September 2, 2022
The light was beginning to change, from the harsh, flat dryness of summer to the magical gold of autumn. The heat had been intense, and tomorrow was supposed to be hotter. Occasional thunder could be heard in the distance. Somewhere it could be raining...but not here in Chilao.
The prospect of rain looked more promising on Saturday. The heat took your breath away. And then the wind would come. That wind that tells you a change is coming.
"Today could be the day" Grace said. A restlessness possessed the girls. The air was charged with positive ions, and they were charged too, charged with anticipation and chaotic energy.
There would be a little time before it was likely that anything would happen with the weather. There was still a lot of blue sky. And the day was still young. The girls decided to use the indoor arena, just in case. And they decided to use a walkover pole with La Barilla. Skye maneuvered the pole through the deep, soft arena sand. It was heavy!
La Barilla took none too kindly to the pole. Considering his level headed demeanor thus far, it was a bit of a surprise. One thing was clear. He had no intention of engaging it, walking over it, or even going around it.
"Apparently giant blue and white serpents are a thing" Grace said as La Barilla protested approaching the pole.
Skye started giggling.
"What's so funny?"
"I thought of a new name for him. Spaghetti Western."
"Please tell me you're kidding."
Patiently, reminding herself to stay loose, Grace urged La Barilla toward the pole again and again. Not fighting him. Not struggling with him. Re-centering herself, mentally and in the saddle, after each refusal. Eventually she could feel him give in. A step at a time. Slowly.
"I think we've got it now" Grace commented as La Barilla gathered himself together. It was a bit dramatic, but indeed, over the pole they went.
Not so bad really. Maybe he could do it twice.
"He looks a bit as if he's going to stomp it to death" Skye noted.
This pole thing took some getting used to. He did indeed go over it a second time. He more or less side-passed over it. But all in all, much less drama on the second try.
"What a fine, brave stallion you are" Skye praised.
"Yes you are" Grace affirmed.
After a bit more riding, they took La Barilla back to his stall. Grace paused to take in her favorite smell...petrichor. For a few delicious moments, it rained.
A strike team had assembled at the fire station, with trucks and crews from all over the southwestern region. There were so many crews that trucks were parked along the road. They did not all fit at the fire station.
Higher up the mountain, there was action, and the teams left in groups of four and five vehicles. But in Chilao, the sprinkling of rain and some cloud to cloud lightning was all the storm cell offered. The girls waited, hoped, and decided to bring out some more horses.
Just in case there was thunder and lightning, they decided against very excitable horses. Instead they brought down a few of the new arrivals, and Skye's rather wildly mismatched herd, minus Ladyhawk, who seemed particularly restless and agitated today.
Donkey seemed to be holding up well. Dinky with his escort, Baron. The new golden mare from Denmark had an easy-going temperament with the other horses.
A sunshine bubble pervaded Chilao. The storm threat was over. At least here, for now, there would be no real rain. Another lovely sunset unfolded, the heat diffused, the air was bearable again.
And a half moon, cloudless and bright, illuminated the mountain.
The girls had been up since a little after 5 AM, when coyotes heckled something from north of the fire station all the way down to the creek crossing. The barking of the dogs alerted them, but they decided not to go out and see what it was the coyotes were tangling with. And they could only hear two coyote voices clearly. Grace wondered silently if the patriarch coyote had succumbed to his wounds.
But when they did go out, before sunrise, they were not disappointed. Storm and Rain Man were sparring over water rights.
Storm, a big bay stallion going grey, was the more aggressive. Although there was enough water, they fought over it...like they often did.
"Let's get closer" Skye whispered.
Storm lunged at Rain Man. As he did, he lost his footing, scrambling awkwardly. He slipped, falling into the water flat on his side with a terrible sound. Here was Rain Man's chance to trample his opponent. But he seemed startled by Storm's fall, and did not press on with an attack.
The sun crested the mountain. And then, just as quickly as they came into view, the horses caught wind of Grace and Skye...and they were off.
Dawn's light came and went in between the clouds.
"I hope Storm is okay. That was quite a fall." Skye looked and looked for the stallions, but she couldn't see them. They vanished into the thickness of the landscape.
Grace edged her way carefully up to the pool that Storm had fallen in.
She wasn't sure if they were lichens or moss. She marveled at how one bit of rain cues the plant nations. As soon as the clouds departed, it was warm. Fortunately, the sky was full of big, beautiful clouds, so the morning temperature stayed pleasant as they made their way home.
In the indoor arena, Grace turned out three mares.
Wega, a lovely light grey Lipizzan mare, was recovering from an injury to her left front leg, and that recovery appeared to be going well.
Skye was struck by how similar in color the two golden mares were.
Grace was presently enamored with the grey mare. She was graceful, composed and elegant.
"Do you want to take these two out for a trail ride?" Skye asked, referring to the golden mares.
Grace thought about it. The day was in fact lovely. But the presence of all those clouds made her suspect there was a chance of stormy water still to be had. And then, just as they were bringing the horses back to their stalls, it began to rain. A light rain at first. It remained light long enough for them to finish their chores. And then, down it came.
Sheets of wind-driven rain poured down.
"Maybe we'll go out for a trail ride tomorrow" Grace remarked, watching the rain washing through the sky like an endless curtain.
Monday morning was indeed a glorious one for riding. Grace opted for La Barilla and Skye for Ladyhawk, whom she had not ridden in some time.
Lured by the greening plant life, Grace chose a narrow path through the boulder strewn landscape. Ladyhawk followed La Barilla effortlessly.
The girls were relaxed. The coyotes had moved to another part of the campground. The USFS firefighters had modified the dumpsters to make them inaccessible to bears. And perhaps most importantly, hunting season had begun. Twisted as it was, hunting season pushed the predators back.
The plant life clinging to the rocks was beautiful and mysterious. Grace didn't know enough to give them a name other than "probably lichen" which she understood to be a community of plants cooperating with each other, like moss and algae. She saw what looked like yellow flowers, and sought to get a closer look. But no, not flowers...it was another life form...perhaps an algae, perhaps a moss, collectively lichen...
Skye's voice broke Grace's focus on the flora.
"Did you hear that a bear is walking around in some neighborhood down below with an arrow hanging out of it?"
"I did not" Grace replied. She pondered the idea for a bit. "I don't think I would hunt a bear with an arrow. I seem to recall it doesn't always go well. Poor bear."
Sunday's thunderstorm had left some scars on the land. The ground had managed to soak up some little bit of the water, but most of it ran straight away. Presently, clouds moved across the eastern sky, cooling the September sun and making the morning quite pleasant.
The dogs were still wary, and the wet ground likely held the scent of everything that had recently passed through even better than the dry soil might.
Sometimes the washouts made better travel, and sometimes not.
Baron picked a slightly precarious path for the return home. Skye decided to take the lead through this particularly rough terrain. Grace followed as Skye rode the high-headed grey mare over loose rocks and soft soil.
"Skye, does that mare ever look where she's going?"
"Not really. But she doesn't trip very often either, so..."
La Barilla may have been afraid of blue and white ground poles, but actual rough ground did not seem to phase him. What he was trying to adjust to was the weight on his back. It was still new, still something to get used to, balancing a human while navigating terrain.
"How many coyotes do you think you've heard lately?" Skye asked.
Just saying the word coyote put the dogs on high alert.
"Two for sure. And I think we should name the momma Whiskey. She has that gravelly bar-room voice. I am pretty sure I am hearing her."
"Do you think the old male coyote made it? The one the boss calls Lives Among Them?"
"Maybe" Grace said. "Maybe his throat hurts and he can't make a lot of noise right now. Or maybe the pup isn't very loud yet so that's why we think we are only hearing two coyotes. He could be fine, and just laying low. He was never a very vocal coyote. Always just appeared out of nowhere. He might be okay."
Funny. That big old male coyote had kind of grown on them both.
The tack room was still cool. Grace steadied a saddle while Skye swung a leg over it as it rested on the saddle stand.
"Gosh Skye, you are vertically challenged."
Grace surveyed the space between where Skye's legs ended and where the stirrups began. It was vast.
"How does the saddle feel otherwise?"
"It's kind of wide."
Skye looked at the seat on some of the other saddles.
"What about this one? Isn't this the saddle we got last year, brand new? The squeaky one?"
"Yes", Grace responded, "Laurel Dedes sent this one."
Skye pulled herself into the seat as far as she could before releasing her foot.
"Oh there goes the stirrup again..."
"It does feel nice to sit on though."
Grace studied the stirrup to foot ratio. There was not going to be an easy fix for this problem.
"You know" Skye said, "I started making a traditional saddle...well, I thought about it anyway, I didn't really get started...but if we can't find a saddle that fits me, maybe I'll just make my own. You ever see anyone ride performance in a native saddle?"
Grace fell silent. No, she hadn't seen it...but probably ladies had done all kinds of riding in their traditional saddles. And Grace had no problem whatsoever in supporting Skye's idea. Skye could ride without a saddle better than most people could with one. If she wanted to make her own saddle, and it wasn't a western saddle...Grace could definitely support that.
The girls had taken shelter inside during the hottest part of the day. As the afternoon wore on, they decided to venture back outside. Grace took a quick glance at the computer, paused, smiled.
"What?" Skye asked.
"We placed a couple of horses in The Collective."
"I'll read the full results a little later. For now let's do your glamour shot."
"You know what would be really cool?" Skye posed the question, and then answered herself. "Another Jeep adventure."
The dogs didn't know exactly what that meant but Skye's tone was promising. So they gathered. Adventure...perhaps they knew what the word adventure meant.
Skye wanted to make another attempt at selling her work. If she kept it any longer she was going to grow attached to her pieces and not want to part with them. She needed pictures of her work, and a picture of herself...a studio shot, an art bio.
"I think we've got it" Grace said after taking numerous pictures. "And now, I'd like to show you something."
"Where's the black mare?"
"In the indoor arena, stretching her legs...sort of."
The girls walked to the arena. The mare made her way toward them at a relaxed walk.
"I don't know if she'll let me do this again" Grace said.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to roll her upper lip up so you can see inside of it."
The old black mare wasn't in the mood to have her lip pulled on. She put her head way up in the air and started moving forward, slowly, right into Grace. She had a funny way about her. She was gentle, but also her own boss.
"What's on her lip?"
"She's tattooed. It's so faded I can't make any sense out of it, but on the inside of her upper lip there is a tattoo. And that means she is either a registered standardbred or a thoroughbred and probably was a race horse."
"I could totally picture her as a race horse" Skye said.
"What are we going to do with her Grace? Should we try to find her a home?"
Grace watched the old mare move. She was not as stiff as when they found her, and she held her weight fine; there was nothing skinny about her.
"She looks pretty much at home here. Let's not worry about it too much." They left the mare in the arena a little longer. The sandy arena soil was deep, but surely easier on her legs than the terrain they had found her in.
Skye's request for a Jeep adventure could be fulfilled if they kept the adventure short and close to home.
The brief but wonderful series of thunderstorms had left dry gullies and washouts everywhere. Even a short drive could be adventurous today.
Highlander and his single mare appeared in front of them. And then they quickly turned away again.
Normally pretty assertive about territorial rights, perhaps the Jeep spooked him. He called for an immediate retreat. The mare moved off quickly, and Highlander followed.
"You know" Grace said. "A lot of times when we see Highlander, Petrichor and his band are not far away."
And so they looked, hopeful, everywhere they could. But they did not see Petrichor.
"You know" Skye said, almost as if she was talking to herself, "I like this little Jeep. There's not much to it, but it's a lot of fun."
Grace smiled. "Yes it is."
The girls were up before dawn. Grace showed Skye some images of manufactured saddle trees.
"Where did you find these?" Skye asked.
"Michelle Sepiol gave me the link. This is a man's saddle and so is the one underneath it." The men's saddles tended to have low profiles.
"This women's tree is like the saddle we saw at the Autry" Skye noted.
"Do you think I should make my own tree? Or use something like this?"
Grace thought about it for a moment.
"I think you could do both. What would it hurt?"
First light greeted the girls. The morning was pleasant. Grace decided to try her luck at ponying La Barilla.
For the most part, things went smoothly. She rode Skye's beloved Deer Medicine, wanting to be on a horse that she could trust just in case something went sideways. Skye rode Ladyhawk, because she looked as if she wanted to be out on this glorious morning.
All in all, there was only a little bit of sideways, and it never involved an attempt to break free.
La Barilla's reward was a turn out in the big outdoor arena. The girls gave him his space, and watched as he reared, spun, pranced and cavorted around the arena.
"Well that wasn't so bad" Grace said. "Another new thing for him and I think he did pretty well."
The day went by fast. The western sky was cloudless but to the east, a bank of clouds clung to the horizon as the sun set. Grace suspected the colors of the evening would not disappoint, and so the girls found a suitable rock outcropping from which to watch the sky and the land and the clouds turn colors. As they made their way home, they watched a hare in near darkness, foraging near the ranch house, its large eyes and incredibly long ears keen to every sound, every movement as the day slipped quickly now into night.
Skye is hoping to buy one or two of those saddle trees she and Grace looked at, so she's listed her own artwork for sale. You can find it here:
Dusk in Chilao
The Way of The Deer
Running in Heaven
August 28, 2022
Grace viewed a map that spanned Los Angeles and San Bernadino County wilderness areas. The distances seemed vast, but Grace wanted answers. Their wild horses were coming from somewhere. It wasn't the high country. And it wasn't Mojave...at least not directly.
So as the sun rose on August 29, they embarked upon a journey, leaving Chilao and everything familiar behind.
Out to the highway, passing the empty shell of Newcomb's Ranch, which looked as though a bear or perhaps coyotes had paid a visit.
Up Angeles Crest Highway they went, the little Jeep purring along...not particularly fast, but without complaint. They stopped at Carousel.
The wind played through the trees, an unfamiliar tune which made the girls slightly uneasy and aloof. They knew the sound of wind approaching but not its voice through this more dense cover of trees.
There was evidence of fire and next to it, luxurious green. They didn't linger long.
The Bobcat fire had run rampant through the mountains, spotting, skipping, crowning, missing whole swatches of forest and giving others the ultimate cleaning.
At Eagle's Roost, there was just enough room to squeeze the Jeep out onto the rocky soil. Grace and Skye surveyed the surroundings in silence. The fire had crowned, turning to blackness stands of old growth trees. After a while Skye spoke.
"The trees that are brown but still have needles...will they recover?"
"No. Almost with certainty no. Conifers need at least the top ten per cent of their needles to have a chance at survival. If they were lightly singed, it's possible the needles can recover and the trees can go on photosynthesizing. But when you see the trunk is black all the way to the top, that's too much. Their bark has most likely been compromised, and the limbs that supported needles are too damaged to support new growth."
On the highway again, they passed a structure, and in a few more turns came upon a set of tunnels. For a moment, Skye forgot about the fire scars.
Grace pulled in to a small vista point known as Jarvi. At Jarvi, She maneuvered the Jeep to overlook an incredibly steep and spectacular canyon.
"This place is amazing!" Skye exclaimed.
"Church" Grace said.
"Randy Emata likes to refer to this place as church. Well, the whole forest really, but this is one of the special places."
They pressed onward. The road demanded one's attention.
At 7,901 feet, they passed another structure, a sand shed for Cal Trans. They had reached Dawson Saddle.
"We made it to the top" Grace said, smiling.
The view was multi-faceted and expansive. Skye wanted to take in all of it.
"What is that?"
"I'm not sure what the correct geological term is" Grace said. "Inland desert perhaps. But it's the Antelope Valley, northern Los Angeles County into Kern County, and if we could see far enough, the Mojave basin and the Tehachapi mountains."
"Please please, let's stop."
Skye had to get a better look. She went to the edge of the precipice. The wind pushed at her back. She looked down...to an unfathomable drop of several hundred feet, and then down, down, down into a canyon miles below. Her knees trembled.
"Okay, take a good look, because we need to get going now. We've got a long way to go."
Down the mountain they went, toward Wrightwood. The approach was beautifully green. The town was set for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, flags flying from nearly every rustic, majestic, old, new, whimsical, tree-nestled home.
And the moment they had driven through the main part of town, the aftermath of another fire greeted them.
"This isn't the Bobcat fire" Grace said. "This is the one that was just a few weeks ago."
And at the base of nearly every desert chaparral plant, there was already green...profuse green.
"The burn interval was good here" Grace said. "That's why the vigorous new growth."
Fascinating though the fire ecology was, Grace quickly realized that her hunch about where Chilao's wild horses hailed from was wrong. This, Wild Horse Canyon, was hardly wild. Down every side street were homes. It was the desert side of the Wrightwood community. The name may have described the place fifty or a hundred years ago...but not in her lifetime. And so they doubled back.
They took Sheep Creek Road to Lone Pine Canyon. Ablaze in the orange-red spent flowers of chamise, glorious in its remote wildness, and a ten per cent grade, Lone Pine Canyon wound through some wild country, with the bone-dry Lytle Creek often at its flanks. And somewhere down here, there was a surprise.
They drove and drove for what seemed endless miles. When Grace finally found a place to turn around and head back, she glanced up to see the sign. She had found it. Navigating the Jeep down a wide dirt track, the girls began a three mile journey...over washboard road. Try though she might, Grace could not get the speed just right. And so they bumped, and shook, and rattled, awkwardly, down the often winding road.
Where they found, at the end of that three and a half mile endurance test in the mid-day heat...a closed road.
Skye took a deep, uneasy breath.
"Let's go for a walk."
They went around the gate, and crested a small knoll. Skye was stunned. Amid the constant drone of high tension power lines, train whistle in the distance and the occasional homestead in the middle of this no-man's land...water. Giant cattails. An oasis.
It wasn't huge, but it was relatively deep as far as Skye could tell.
"I'm told it has something to do with a fault that runs through the region. You may have noticed the slip in the ground on our left as we were coming in. As distinct from the dry creek to our right. I don't know if I really understood it right, but anyway. Pretty cool."
"And plenty of water for horses" Skye said. "If you were thinking maybe this is where the horses came from."
The girls did not linger long at the water either. Originally Grace had wanted to go back home through Valyermo and Juniper Hills, the back side of the desert where she thought the horses might be coming from, but she changed her mind halfway through Wrightwood. They headed back up Angeles Crest Highway, veering left without warning onto another dirt road, one that went immediately up into an alpine meadow...and which, thankfully, was not washboard.
"Where are we?" Skye asked.
The country was easily as harsh as the desert...perhaps moreso, as it was steep. But it was as different as it could have been, with huge trees twisted by wind and alpine meadows full of rugged plants such as Skye might have expected to encounter in the tundra.
They came to a sign post and read the trail names. Wild Fire. Backdraft. Inferno Ridge. They paused in silence. Were they ever going to escape the sight, the touch, the theme of fire? A few more turns and another surprise. This was not just a recreation road. This was Mountain High Ski Resort, the base of which was in the western flank of Wrightwood. And there was nothing subtle about it.
Slowly they made their way another three miles up the mountain.
"Where are we now?" Skye asked, just as they rounded a tree-lined corner and came into Blue Ridge campground. It was small and quaint, and there was a short-axled motorhome and a truck with a trailer enjoying the solitude, the cool air, the view...and the bees.
The tree line also appeared to be the bee line. There was no shortage of them here, and they seemed to be thriving...or perhaps, working hard and fast in the short season of plenty that preceded the certain onset of bitter cold in not so many months.
The girls pressed on. Then rather suddenly, Grace turned the Jeep around. They could have pressed on another two miles, but Grace was satisfied. They had made it over the top of the mountain, down to sea level, and now back into the alpine region again. They did not need to go to the very end of the rod. This was good. This was enough.
They paused to enjoy the view. Ravens came, flowing effortlessly up the mountain on thermals, eager to see if there were hand-outs to be had.
It was late afternoon. They headed slowly down from Blue Ridge, savoring the green, the unbridled beauty, the harsh, windswept character of the land, the late summer flowers.
They paused once more at Jarvi on the way home. The East fire, contained to a steep mountain slope by the efforts of firefighters and the loss of vegetation from fires in 2020, filled the sky with smoke despite its containment status. The day's warm winds and temperatures fueled what fire remained. The reality of fire would not be avoided. They would have to embrace it, and be grateful for what they still had. Theirs was a landscape facing dramatic change. A few more fires and it would be a windswept, high elevation desert. There was no escaping that reality, not as a theory, not as a prediction, but everywhere and all-encompassing.
(The Bobcat fire of September 2020 tore through the Angeles National Forest almost unchecked as forty other major fires plagued California and the west. It was particularly devastating where it crossed into the footprint of the 2009 Station fire, burning all the new growth that was doing so well, and leaving the landscape too depleted to have another vigorous recovery. Fire interval is very important and an interval of 11 years was very much not enough. It was also particularly devastating where it walked through the high country, and down into the desert to destroy the Devil's Punchbowl Visitor's Center and thousands of acres of already stressed habitat in between. The high country - once covered in snow six months out of the year - is severely stressed due to the increasing temperatures and lack of rainfall. It is believed that climate conditions have changed so much that the high country will not recover from the Bobcat fire. Previous high country fires have not seen vigorous recovery. The Station fire offered a glimpse of what nature can do at a proper fire interval...but what we have seen since then has been one radical fire after another. Our local climate gets warmer and warmer, drier and drier, causing trees to die even without fire. It is a difficult scenario to witness, after seeing such wonderful recovery from the Station fire).
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."
July 17, 2022
The evening began to cool. Grace, having spent most of the day disinterested in going horse hunting, made the rather sudden decision to get the black mare.
She changed her mind three times about which mare to ride, settling on Precious. She forgot her hat. And she forgot fly spray. The flies and mosquitos were brutal.
But she had chosen their spot well and as night fell, Petrichor's band made their way to the dry creek valley, where they would spend the night. The bay lead mare was wary. Petrichor brought up the rear, the black mare well behind the others. He broke away immediately to engage the girls and their mare.
Skye had brought a length of rope which, with any luck, she would slip over the black mare's head and then fashion a quick halter with. Petrichor was livelier and more animated than either Grace or Skye had anticipated. They wondered for a moment just how smart their plan was.
Petrichor seemed more uneasy than he ever had before. He wheeled toward his herd, and then back toward the girls. The black mare was walking past them. If Skye was going to catch her, she would have to make her move.
She kept an eye on Petrichor while a horse fly made repeated attempts to land on her. She had to keep her cool. Grace wasn't sure what to say to the stallion. She'd always spoke to him in an ordinary voice, like an old friend. What to say to him now?
"Hey big guy. We're going to take that old mare off of your hands. It'll make life easier for you. She's slowing you down. You just hang tight for a few minutes and it'll all be done and over."
As Skye suspected, the mare looked a bit as if she'd been wondering when someone was going to bring her in. She was tall, but when Skye held up her rope, the mare put her head down to receive it. A nose loop and two quick knots and they were ready to head home.
Petrichor left Grace and Precious and turned his attention to the black mare. For a long and agonizing moment, they were at the mercy of Petrichor, and there was nothing anyone could do. It would be very much not ideal to leave the old mare with a make-shift halter and a length of rope hanging from her head, but whatever happened next was up to Petrichor...and the old mare.
Grace held her breath.
"Come on girl." Skye gave the mare a tug. She paused, uncertain. Petrichor snorted and swiveled his ears back several times, shifting uneasily, tossing his head, tail moving wildly. And then he turned away, trotting toward his wild mares, who immediately moved off, Petrichor taking up the rear. The black mare drew a deep breath, turned toward Skye, and never looked back.
She was none too pretty, but Skye was already in love with her. Funny kid, Grace thought, somewhere in her past there must have been some wonderful elders, human or animal.
The walk down to the indoor arena as darkness fell was uneventful. The mare lead well and entered the arena as if she had done it before.
"Now what?" Skye asked.
"I haven't got a clue where we are going to put her" Grace replied. "Let's leave her here for tonight. We'll give her some food and water and...hopefully by morning I'll have an idea."
It was too hot for riding. Skye decided to try her hand at watercolors again. She brought two big sheets of watercolor paper to the tack room. One a little more started than the other.
"I messed up on the darker one a little. I started with the black instead of working light to dark. I think it will be okay though. And this lighter one...I don't know what it's going to be yet."
"Maybe this is just going to be your watercolor style" Grace said. "One bold and dark and one soft and delicate. You've got a great start on both of them."
"The darker one is going to be that sunset we saw on Sunday, with the faint purples and the trees and the yucca silhouetted in the foreground."
"I'm sure it will be lovely."
Skye worked on the painting for untold hours, using the technique she so admired in the images by New Graham, marker over watercolor. Whatever the art words are for when the thing says what you wanted it to say, and it doesn't need to be any more than that. That's what Skye would have said, if she knew the words.
When Skye first woke, she thought there was a lovely cloud cover easing her into the day. But it was smoke. There were fires burning in other wilderness areas and open spaces to the north and the south.
It would be a good morning to take it easy, and see how the black mare did with the rest of Skye's horses. The mare had been in a stall of her own for several days, giving her time to get acquainted at a safe distance. Sometimes it just takes a bit to get used to your herd mates and neighbors. Donkey and Dinky had grown quite accustomed to Baron.
The black mare was really big. The black mare was much larger than Deer Medicine, yet they had a similar way of going. Deer Medicine was an Anglo-Barb, a Thoroughbred and Spanish Barb mare. Her foal Cloud Medicine had Anglo-Barb on both sides, but a higher percentage of Thoroughbred from his sire.
Grace watched the horses move. She was struck by this thought. Somehow, in that rather ordinary moment, she had this sensation, this understanding...she and Skye were living the life, in a changing time. The smell and sound of horses and the dust of their foot falls and the sun through the veil of smoke...somehow just for a moment it all seemed magical. Not ordinary at all. Like a dream. A dream that countless thousands of children had and never experienced.
And it looked like tiny little Dinky was starting to get the hang of things too.
The indoor arena was cooler than the atmosphere outdoors, and less smoky. Grace walked La Barilla, fully tacked, dow to the arena. The only thing he hadn't had was a bit in his mouth, and Grace didn't have a starter bit anyway. He had lead, lunged, long reined, carried various saddles, worked on ground manners. It was time to get in the saddle, if only for a very brief ride.
Grace pulled herself up and swung her leg over. La Barilla side stepped away from her weight. The saddle slipped a bit off center. The weight of a human was awkward. La Barilla moved sideways, trying to center himself.
So far so good, but not the saddle. Grace needed to straighten it up. She dug her right foot into the stirrup. stood, gave the saddle a pull to the right. The weight and all the shifting was strange and new to La Barilla and he was not sure how to respond.
Grace was able to get the saddle back in more or less the right position. She looked forward, sat down, and let her mount move. He went forward, albeit with uncertainty. And in a fashion, they went down the rail.
This was a moment Grace had dreamed about for a long time. Once around the arena, not quite from end to end, letting her mount move forward in his highly animated fashion, letting him feel her weight, letting him experience this new thing, keeping her hands flexible on the bosal reins, trying not to give him any new sort of input, just what he had already understood from the long rein, keeping her own weight centered on her hindquarters, moving with him as he sought to find balance.
They kept the ride short, ending on a high note.
Late in the afternoon, the new horses had begun trickling in. There would be a total of seven or eight, according to the boss, and this new group would be widely varied. The little reddish pony was exceptionally sweet. She also had a little mischievous streak, grabbing the end of Skye's braid as they ran in the arena together.
The other horse that arrived wasn't terribly tall, but he was a heavy draft horse, with a round, sturdy back.
"I've just got to sit on him" Skye said.
"Can you get him to come a little closer to the wall?"
Grace pressed her left hand into the big horse's shoulder, and made a leading motion with her right hand. He moved, slow and deliberate, closer to the wall.
Skye climbed the arena wall, then slid onto his back.
"And not too excitable" Grace added.
The trailer came in the late afternoon, as clouds gathered and the humidity rose. The rest of the new horses had come. The horses were relieved to be out of the trailer. And what a mix of horses. There was a pair, nearly identical, that reminded Grace so much of Petrichor.
Skye was quick to spot the foal.
There was an impressive bay. A dressage horse? A jumper perhaps? Mane and tail still braided.
Skye kept seeing hearts in the gathering clouds. And far in the distance, the first soft rumble of thunder.
What a very mixed herd! Exactly what they were, Grace had no idea. But she was fascinated by them. There was a very handsome pony in the mix. And another...a large pony or a small horse, Grace wasn't sure, but he was very active.
Grace watched the horses, and the clouds. Ever so often a restless breeze would lift. There was a 50% chance of thunderstorms, and after the last storm, which damaged nearly every power pole for a mile around, Grace wasn't going to take any chances.
Grace watched the horses looking for a hierarchy to emerge, but she wasn't really seeing any. Knowing who had leadership skills would be helpful in the event that the weather changed quickly.
Another rumble of distant thunder. They would lead the horses to their new stalls soon.
Skye greeted the momma mare, and she was calm and sweet. Her foal, on the other hand, seemed used to being the center of attention, and made sure Skye knew it.
The big silver horses were indeed calm and docile like geldings. Softly, Grace heard the thunder again. They would take the horses two at a time to their new stalls. No need to rush as long as they started now.
The new horses seemed to be attracting the attention of the locals. Instead of more thunder, a rainbow. Skye was surprised to see a bevy of quail...parents and their adolescent offspring...in a pine tree!
And so July came to a close, sweltering heat and thunderstorms, new additions to the growing herd at Redbird Ranch, and one of Grace's dreams come true, her first ride on La Barilla.
July 10, 2022, Angeles National Forest, Chilao
The girls went out pre-dawn to where Skye had seen Petrichor's band and the new, old black mare. They looked, and listened, but they found no horses.
They did see fascinating spider webs. They saw a young scrub jay learning to forage on its own.
They headed back to the ranch before the sun crested Yucca Peak. Grace wanted to work with La Barilla in the long rein rig while it was still relatively quiet.
They worked on turning. In a fashion. La Barilla a very smooth on his left turns, but he resisted going to the right. Instead of bending to the right, he basically side passed all the way around, 360 degrees. He was moving to the right...Grace just could not manage to get him to do it "normal."
"I think I am going to change his name" Grace said.
"Nascar. Like the racing series. Because with few exceptions, he only turns left."
All said, their second session was really quite successful. The stallion did what he was asked and appeared to enjoy working. It doesn't get much better than that.
While the girls worked horses, Gary Pickett's annual flint knapper's gathering had returned to Chilao School after a nearly three year absence due to COVID. The girls didn't know anything about paleo tool making, or rocks for that matter, but one of the knappers gifted them with a lovely slab of rock. It was thin, but still quite heavy. Grace was just fascinated by it. Skye had a million questions that Grace could not answer.
"I'm going to clean it off a little" Grace said in the fading evening light. "When you see it in the daylight it'll look even better."
Dawn was quiet, still and warm. Grace and Skye set off on foot. They were looking for Petrichor's band, and they had a hunch where they might find the horses. In the heat of summer, the horses seemed to prefer to be on the rock plateaus, where breezes were moe likely to find them, and insects were less numerous...until the sheer heat drove them to seek the shelter of trees.
Whiptail lizards seemed particularly numerous this year. The girls saw a healthy one as they made their way to Mustang Rock. They did not have long to wait this time. The black mare was still with the herd. And Petrichor was looking fit.
The pale mare caught wind of the girls. The bay lead mare paused. Petrichor halted, then moved toward Grace and Skye. The black mare moved closer, unafraid.
Petrichor got between his harem and his humans. He swished his tail vigorously, worked his lips and quivered his nostrils, conflicted. The black mare followed the other mares as they turned away from Grace and Skye.
A helicopter flew overhead. Grace watched the horses. There was no fear reaction. No one panicked. That told Grace some things about these horses. They had likely never been in a BLM helicopter round-up.
The girls kept advancing, slowly. They were able to get quite close.
Grace got a good look at the black mare. She was old, yes, and she did not look like a mustang, no. But she was also not showing ribs or a dramatically swayed back or prominent whithers.
Petrichor held ground between his horse and human harems. It was hot, and the sky was electric blue.
Skye watched the peacock appaloosa foal. It was calm like its mother, and such an unusual color.
"This is doable" Grace said softly. "We'll come back with a halter, or rope, or both. Maybe treats. I bet that mare will come right up to us."
"What about Petrichor?"
"I don't think he'll try to hurt us. He may not like it, but I don't think we need to be afraid. He's just barely wild. At least around us."
And so they left the wild ones to the wild land. For now.
They spent the heat of the day inside. Skye admired the slab of stone that gotten from the flint knappers.
"The rock is called Hartville Uplift, from Wyoming" Grace said.
"Did you polish it?"
"I washed it and rubbed it with lavender oil and sea salt scrub...because that's what I had. The stone will absorb the oil but at least for a little while the colors will show."
"Why is some of it so shiny and some so rough?"
"I don't know for sure. We'll have to ask the knapper that gave it to us...#wyopaleo.
Grace and Skye tidied up the tack room. It was too hot to ride.
"Do you think we'll ever get to go to Breyerfest?"
Grace thought for a bit before she responded.
"We'd have to figure out how to go with someone else. The boss can't go because too many dogs and other things to manage."
"Or NAN...do you think we'll ever get to show at the North American Nationals?"
"Well, we'd have to qualify some horses first, and any more it seems like we barely have enough time to ride them all. Anyway, don't worry, I'm sure the boss figured out how to bring back horses even though she isn't going. In a couple of weeks, we'll have a whole new bunch of horses to sort out."
"I'd put money on it."
The temperature had dropped to 89 degrees. Skye found Grace and La Barilla in the indoor arena, which was not much cooler.
"So now what?" Skye asked.
"He still doesn't turn right as good as he turns left, but I thought I'd try one more variation with the long reins. This is really the only thing we haven't done yet. I'm running out of ground work to do before I get on him."
"Are you nervous about riding him?"
"Maybe a little. I want to make sure everything goes smooth. I want to make sure he's ready. I don't want any surprises. Pretty soon though, I just need to do it."
In the evening, out in the vastness of dry ground and aging boulders, as the sun's light lost its grip on the land and faded into shadows, Petrichor's band began to stir.
The small herd was spread out across the landscape. The black mare was slow. She was also hard to rush, as Petrichor learned the hard way. She may have been slow at the walk, but her bite and kick were swift.
The bay lead mare pressed on. Time to choose a place to spend the evening.
At home, Grace caught up on the day's news.
"Oh, the boss forwarded us a message from Jennifer Bray Buxton."
Skye lit up. "What does it say?"
It says "I was reading the newest Grace and Skye story and I wanted to let Grace know that although Olive likely has been through a BLM helicopter round up, she has zero fears of planes or helicopters. She lives near an Air Force base, and there are low flying jets and helicopters on a daily basis. No problem."
"That is VERY interesting! You know what I think?"
"What do you think?"
"I think someone needs to sculpt Olive, in her full floating imitation Arabian trot. Like maybe Maggie Jenner Bennett. That's what I think."
"Are you sitting down Skye? A model horse...no, a Pegasus for crying out loud...sold for sixty five thousand dollars in the Breyerfest auction today."
Skye had no response. #
Chilao School hosts a number of art, healing arts and cultural events throughout the year, including an annual flintknapper's gathering and campout with Gary Pickett. In 2022 we met some wonderful new folks and we were gifted with some lovely arrowheads and that great piece of Hartville Uplift.
Maggie Jenner Bennett is the amazing sculptor of a number of horses in The Art of Grace including La Barilla, Crazy and Highlander. Petrichor is a Breyer model sculpted by Ravyn Maddock. The black mare is a customized Breyer by Corina Roberts. Grace and Skye themselves hail from Field of Dolls Studio, Anne Field.
And in real life, a model horse customized to a Pegasus sold at auction at Breyerfest for sixty five thousand dollars, shattering by more than double the most money that a model horse ever fetched ($24,000 for a one of a kind Alborozzo in 2020).
June 15, 2022
Skye pulled together an assortment of leather and quality rope. Making a bosal for La Barilla would be straight forward if she could find everything she needed. Grace's addition was a length of white cotton rope. She envisioned using a single length to make both "riding" reins and long reins.
When Skye made the original bosal for deer Medicine, she wet-wrapped it in the very same soft leather that she used now, but she then tied the leather on while it was wet. This head piece she wrapped by hand, tying it with a permanent bit of artificial sinew at either end. It seemed to work just as well. Before long, she had the basic structure completed.
If making the bosal went relatively smooth, then cutting the blanket was its terrible balance. The material was difficult to keep straight while she cut it, and fuzzy, and the two sides ended up not matching. She was a bit embarrassed about the saddle blanket. Especially as it was going under such a nice saddle and on such a lovely horse.
June 16, just before dawn in Chilao Creek
Highlander's mare made her way to the water, air still cool from the night. From across the shrinking oasis, Petrichor and his band made their way toward Highlander. It seemed they were often in the same pasture land, same watershed, same rocky ridge. The bay lead mare from Petrichor's band veered away from Highlander and his mare, leading her small herd to shore on the same stretch of sand, keeping as much polite distance as was available.
Highlander reacted to Petrichor's approach, plunging into the water toward him as the sun made its way into the morning sky.
As soon as the stallions were preoccupied with each other, Highlander's dun mare and Petrichor's bay exchanged greetings.
There was a lot of squealing and posturing among the stallions. But no calling for war. Here, there was water enough for eveyone this morning. No need to risk injury.
After a few moments, Petrichor and his band moved out of the watershed, leaving Highlander and the dun mare to enjoy the water.
All the while the hummingbird tried to drive all of the horses away from his water...but no one paid him much mind.
June 29, in the tack room
It was late, and Grace was tired, but she was almost done. She still had to fix the twisted hardware on the cinch, but once she did, this wild mix of tack would come together and Grace would be one step closer to the day when she would ride La Barilla. But wasn't going to work. Although Grace was getting adept at straightening metal keeps, all of the girths she had at her disposal were too large. La Barilla may have a substantial head, but he was not thick in the barrel. She needed a smaller cinch, and she did not have one.
Skye broke the contemplative silence, energetically pushing a lovely box across the tack room floor.
"This just got delivered" she said excitedly. "I already took the shipping paper off. I couldn't stand it. It's from Anne Field!"
"Ah. It's my new hat."
"In a box this big?"
Skye was completely enamored with the box. She didn't even see Grace put on her new hat.
"What do you think?"
Skye had never seen Grace in anything but a tall white hat. The kind the good guys wear in the old western movies. The kind you see in advertisements.
"It's black!" Skye didn't really know what to think. Grace in a black hat. A low black hat with a Spanish kind of feel. It was...it was so...
Grace took the hat off, placed in on a saddle stand.
"Okay, never mind the hat. Want to see what else is in the box?"
The box held some wonderful things by Field of Dolls Studio...two new bareback pads, pretty in pink.
"These are so nice. And now we have enough in case we ever have company!"
While Skye marveled at the workmanship and fell in love with the colors, Grace examined the girths carefully. They were small and well padded.
It would require another slight change in direction...the saddle's girth leather would need to be modified to fit the smaller buckles...but it would work. They'd have a long rein rig made of western, english and bareback elements, and the customized remains of a soft, cuddly poncho...but it would work. Finally.
Skye watched the moon slip silently down below the horizon.
"Are you going to take La Barilla to the arena in the morning?"
"Yes" Grace replied. "It won't be first thing in the morning...I'll let him have breakfast and then turn him out for a bit. But yes, tomorrow morning for sure."
Skye wanted to get out before sunrise and see what the recent thunderstorm had done to the land. There was flooding not far away, but they had none of that. At Redbird Ranch, there was thunder, lightning, and hail. Precious kept stopping, and Skye looked and listened, but she did not see or hear anything.
The terrain seemed even rougher than Skye remembered it. Was Precious stopping because the rocks were hurting her feet? Then Skye saw what might have been the reason.
Petrichor's band came into view. Petrichor looked fit. Skye did not recognize the black mare. She looked old. She was tall...quite a bit taller than all the other horses. She seemed to be getting along fine with the other horses. But there was something about her.
Skye watched her move. The rough ground was difficult for her. It had been difficult for Precious also. Precious was also older. But it was more than age. Skye made up her mind. This was not a mustang.
Petrichor watched Skye and Precious for several minutes. Then he moved his band away.
The sun burst over Yucca Ridge. From pre-dawn to brilliant daylight in an instant. Skye left the wild horses and headed excitedly for home. She had to find Grace.
Grace had La Barilla in his new rig. She had tied the stirrups up across his back to keep them from flapping around. Skye wanted to blurt out about what she had found, but she waited. Soon she was absorbed in the moment. Grace released the stirrups.
"You're just in time to hand me the bosal" she said, slipping off the halter.
The bosal had been fitted with a single length of rope that made both riding reins and long lines. The cotton rope was brand new and un-worked, and a bit stiff because of it. The texture of the fibers were soft, but it would take a little work to make them pliable.
Grace handed Skye back one of the long reins.
"Run it through the stirrup and go behind him with the rest of the length." Skye had seen the same long rein videos that Grace was watching. She knew what to do.
"Now set that rein on the ground and come pick up this one."
So far so good.
"Now if you want, take up both reins, and I'll lead, and you walk behind him. Just keep the long reins slack, but not touching the ground. If you don't feel comfortable, let me know and I'll take the reins."
"I'm good" Skye said calmly. She had not for a moment expected this. To have the reins. To be the one behind La Barilla in his first long line session.
Grace chatted away in a calm, no-bother kind of voice.
"I'll have to read the rules again. Minors under 18 are by law not allowed to ride stallions, and last I recall they cannot show a stallion in any discipline, including halter."
Grace and La Barilla made a turn. Skye maintained her position behind the horse, applying no pressure to the reins.
"So it's possible" Grace continued, "that for all intents and purposes, this here training session with you at the reins never happened."
"Okay" Skye responded. She was too focused for a long-winded response. And just for the moment, she had forgotten all about the black mare.
"Let's trade places." Skye took the lead now, walking with La Barilla, just in front of him and a bit to the side.
"How does he look Skye?"
"He looks very relaxed, really. I'd say the most relaxed I've ever seen him."
"Turn left, a little bit in front of him...he'll follow you."
Skye started her turn and as she did, Grace exerted the slightest pressure on the left long rein, and the stallion turned. They worked for just a few more minutes before Grace decided to end on a high note.
Ample praise closed out the lesson.
Home again, Skye told Grace about the old black mare. About how she was sure it wasn't a mustang, about wanting to catch her.
"How are we going to catch her?" Grace asked.
"The same way you caught Petrichor! Just walk right up and put a rope around her neck!"
Grace recalled catching Petrichor. It was a one in a million, once in a lifetime thing...and he could barely walk, which was the real reason he was catchable. That...and Grace wasn't so sure he'd always been wild. He'd been following them around for months before he went lame.
"If you approach him, I bet anything we can do it. It has to be you though. He's okay with me but...he loves you."
Skye marveled at the moon and the stars. The night was clear and the moon was just a few days from full, and so very bright, yet the stars were still visible. She thought about the black mare, out there somewhere. Skye would ride out again as soon as she could to find her.
June 4, 2022
Grace's guess was accurate. The boss had brought the shepherd pups to the Children of Many Colors Powwow, and they needed more or less constant attention. Skye took them for walks on the smooth, green grass, such a luxury, damp with moisture in the cool of dawn. They were in Oxnard, just a few blocks from the ocean. The air was laden with delicious moisture.
It was early Saturday morning, and still quiet. Many of the vendors had come in on Friday. Still more would set up this morning.
"Are you at least going to take your chaps off?" Skye teased.
""Maybe a little later. There's still chairs and trash cans to move."
Grace never did get a chance to take off her chaps and relax. The powwow demanded her full attention. It seemed there were endless tasks essential to the smooth flow of the gathering. But on Sunday, chaps still on, she joined Skye at the arena for several hours.
Throughout the weekend they'd seen a lot. Before Grand Entry on Saturday, while all the dancers watched and waited, three young grass dancers went out before them to prepare the dance arena. Skye was struck by how the adults were respectful of those youngsters, and waited while they did their job.
Once the powwow began it was often a riot of sound and color. Skye listened to the master of ceremonies as best as she could. There were many young people in the arena and everyone seemed friendly and relaxed. Eventually Skye mustered the courage to go out into the arena. There were a lot of women in the arena too. A large group of Chumash dancers...local native people...took part in the powwow.
Skye watched a thing called a Switch Dance...it was a fun dance, where women and girls danced in the regalia and the style of men, and vice versa...Skye watched a powwow princess become a chicken dancer, and she was good!
At the end of the day on Sunday, the boss took Skye around for the last few intertribal songs. They stopped for one song at a drum called Blue Star, and danced in place in front of Bear Springs, while other dancers interacted with the drum as they sang in a way that seemed personal and meaningful.
The drums and the singing and the dancing lingered inside of Skye. The powwow ended Suday evening, but Skye stretched it out a little, putting her dress back on and practicing her steps, drum beats etched into her head. In the tack room she found, Grace surrounded by new saddles and tack. Fiona Covert had donated western, english and saddle seat saddle and bridle sets, as well as other supplies. Grace was a bit overwhelmed by the generosity. Skye was a bit distracted by the sound of drums still in her head.
Skye went out before the sun was up, walking about, saying hello to the horses, and to the little iron pony. It was cute, even if it ws missing some things and needing some things.
She loved her dress. She didn't want to take it off. But she couldn't quite work out how she would ride in it. Mista Spot stood patiently, waiting for her to figure it out.
In the indoor arena, with La Barilla in a halter and a bareback pad, Grace was eager to see if the english saddle and bridle would work the way she had hoped.
Skye was busy trying to make her blanket double as a shawl, but it was bulky.
The bridle had a lot of moving parts. La Barilla looked a bit suspicious of it.
The saddle was less concerning. He was comfortable with the bareback pad now, and the saddle was small, light, and didn't squeak. He'd already had a western saddle on his back. Grace expected this to go smoothly.
The saddle fit neatly atop the bareback pad and the stirrups were run up high so as not to flap around. La Barilla took the addition of the saddle in stride. Grace asked him to move in a slow circle.
Skye walked around with La Barilla, admiring his beauty, admiring Grace's work with him.
Grace would need to do some improvising with Fiona's saddle. It needed a girth, and the one from Trail's End Studio would do nicely. She would also need long reins for the bridle, once she'd put it on him and made sure it would fit. For today, she decided to let the saddle be enough. She would put a bit in his mouth another time.
At home, Grace searched pictures of snaffle bridles and proper bitting.
"Are you wanting to make sure you put it on him right?"
"Yes I am" Grace replied. I've seen real simple snaffles used for training, but this is a full english bridle and cavasson, or at least I think that's what it's called. I'm not exactly sure how to adjust all of it. And I need to find a blanket too".
"Oh, I can help with that." Skye hurried off. She returned quickly, donning her home made riding hood.
"Remember this? I made it to go for a ride with you and Elecktra when I didn't have a jacket. There's plenty of material and it's real soft. I guess I could wear it now with my dress, huh? But it's okay. You can have it. I can make another one next winter if I need to."
Skye clambered slowly up the ladder to her bunk.
"Are you ever going to take that dress off?"
"Yes" Skye said. " I just wanted to see if I could climb the ladder in it."
The saddle portion of making the long rein rig was coming along fine. But as it turned out, the snaffle bridle did not fit La Barilla's big head. Grace briefly contemplated dismantling it, but it was such a nice bridle, and she fairly quickly abandoned that idea.
Grace watched La Barilla move at liberty. He would be beautiful under saddle. She wanted to make sure he had the best possible start. They would find another way to do a long rein rig. There had to be a simpler snaffle bridle around somewhere. Or perhaps a different headstall altogether.
Grace and Skye went for a ride as the day cooled. It was the first time Grace had let anyone ride Loch'sha, the appaloosa mare, whom she had started over a year ago. Skye sat her comfortably, and Loch'sha looked relaxed.
The dogs were alerted to something while the girls talked bridles. Soon the what would become evident as the loud yipping call of a coyote tore the warm forest silence apart. They collectively stopped and listened. Another call from another coyote. Then briefly, a chorus. Three coyotes...the third one with a gruff voice that sounded more like a dog trying to become a coyote. They were able to get an accurate conception of the location of the coyotes from the sound and it was in fact coming from where they suspected the coyotes had denned; not very far at all from the ranch and more or less right behind the fire station. And the sound of at least three coyotes meant one of two things...more coyotes than they really wanted, or at least one pup.
"I really really really want to see puppies" Skye said.
The commotion ceased and the forest fell silent again, except for the sound of campers in the meadow below.
"Me too" Grace said. "Let's go look for them tomorrow morning. Without the dogs."
They put the dogs inside, and in the last light of evening rode for a little while longer inside an arena. Grace was cooking up plans. Skye could tell. She had that far away look.
"See if she will respond to shifts in your body weight" Grace said. And so Skye released the bosal reins. Loch'sha thoughtfully worked with Skye's direction. Grace studied the bosal. It would work.
"Skye, can you make me a bosal to fit La Barilla? It will need to hold two sets of reins."
By the time Grace and Skye set out to find the coyote den, at least one of the coyotes was already in the campgrounds, making a lot of noise. They decided to follow the sound as the sun rose.
As they walked, it seemed like the coyote's call grew more distant, but it was a beautiful morning, so they kept on.
They went past the group camp, back into the cool shadows. They came to the creek crossing, and as they did, the coyote calls ceased. They were greeted by another territorial resident, the hummingbrid.
They walked the recently dry creek bed, cool and still surrounded by green grass. They walked until the came to water. And Crazy's band, having a morning drink.
The watering hole was popular with all forms of life. The girls ducked down, moving quietly toward a rock outcropping, seeking visual shelter.
Crazy seemed to have caught wind of something, or perhaps they had simply drank their fill, but he moved his band away shortly after the girls had arrived.
There was time enough for Grace and Skye to be certain that there was still only one foal in the herd. All the whie the hummingbird was busy. Chasing finches, chasing horses, posturing to show the girls whose homeland they were trespassing on.
The sun's rays were already warming the cool creek air.
Grace and Skye walked to the water's edge. The pool disappeared into the ground, but the water looked clean and smelled fresh. As long as there was water here, survival was possible for the wild thigs.
The walk back was long as the air warmed, but it had been worth it. Skye thought she saw something move as they neared the ranch.
Sure enough. The male coyote was there, in plain sight and daylight, perusing the land between the fire station and the ranch. He was alone. Completely distracted by insects. Blending seamlessly into the landscape at all times. They would have to go out again to look for the den. But not now. Perhaps they would try again in the evening.
The afternoon was warm, but in the dappled shade of the trees, Grace and Skye turned out some of the pony mares, foals and geldings. The only thing cuter than a pony is a baby pony.
Dinky was a little bit shy and stayed close to mom.
The little black pony was very flashy and fun to watch. As the afternoon progressed, the shade thinned. Grace brought out some stallions one at a time to let them stretch their legs.
Grace hadn't spent much time at all with the Arab that Skye nicknmaed Big Blue. For an Arabian he was very large, and she was entirely uncertain that they owned a headstall which would fit him.
This was the pup Yeller's first encounter with horses. He wasn't sure he needed many more of them.
They turned out the silver-grey Andalusian stallion, River. Gifted the the ranch by Laurel Dedes and as splendid as ever.
It seemed a long day. At last the cooling shadows began to engulf the land. Skye and Grace went back out, on foot and without dogs, in search of the coyote den. They were in the right place, and it was the right time.
They waited, and listened. Nothing.
The shadows deepened. The insects emerged.
Skye pointed her camera at rock formations in the failing light. They were in here somewhere. She examined her pictures, then went along the horizon and took more. She saw something that looked like perhaps a ground squirrel standing on top of a rock, acting as a sentinel.
And then she took a closer look at her picture. There it was. One lone coyote pup. Waiting for its parents to return with the evening meal. Already aware of Grace and Skye's presence. Already old enough to know its place in the world. The girls watched for a while, until shadows consumed the land and the pup hid itself among the boulders. A long day came to a wonderful close.
May 14, 2022
As the sun set and the air cooled, Grace and Skye ventured out to note the moon's position on the horizon. Spotting Skye, a pair of ravens came, ever hopeful for a handout. Tomorrow night, the moon would rise already involved in a total eclipse. Grace reckoned it would be like nothing they had ever seen, and she did not want to miss it.
The ravens continued to circle.
"I wish I could feed the birds" Skye lamented.
"I know. Maybe when these coyotes move off you can again."
"Do you think they'll move off?"
"Well...no. They'll always be close. But I think their den is really close this year."
The western sky still glowed with the sun's departure.
Grace went back out after the horses were put up to look at the moon. As she stepped out the door she saw something, close, moving in the near-darkness. It was the male coyote, disappearing at a quick trot into the night. The night time was theirs. The night, the forest, all of it. Once the sun went down it was a different world outside. And moreso lately than Grace recalled it being in the past.
May 15. Grace watched the pre-dawn clouds. She did not care for what she saw. There would be no rain from this. These were some real clouds mixed with what the boss called the "boney fingers", which she did not believe were natural clouds at all. Moments later, the dogs began barking. Graced turned and looked toward the north. Coyotes were drinking from Skye's little bird bath.
They blended so perfectly into the surroundings. But it was not thirst alone that drew them. They were hovering nearby, even after the sun rose. They were holding territory. Skye saw them also. She knew even the water for the birds would have to go.
"I'm sorry" Grace said. "Are you going to leave it empty or take it away?"
"I'm trying to think like a coyote. And so I think ... I think I will lead them away. I will put the water bowl somewhere else. I will fill it one more time. And then let it go dry."
Skye chose a spot where coyotes would be visible to anyone on the road. She walked the old bowl there, theoretically leaving a scent trail, theoretically saying "your offerings will be served here now." She did her best to think like a coyote. The dish only held one gallon of water, but hopefully that water would last long enough for the coyotes to become accustomed to going somewhere else to find it. Water dish relocated and refilled, Skye had an idea.
Skye brought in a big, clear plastic tub.
"We have a lot of these you know. What's the chance we could fill them with water and leave them around the forest for the wild critters?"
"We don't have any way to transport water. And that tub will hold a lot of water."
Meanwhile, out on Chilao Flat, horses gathered. In the sky, the clouds with their boney fingers would bring no rain.
The pale mare had taken the lead as Petrichor's small band headed for the watering holes atop Mustang Rock. The bay mare let her go.
The horses scrambled up the rocks to the pools. But the pools were dry. The pale mare snorted in alarm. Petrichor responded. It was Highlander. He had come with his single dun mare to look for water, just as Petrichor's band had.
Highlander squealed and snorted and postured. The mares saw their chance. The bay mare and the dun were known to each other. Perhaps they were related. They broke rank, each leaving the invisible boundary that separated one band from the other, coming together to greet each other.
Petrichor pawed and shook his head...but avoided actually engaging Highlander. There was no water, and so there was nothing to fight over. No reason to risk getting injured.
The clattering of the stallion's hooves broke up the mare's reunion. The bay mare began to move off, and her herd followed, Petrichor bringing up the rear.
Dusk, May 15. The sun's last glow colored the mountains.
"I don't know exactly where the moon is going to rise" Grace said, "but it will be somewhere in this general direction."
The eclipse was already under way so the full moon rose partly in shadow. The shadow came over the moon quickly. The totality phase lasted a long time. There was a hush that came with it. A primordial sort of silence that harkened to a time of omens and goddesses...and it was as dark as a night with no moon.
But when the shadow departed, the brilliant reflection of the moon quickly lit the night again.
Although the eclipse was over before midnight, something about it kept the girls up and chattering until the wee hours of morning, so it was not until noon that Grace took La Barilla for his inaugural spin with a saddle on May 16.
And he did do a little bit of spinning. The air was hot, and as they walked, the long way, to get to the arena, a dry, restless wind came in gusts. It was somehow unsettling. Skye lead the way, slow and calm, on Deer Medicine.
They reached the indoor arena without incident.
"Are you going to turn him loose?" Skye asked.
"No. For one thing, this is a really nice saddle. For another, the cinch isn't very snug. It's just snug enough to hold the saddle on under normal circumstances. If I turned him loose in something, it would be your bareback pad to start."
Grace hadn't really planned on making it all the way to the arena. But La Barilla was doing so well. You could see that he was thinking, concentrating, trying to work with the awkwardness of a thing on his back. He wasn't angry, or frustrated, or frightened. He was trying to work it out.
That horse is going to be fantastic under saddle, Skye thought.
May 20. Returning to Chilao in a wonderfully cool mist, the first thing the girls came upon was an irate coyote in the campgrounds. It was howling mad, vocalizing at a man with two large dogs and a lady in a truck who also had two large dogs. How dare campers bring dogs along with them into her territory, she seemed to be saying.
Chilao Fire Station came into view. Ah. Home again. Home always felt good. They found a note on the table, and flowers.
"I love popcorn flowers" Skye said. "I'll find something to put them in. What does the note say?"
A new pony.
Heart of steel
Stout and square.
She may need
You treat her
And so they looked, although they were not entirely sure for what. They looked south toward the campgrounds. They went up into the rocks to the northwest, and based on the greeting they got from coyote earlier, they went without the dogs.
Atop the yucca they saw Band-tailed pigeon, or as their neighbor Darren called them, mountain chickens.
They went into some of the still-blackened parts of the controlled burn. Surely anything there would leave a track, a trace. But they saw nothing.
They headed back toward home, as the fog and clouds moved silently across the landscape.
"We'll go out again tomorrow" Grace said.
"It's not an actual horse...the boss would never leave an old horse out there. Unless it was a sculpture. But a sculpture...a sculpture wouldn't take us places. I mean not literally."
"Right, right! Oh this is so exciting I can't stand it."
As night fell, the wild things took over the land. Even more than they were already doing while it was still light out.
May 21. It was high spring. Skye was mounted up and ready to go before Grace. Grace saddled up Jesse. It wasn't too long before Grace and Jesse caught up to Skye.
They searched along the outer perimeter of the property, and then beyond it. Redbird Ranch was just shy of 37 acres proper, and they'd covered a lot of it on foot yesterday.
They rode out onto Forest Service land. They were pretty sure they were looking for a vehicle. They split up, criss-crossing the burn area above the ranch.
They headed up into the rocks where they often saw Petrichor and his small band of mares and foals. But they saw nothing today. Not even coyotes.
They made their way back to the fire break, and headed home, empty handed.
There was only one part of the property they hadn't searched yet. The firebreak on the eastern flank of the property. Cheatgrass had made a sudden appearance, going to seed, drying out and becoming just so much light fuel in a matter of weeks. The soil was loose in some places and hard in others and there were holes big enough to trip a horse throughout.
Grace stared toward the setting sun. Where. Where was this "new pony" hiding?
Skye broke the poem down line by line.
"In the vastness of the land you will find her, it says. It says 'the land' not 'this land' so I think that could mean anywhere, not just right here on the ranch."
"I'm pretty sure we're looking for a car" Skye added.
"I hope not" Grace said. "We need a truck."
Skye set the note down. She had an audience, and they didn't much care about the piece of paper. It was dinner time.
May 22. The girls followed Skye's hunch about "the vastness of the land." They left the Redbird Ranch property and headed out onto USFS land. The first clues they found were potentially not encouraging. A scattering of vehicle parts, sun-faded and worn by time. And then the Jeep.
There were no campers, no drone pilots, no weekend warriors, no lost hikers around. They stared in silence. Finally Grace spoke.
"This must be it."
There was nothing but the sound of the breeze and the cooling air as the shadows grew long. They waited for a bit. Skye broke the silence.
Despite which, Skye seemed rather fond of it already. She slipped down off of Mista Spot, and circled the Jeep. It had four round tires. Seats. Steering wheel. It was dusty...but it was more or less a whole vehicle.
She fumbled around with the glove box and when it finally opened, she found a single key. It fit the ignition.
"Should I start it?"
"Sure" Grace responded.
It started. It didn't sound very powerful...but it started, and it kept running.
And it drove. A little weak, a little slowly, but it drove.
"Are there some things missing here?" Skye called back to Grace.
"Yes. There's a lot missing. The windshield. And the roof. I think most vehicles have some kind of roof. I think it might also be missing seat belts."
Skye had never driven anything before, but this was pretty simple. And slow. Still! She was driving!
And then she came to an abrupt halt.
"Shouldn't a jeep be able to go through a hole?"
"Well" Grace said, "I don't think this one has enough power to fight its way out of a paper bag."
The breeze swayed the flowers. All was silent except for the sound of the little Jeep. And then it too fell silent.
"Well, doggone it...it's cute! It's so little. Now what are we going to do?"
Grace stared silently for a few moments before answering.
"I have an idea."
Grace decided to try horse power...old fashioned single horse power...to bring home the Jeep.
Skye had never ridden two up before. She wasn't sure where to sit, and wound up more or less on the cantel.
"Do you think this is gonna work?"
"We'll know pretty soon" Grace answered.
It was working. The little Jeep started again, and it ran as best as it could. Skye learned how not to jab the brakes on the down hill portions, and Loch'sha learned when to lean into the rope, and little by little, they made their way back to the ranch.
That little Jeep may not have been worth much...but using Loch'sha to bring it home was priceless.
La Barilla moved more freely with the bareback pad. And no wonder. It didn't squeak, it had no flapping stirrups, it was light and soft.
Grace talked aloud. Skye wasn't sure if the words were meant for herself or the horse, but she wanted to listen. "This little bit of pressure from my hand, it doesn't bother you at all. Some day such a light touch will give you direction."
After a successful second saddle session with the golden stallion, the girls decided to bring some other horses to the arena.
Slowly but surely Grace was getting to like the indoor arena. The walk could be a bit challenging with the wind blowing, but it was worth it. Simba appeared to agree.
Valiant was one of the first horses Grace rode when she arrived and she had a special fondness for him.
"Moose!" Skye had a particular fondness for the big, gentle stallion...probably a Morgan/Paint mix.
Grace hadn't spent a lot of time with Indrafez. He was a very fine Arabian horse, with kind eyes.
Windy Boy was still one of her most beloved mounts.
(halter by Jennifer Buxton)
Horses put away and the sun moving swiftly toward the western horizon, Skye turned her attention to the upcoming weekend, and the powwow. Redbird's 20th Children of Many Colors Powwow was coming up. Michelle Sepiol's dresses would finally see the light of day again.
"I'm bringing the cloth ones for sure" Skye said.
"You might get a chance to wear both of them" Grace replied.
"I'm so...I'm a little intimidated by this one" Skye said, gently holding the white buckskin dress.
"Don't worry, the time will come for that one. Besides, the boss is bringing the shepherd pups along. I bet we'll get to babysit them."
Skye could just imagine what those two rambunctious rascals might do to a buckskin dress...a giant leather chew toy...she carefully put it back in her chest, and packed the cloth dresses, and the wonderful moccasins they came with.
April 30, 2022. It was upon them. MIM 2022, the Tiburcio Vasquez Challenge Chilao Live Halter Show. As members of the hosting entity, Redbird Ranch, Grace and Skye could not show any of their horses. They got to enjoy the show, the horses, and as the day wore on, the riding.
Guest's horses were turned out in the arena to the pleasure of the crowd. Grace took Jesse for a spin. He was focused and on task. She was keenly aware that the last time they'd had an event at the ranch was the time that she'd busted a cinch and taken a fall off of Jesse. She made certain the tack she put on him was sturdy and unlikely to fail.
Tara Reich was the artist behind the most exotic horse and hair cut Grace or Skye had ever seen. The horse appeared to be an Akhal Teke cross, lacking the iridescent glow but clipped to look like a Pegasus, wings folded down against his side. He was stunning. All of Tara's horses were crowd pleasers, beautiful, spirited and interacting with a great deal of personality.
Horses at liberty occupied the arena in the morning. Later in the day, performance horses dominated.
Grace and Skye got to spend a little time with Dahlia. She was quick witted. You had to pay attention when she spoke, because her words were few and well chosen.
Grace got to ride a reining horse, one of Tara's. Dahlia suggested she hold the reins like a butterfly and use only her body weight to offer cues.
Skye fell in love with an aged Lipizzan mare (owned by Janice Kall).
Dahlia saddled up the fiery winged steed on May 1, Sunday morning. The show was over and there was time to for riding.
Skye brought Dani Girl down just so she could ride too. One of the judges was still there on Sunday. He yelled something to Skye about minors and head gear. Skye was used to his yelling. Dani Girl not so much.
Skye didn't actually own a helmet, but Tara loaned her a hat. It got mixed reviews. The guy they called Screaming Man seemed pretty pleased with it, even if the judge wasn't.
Grace got to ride another pretty incredible horse, owned by Julia Turner. He was fast, unusually marked, incredibly responsive and versatile. Poles, barrels, reining...this was a fine tuned horse.
Around noon, as the day warmed, it was just too nice to ride in the indoor arena any more. Dahlia, Grace and Skye rode to the outdoor arena. There, Dani Girl got her first glimpse at young cattle, and she seemed quite at ease with them.
Grace got to do some more riding on Tara Reich's reiner.
Dahlia looked relaxed no matter what was happening beneath the saddle.
Grace turned down no opportunities to ride. Tara and Julia had some very fine horses. Finally, the day's heat chased the girls back to the arena, where it was time to say goodbye to their guests. The girls returned home tired, but smiling and full of good memories.
It had been a long but really fun weekend.
"Did you sell anything Skye?"
"Oh! No, I didn't. I had kind of forgotten all about it. I was having so much fun."
May 9. Grace and Skye rode out as the sun was cresting the ridge. They hadn't seen any wild horses in some time, and Grace had a hunch she knew why.
They rode across the strange Chilao monolithes, with its highways of flat stone. The stone's face was full of life, with colorful lichens and lizards emerging from crevices. They rode slow and easy over the rocks.
Deer Medicine was calm and sure footed. Dreamboat picked his foot falls carefully. His steps were deliberate and measured.
The sun was just about to crest the ridge. Soon the night's cool air would be chased away. They came to the place Skye called Mustang Rock just as the sun arrived.
And as Grace suspected, there was no water. Not even a trace in the pools at the summit. There was life though, to be sure. And the sun felt wonderful after a rather cool pre-dawn ride.
Dreamboat stepped carefully around the edge of one of the dry pools. Skye rode into one of them. No local water, no local wild horses. Mystery solved, they headed back to the ranch.
They changed horses and went back out to the big outdoor arena. From the north the girls watched the sky, with its weird tendrils of white drawing upward. Mare's tails, Michelle Seipol called them. Grace has less kind terms to describe the things she did not believe were natural clouds. Boney fingers*, she'd heard the boss call them once, and she liked the description.
From the south, beautiful, natural clouds began to spill across the sky.
Grace and Cookie brought the rather diminutive range calves in for inspection. They'd been brought up for MIM, but before they were turned out again, Grace couldn't resist working them a little.
"I remember one of the first times I saw you ride" Skye recalled. "You got on Cookie with a neck rein. And nothing else. You made it look like you were born on a horse."
"I was showing off" Grace laughed. "I wanted the job. And Cookie is that good."
"You work with them a little" Grace suggested to Skye.
Mista Spot did whatever Skye asked. And he seemed to understand the idea of holding the cattle in an area. But he wasn't as young or as athletic as Cookie.
Grace decided to put Skye on Cookie. Skye did not hesitate.
"Which one should I choose?"
Cookie was quick! With very little direction, Cookie singled out the blondie.
Skye had a natural seat. Even though her feet did not reach the stirrups, she quickly figured out how to sit Cookie. When they took a break, Grace left Skye watching the horses for a few moments. She had a surprise, she said.
Skye took in the sights as she waited for Grace. The northern sky turned white. The southern sky still lovely. The lizards and insects. The flowers emerging from the parched soil.
Grace had a surprise all right. She came back with Mojo, and the Argentine Criollo bull. Cat and bull followed her. She lead the bull into the arena without a lead rope...using only a tuxedo cat.
And then she stood there in front of him. And nothing happened. Even Cookie and Spot looked a little concerned.
"I talked to his previous owners" Grace called over her shoulder as she walked away from the cat and the bull, and Mojo followed, and the bull started to follow too.
"His name is Toro Toro Taxi."
Skye clung to the fence, regardless.
"And he's been handled since he was just a little baby. We've been scared of him for no good reason."
Skye came down off the fence. All that snorting and pawing and those deadly horns...were, according to Grace, nothing to fear. And she was willing to prove it by turning her back to him.
In the sky, the things Grace called boney fingers descended toward the clouds. And the girls watched the sky, and marveled too at spring emerging in the ground.
They heard the cry of a red-tailed hawk and saw it streak across the sky, landing about half a mile away, and then as quickly as it landed, lunging down toward the ground.
It was so far away, they could barely see it, but still, it was exciting. Skye had stopped feeding the birds because every time she did, coyotes came out to see what the fuss was about. The birds reluctantly got the memo, but every now and then, thy still followed her around, vocalizing.
For a time in the afternoon the clouds piled across the sky. Real clouds. Moisture bearing clouds. The girls watched the ever-changing sky. They felt the breeze and drank in the moment. They hoped. The wished. They prayed for rain.
April 1, 2022. The girls saw a lone coyote on their way home. It moved through the brush at dusk, melting into the surroundings, blending into brush and rocky ground, but never giving much quarter. It moved off slowly, like it meant to anyway, like the girls and their barking dogs did not matter. Skye had to watch which way the dogs were looking to see it some of the time...when it held still, it became part of the landscape. She pointed the camera and just kept shooting.
"We caught him shape shifting" Skye said, reviewing her images. "His fur looks purple and green." Grace looked carefully at the image. He really did look purple and green. Was it a he though? Grace thought she recalled the local male coyote being a bit more robust.
At the house, The dogs were restless, on high alert. Skye searched for movement on the landscape. But soon the cause for their concern become audible. Coyote was not entirely alone. The call of two coyotes could be heard just at sunset. And then the calling stopped abruptly, leaving just the songs of bird against the silence.
April 4. It was time to chose the horses for Breyerfest.*
They would not be going to Kentucky Horse Park, but they would be participating in the online show, which was likely going to be bigger, and the competition just as tough.
The mares and geldings they'd turned out were all strong candidates. It was a beautiful day, and you could not help but to feel alive in the presence of the horses.
It was cool inside the indoor arena, not nearly as nice as being out in the sunshine, but Grace had a surprise for Skye. The sponsor banners were all up. Including Skye's logo for Models In The Mountains, affectionately known as MIM.**
"Wow, you liked it enough to put it on the wall!"
Grace had taken a version of Skye's Models in the Mountains logo and made it into a poster for the arena. In fact, it appeared several times on the arena wall.
April 8. Suddenly it was spring. Popcorn flower covered vast tracts of the landscape. It was wonderful to walk among native plants in the wake of the controlled burn. Acres of them. Flowering glorious despite a very dry winter and not much hope for a wet spring.
Before Skye could spend much time in the flowers, Grace was on the hunt for wild horses again. The girls went on foot, and soon, they pressed themselves down to the earth, exposed on the fire-opened pasture land, hoping not to startle the horses.
They could hear them coming. They didn't have to wait long. It was Storm and Rain Man.*** The bachelor stallions looked for all the world like they were at war. But they were always together. Together and alone, without mares. And without mares, there was no reason for war. Just endless bickering and posturing and the occasional bite. Storm seemed to be emerging as the more aggressive of the two.
The swirling and squealing lasted but a few moments before both horses dropped to the ground and enjoyed some fresh grazing. And in a few more moments, they were off, as abruptly as they had arrived.
Skye and Grace saw something moving in front of them as they headed for home. Coyote.
Coyote trotted away, and then, presumably curious, took a seat on a rock outcropping, and watched, calmly, as the girls made their way home. Skye had more time to take pictures. She was pretty sure this was in fact the male that the boss named Lives Among Them. He would be three or four years old, and if the average life span of a coyote in the wild really was four years, that would make him an elder.
There was a sense of peace about the evening. For a moment, all was right in the world.
April 10. A marine layer tumbled quietly up the mountain, bringing moist, cool air. Grace and Skye were still working on the outdoor arena when the cool clouds ushered in the night.
It had taken most of the day, but the outdoor arena was ready, except for fencing. Keeping a nice soft layer of sand was a constant struggle in such a windy place.
"I think it looks fantastic" Skye said. "Do you think we'll be able to get some horses photographed tomorrow morning?"
Grace thought for a while before answering.
The marine layer was welcome, though it had an odd smell...oceanic, yes, but also sort of musty. It was a scent Grace couldn't quite describe. Together they watched the sun set, overlooking the Station Fire burn footprint in Chilao, below Mooney Road.
"I don't have to ask" Skye said. "I can clearly see the things that are not clouds. But the marine layer coming in underneath it is real."
Even before dark the owls were calling. Skye tried to get pictures, but as soon as she did, they flew away.
April 11. The morning weather was nothing short of perfect.
The girls worked quickly, while the sky was clear and the wind was calm. Glamour shots, Grace liked to call them. They turned one horse after another out in the big outdoor arena, and did their best to get award-winning photos of them. It was approaching 9 AM by the time all of the horses had been turned out individually.
"Can we do Spot?" Skye asked.
"Of course we can."
Skye borught her beloved old appaloosa gelding out into the pen. He stood, attentive, ready to do whatever Skye asked of him. "There's your champion" Skye beamed.
Horses returned to their stalls, Grace and Skye were admiring a fast growing yucca flower.
It seemed like spring was reaching a fever pitch in the last week, and this yucca, located in the controlled burn area, was especially eager to flower.
Three short, loud blasts of sound came from a raven, flying fast from east to west. Raven calls are never random. The girls watched the bird, and then turned their attention to their surroundings on the ground. When their eyes rested upon the earth Grace and Skye saw the coyote.
"I think that's the female" Grace said.
She sauntered up the road, looking tired, and rather round. The girls tried to see if they could detect whether or not she'd had her pups already. They couldn't see any evidence that she was lactating, and her belly looked round but not distended with pregnancy. If she was going to pup, and hadn't already, it should happen any day now.
And a few moments later, flanking the ranch along its eastern boundary, the male, Lives Among Them.
The coyotes weren't the only ones stirring. The hills were alive with the sound of music...bird music. And Skye's generous feeding had drawn the entire local population of band tailed pigeons, ravens, a red-headed bird that was not a sparrow but she wasn't sure what it was; the occasional robin, black birds, and a most unusual visitor, a Stellar Jay. Stellar Jays were a common sight down the road a piece, in the thick of the tree line, but not here on the high desert transition of Redbird Ranch. And rodents. Bird food was not the exclusive joy of the birds. Ground squirrels and chipmunks relished in the feast. They in turn would make good food for hawks, bobcats, and the rather close neighbors, the coyotes.
"I suspect the coyotes are denning in or near the old forest service buildings" Grace said. "Once the pups are on the ground they'll be more protective of their territory. We should probably avoid the area in general with the dogs."
Two coyotes didn't seem like much, Skye thought, but soon enough there'd be more than two.
Outside, as predicted, the weather changed. The marine layer returned, cool and thick, cloud shadows laying on the landscape, and then the cool hush of moist air blanketing the ground.
April 16. It was another lovely, windstill morning. Perfect for photographing horses. Relempago en la Pampa was the name of this one of the buckskin pinto Mangalarga Marchador.
"This is the first horse I rode when I got here" Grace told Skye. "He was very good to me. I had to ride him bareback, and I had no idea how to sit his gaits, but I got to stay on with the ranch, so I guess we did okay."
Then the latest draft mare, a Brabant Grace thought. She was so lovely, and so good natured.
Black Velvet, A Tennessee Walking Horse, still moving strong. One of the oldest horses Grace knew of.
And then Ansata D'hib. Probably the tallest Arab Grace had ever encountered...but then, she wasn't really well versed in Arabians. D'hib had been through a bit of an ordeal, getting lost on his way to the ranch and then, when he finally arrived, bearing the scars of whatever misfortune befell him in transit. She wasn't sure why she liked him so much...but she did.
Next, Precious, Skye's beloved 1996 Thomas Bainbridge mare, gifted to Redbird Ranch by Laurel Dedes.
There had been no coyote sitings all morning, and the girls were thus emboldened to go for a walk-about, beyond the arena, into the boulder-strewn landscape that surrounded them, now open and accessible since the controlled burn.
Skye thought one of the rocks looked something like a male grouse, or a prairie chicken. And the girls had company. Nine dogs and Mojo.
The air was cool but the sun was warm, and real clouds danced across the sky.
From their vantage point atop the rocks, perhaps they could see horses. The dogs all knew what stay meant. Mojo might have known what stay meant, but clearly, commands are for dogs.
Alas, there were no wild horses to see.
They headed home across a vast and mostly flat rock escarpment, with a couple of crevices. Too wide for the pups to navigate, and risky for the elders. So they were lifted across.
New growth sprouted and gleamed green in the controlled burn area.
The ground was alive with lizards, and the dogs were very happy to chase them about. Miner's lettuce grew among the grass. Birds were everywhere.
April 23. Evening shadows grew long. Grace and Skye had worked on preparations for Models in the Mountains all day. Grace didn't have the energy to saddle a horse. They took Shades of Autumn for a short walk, to overlook the campgrounds and watch the sun set.
"Did you hear that?" Skye said.
Grace strained to hear whatever sound had caught Skye's attention, assuming it must be an animal noise. She scanned the bluff, looked under the trees, watched for movement. Nothing.
"What do you hear?" Grace finally asked.
"I don't know all the words" Skye said.
"Can you sing the melody?"
"I...I don't know."
Skye did her best.
"She was like oh my God, this is my song, I been waitin' to hear it all day long..."
Grace could faintly hear it.
"I didn't know you liked Country" Grace whispered.
"Neither did I!"
April 25. The indoor arena was done. For now at least. The girls celebrated with a turn-out of mares, geldings and a foal.
Chili Pepto, a roan quarter horse gelding with live show wins. Summer Lover, a palomino Morab with Arabian on both sides. The new Fjord show pony. Boots, a roan quarter horse mare with beautiful moves and a great personality. JM's Fabulous Flash, a seal bay morgan gelding, took a liking to the new pony girl. Pretender and Impressive Goal, the sport horse mare and foal. The Grail, a palomino sabino anglo-barb mare distantly related to Skye's Deer Medicine. What a beautiful bunch of horses.
It was the last chance the girls would have to use the indoor arena as a turn-out ring. In just a few days, Models in the Mountains 2022, the Tiburcio Vasquez Challenge Chilao would be upon them; a live halter show hosted by Redbird Ranch.
* Unfortunately, the Breyerfest online shows would not include a regular open division in 2022. But there was always The Collective, a horse show series on PonyBytes.com spearheaded by Redbird Ranch. They could show in any division that they were not also judging.
** MIM - Models In The Mountains is a North American Nationals, Gold Coast and Western Conference live halter qualifier show held at Chilao School. The next show will take place April 28-30, 2023.
*** Storm and Rain Man are Nemesis and Wahoo, traditional scale resins sculpted by Kitty Cantrell and painted by Corina Roberts
Hi, my name is Corina, the official story teller for Grace and Skye. Grace owes her beauty, style and charm to Anne Field, Field of Dolls Studio. Skye does too, for that matter, as Anne fostered her for a while, giving Skye a complete makeover in the process. The horses, dogs, cats, saddles, bridles, furniture and so forth are the work of many artists. I'll do my best to acknowledge them as we go from day to day.
This is the ongoing, unfolding story of grace little, manager of redbird ranch, and her little sister, Skye