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. #