November 4, 2023
Alpine glow painted the landscape brilliant. The girls took notice as they made their way as fast as they could toward Mustang Rock.
The dispatch radio from the fire station blared an excited jumble of voices and siren sounds. Something was happening in area 39 , but that was all they could make out. Even with the din of the radio, they could hear the horses.
Owadan was alive, well, and causing trouble with the one stallion who wasn't going to take any...Crazy.
"He looks great!" Skye said. "Now what?"
The girls looked on as the horses moved about. The mare they called Lady Godiva moved the foals away from the two stallions.
Owadan circled relentlessly. But not challenging Crazy. At least, he didn't appear to be challenging. It was more as if he wanted to join the herd, not dominate it.
Crazy had no interest in adding a big stallion to his harem. This wasn't the kind of challenger he was accustomed to.
"How are we going to catch him?" Skye asked.
"I have no idea" Grace said. "And it's not like I brought a halter."
The last rays of light slipped away. Crazy and his band began to move toward the forest, with Owadan never far away. The horses slipped out of sight, and dusk enveloped the land.
At least Owadan was alive, in one piece, and close by. All of that was a huge relief. Now, how to get him back.
Dawn came clear and lovely. The girls were mounted up and on the lookout for Owadan. Skye's mare, Ladyhawk, was particularly antsy and headstrong.
"Is it just me or is she really full of herself today?" Grace asked.
"She is!" Skye said. "Maybe she's coming into season."
"Maybe that will work to our advantage" Grace mused.
First light over the Angeles. The girls watched, waited, listened, but dawn came silent. They rode through the country to the west of the ranch, into the chaparral. Nothing but birds stirred.
They went up into the rocks, taking the trails the wild horses often used.
They scoured the landscape. Skye thought perhaps Ladyhawk saw or smelled something...and perhaps she did. But it was not horses, wild or domestic. The morning was silent. Not even the slinking shadow of a coyote or the taunting of the ravens.
Having failed to find Owadan, the girls came back to the ranch, to tend to their domestic horses. The boss had turned out the newest addition in the indoor arena. Grace and Skye watched the big silver buckskin mare move gracefully, if a little uncertain, across the arena.
"What do you think she is?" Grace asked Skye.
"A designer sport horse."
"Right, but like, what and what?"
"Oldenburg and...something dilute."
Grace laughed. "That's not a bad guess."
After a few moments, the boss returned to the arena.
"She's pretty huh?" the boss said, more of a statement than a question.
"She is indeed" Grace replied.
"Apparently she was in training to be a jumper" the boss continued, "but she was in an accident...inside of a trailer, like a car accident...and she never got over her fear of trailers after that."
"How did she get here?" Skye asked.
"In a trailer, but heavily sedated, and hooded, and with a sling under her belly to keep her from falling down from the sedation. She might still be a little groggy."
"So she's a rescue" Skye replied.
Grace tried not to smile.
The boss tried not to smile. She paused for a bit before answering.
"No, she's not, but then again, yes she is. She wasn't any use to her owners if they couldn't take her to shows. And anyone who bought her was going to have the same problem. So in that sense yes, she's a rescue. If we sell her we'll have to make sure she goes to someone who understands her history and is willing to work with it."
Back at home, Skye came up with a plan.
"I have an idea for catching Owadan" Skye said. "A Judas horse."
"Like the way they get wild horses to run into the catch pen?" Grace asked.
"Yes, like that. All we have to do is train a horse to run back to the ranch."
"And that's what most of them would do even without training" Grace mused. "Head back to what's familiar. Who would you choose?"
Skye thought about it for a moment.
"The only problem with the plan is that we don't have a pen...a catch pen, a fence to funnel him in with...he might just run in one end of the property and out the other. He hasn't really been here long enough to be bonded to the surroundings, I don't think."
Meanwhile, not too far from the ranch, there was more squealing and dust-throwing.
Owadan had found the bachelor band...or perhaps they'd found him...but he was not meeting with unanimous acceptance. The horse Grace and Skye called The Newcomer was accepting of Owadan.
Rain Man was not necessarily opposed to his presence. But Storm was up in arms.
Owadan's instinct to be part of a herd, and not alone, was strong.
Skye continued her thoughts about catching Owadan.
"You know, the other thing we could do..." Skye's voice trailed off.
"We could run a whole herd of horses. They always head home. Even the one time when we lost Charmer and you had to go chasing after him, he made a big circle and headed back home."
Grace considered the plan.
"That might work" she finally said. "But. We have to time it right. I mean, the wild horses have to be close. It seems like they all more or less travel together, you know? So it's feast or famine. Either all four bands are close by, or none of them are. So we'd have to just be ready. We'd have to have a plan in place. What horses are we taking. Which ones are we riding. It's not a bad idea. It might just work."
The wind had been blowing for days. And then, just after sunrise on Sunday morning, it stopped. Abruptly. The ranch horses alerted the girls to the presence of other equines. They were fervently hoping to see Owadan returning home.
It was Petrichor and his band. It was the first time the girls had seen the mare Skye called Thorn in full daylight. She had seen the girls too, and was leery.
The bay mare had grown accustomed to Grace and Skye, and kept her distance, but without fear.
Grace could see the nicks on Petrichor's shoulder from his fight, and fall, with Highlander. They were minimal, and healed, white hairs growing in the place of the former golden ones.
Petrichor kept his distance also.
"Are you going to call him in?" Skye whispered.
"No" Grace responded. "He's got his hands full. And I wonder where Highlander's band is."
"Just when we think we understand something about how these horses operate, they throw us for a loop."
"Maybe" Skye paused. "Maybe the presence of the new mares and that fight they had sort of changed the dynamic."
"Maybe. But wasn't it pretty much business as usual after the fight? Didn't both bands move off in more or less the same direction?"
Grace shook her her head. "I don't know. But we should get our act together. In case we get a chance to go after Owadan."
And so they began choosing horses.
Charmer, the bay gelding built for speed. The lovely golden Lusitano mare from Shandi Bech. Blondie, the Belgian, whose calm, stabilizing influence might come in handy.
The seasonal streams and tributaries near the ranch had been dry for weeks, but in the low lying regions, the grass was still lush and green.
Owadan, pushed away from Crazy's band and the bachelor herd, shadowed the movements of the wild bands from a distance, and for the afternoon, had the lush grazing of the lowlands to himself. But to find water, he would have to travel. He knew the way. He had followed the other horses to their watering spots for days now.
The wind returned in the night, and Monday dawned blustery. And there was no sign of Owadan or wild bands. The girls set out just the same. Weather was coming, perhaps as soon as Wednesday. They had to try to find that big red stallion.
Blondie started out a little slow, or perhaps she just preferred to take her own pace. The girls took the horses down to where they knew there was water, in Chilao Creek.
Charmer was energetic, and needed to be redirected regularly. They were taking a slightly different route than they had in past trips, and it was new to him.
They saw no signs of other horses at the water.
It was calm and cool in the creek bed. The trees all around swayed in the strengthening wind. But there were no other horses, and it didn't look like there had been any in the last few days.
There was coyote scat, human and domestic dog tracks. Bicycle tracks. The big, heavy boots of hunters who did not need boots, because they were hunting from the road, from their trucks, inside of the campground, taking deer where it is wasn't legal, and where it required no effort or skill. It would still be hunting season for another week or so. Perhaps that's why the horses hadn't come here.
The girls and their herd of horses turned and headed back to the ranch.
Grace, Charmer and Dani Girl were getting quite the lead on the rest of the horses. Meanwhile, Skye couldn't resist the water, even if just for a moment.
Homeward bound now, it was going to be a challenge to keep Charmer moving at a pace the other horses could match. And a delicate balance of not encouraging him to go faster by trying to pace him.
Sunlight began to filter into the creek bed. It was definitely autumn. The wind's strength increased as they made their way home. With the same number of horses they departed with.
It was a great ride, but the mission was unaccomplished. Somewhere out there, the big red stallion named Owadan was still on the loose.
Clouds billowed across the sky. Grace ran down the rock face as fast as she dared, heading back to the ranch. Skye stayed and kept watch.
Then, Grace stopped short in her tracks. She was not expecting company. Anahit and Lousin were similarly startled by Grace.
"Are you okay?" Anahit asked.
"Skye is up on the rocks. There's a loose stallion. We're trying to catch him."
Owadan was alone, and moving, indirectly, toward the ranch.
Anahit, Lousin and Skye watched him. He seemed indecisive. Skye wanted to try calling him, but she had no idea if he would come to her, or run away.
Then, something got his attention. The girls heard it also.
They scrambled down the rock face. Skye slid down the last part, a smooth bit of granite.
Charmer came thundering toward them.
The girls watched the two red horses circle each other, energetically and warily. Charmer quickly ascertained that Owadan was a stallion. Owadan gauged the demeanor of the approaching gelding.
There was tension. This wasn't how Grace and Skye had imagined it. Turning a gelding loose to bring in a stallion had a lot of ways to go really wrong.
But one thing did go right. They began galloping together, not side by side exactly, but together. Their ears were forward. They were tense, but their instincts to be in a herd as opposed to alone was strong. Now if Charmer would just turn for home.
Anahit, Skye and Lousin fanned out, hoping to turn the horses in the right direction.
"Ana" Lousin yelled out to her sister,
"Do your call!"
Anahit paused for a moment.
"Do it!" Lousin urged.
Anahit made a sound. It was shrill, like a whistle and a whinny wrapped into one. It was a bit like a mare's anxious call. It had four sharp, excited notes. Owadan took notice. She did the call again. He turned in toward Charmer, toward the ranch, sweeping the gelding along with him.
The horses turned toward Anahit, but they were looking past her, looking toward the ranch, looking for the source of the sound to be coming from another horse. With ample space between them, they ran, past Anahit, toward the sound and smell of the horses in the stable.
Grace came running up the ridge, following Charmer's path, just in time to see Owadan and Charmer running back to the ranch, with the girls falling in behind them. She turned around and made her way back, listening to the sounds of horses and the girls and the boss. It was finally over. Owadan was back. She dropped her pace down to a brisk walk. She was relieved, and all at once, exhausted.
The wind was relentless. Skye busied herself in the tack room as the afternoon wore on.
"Bored out of your mind aren't you?"
"Gahh! How'd you sneak up on me like that?!"
"You were very focused."
"I'm putting lemon oil on the saddle stands. But I can't even tell if it's helping."
"It is. I can see which one you've finished. It'll darken up, it just takes time. You'll see. Why don't you save this project for later and give me a hand turning out some horses."
Cloud Nine was first. He was an older stallion, a tall Anglo-Barb, but still beautiful.
Luna was next. She was a fun mare with a playful streak about her. Skye tried to keep up with her big trot.
"The sand is so deep!" Skye called out. "And her legs are so long!"
Luna also enjoyed the company of other horses. That would make life easier for everyone.
The most recent arrival, whom Skye dubbed the designer sport horse, was settling in.
Mateo, the Lippizan cross, was fabulous, but apparently he'd been lost in the sea of currently popular Spanish revival horses - the Spanish riding horse and the historic Lippizan...perhaps they weren't doing a good job presenting him, or perhaps, as the boss suspected, it was a combination of factors, no doubt including his Kladruber blood. The traditional cross to recreate the historic Lippizan was appaloosa (or Knabstrupper) and Lippizan. The boss still loved him, regardless.
The sooty buckskin chap was on the block. Apparently he had a bit of a stubborn streak, and would be staying only long enough to find suitable accommodations somewhere else.
The boss came in with Tosh and Contessa, but paused as she saw that Grace was getting La Barilla going on the lunge line.
"Come on in" Grace said. "He doesn't mind dogs."
"Well, I guess it's a good thing" the boss responded. "I've called and called the number. Francis Loop Caldwell's number. It just rings. I should get a grasp of the obvious. No one is looking for these dogs."
"When did you find them?" Skye asked.
"In June" the boss replied. "In a few weeks it'll be six months that we've had them. If someone was looking for their dogs, we would have found each other by now."
"What are you going to do with them?" Skye asked.
"They stay" the boss said, then laughed. "I guess you were right all along Skye. We're heading down the rescue wormhole."
La Barilla was a little full of himself, a little prancey and showy and high in the front. It had been a while since Grace had worked him nearly every day. He would come around again.