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."