It was the best of times. And it was a busy time. There were horses to be prepared for the show ring. They would need to be photographed to their best advantage, and for that, Grace needed the weather to cooperate. And she also needed to restore wind-ravaged fences and arena footing.
In the high desert, you either live in a place that collects soil, or a place that loses it, based on the wind. And the ranch was prone to losing soil, such that keeping arenas soft and full of good riding material was no easy, one-time task.
When it was too hot out for riding, shoveling sand and building arenas, the girls stayed inside, working on the life-size Bremen Singers resin by Kitty Cantrell.
All the while the girls worked to prepare the horses already in residence, there were new arrivals coming. Grace brought home a trailer full of horses in June, most of whom were disbursed. But two of them stayed on...an Andalusian stallion, and an aged appaloosa gelding.
The Andalusian was fabulous. And really big. There was no headstall that would fit him, and he came without a lot of information...like, his level of training, his temperament, his breeding history...so Grace went out of her comfort zone entirely, making a rope bridle after the fashion that Skye had taught her and climbing on the big mulberry grey steed bareback.
She told Skye that if it didn't go well, he too would be for sale.
The rope bridle offered vague instruction to the stallion. Reading Grace's body language, he moved forward, in a graceful, measured ad highly animated fashion...a passage. Therein were the answers Grace sought. This was a highly trained horse. Easily worth his price. At least for now, he would stay.
Skye didn't want to know what Grace had paid for the appaloosa. She just wanted to make sure he stayed. He was obviously a mature horse, very quiet, with gentle eyes. He was covered in scratches and little scars and caked on dirt. Once upon a time he had been someone's performance horse, but that time had passed, and now he needed some love.
The appaloosa appeared to be sound. Skye's first ride on him was a night ride, under the stars. Grace chose Ono, who was coming along so well under saddle. It was, they were told, the time of year when the Milky Way was visible in the eastern sky. And indeed it was. So were a million other stars. Perhaps they would have seen even more had they traveled deeper into the forest, further into the darkness...but the beauty and magic they saw was enough.
Several hours later they were riding again, at dawn. Skye let the appaloosa rest and chose Precious, a 1996 Thomas Bainbridge quarter horse mare, for their next adventure. Grace had seen hoofprints that were not of her own making. She had a hunch they were the hoof prints of a wild horse, or horses. And she had a hunch of where to go looking for them.
The squealing and clattering of hooves on granite gave them away. There were two wild horses, stallions; a chocolate palomino the girls recognized as Highlander, almost certainly with draft influence, and a smaller, wirey, active bay roan, scarred form head to toe, dancing along the edge of granite escarpments and testing the big palomino tirelessly.
And then, sensing the presence of the girls...perhaps by sound, or smell, or even the slightest movement form their hiding place among the rocks...the stallions turned as one and fled, the squealing and sparring forgotten as they headed back into the chaparral.