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.