August 5, 2022
Grace gently caressed each detail of the carefully crafted saddle. She was awe-struck. She remembered well coming to Redbird Ranch where there was exactly one functioning western saddle, and it did not seem like all that long ago. Now she rested her hand on a brand new saddle made by Shandi Gabriiella Cristel Bech, and within arm's reach to her right, a dressage saddle, an english saddle and a western saddle by Fiona Covert. And there were saddles gifted to them by Laurel Dedes as well. She felt loved and supported...she and Skye both...and what a strange world it was indeed, as many of their supporters she had never even met yet.
"This is gorgeous" Skye said. "It's going to look fantastic on La Barilla."
Skye was correct. And that wonderful breast collar, lined with soft sheepskin, would keep the saddle forward.
The sun slipped behind the ridge and the air cooled.
It was Grace and La Barilla's first outdoor ride, in the turn-out corral. Although Grace was eager to try out the new saddle, she opted for the same one she had ridden in last time. Riding outdoors would be enough new stimulus for one day.
Skye had come along on Loch'sha, who was calm and good natured. Grace went around the corral several times, steady, while Skye rode alongside and slightly behind. Grace moved to the middle, brought La Barilla to a halt. Sort of.
"Let's see what happens if you ride in a circle around me" she said to Skye. Skye walked Loch'sha in a circle around Grace and the golden stallion, close to him, but not crowding him. As Skye circled, so did La Barilla, keeping Skye and the appaloosa mare in sight.
"He wants to be facing you" Grace noted. "I'm not going to fight with him too much, he's really being pretty good."
"That wasn't too shabby" Skye said. "How about you circle me now?"
"We'll give it a try. In fact, we'll even try going to the right."
Loch'sha, calm as she was, also wanted to be facing the stallion at all times.
"You know, it's probably a natural thing" Grace said. "Of course they want to see what's going on. Then over time they get used to the routine and it's no big deal any more."
"Well I think he's doing fantastic and you should be totally proud of him. And this girl, too" Skye said.
"Are you going to ride him back to the ranch?"
Grace thought about it for a moment.
"No, I'll walk him back this time. This was good for today. This was enough."
It was hot, sticky and beautiful out. Clouds graced a blue sky and the humidity suggested the possibility of thunderstorms. The girls headed for the area, partly to stay cooler, sort of, and partly to be indoors in the event that the heavens did decide to throw around lightning bolts.
Loch'sha had worked out well yesterday as a calming companion, so Grace and Skye decided to stick with a good thing.
La Barilla was all dressed out in the new saddle from Shandi Gabriiella Cristel Bech. There was a confounding bunch of new stuff to get used to. Breast collar, back cinch, new smells, new squeaks. But it sure did look pretty. And the breast collar was doing a marvelous job of keeping the saddle up on his whithers. Grace used the long reins, working him back and forth across the arena. She really wanted to sit in that lovely new saddle...but she was, above all, not wanting to rush him. He was doing so well.
Grace lead La Barilla to the big outdoor arena to let him burn off some steam. When he was loosened up, she planned on riding him in the new saddle. The ground bustled with quail and chipmunks.
As she was turning out La Barilla, a chorus of coyote erupted, and they were very close by, at the fire station. Grace let La Barilla loose and went to watch the coyotes. As she followed one with her eyes, she saw movement to her left. Another coyote, a pup, was quite close.
La Barilla was full of himself tonight. Ten, fifteen minutes went by. He was still running, pawing, snorting, spinning, bucking, rearing, striking at invisible challengers. Every time Grace thought he was done, he wasn't.
Twenty five minutes in, Grace decided she didn't have the mental fortitude to ride La Barilla. She would walk him back to the barn. And then return to see if she could catch a glimpse if the coyotes, who were vocalizing in social behavior tones.
When she returned to the arena she found Skye on the old black mare.
"I couldn't get a bridle over her ears to save my life" Skye said. "This is a draft horse halter."
What a sweet old girl. Grace wondered if she'd be going to some kind of equine assisted therapy facility...or if she'd find a way to make this her happily ever after home.
"Do you want to ride her back?"
Grace thought about it.
"Naw, I could use the exercise."
Skye was still asleep. Grace examined the undercarriage of the little Jeep. Not that she was entirely sure what she was looking at, but what she could see appeared to be sound. Or sound enough, anyway.
The day went on for a long time, but when the shadows grew long and the air cooled, she saddled La Barilla. She hadn't really meant to go for a trail ride, but as they headed toward the indoor arena, the ravens were very active at the dumpsters. A bear had recently been through, getting into the trash and even into the garage of the main house. A bear on her third ride was more than Grace was looking for, so she veered east. Skye and the black mare veered east also. The ground was a little rougher than Skye would have liked, for both of them.
For Grace, the rocky ground gave her mount something important to focus on.
Grace watched the black mare move.
"What did it feel like when you rode her yesterday?" Grace asked.
"Her hind feet hit the ground kind of hard" Skye said. "We just walked."
"She probably has arthritis. Her back legs are a little bit stocked up. Walking her every day or close to every day will be good for her. Or even having her in a big enough enclosure that she can move around on her own."
It would soon be dark. They picked their way across the rocky ground as the wild birds made their final foraging rounds and the sound of hooves on hard soil filled the silence.
"Do you suppose we'll get to keep her?" Skye asked.
"Probably. I don't think the boss would see her fit to sell, except maybe to a therapeutic riding program, and we don't really know how well suited she is for that. She's awful tall."
"What do you suppose she is?"
"I think she's a Thoroughbred."
The last rays of sunlight burnished the landscape. August half way over. The evening was silent save for the scrub jays. This used to be the time when deer would emerge from their daytime hides. But it was rare to see deer any more. And that was just part of the changes. Changes that seemed to be bringing a more uneasy relationship between the wild things and the domestic things.
A breeze lifted the hot air and moved it about. Grace gave the little Jeep a test drive. It had gotten some TLC and was running much better. Some modifications had been made to the floorboard. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. The wind shield was still problematic. Grace had tried using caulking and plexiglass, but it had already come apart twice, and this time the angle wasn't right. But...it was progress. Sort of.
Skye watched the old black mare and realized what Grace had said about arthritis and motion was very true. Despite the mid-day heat, she took the mare, Deer Medicine and Cloud Medicine out for a walk. Not too long or too far, less than a mile probably, just enough to loosen up.
Skye had not expected she'd she Grace. In the Jeep. Grace hadn't expected to see Skye.
They mutually agreed the rest of the afternoon would be best spent in the shade. Grace got caught up on the happenings.
"So, apparently a bear broke into the main house on Thursday night" she told Skye.
"Sounds like there were no damages other than the window screen. It came for cat food."
Skye was both fascinated by and moderately terrified of bears. Or more accurately, of encountering a bear in a confined space.
"And...the boss entered the next Collective show even though we are the hosts."
"Is that legal?"
"As long as we aren't judging, yes. And we are not judging. But she says 'Any help you can offer with getting some horses ready for the show would be awesome.' "
"We could probably get some horse ready for their glamour shots tomorrow morning. Maybe the new horses?"
"Let's plan on it. The show is August 27, so this is the last weekend we'll have to do it."
The girls worked as a team, Grace and Skye bringing the horses to the arena, the boss photographing them with a variety of cameras, using one until it started acting up and then switching to another one.
They managed to get twelve horses out for their glamour shots.
The little paint foal seemed to enjoy the spotlight. Mom took it all in stride. The big grullas were more interested in pets and treats than photos. The new ponies were so much fun to watch.
"I think those are two of the cutest pony mares ever" Skye remarked.
"I agree" Grace replied. The air was warming quickly as they finished.
When the shoot was complete, the girls walked down the service road. The dogs had barked half the night, so what they found was no real surprise. A bear had gotten into one of the dumpsters. Now by daylight, other scavengers moved in.
"Why aren't these bear-proof dumpsters like they have in some of the picnic areas?" Skye asked. "It doesn't make any sense. All the trash gets brought here. These should be bear-proof dumpsters."
A coyote appeared from in between the dumpsters.
"Money." Grace said. "At least that's what I'm told. The Forest Service can't afford but a couple of bear proof dumpsters."
"That's so wrong" Skye said.
As they approached, the coyote trotted away, up an embankment, and across the school driveway.
"No wonder we can't get rid of the coyotes" Skye lamented.
"It's not just because I used to feed the birds."
"No, it's a lot of things" Grace explained. "It's trash, and water in the spring, and lots of rodents. There's always a lot of rodents around buildings, so in that respect, coyotes offer some balance. But mostly, it's the easy pickings. Remember last year? The coyote den was in a culvert under the road right next to the campground. And the first place the coyote tried to den was the culvert right here, at the dumpsters, right next to the school! She could have walked less than ten yards to get dinner. We're lucky she denned on the other side of the fire station, and not right here."
The process of photographing horses was actually quite a lot of work. They had to be clean, they had to present well, the lighting had to be right, the cameras had to work. It was hot, there were flies and dust and horses wanted to roll and so much running back and forth. But the outcome - the lovely photos - were quite intriguing to Skye.
"I know it's hot and sticky and flies and coyotes and stress while we're doing it, but I love to see the end result."
Grace had to admit, they'd gotten some good pictures, even if the boss was lamenting about broken cameras.
In the afternoon's heat, Grace and Skye went to the indoor arena to meet some new and rather different horses. Finally out of quarantine, Grace and Skye turned out a beautiful mare from Denmark, a gift from Shandi Bech.
She looked like she might be Spanish, perhaps a Lusitano. Grace wasn't sure.
"We'll have to do some homework" she said. "She has that faint barring, like Simba, but I think he's a double dilute."
The mare was stunning, whatever she was.
There were other new arrivals. The Zafirah mares. It was difficult to define them with words. They seemed quite aware they were beautiful. And they were not small in stature.
"These two are for sale" Grace said. "I hope they go to fantastic homes because they are gorgeous."
Not all the horses the girls bought down in the relative cool of evening were new.
La Barilla was the last horse they brought down. Grace practiced moving in between poles and turning back at the end of them. The scent of so many mares seemed to add to his animation, but Grace was beginning to get more comfortable with him.
Her hands softened. Her neck and shoulders were more relaxed.
They were starting to look natural together.
The air was cooling. The night would be pleasant. The girls took advantage of the golden hour, which any more was the transition between the time when you might see bears and coyotes to when you almost certainly would see bears and coyotes. But the campgrounds were full of campers, and that would keep both scavengers busy, at least for a little while. They took a short trail ride, on the new golden mare and La Barilla.
"So how many rides is this?" Skye asked. Grace had to count out loud.
"I rode him twice in the indoor arena, and once on the east side of the property while you were leading the old black mare. Then we rode in the big arena with you on Loch'sha. Or maybe I got that out of order. I ride him in the indoor arena last night. I feel like I'm missing something. Ride number six?"
"How is your ride?" Grace asked of Skye.
"Oh she's dreamy. Super responsive. I feel like I need to be careful not to cue her to do something by accident."
"You should consider changing his name" Skye said rather unexpectedly.
"Because it reminds me of pasta or spaghetti sauce."
"But it has meaning. He may be a direct descendant of a herd of Spanish horses that rain wild in central California until the early 1900s. They were called Barilla mustangs. They were either buckskin or palomino. So, probably Lusitanos."
Grace was thinking to turn around and head back the way they came. But La Barilla didn't seem put off by the terrain ahead. He placed his feet with care.
"I keep thinking we'll see Petrichor" Skye said. "It seems like such a long time."
"I know" Grace said. "Apparently there's still water in the little lake at Singing Pines. I wonder if that's where the horses are. And I wonder where the bear and the coyotes are getting water. They don't seem to be going away any time soon."
"Now that you're riding your dream horse, do you still think about Petrichor?"
"Funny. I do. I don't know what I'd do with him, but I do think he'd make a great riding horse. I know. I'm crazy."