working, it appeared they did.
Grace turned loose a particularly proud, lithe Thoroughbred stallion.
"Oh, who is this handsome boy?"
"He's got the best name" Grace said. "My Darkest Hour."
"I bet the old black mare looked like him in her day."
"I bet she did."
And it was laundry day, although Skye isn't sure there was any saving the white shirt. It had stains she didn't even recognize.
The boss was on a role. When they got done with the arena lights there were a few hours of daylight left. She asked if Grace and Skye could help her get a few horses photographed. The first one was a pony named Joey...and Joey hit the dirt and rolled before anyone got a picture.
"Ooooh! Joey! Why? Why?"
Grace laughed. "I think it's a pony thing" she said. "They seem to have a special sense of humor."
Grace got Vinnie to take a bow. The boss was impressed with the bow but not with her pictures.
"He's so hard to photograph" she said. "I never quite get that shimmer in his coat. But you did a great job grooming him."
Grace wasn't sure she liked his ribbons colors. But it sounded like this might not be the last photo session with Vinnie.
Last horse for the day. Another looker. Wild Bill, a gift from Carissa Kirksey.
"So" Grace said to Skye, "Tomorrow morning let's get up really really early, and we'll go out and play with the calves before the boss can catch us and give us another all day chore list."
Skye grinned. "Okay."
The alarm went off at 5 AM, but Grace silenced it. The girls had been up watching programs until the wee hours of dawn. A little after 6 AM they began to stir. First slowly, then more quickly. But the dawn came even faster.
Grace managed to break the buckle on her chaps, and then they could not find Cookie's bridle. The one they put on her was made for a draft horse and barely clung to her head. They turned the calves loose, and watched as they immediately went to the eastern ridgeline...a rocky ground wholly unsuitable for stock work.
"Just go easy" Grace said. "I guess our goal will be to get the calves out of here and on to softer ground."
"What if we split them?" Skye said. "You take six, I take six."
It sounded so simple.
"I'll take the slow six" Grace said. "You are on a real cow pony. I'm on a horse that may have never seen a calf before."
So far so good. The sound of rocks against Cookie's hooves was unsettling, but she seemed able to navigate them.
"I thought cows just followed the leader" Skye said, as her six calves continually proved to have independent ideas about which direction they should be going. The reins on the drafter bridle were very long, and she mostly didn't need them, but they were cumbersome.
Dawn's light spread across the landscape.
One calf back in the bunch, and another one veers off in the wrong direction. Separating the group was easy. Keeping them that way was proving challenging.
Just as the sunlight crested the ridge, Grace lost two of the slow calves. The two fast slow calves. They joined Skye's loosely knit group.
La Barilla was more or less getting the idea, but his style was a little different. When a calf tried to break rank, he threw a strike with a front hoof. And for the most part, it worked.
"All right" Grace said, "Enough separation anxiety. Let's get them out of here."
And once the calves were all together again, they did more or less move as a unit. Or at least, in the same general direction.
A gentle breeze swayed Skye's shirts, swinging from hangers on the arena fence. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But the next thing she knew, Grace was turning out horses. Skye scurried to grab her shirts as Anamar got ready to kick up some dust.
The grey seemed to have a fondness for Skye. He certainly wasn't afraid of flapping shirts.
"So I have a plan for next weekend" Grace said.
"Let's have it" Skye replied.
"Next weekend, let's do a traditional regalia ride."
Skye smiled. Bewildered.
"Okay I don't have anything to wear but we'll get Anamar in his traditional tack and we'll get you on a horse in traditional native regalia.
Skye smiled, and remained silent.
"I know, your saddle isn't done. It's okay. I have a plan."
What that plan might be, Skye couldn't even begin to imagine.
"Okay. Let's do it."
Skye stood looking at her beautiful dresses. "I'm kind of scared to put on the buckskin dress" Skye said. "I don't want to get it dirty."
"If you're going to try riding in a cloth dress, I'd say wear this one. I think the extra leg room will come in handy."
Skye was excited. She still had no idea what Grace had up her sleeve, but she was excited.
"Did you find anything to wear for riding Anamar?"
Grace shook her head. "Not that I have anything even if I did find some reference photos, but so far I've not seen any traditional women's regalia for him."
Grace had also thought it might be fun to watch the meteor shower tonight, and let Skye try to get some pictures. The boss had done a pretty fair job on a whim just yesterday evening. But it wasn't looking hopeful. The girls watched the sky as it filled quickly with what people referred to as chemtrails, a word which never failed to register emotional and opinionated responses.
"Do you think it'll blow away by tonight?" Skye asked.
Grace paused and looked around before answering.
"I'm thinking X marks the spot and today it's our turn. It looks like they're just getting started. We could be under a glowing white sky by noon and a night devoid of stars entirely. But we'll see, I guess.
Skye didn't recognize the horse she was about to ride. He was a solid black quarter horse gelding. And he was tacked up in a lovely, older plains saddle and beaded bridle. This was a surprise indeed.
"You good?" Grace asked.
"Yeah I'm good!"
Her feet didn't quite make it into the stirrups. It was close though. She could do one stirrup or the other, both not both at the same time. The saddle was big and roomy.
Grace handed her the blanket that would make everything look proper and acceptable. Anamar was ready to go.
Grace watched the sky. She was almost positive there would be no star gazing tonight. No meteor shower, no mountain magic.
Although Skye was mostly absorbed in her first ever ride in regalia, she saw the look on Grace's face. She looked up too.
"You know what's ironic?" Grace said.
"I'm pretty sure today is 'Earth Day.' "
Skye's mount was calm and steady. Anamar was animated.
"Is this the first time you've taken him out?" Skye asked Grace of Anamar.
"It is. I really like him. He's very alert but also sure of himself. No hesitation."
Skye imagined herself in a time long ago, riding across the prairie, through mountain passes, seeking out what wild foods she might harvest.
"This is a big saddle" Skye said out loud.
"It is" Grace said. You could carry a baby or a child in that saddle with you. Or...whatever."
Grace was probably right. It was just about noon and the sky was nearly transformed from blue to white.
"So if we are so woke" Skye questioned, "how come we can't talk about this? The sky. I mean we watched it. These aren't clouds. This time for sure I know you aren't crazy. We watched a blue sky get transformed and we watched commercial jets fly through that same sky and their vapor trails dissipated. This is not a natural phenomenon and it covers a whole region."
"Because we aren't that woke" Grace said.
"If humanity was all that woke we wouldn't kill each other over religion or racial differences. If we were woke we would be engaging in global environmental restoration and we would go about progress thinking of long term impact. People would care more about the quality of air and water and less about fashion and make up. Now as for the sky that's a slightly more complicated issue. Two things are happening. Most of the world's population is bent down over their jobs all week, and then consumed with whatever they do to forget about their miserable lives over the weekend. Or they are working seven days to feed their kids. They don't look up. People haven't seen the sky in a long time. The other thing is denial. We know that some day in the near future humans are going to try to colonize Mars. But we don't want to believe under any circumstances that something is going on right now in the skies above us. No way. Not possible. There's something deep and psychologically terrifying about that. People don't want to be woke about that. Let's argue over language, or bar soap versus liquid...or anything. Just don't tell me the sky is being manipulated."
Skye thought about those things for a little bit. She thought about the times she'd spent off the mountain. Tried to think if she looked at the sky, except here, being on the mountain. On the mountain it was different. For one thing, the sky was big, and everywhere. For another, what you paid attention to was different, and more immediate. A sound in the bushes meant something and you better look. Around people and cities there's the whole created world. Traffic, shopping, eye candy, small talk, being proper, choices, needing money for everything...the sky didn't figure too prominently in that world. You would have to really focus and look, and pay attention over time to realize how it got cloudy.
They rode in silence for a little while. Their shadows grew soft, the sunlight filtered. There were few flowers blooming, save for the filigree, but there would be more flowers soon. Skye tried to find her way back into her happy dream place. It took a few moments, but eventually the gentle sway of the black's smooth walk and the rhythmic sound of the horses' hooves on the not exactly soft soil worked its magic, and she let go of the sky above for a little bit, and focused on the view from between her horse's ears.
There was a sudden and immediate shift in awareness that brought Grace out of her head and into the moment. She and Anamar spun around as one.
They faced Petrichor and his band.
Skye watched the stallion and forgot everything previous. She imagined writing a blog about the morning. She composed it in her mind as a gust of wind tussled her blanket and tugged at her hair.
"My first ride in regalia. To be true, it was pretty much one long wardrobe malfunction. First there was the matter of getting situated in my ribbon dress. And my moccasins coming untied again and again. The saddle itself was adorned with an aged wool blanket that seemed to come to life as the day grew warm. The wind and sunlight felt delicious on my bare legs, which would not have been showing except for the trouble I had keeping the modesty blanket arranged. And then, just as I was trying to get all these things under control and look like a proper lady...a wild stallion appeared!"
Petrichor looked fit. There had probably never been better pasture in the Angeles than there was this spring.
Grace kept Anamar gathered under her, and for the first time ever hoped Petrichor would keep his distance. It was still just the bay mare and the two foals, her own and the orphaned black foal. She waited for the appearance of Highlander and his band, but Highlander never came.
Petrichor and his band lingered only for a moment, then turned westward, disappearing into the jagged landscape as suddenly as they had appeared.
The rest of the girls' ride was uneventful. Grace had been a few hours off on her prediction. When they returned to the barn at 3 PM, the sky was a mass of white, as far as they could see. The juxtaposition of dreams and reality, past and present had been a little difficult for Skye. Still. There was something radically different about the ride they had just taken. She would need some time to process all the things.
The day was warm and glorious. The girls waited for the wind to die down. As the afternoon wore on the wind rose and fell, took long pauses between breaths, but never really stopped. And wind made it hard to control horses.
So they made the mutually unpopular decision to turn the ponies out in the indoor arena. Particularly since they'd never taken the ponies - as a group - out on the property, or through Chilao. It was definitely on the to-do list.
Joey, the smallest of the ponies, was quick to roll. Surprising, with so many other ponies in the arena.
Grace watched a pretty bay riding pony interacting with one of the welsh type mares. She was sure he was a gelding. His expression wasn't convincing somehow.
Although big and sturdy, the Chincoteague foal was a bit shy.
Skye was entranced with a pinto mare.
Whether or not it was smart was debatable, but Skye decide to ride Mischief. So far, so good.
"Eighteen!" Grace counted. "That's a lot of ponies! I think we're at capacity."
Except for the mares with foals, Skye tried to get them all moving in the same direction.
"You better stay on" Grace said. "There's a lot of tiny hooves in here."
"I'm ready this time" Skye said. "I'm either gonna grab a hand full of mane or just jump off."
In the last hour of daylight, the winds lessened, the gusts becoming an occasional breeze.
And finally, as the sun set, it was wind still. Skye's beloved tree was probably not going to make it. The boss had taken a pictures of it dappled with snow, and Skye thought she might like to try and paint that scene. It wouldn't be too long before the firefighters felled it, leaving it to lie next to its sibling, collapsed onto the ground.
Aerosol particulate refraction made a disorderly rainbow in western sky.
Home at day's end, Grace and Skye examined the American Saddlebred bust. Skye had done a little more work on her NaMo horse.
"I can see lights and darks emerging" Grace said. I think you're going to survive this."
Dawn, April 30
The girls rode the eastern ridgeline on La Barilla and Ladyhawk. Birdsong filled the air and dewdrops clung to the vegetation. The sky grew ever lighter at the sun's approach.
They left the race property, crossing the road toward the fire station, dipping down into the tributary stream above Mustang Rock. The sound of hooves striking the occasional rock hidden in the soft sound, La Barilla pawing at the water, raven's call just above. But not a word out of Grace.
Skye couldn't take the silence any more.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked Grace.
There was a long, serious pause before she answered.
March 18, 2023
It was a good day for riding, no excuses necessary. The grass was as lush as the girls had ever seen it. There was water everywhere. And both of them wanted to look...however futile the search might be...for the missing wild horse that they called the pale mare.
Ladyhawk was giving Skye quite a ride. She was snotty and prancy and full of herself. And the dogs were on to something.
Highlander's band emerged from the remaining snow field. The girls rarely had the dogs along when they went looking for wild horses, and Highlander didn't look too pleased about them. Grace called the dogs back.
Petrichor's band came into view across the swollen creek. The black foal, presumably now an orphan, looked no worse for the ordeal.
The bay mare, accustomed to the girls now, paused before turning away from them. Petrichor held ground on the creek's edge, watching Grace, Skye and the dogs, and watching his herd.
Highlander was approaching. The bay mare moved to greet them. Grace and Skye suspected she was related to the dun mare, as they frequently ignored the rants of their respective stallions to greet each other. Petrichor was not ranting this time. Just swiveling his ears, swishing his tail and occasionally stamping his hooves in the water.
Grace watched Skye's horse dancing along the creek's edge. "I think Ladyhawk has a crush on your stallion" Skye said.
"I can't blame her" Grace replied softly. "Let's hope she doesn't pitch you in the creek and go join his band."
Highlander and his mares made their way across the creek.
The girls watched quietly. There was a lot of behavior happening that they hadn't seen before. First of all , the two small bands were almost always close together, but not this close. Secondly, the dun mare had an attitude, and she should have been the lead mare, but the new pale horse...grey or palomino or palomino going grey, they weren't sure what to call her...was the first one to go into the creek.
Whatever her color, she was a big girl, well put together.
"She's a...dunalino with the grey factor...maybe" Skye mused softly.
Grace wasn't really sure.
Highlander was the last to cross.
The stallions stayed apart. The mares mingled as they chose. The bay mare seemed to have more or less adopted the black foal, or perhaps it just appeared that way because the black foal was never far from her and her own filly. That was natural. What else was he going to do?
There was no fighting over mares. Just some stamping and snorting, head tossing and eye rolling. From a distance.
The girls could see the shadow of the black foal's last few ribs. They sought to recall if he hadn't always been on the lean and lanky side. In any case, he did not appear to be suffering.
The girls put some distance between themselves, the creek and the two bands of horses. The cloud cover grew ever thicker as they watched the horses interact.
Back inside, Hobo and Skye exchanged greetings upon the girls' return. Hobo had a gash in the pad of his right front paw. It was healing quickly, but home was a better place for him today.
Skye was surprised to turn around and find Grace with covers pulled over herself.
"Are you okay?"
"I just have a chill" Grace responded. She had a bit of a sore throat too, but perhaps it would pass.
"Did you hear about all the damage to the highway from the last big rain?"
"I did" Grace said. "And there's more rain coming."
"Are you sure you're okay? The dogs don't seem to think you're okay."
"I think they just want the nice soft blanket. And the pillows...and for Baron to get off the bed because he's too big..."
But then, maybe Grace had the right idea. It was nice and toasty under the covers.
It wasn't supposed to start raining for at least another day. Grace and Skye hauled in senior feed and bedding straw, and as they approached the ranch, so did the rain.
What an amazing winter it had been. Rain and snow right into spring.
The wind blew and the chill of it turned the runoff into ice. The going would be slow, so the girls started early.
It was noon by the time they'd finished the second trip. The winds had stopped, the sun was out, the roads were no longer icy...and their first load of live cargo had for some reason chosen to head for the worst of the mud. Grace followed them, cautiously as she could, but when they got into the deep mud it was hard to navigate. They hit something that jarred the trailer hard. They heard a metallic clanking sound.
"Can you see anything?" Grace asked.
"No, I mean, the trailer is still following us, I see that..."
Grace tried to think of a comeback. They hit another bump.
"This is good enough. I'm stopping here."
Seven calves fit in the first trailer load. The remaining five wasted little time trying to catch up with them. They were clean when they went into the trailer. That was short lived once they got to Chilao. They seemed to love the water.
Despite being a very colorful bunch, Grace and Skye quietly observed that in a few moments, they seemed to blend into the landscape. Perhaps because all it took was a few moments to get covered in mud...but even the mostly white ones become one with the scenery.
Some of them it was easy to tell who their moms were. Some of them not so much.
"I can guess who some of them are...I mean whether or not they have Hereford moms" Skye said. "Do you remember who is who?"
"Pretty much" Grace said.
The black one was a pure criollo. No guesswork there.
"This..." Skye's voice trailed off.
"This is so good. This just feels...I don't know. Right. Good. I don't know how to explain it."
The calves explored the back pasture, the snow quickly giving way to mud and seasonal streams. Skye was pretty sure the grey was pure criollo. She couldn't exactly articulate why.
The girls watched the calves, mostly in silence. The Criollo, and particularly the Raramuri, were better adapted to arid environs than the more common European breeds like Hereford and Angus. Crossing them was not as ideal as having pure Criollo cattle, as the behavioral traits that made the Criollo a better fit for the western landscape might get lost in the mixing. But their weren't many Criollo cows in southern California.
"Do you want to go for a hike?" Skye asked.
Grace was pretty much exhausted from the driving. And it wasn't over yet. They still had to get to dry ground. It took her a long time to answer.
Grace hadn't really wanted to go for a walk. She was tired. But the day was glorious and there would be plenty of time for sleeping later. Before long, they heard horses. Skye couldn't quite see, and Grace was silent.
Crazy's band. And they were close. Grace's eyes widened. Skye knew something was happening but she had no idea what. She moved, slow and silent, up the rock face. They had never gotten this close to Crazy before without his awareness.
Skye could see the mare they called Lady Godiva. They were down-wind of the horses. She crept a bit higher up the rock.
Babies! And it looked like they both belonged to Lady Godiva. Roans, both of them. And the smaller one looking an awful lot like Crazy.
The bay roan foal was quite a bit smaller than the blue roan. But no less lively!
Crazy went into high alert mode. Grace nudged Skye and pointed down the rock face. Both girls ducked down as quietly and quickly as they could. Crazy was too close, and with brand new foals. Not a good time to test his patience, which he did not appear to have much of.
Skye couldn't see again. Grace got ready to switch places with her.
And then a gust of wind sent her hat flying. They froze for a moment. The hat fell into the snow, and stopped.
The horses passed right in front of them.
The foals enjoyed a frolic in the snow under the watchful eye of their herd. The horses moved past them, the girls remaining undetected.
"Well" Skye said, "are you glad we went for a walk?"
Grace laughed. "I suppose."
March 3, 2023
Cabin fever had definitely set in. Something like seven feet of snow had fallen. They could not get the horses out. Even if they could, there was nowhere to go with them. It might be another day...or who knows how long...before they could get from the barn to the arena. At least repotting the plants would give them something to do.
"I guess I should have let them dry out before we did this" Grace mused.
"I saw a program about the Camargue horses of France" Skye responded. "They were naturally gentling a stallion, catching it and releasing it."
"Who is they?"
"This man...how would we describe him in modern vernacular. A maturity-enhanced equine enthusiast and resident of the Camargue."
"A old horseman, okay..."
"Anyway. They were gentling this wonderful wild stallion. They didn't show how they were catching him, but they would catch him, and he was okay with it, and then they'd slowly work with him...halter, bridle, saddle...they'd groom and feed him...then they'd let him loose again."
They examined the first extricated calla lily rhizome. It was just about ready to start growing. Nothing wrong with it.
"Do you think we should keep going?" Skye asked.
"Yeah. What else are we gonna do? Besides, if transplanting doesn't go well, we'll have a little time to try again. So. They were gentling a wild stallion?"
"Yes! A wild stallion!" Skye paused. "Oh boy. Hope we can do this without hurting the lily."
"I think we can. This one should have some kind of root ball. Hopefully it's real strong and everything will hold together. I wish you would have seen how they caught the stallion."
"That wasn't part of the program" Skye explained. They said "the stallion allows himself to be caught."
"Hmmm. Must be a young bachelor."
As Grace suspected, a well developed root ball held the soil together. Skye continued describing the show she'd watched.
"Well, kind of. The social structure of the Camargue horses is really different. They are on an island, or a big marsh, and they have no natural enemies. So they don't really need a stallion to defend them. It's a matriarchal society and the stallions probably fight with each other when there's mares in season to fight over, but not like here, where the stallions are guarding mares from everything all the time."
The girls went on to discuss how perhaps Grace could try the same with Petrichor...after all, she had brought him in when he was injured...of course that was before he had a herd of his own, or perhaps it was just the bay mare who showed up when they released him...in any case, it wasn't the same, but maybe Grace could find herself riding Petrichor some day.
And so the evening went by, and eventually the replanting job was complete.
"I feel like those spider plants are just sitting on top of the dirt" Skye said.
"They are. But they've got about eight weeks to get some roots on them, and they will."
"Think anyone will care that the succulents don't match?
"I don't think so. I do hope we get to see the calla lilies bloom though."
Everything matched again.
"So next time we see Petrichor...and who even knows where any of the horses are right now but my guess is they went to the lowest elevation they could get to..." Grace's voice trailed off.
"Next time we see him" Skye continued, "push a little farther. Try to touch the parts of his face where a halter goes and stuff like that."
Grace fell silent, wrapped in thought...staring at their potting work and thinking thoughts of taming wild stallions.
Grace noticed the light changing.
"Come on" she said, grabbing her coat. "Let's go see the alpine glow."
They lumbered through the snow. Although it had packed down considerably, it was hard work.
They went as fast as they could, quickly overheating in their respective poncho and coat, leaving them at the base of the ridgeline. By the time they had battled their way to the vista point, the alpine glow had faded. A slight breeze stirred, and after a few moments, they were no longer overheated. It was time to fetch up their warm wear again, and follow their footsteps back to the house.
"I think those are planets" Skye remarked of the two bright objects visible in the western sky, before the appearance of other stars.
The barn cats apparently also had cabin fever, and decided to switch cabins. What inspired them to brave the snow and how exactly they did it, the girls did not know, but here they were, looking quite comfortable on Skye's bed.
"If a plow can make it back here tomorrow" Grace said, "maybe we'll get some horses turned out in the arena. We'll see."
The cats were definitely settling in for the night.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning the plow truck made a pass, making a track just big enough for the long and wide Payment Queen to navigate. Everyone could get to the highway now, at last. But the plow's circular path did not connect the stables to the indoor arena, and it went through some of the deepest of the snow drifts. There was no way to get the horses out.
Monday morning dawned mostly clear. And at some point in the night, the plow had come through again, making another circular path, this time coming near enough to the stables that the girls could shovel a track from the stalls to the plowed path. No more waiting. They were going to get some horses out, even if all they did was go around in big snow plow circles.
Grace went first. Skye was surprised at her choice of mounts. Grace reminded Skye that the only thing La Barilla had ever been afraid of was ground poles. He would probably do just fine in the snow. And he did.
The big roan mare named Winchester Cathedral led the way. The sun was quite warm and soon the air temperature was 42 degrees. The snow would soon be softening.
Skye brought up the rear. It was a lovely morning. So warm was the sun that she considered taking off her poncho. Dani Girl was playful and so happy to be out.
Making solo loops around the plow track, some stallions came next, beginning with Wanderlust.
Followed by Dreamboat.
Anamar danced his way around.
The boss said there were two more horses coming. Grace and Skye waited.
Skye fairly squealed. "Oh can I hug her? She looks like a giant teddy bear!" The big buckskin shire mare was new. New to the ranch, new to snow. Of course this much snow was new to everyone.
The boss's voice rang clear in the quiet mountain morning.
"The next one might be coming a little fast..."
The girls held their breath. The mare never missed a footfall.
The boss was eager to get some pictures of the new horses. They took the big, calm shire mare out into what was usually a scrub land, transformed presently to a field of snow. There was a thick crust just beneath the freshly fallen powder, and it did not buckle under the mare's substantial weight.
"What's her name?" Skye asked the boss.
"I'm sure it's something long and complicated on her pedigree" the boss answered. We'll have to come up with a stable name for her."
It was nearly noon. The wind picked up rather suddenly. Skye was immediately grateful she had suffered with her poncho through the morning.
The appaloosa mare wasn't going to stand quietly for her portrait. La Barilla wanted to join her.
Skye was entranced. What a horse. Drinking the wind and turning it into rippling power.
She ran and ran, fenced in only by the wall of snow that the plow had left in its wake. It would be just enough.
Beautiful clouds danced across the afternoon sky. It had been a good morning, and the snow made everything magical.
Later in the afternoon, the girls headed into town, going slowly on the highway, still mostly just one emergency lane as Cal Trans worked around the clock to push back the snow.
Grace slowed as they passed by Upper Big Tujunga Canyon.
"I bet that's where the wild horses are" she said.
"I bet you're right" Skye said. "Down Alder Canyon and out of the snow line. Or at least, out of the heavy snow."
It felt good to think that way...that the horses were fine, and they'd had the sense and the ability to move to lower ground, and that they would be back again, when the snow thawed and the grass grew lush in Chilao.
Skye stepped outside with the camera, hoping to catch alpine glow on the mountains. Somehow that glow seemed dependent on clouds to reflect light. There were no clouds, but there was Coyote.
Coyote seemed lithe even in the soft snow, moving easily. Was this the old man, Lives Among Them? If it was, he looked as good and as youthful as ever.
Perhaps this was his pup from 2022. He had a notch in his ear. Did Lives Among Them have a notch? Skye could not recall. There was no alpine glow yet. Skye went back inside. Grace was pulling off her coat, as the evening was pretty warm...44 degrees.
"I've been doing some research on the Raramuri Criollo cattle" Skye said. "Do you know exactly where our bull is from? Because I don't think he's an Argentine Criollo. The way he is so gentle and people-friendly, that's the way the Raramuri people raise their cattle. As companions, believe it or not!"
"Who are the Raramuri?" Grace asked.
"It's Mikki's people! It's the Tarahumara name for themselves and it means Fleet Foot."
"I have the number of the people the boss bought him from. He was raised locally, and his owners were very proud of him. They are the ones who told me not to be afraid of him. Somehow that information didn't make it along with him."
"Two cats did!"
"Yeah...I remember that well."
"We should be able to get some horses out tomorrow" Grace said. "It's going to stay warm for the next two days. The snow is melting really fast now."
"I know! Even the coyotes are sinking into it."
The last light of day flooded into their room. Maybe Skye would try the alpine glow again.
Where a week ago was solid snow, a seasonal stream now flowed.
And squirrels ate greedily from the exposed riches of the coulter pines, eating sap and cone pedals alike, well nourished again.
Skye gazed upon the tree she had painted, when there were two of them. The other now lay on the ground, slowly to feed the soil. This tree would likely be felled also. The girls showed up as the firefighters surveyed it, chain saws in hand, having just felled the other tree. On this one there was still a small twinge of green. Less than ten percent, and not lush. But the firefighters left it, at least for that day. They knew there was little hope, but they gave it a chance. Skye thought perhaps she should do another painting of this tree alone. Before it fell or was felled.
The morning sun warmed the melting snow. It had been forty degrees overnight. Open patches of wet ground were plentiful.
Skye was still sound asleep. Grace saddled La Barilla and rode the back side of the ranch. The day was glorious. Occasionally the melting snow disappeared into sink holes along the seasonal stream beds, so the morning would not be entirely without some risk, but Grace decided to turn out some horses anyway.
The horses seemed to enjoy all of it...a mouthful of green grass here and there, spongy soil beneath their hooves, the splash of cold water.
Warm sunlight, cool water, crisp air. SKye had a hunch where Grace had gone. What fun to just watch the horses.
Grace brought up the rear, letting the horses enjoy the morning at whatever pace they chose. La Barilla looked comfortable under saddle, comfortable in the water...Grace was making him into a versatile, purposeful horse.
"Sleeping Beauty! Good Morning!"
"You want to pick the next herd of horses to turn out?"
"Sure! Can we turn out some ponies?"
But as the girls made their way back to the stables, their domestic horses started giving them clues that there was something out there. Out beyond the boundaries of the ranch, in the wild country.
So instead of turning out ponies, Grace changed ponchos to blend in better with the landscape, and the girls made their way across the swiftly melting snow, hoping what they would encounter would indeed be wild horses.
Petrichor and his band appeared first.
Followed more closely than usual by Highlander with his two mares.
The girls stayed where they were, Skye struggling to keep her footing in the soft, saturated soil.
The bay mare turned around. The pale mare was missing. Grace and Skye watched and waited, expecting to see her at any moment.
Highlander and his mares turned back. Petrichor came slowly toward the girls.
"See if you can touch him" Skye whispered. "He already comes to you. You've so got this. He's going to be your next golden stallion."
"We'll see" she whispered back.
Petrichor moved toward the girls ever so slowly. Like dancing in place.
"My beautiful" Grace said, "where is your pale mare? The watcher? You look well and fit. We're so glad to see you."
Petrichor stayed just tantalizingly beyond reach.
Grace thought to stretch out a hand, then decided not to. She would let Petrichor come in. She would let him make the first contact. He did come quite close.
And then he turned away, to join his herd.
They watched and waited. Perhaps the pale mare was just out of sight, beyond the snow bank. Soon the horses vanished.
"You want to get wet from liquid water, or wet from snow?" Skye asked.
"I'm already pretty wet" Grace said. "Liquid water. At least we won't have to climb it."
Skye paused to study a feather in the snow.
And then another, and another. A scrub jay had likely become someone's dinner. Somehow the feathers were less enchanting now, and Skye wondered if it was a sign. Had something bad happened to the pale mare.
When had they seen the mare last? Skye remembered where. Just not when. She hunted through images on the laptop.
"January 30 was the last time we saw her" She told Grace. "And the first time we saw Highlander's new mare, remember?"
"Wow" Grace responded. "January 30...six weeks ago already...they could have been so many places in that six weeks. Where would we even begin to look?"
Skye closed the laptop. Where would they look? She had no idea. The forest was huge, and wild from the moment you stepped outside.
"Hey" Grace said, "do you still want to take out the sled? I can saddle up Jesse..."
"Are you sure? Maybe while we're out sledding we can look for my hat..."
Skye didn't answer.
Skye went to the creek behind the fire station. Sometimes dry for whole years, usually no more than a pleasant gurgle after rain or snow, today it roared and resounded with deep, plunging tones.
She hoped the sound of the water would wash away her thoughts, but it did not. Where was the pale mare? And what would happen to her foal?
Evening brought more clouds. Rain was coming. It might be days before they could even attempt to go looking for the missing wild mare.
Skye surveyed the dusk landscape. The rain had finally stopped. Seven feet of snow washed away.
The lone tree stood over its fallen sibling. Skye wanted to imagine she could see the tracks of a lone mare in the snow. But no. It was St. Patrick's Day...but then Skye wasn't Irish. There was no sign of wild horses. Any wild horses. Just spongy ground and the song of moving water.
From the stillness a gust of wind came. That wind that reminds you how impartial nature is. A grand movement, not about the individual, but about whole epic processes and constant change. Nature wasn't like people imagined it, gentle and forever enduring. It wasn't like that at all. Well, hopefully the forever enduring part, but for sure not gentle.
February 1, 2023
The rules for NaMoPaiMo - National Model Painting Month's International Painting Party - were few this year. Medallions and wall sculpture was acceptable. Grace eyed a piece the boss had offered up. She thought it was an Akhal Teke, by Rayvin Maddock. It was slightly larger than life-sized, and fabulous.
There was also a wonderful American Saddlebred by a European artist whose name the boss could not remember. Grace wasn't sure she could do these sculpts justice. But they would temporarily transform the tack room into an art space, as they had done a couple times before, and give it a try.
Also acceptable for NaMoPaiMo this year was finishing unfinished pieces. Skye had been looking at the orange horse since last year. They had tried out a new earth pigment on him and it was very rich and saturating.
"I bet you could do a gorgeous pinto on that Saddlebred" Skye said.
Grace shot her a look.
"Oh yeah, no more pintos" Skye whispered. "Ha! Just kidding!"
It was an absolutely glorious day in Chilao, as beautiful as any the girls could remember.
But everywhere they turned, there were linemen, contractors for Southern California Edison; in trucks, on the ground with jackhammers, operating augers and the like. The work on the power lines was welcome, but all of it was happening in the immediate vicinity, and it was a bit much.
"What if we rode across the station and then up the hill?"
Grace considered it.
La Barilla had no issues with rough terrain. It was tempting. And sooner or later she'd need to get her mount accustomed to things like big trucks. But her gut said don't do it.
They went to the arena instead, without any real plan.
"You know what we should do for MIM?" Skye asked.*
"I have a feeling you're going to tell me..."
"A performance challenge. Because isn't it a halter show?"
Grace laughed. "What are you envisioning?"
"I don't have a clue. But let's do something. A speed challenge or something."
Grace was liking the idea.
There was an empty spot on the wall. A little glue left behind from a previously attached banner. Curious.
The art supplies arrived. Grace was eager to get started on the wall sculpture. The conversion of the tack room would begin now.
"Yup. Hopefully enough to cover the saddles too."
"We've used mica powders before without this much precaution."
"Not on anything this big."
Skye thought Grace was being a bit overly cautious perhaps, but whatever. It was time to get busy on the NaMo projects, and if Grace wanted to cover the world in plastic first, fine.
The resin sculpt Skye was also working on was seriously heavy. She pushed it with effort close to the saddles, so it too could be underneath the tarp.
The girls surveyed their tarp work.
"Couple pieces of tape and we're good to go" Grace said.
Grace bathed the Akhal Teke bust in a swath of bronze mica powder, using a foam "brush" designed for house painting. It wasn't the perfect tool, but it was wide and carried the fine powder. It was good enough. The results were pleasing. But a problem became immediately evident. The palettes were difficult to navigate. You either had to stand on them and risk knocking over the sculpture, or lean way over to paint.
Skye made short work of the palettes. As she did, Grace realized the ground wasn't going to be a perfect solution either. She would live with it for tonight.
And so they worked on their first wall sculptures, Skye using copper mica powder, Grace using bronze.
"Is it just me" Skye said, "...or do they both look pink?"
Grace rocked back and forth from side to side, trying to catch the light falling on the pieces at a different angle. Finally she conceded.
"You are correct. They look pink. Let's quit for tonight. Maybe they'll look better tomorrow."
It was cold and windy outside, so the girls worked on their NaMoPaiMo InPaPa projects. But Skye wasn't pleased with the resin drafter.
"I used pan pastels for the dark color" she explained, "and I just don't feel like I can control them. They go on so dark. I think I ruined him."
"I really like your dappling" Grace said.
"Yeah but, I mean, thank you but, he went grainy on this side...either too much pastel or too much sealer, I don't know..."
"Go another layer of the dark" Grace said. Then if you still don't like him, you can always make him a roan. I think he's going to be fine once you get a little farther. Do his gray areas and get his back darker...you'll be all right."
They turned their attention to the American Saddlebred wall sculpture. "This guy...this is just the first layer of pan pastel. Too soon to say anything about it."
And then Grace's Akhal Teke. "I'm loving this guy" Skye said. "Do you like him Grace?"
"I do. I think the next layer I do will be a very light yellow. There's some wrinkles on his lip that aren't actually wrinkles, they are tiny little imperfections, and I'm not sure what I'm going to fill them with, but hopefully I can find a filler that will blend in and not mess up the color."
Puddle Jumper, Grace's first and last acrylic pinto, was finally done. At least for now. Chances are i a month she would look at it again and still not be satisfied.
"Did you see that we're hosting a performance challenge at MIM?"**
"I did" Grace said. "I guess the boss liked your idea."
"Apparently so! But I wasn't expecting that she'd make us the hosts! How cool is that? And umm, what does it mean, to be the hosts?"
"It means we'll sort of be running the performance challenge. Or at least keeping it on track. Or maybe even timing the timed events."
"And what about you riding other people's horses for a fee?"
"So, that just means that if someone shows up with a horse they want to compete with, but they don't have anyone with them to ride the horse, I can ride it for them. As long as it's western and not fancy get-up western."
"I think it's going to be a blast" Skye said.
On the south side of Chilao, the wind blew cold. Grace and Skye were worn down from it. It had been blowing for days, just hard enough to make things unpleasant. But on the north side, in the picnic area, all was calm.
So they took the big red truck that Grace liked to refer to as The Pavement Queen, and they went to the north side of Chilao where there were more trees, and sunshine, and far less wind.
"This is so luxurious" Skye said as they crossed the creek, meandering slowly through the picnic area.
"Are you looking for something Grace?"
"Sand" she answered. "Good sand."
The best sand in Chilao was presently under water, and being trampled daily by line workers in big auger trucks.
There was no shortage of sand in the forest. They came upon quite a bit of it.
But it was coarse, rocky...not at all what Grace was hoping to find. They returned to the south side, to the ranch.
When they returned, the wind had finally ceased, and the day was lovely, and beginning to warm. A variety of soil types eroded down onto the ranch property from Yucca Peak. Grace decided to investigate the red stuff. She had thought it to be some kind of clay a few weeks ago, when the ground was saturated to such degree that riding out to inspect it was impossible.
Dry now, they found a quite different scenario. The ground had frozen several times before it dried, and the going was difficult. They went slowly.
"This might not have been the greatest outing for this old girl" Skye lamented.
"Do you think she needs her blanket today, now that the wind stopped?"
"She loves her blanket" Skye said. "But no, I don't think she needs it. Especially not being black."
The line workers were operating helicopters from the fire station, but working elsewhere in the forest.
La Barilla was untroubled by the rough ground, which gave to a kind of gravelly powder under his hooves. Skye and the old black mare were a bit slower, but it looked like Skye might have been enduring more hardship than her horse.
"Do you suppose this is where red ocher comes from?" Skye asked.
"I don't know" Grace said. "It looks like it might be decomposed granite. Or decomposing granite, maybe. Or clay and granite combined."
"What makes the red color...iron?"
"I think so. Maybe. I don't know. But this isn't going to be any good for arena sand either."
"Oh heck no" Skye responded.
Grace watched the helicopters working, skirting around them, around the buildings, making short trips to move poles, then landing again.
"You are more concerned about those helicopters than the horses are" Skye laughed.
Skye needed to keep her head down, watching her footfalls on the rough terrain.
"Why don't you ride that horse" Grace suggested. "She's not struggling near as much as you are, and we'll find an easier way back."
Skye used a rock outcropping to give herself some height. The old black mare was very tall. And fortunately, patient.
They went along, slow and careful. The day had gone glorious. Any day on a horse was glorious, but today was especially so.
February 18, in Skye's studio
Skye had fallen rather silent on her NaMoPaiMo projects after the boss knocked down the resin drafter while it was wet with sealer. The damage couldn't really be fixed except by going even darker on th top line. Grace seemed to think it was a happy accident.
"I think you've the color pretty much spot on. But what I'm not seeing too much on this horse is dappling." Grace had made color prints of two pictures of a horse very much the build and color of the piece Skye was working on. There were no dapples to speak of, just light and dark reds.
"This might be the same horse" Grace said. "I got these off the internet and there wasn't much information to go with them. This guy is in his winter coat so I wouldn't expect to see dappling here. The pangare on the eye and muzzle is really nice. I'm not sure you could get the effect around the eye at this point, but you've got room for it on the muzzle. Good thing you didn't listen to me and make it gray. All in all I think your piece is looking lovely. But let's give this a rest for a bit. The boss said we should come down to the indoor arena."
When they arrived, the arena lights were off. The girls could see there was a horse in the arena. Then something like a spotlight came on, following the dancing horse.
Anamar. In what appeared to be traditional regalia. They stood, quietly, and watched the stallion move under saddle, riderless. Then Grace took the reins, and a stirrup, and swung herself up.
"This is a sweet saddle" Grace said. "Generous seat, sits well down on the horse."
The boos continues to offer them the romantic spotlight, following Grace and Anamar around the arena.
There was just enough daylight left to go outside, so they did.
"Where did his regalia come from? Africa?" Skye asked.
"No" Grace answered. "Denmark. From Shandi Gabriiella Cristel Bech." It took Skye a long time to respond.
The girls decided to come in before dark. Something had been prowling around the night before, and they had no desire to meet up with it.
"Did I tell you I talked to the boss about the performance challenge at MIM?" Grace asked.
"No you didn't."
"I asked what all we would need to do. She laughed and said 'pretty much everything.' But, the cool thing is, we will for sure be responsible for the cattle wrangling."
"Calves, to be more precise. That whole part of the operation will be up to us."
"I'm down! We'll be real cowgirls!"
The tack room was a bit crowded.
Calla lilies weren't made for sub-zero weather coupled with a blizzard warning. So the girls brought them inside. Along with all the current NaMoPaiMo projects. The calla lily project was a bit frustrating. Very few pairs of pots had well matched callas.
And two of the plants were clearly not going to follow the bonsai script. Their leaves were huge. Healthy, lovely...but huge, and their partner pots...nothing.
Skye's Saddlebred wall art was not too much farther along.
"This one is not going to get done any time soon" Skye said. "I'm okay with it. This one will be a slow and patient affair."
And obviously working dark to light had gotten frustrating on her drafter.
"I'm not as scared as I should be" Skye said.
"I don't think you need to be scared" Grace said. "I was wondering if you shouldn't do another pangare coat around the eyes. Just to make sure it's smooth and consistent."
They moved on to look at Grace's Akhal Teke. "Time for the eye" Skye said.
"It should be blue, right?"
"Yes" Grace said. "And I should be able to get all kinds of detail in it, because it's huge."
"Are ya skeered?"
Grace thought about it for a moment.
And then they looked at the pots of calla lilies - twenty of them. This project was not going to plan. "Are you still thinking of giving these as prizes at MIM?"
"Yes" Grace responded. "I don't know how well people are going to like us for it...they are heavy, I'm not crazy about the soil we used, and they need so much water. And sunlight but not heat. They have until the end of this month to sprout. Then I think we should replace the ones that haven't sprouted with succulents."
"You did it! Congratulations!"
Grace had completed her Akhal Teke bust for NaMoPaiMo.
She wanted to add some shading, but she was stumped for a color choice.
Skye had, for the moment, lost interest in her NaMo projects, likely because neither one of them was near completion, and neither one of them were giving her an easy ride.
Cabin fever had definitely set in. Something like seven feet of snow had fallen. They could not get the horses out. Even if they could, there was nowhere to go with them. It might be another day...or who knows how long...before they could get from the barn to the arena. At least repotting the plants would give them something to do. And so they did. Seven feet of snow in Chilao...and more on the way...who ever heard of that?
*MIM - Models in the Mountains live halter show and equine enthusiast's retreat at Chilao School
**Performance Challenge at MIM - this will be a high point, NAN qualifier full class list of performance classes. The horse accumulating the most points across performance classes will take home a large custom rosette.
January 4, 2023
Grace found Skye in her studio. She brought Charles the beagle along, who had spent most of the last two weeks living with the boss. Grace assumed the introduction would go well. Skye hadn't met a dog she didn't like yet. But Skye was not the problem. Charles had bonded to Grace. Pretty much from the moment they met. Even living in the main house, Charles was simply passing the days and moments waiting to be with Grace.
"Whatcha workin on?" Grace asked.
Skye let out a heavy sigh.
"Nothing. I'm stuck. I'm...I'm...stuck. I feel...cluttered up. I really wan the stuff I've already done to sell."
"Well, we aren't very aggressive with the marketing" Grace said. "Are you wanting to sell this piece?"
Grace looked at the smallest of Skye's paintings, done on canvas with watercolor pencils and a water wash.
"Yes. But I think I priced it too high because it's my favorite."
"Mine too" Grace said. "That's why I don't think you should sell it. This was your first ever piece, plein air no less! Carried around on horseback even. We should figure out how to hang it somewhere. So that problem is solved. Let's move on to the next piece."
They stood next before the trio of terra cotta deer that Skye had painted, symbolically, to be a part of the landscape.
"The deer. I love them too. But for sure I want to sell them" Skye said.
"Okay. Well, maybe we just aren't marketing them right."
"Right. How to market them. Hummmm..." Skye's thoughts trailed off...
"This is another piece I love" Grace said. She stood before the rather larger forest night sky in deep blue. "Maybe we should hang this in the arena. Then it would be out of your way. If it sells, great, if not, at least it will be on display."
Then they came to the golden horse in the night sky. "I can't stand this one" Skye said. "It just needs to go away."
"Then give it away."
"What if no one wants it? How awful would that be?" Skye wrinkled up her face.
"Somebody will take it off of your hands. Tell them the story about the bear teeth marks on the back side. And offer free shipping."
Charles meanwhile had finally wandered a few feet away from Grace.
"Oh look" Skye said. "Charles got brave. He seems to like the deer."
January 7, evening
The light was fading quickly. The pair of grulla horses, built so much like Petrichor and similarly gentle, trotted around the arena in the sun's final glory. Grace seemed a little quiet.
"Let's see if we can get some good pictures of them" Grace said, but her voice lacked enthusiasm.
The two horses were nearly identical. Skye looked at Grace, seeking an answer without asking. It was obvious Grace wasn't quite herself. Grace pointed with her face toward the slightly lighter colored of the two horses.
"The boss is thinking of selling this one." Both Grace's tone and her expression indicated her displeasure with the idea.
Skye didn't know what to say. She wanted to keep all the horses. Forever.
As the sun's last rays lit the landscape, the girls took the pinto sport horse out into the arena, without his paso fino sidekick. He seemed slightly unsure of himself, but he looked stunning in warm light just the same.
The air had a damp chill. Back inside, Skye donned her new favorite poncho, and showed Grace some leather samples for her saddles that the boss had given her.
There was a light golden deer hide, a white leather, Grace was unsure what its origin was, and a piece of leather that was somewhat reminiscent of suede and a reddish color.
Charles the beagle, meanwhile, had met the rest of the pack. He remained focused on Grace, for the most part politely ignoring everyone else.
"I wish it was a lighter color" Grace said, but I'm pretty sure this is my favorite." She took the bit of deerskin and held it around various parts of the women's saddle.
"The white would be gorgeous too, and more fitting if this is just going to be a parade saddle. Is this just going to be parade saddle?"
Skye shrugged. "I...I don't know. I don't think so. How often are we in parades aside from dressing up the ranch horses and leading them around?"
Grace laughed. "Good point."
Grace drew her soft blanket around her shoulders. Immediately her bed began to fill with dogs. Charles was hoping to be one of them.
"I'm not sure bed sharing is going to be a hit right out of the gate" Grace mused.
Skye scooped Charles up. " He can sleep with me tonight. I know he'd rather be with you, but he'll survive."
The rain hadn't yet begun but it was cool and damp and the cloud cover was building. They would get more rain, perhaps even snow. Wonderful, blessed, magical, life-giving water. Skye heaved the big watercolor pad up onto the table.
"I probably shouldn't have used the good paper for sketching" she said, "but I just love how it feels."
"You're forgiven" Grace said. "Use the good paper whenever you want to. Better by far than not using it. Calves?"
"Yes" Skye replied.
"They have really weird bodies" Skye lamented. "They don't really bend like a horse. And they have a strange chest shape and really bizarre hips." Skye was right. Cattle were weird shaped creatures. Nothing like a horse.
Grace had an idea.
It seemed like a good idea anyway. By the time they had found Mojo and messed around with draft horse halters trying to find one to fit Toro Tor Taxi's great big head, the wind had come up, and the rain began. The gusts of wind were so strong they found themselves leaning on the bull to keep their balance. Mojo was not impressed with the plan. The bull did not seem to mind.
In the arena, the Argentine Criollo bull moved about for five or perhaps ten minutes at the most before settling down.
"Can you get him to stay real close to the wall?" Skye asked. "I want to see if I can ride him. Just for a second."
Grace feigned a Scottish accent.
"Have ye lost yer mind woman? In case you haven't noticed, that's not a horse. It's got horns and all."
"He'd probably be fine" Skye answered. "Besides. All this rain. We could use a little excitement around here."
"You just fell off a pony not too long ago, wasn't that enough?"
"That was last year already!"
"I don't know" Grace said. "I think I'd stick to trying to draw him."
A light mist covered the forest. The ranch horses were restless, looking out into the shrouded woods, vocalizing. The girls knew it probably meant there were wild horses out there somewhere.
They decided to go looking, on foot, taking their cues from the ranch horses about which direction to go. Quietly, they headed toward Mustang Rock. Every now and then they would catch a sound. And then rather suddenly there they were. The color guard, Skye called them. Crazy's small but very flashy harem.
"Can they see us?" Grace whispered, not wanting to move too much.
Crazy appeared just then, on a rocky ridge, above his mares and foal.
"I would say yes, Crazy just saw us" Skye whispered.
He was the smallest of all the wild stallions, and the one Grace was a little leery of. He was all stallion and all wild.
"If he comes any too much closer, be ready to jump up and look big" Grace said softly.
"Or run away screaming..." Skye replied.
Crazy came no closer. He made it clear he didn't like company. But then he turned his back to the girls and rejoined his herd as the mist became a light rain.
It was a brief but exciting encounter and Skye was in no mood to go home.
"Let's go see the creek" she said. Grace agreed. Their path was riddled with pools of water. Some of them could be skirted. Others not.
"Whoop!" Skye slipped into the water. It was cold. Not quite snow melt cold, but definitely not warm.
They made their way to a tributary of Chilao Creek that ran through the fire station and then down past Mustang Rock and into Coyote Canyon. The sound of the water. Soothing and alive and mesmerizing.
Then home again. The ground was too saturated for riding and the rain and mist was cold. The girls bought horses down to the arena. They were enamored with the new Amazigh stallion.
He seemed hesitant to move around much, so Grace went about with him to help loosen him up.
"Maybe it's the blanket" Skye said.
"Maybe" Grace answered.
The next horse Grace brought down was the pinto Morgan cross. "Moose!" Skye had a fondness for the big, flashy boy. He was kind and easy going, collected and strong.
Jesse needed no encouragement. The little palomino mustang was high energy and the chance to stretch out in the area was welcome.
Dream Boat was next, the golden Friesian horse. Grace seemed to have a thing for the golden horses, and they for her.
The big bay Akhal Teke was next. They had not spent too much time with him since his arrival. He was spectacular, agile, eating up the ground with his big stride.
"What's his name?" Skye asked.
"Aahhh, his name...I can't remember."
"It should have something to do with beauty and speed" Skye said.
The final horse of the afternoon was an appaloosa. yet another gleaming golden blaze of beauty. Most of the horses had a registered name and a stable name. But there were getting to be a lot of horses. "Don't ask me his name." Grace offered, "No matter what it is, it wouldn't do him justice."
Grace had saddles and saddle stands filling the room. She studied one that was very ornate and highly unusual. And blue. Skye had never seen anything like it.
"What is it?"
"It's either for a Peruvian Paso or a Paso Fino. I can't remember which" Grace said. "Robbie Ramirez helped me identify it. I was thinking of trying it on Anamar. He has such a high neck and a short back."
Skye rested a hand on the western saddle by Fiona Covert. Which was much too long for Anamar and slightly too wide...but Skye loved the saddle.
"It says "AMAN" Grace noted, referring to the blue saddle. "I don't know who that is. I thought the saddle was by Alice Malcolm, but then the initials don't make sense. Anyway. We'll see if it fits tomorrow."
"So" Skye said, "do you have your NaMoPaiMo International Painting Party pony picked?"
Grace sighed. "Nope. Not a clue. How about you?"
The wind howled outside, making every rivulet and slow stream of water freeze, driving the temperature down to 20 degrees. It was definitely a good day to have an enclosed arena, but it was still chilly inside, and Grace rather wished she'd brought her coat.
Skye was running back and forth enough to build some body heat. There was no saddle pad for the blue saddle, and the english saddle pad they had was too small, so Skye grabbed a bareback pad, but the square saddle skirts reached beyond the pad.
"It's okay" Skye said. "I'll get a blanket."
Anamar followed Skye for inside the arena with interest. Skye dashed off to get a blanket. This was going to be another mash-up of tack that was never meant to go together.
Skye returned in short order. "Think it'll work?"
The girls tried. The blue saddle didn't fit him. The length of it was good, but it was too wide, and it needed a custom saddle pad. No amount of tightening the cinch would get it to sit securely.
"Oh well" Grace said. "We tried. Let's take it off."
The saddle didn't work, but the stallion was already bridled, and expecting to be ridden.
"Give me a leg up" Grace said.
"That's the spirit" Skye teased.
Grace preferred a saddle. She could ride without one, but unlike Skye, she'd learned to ride in a saddle and it was her preference. Beneath her, the stallion danced.
"His back is round but narrow even though his ribs are well sprung" Grace said. "Reminds me of riding Lightning for the first time. All those gaits I wasn't used to and no saddle and he was green broke..."
Her voice trailed off as they moved around the arena. He was not gaited, but there was a swiftness to his footfalls. He was gathered and ready to move out. Grace was careful not to give him a reason to prove his speed or agility.
"He's a ton of horse. I feel like he could do dressage. I definitely want to put a saddle on him. I don't care what kind of saddle, just one that fits."
January 29, 4:30 PM
Grace and Baron cut through the school on their way back up the hill to the ranch. As Grace closed the door she heard a noise. Baron heard it too. At first she thought perhaps it was the door squeaking, but they heard it two more times. Baron headed toward the sound, coming from the other side of the driveway to the south, just out of sight, in or perhaps just beyond the seasonal stream that last week still gurgled with water. It sounded like a kitten. A big kitten. Or perhaps a bobcat. Then there was another noise, coming from the north. Loud, like a short blast from the whistle of a yard duty teacher, part whistle, part chirp. Baron heard it but registered no reaction. Grace knew the sound from the videos they'd watched. it was a mountain lion. And likely so was the sound Baron was keyed into. A youngster. Grace slammed the school door firmly shut, making as much noise as she could with it; called Baron out, reached for his collar, realized he was not wearing one. They made their way back to the house, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, but knowing they were not alone.
She relayed the story of the cougar sounds to Skye as her hands examined the men's saddle tree.
"Maybe that's why there haven't been too many coyotes around" Skye mused, secretly glad that Grace's story was all about sounds and not sightings.
"I wanted to take Anamar to the indoor arena while it was still light out" Grace said, "but maybe tonight isn't a good night to do it."
"Did you find a saddle to fit him?"
"Grace smiled. "Maybe. I was thinking maybe this one."
"Oh!!! That's a great idea!"
"Well, since it's your saddle tree, I'm glad you think it's a good idea."
"Can we try it on him in the barn?"
"We could, I suppose."
"Do you think it's safe for us to walk to the barn?"
"I think so. I think we should leave the dogs behind though. If they get away from us and go after the cat, or its scent, it could be bad."
"Let me get my poncho" Skye said. "I look much bigger in my poncho."
In the barn, Anamar danced about but allowed the girls to rest the saddle tree, and another mismatched blanket, on his back.
"The length of the tree is good" Grace said, "but it's too wide."
"Can it be shaped? With heat maybe?"
"I don't know. We'll have to ask Maedb Esposito. She made the saddle tree. This is her design, after studying Native American saddle trees from the plains."
it was early Monday morning. The forest was silent. The snow had come in the wee hours of morning, a fine powder, so light, so magical, and deep. The girls stood for a while in silence, until Skye spoke.
"We should go look and see if we can find any tracks. Mountain lion tracks."
"I need to get my coat if we're going to stay out much longer" Grace responded.
They found fresh tracks right away, but they were coyote tracks. The coyotes had come through probably not long before them. Two of them, working as a team, looking to scare up or scrape up breakfast.
The girls crossed over the coyote tracks and headed up the draw. They knew where they were, and they knew they would be on more or less open ground the way they were headed. But the deep snow made everything look so different. And it made the going difficult. Skye donned the grey and white poncho, hoping to harmonize with the landscape. The wind started to pick up and clouds moved swiftly across the sky.
And then, suddenly, soundlessly, Petrichor's band was in front of them, coming down the draw toward them.
They had encountered each other this way enough times now that the pale mare did not immediately flee. She moved away, picking her footing carefully.
While the mares and foals moved away, Petrichor drew closer. A light snow began to fall and the wind blew flurries of powder about.
Petrichor took several more steps toward the girls. But the draw was not completely smooth beneath the snow, and a deep drift lay between them. He stopped before the drift, his attention torn between Grace and his herd.
"He looks really good" Skye said in a soft voice. When the sun broke through the cloud cover for a moment, Petrichor glowed golden against the snow.
He did not linger long, making his way back to the mares and foals who waited for him a short distance away.
Although the cloud layer was thin, waves of snow washed over the mountains. The girls had only gone a few steps forward when three more horses came into view. Highlander and his band.
A new mare. Highlander had a second mare now. The girls watched in silence. She was pale in color. Palomino? Grey? They couldn't tell. She was pretty.
The dun mare was as full of herself as ever.
Grace took a step forward to get a better look, and slipped into a hole. Highlander and the mares turned abruptly.
"Are you all right?"
Grace laughed. "Yeah, I'm fine. So much for stealth."
The mares continued in the direction that Petrichor and his band had gone. Highlander made sure the girls did not follow. The clouds danced across the sky, creating ever changing light.
The horses headed back into the cover of the scrub, Highlander and his mares following Petrichor's band at a respectful distance. It was safer for both small bands to be in close proximity to each other, and the stallions had obviously worked out their boundaries with regard to the mares. After they passed, Skye noticed something just beyond the horse-trampled snow. tracks that were not coyote, or human, or horse. They were made while the snow was still falling, and so they were impossible to distinguish with certainty. She could say that whatever animal it was, it was walking, slow and deliberate, and like the coyotes, searching through the brush.
Grace and Skye studied the tracks for a good while.
"This is where the sound came from" Grace said, "the shrill, chirping whistle. Sounded for all the world like a human noise. Baron didn't recognize it at all."
Sometimes there were one set of tracks, sometimes two sets. There was too much new snow...and Skye could not blow the new accumulation off of the original print to get a better look...to say for sure what they were looking at. But its legs were long enough that it went through deep snow without leaving a drag mark. It had four legs, and it was large. That is all they could say for sure.
The wind picked up, the sky cleared, and the cold air nipped at the girls. They headed home, leaving the land and its mysteries for another day.