Big Cats, Big Winds and Big HorsesRead Now
November 21, 2022
Skye stared at the glossy new Breyer with his incredible detail and lovely dappling. A very nice little horse.
"He's tippy" Grace said. "I'll bring him back up to the main house soon, before the cat knocks him down."
Grace's face twisted a bit as she read through her emails before walking out the door.
"The boss sent us a link. A mountain lion killed a dog on a leash in the Hollywood Hills. They think it's the Griffith Park cat, P-22."
"Poor dog! But weren't we just talking about that? Couple weeks ago when it was walking through neighborhoods? Matter of time before something happened?"
"Yeah we were" Grace replied.
"In other news" Grace continued, "it looks like the boss found a home for the bullies."
"But they're good dogs..."
Skye was a bit conflicted about them leaving. she wasn't sure how they came about...where they came from or who owned them first, but for as love as Skye could remember, the were part of the family.
"Well, we do have ten dogs" Grace responded.
Skye fell silent for a few moments.
When she spoke again it was about the mountain lion.
"I want to talk about this mountain lion thing."
"Talk or write?" Grace asked.
"Write" Skye said. "I want to write an article or story about what's going on, about how habituation and the lack of deer cause these behaviors."
"What about doing a blog post on the Redbird website? I bet the boss would let you."
Grace reached for her hat, then decided to leave it behind. It was early, they were only turning out a few horses, and she'd likely be fine without it.
Grace ws wrong about the hat. It was nearly two hours later before they were able to turn out horses. With the recent rains had come fierce winds, throwing down the fence, blowing away the fine, soft sand that made up the arena footing. The girls picked up fencing and kicked rocks all morning in an effort to get the arena useable again. Grace still didn't like it. She could hear the horses' hooves striking rocks every now and then.
There were some surprises in the arena for Skye to feast her eyes upon. A pair of mares the boss had been hoping to get for a very long time. And a mule - a jack Grace thought it was, that she ws pretty sure Skye hadn't seen before.
Cassie Cotto-Thorner Black was his breeder, so the boss had named him Black Jack. Grace had never ridden a mule. She was intrigued with this one.
Then there was the shagya arab mare. She was big, and lovely. Skye was more or less immediately in love with the older pinto mares. They were nearly identical.
The sound of rocks against the horses' hooves was uncomfortable for Grace. There was nothing she could do to fix it. They were out of sand, and even if they had more sand, it would have to be spread, and thick...there was nothing but hard dirt and rocks left after this last wind. They would take the rest of the horses to the indoor arena.
In the thick, fine golden sand of the arena, Grace turned out Scottish Magpie, her mane done up in ribbons. She was a mover and a looker.
And then Cloud Nine. probably one of the rarest bloodlines in the boss's herd, a Thoroughbred and Spanish Barb cross. Although looking at him, you couldn't see much but Thoroughbred.
"He's so tall I get a neck ache trying to look at him" Grace said.
And finally, Windy Boy. Grace had spent a lot of time with him when she first came on board. Watching him, she promised herself she'd be on him again soon.
November 14, 2022 Chilao
The domestic horses had tipped Grace and Skye off to the presence of the wild equines. The girls could tell that something was out there, and it wasn't something to be afraid of. They went as fast as their legs would carry them in the direction that the stabled horses were gazing and whinnying toward. Skye had never seen Grace move so quick or nimble over the rocks.
"That hat must give you super powers" Skye whispered. "I can barely keep up with you!"
"I'm going to spend the next week picking coat fuzz off of it" Grace whispered back. "But I have to stay in front of you this time."
"Just in case horses aren't color-blind. That's the reddest red sweater I've ever seen in my life."
Skye tried to giggle quietly.
The sun's light rolled out across the landscape. Grace and Skye moved in and out of morning shadows, clamoring over boulders and scrambling up rock outcroppings.
When they paused for a moment, they could hear the muffled sound of hooves on rock.
Petrichor caught their scent. The mares paused. They could also smell a human presence in the cool morning air.
Petrichor doubled back, leaving his herd on the other side of an escarpment, making his way down a short and narrow draw.
Grace was thrilled. And nervous. They would emerge at the bottom of that draw. And Petrichor would hold the higher ground.
And then there was another sound. One Grace never liked to hear around the wild horses. A helicopter. Flying directly toward them and then, directly overhead.
"It's okay" Skye whispered. "They aren't coming for the horses. It's not that kind of helicopter."
The helicopters made Skye uneasy too. Too many people talking about the horses...it could be bad. But Grace needed to stay focused on the stallion right now.
Grace took a deep breath, centered herself, and stepped forward, out from behind the shelter of the rock outcropping, into view.
The mares and their foals waited, restless but not afraid.
Petrichor paused. A second helicopter flew almost directly over them. Skye glanced up. "It's going to the fire station" she whispered. "I think it's a sky crane. Probably contractors for Edison."
The helicopter circled, then landed at the fire station.
Skye paused. Just in case the red sweater wasn't to Petrichor's liking. And then, in a few bold strides, Petrichor was upon them.
Grace couldn't think of any words to say to the big feral stallion.
There was still a wall of stone separating them, but Grace was in a vulnerable position. Petrichor's body language lacked aggression. He danced, but he did not strike. His ears moved in every direction. His breathing was deep but not loud; Grace took a deep breath and then exhaled, and he did the same to her, and they repeated this ritual several times, Petrichor knowing whatever a horse knows from the scent of another being, and Grace knowing the warm delight of his breath. She could feel its warm moisture as he reached his muzzle toward her hand.
And then he took a few steps back, and spun around, returning to his herd.
Petrichor and his band moved off, the bay mare in the lead.
Grace and Skye walked back to the ranch. Keeping up with Grace was easy now. The soil, having received both rain and snow, and freezing overnight where the surface still held moisture, read like a book.
"Come to the indoor arena with me" Grace said after a long spell of blissful silence.
"Okay" Skye replied, wondering what, if anything, could top the adventure they just had.
Inside the arena, Skye stood, speechless, in front of what might have been the most amazing equine art she had ever seen.
They were limited edition prints by the equine artist Sacha Phariss. Grace was saying something. Skye was having a hard time listening.
"I think this one might be my favorite" Grace said. "One of my favorites, anyway."
Grace kept talking. Skye did her best to listen. Something about twelve or fourteen prints, and having them on display for Models in the Mountains 2023, at the end of April, and hanging them being a challenge because linseed oil on wood paneling.
Skye could not speak.
And then she saw Little Spot. He was staring at a beautiful spotted horse as if seeing his own reflection for the first time.
Skye giggled. "I know how you feel!"
We take a moment in the final two images to congratulate Skye on her first sale, the arabian mare Padronis, her 2022 NaMoPaiMo horse. To find the amazing art of Sacha Phariss, visit https://www.pharisshorses.com
Pretty in PinkRead Now
November 6, 2022
Grace worked on her resin mustang stallion in the tack room, where there was plenty of room and good light. Puddle Jumper had turned a corner.
"I've got to fix two spots on his hooves" she said as Skye examined her work. Finally, she was starting to like him.
Across the room, a big, bright box lay waiting. It had Christmas design on the lid, but no tags, no ribbons...just the box.
"What's this?" Skye couldn't wait for an answer.
"Can I open it?"
"Sure, go ahead. It's from the boss."
Thank goodness they didn't have to wait until Christmas, Skye thought. The box opened easily, to an overwhelming mass of pink.
"Oooooooohhh...somebody got a blanket set with leg wraps!"
Grace moved in for a closer look.
"Who are they for?"
"La Barilla" Grace replied. "Why hot pink, I'm not really sure, but the color combination is gorgeous."
"Wow that's pretty."
Grace pulled the blanket from the box. It kept coming and coming out of the box, one fold of fabric after another.
"It's huge" Grace said. "It's way too big for La Barilla. But it's awful nice."
"The boss is awful good to us" Skye mused. Do you think she sort of feels like we're family? She doesn't have any kids, does she?"
Grace started to say no. She thought the boss was just...well, generously eccentric. After all, the boss owned the horses...the ranch...so the blanket was a "gift" of sorts, yes, but...that wasn't the answer Skye was looking for. Skye was always trying to pull together a sense of family. Grace thought for a moment.
"I don't know" Grace answered.
"I mean, maybe. She is pretty good to us."
Monday morning dawned gloomy and damp. A light mist found its way to the ground and the morning came slow.
"Remember when Elecktra came to visit?" Skye said. "That was fun. You think she could come out again some time?"
Grace remembered. It was a lot of fun having Elecktra stay with them.
"I'll see if Anne will let her come out and visit for a while."
The girls opted to use the indoor arena to see how La Barilla liked his new digs. La Barilla stood still while Grace wrapped the shipping boots on his front legs.
"I think I should have gone the other way" Grace said, "attaching them on the outside. But I don't want to take them off and start over."
Walking with shipping boots on was another matter. His already highly animated movements because even moreso with these foreign objects wrapped about his legs.
After a few minutes he settled down a little bit, but Grace decided two boots were enough for one morning. As for the blanket, it was, predictably, much too big for him.
Grace and Skye were so focused on La Barilla that they didn't see the boss.
"He does look sharp in those colors" she said. "Too bad the blanket doesn't fit him. He's really not very big, is he?"
"Not really" Grace said. "He's got huge presence though."
"I know who that blanket would fit" Skye said innocently.
Grace thought about it for a moment.
"The black mare?"
"Go ahead and try it on her" the boss said.
The girls walked La Barilla back to his stall, light mist swirling on a gentle, not-too-cold breeze.
The black mare looked pretty in pink. And the blanket fit her giant frame perfectly. She followed Skye, no lead line needed.
"Well," said the boss, "looks like that blanket found a home."
And Skye gathered, though she didn't have the nerve to ask, that if the pretty pink blanket found a home on the black mare, that old black mare had probably found a home here.
And finally, in the afternoon, the tail end of the storm made its way up the mountain, and the gentle mist turned into a gentle rain.
The Time of Magic LightRead Now
October 10, 2022
Grace stared long and hard at the horse she called Puddle Jumper. It was her first attempt at a pinto in acrylic paint, and she wasn't satisfied with him. She was not convinced she could fix him, but she had made up her mind. She was going to try.
"I'm going to re-do him. In colored pencil."
Skye was having a hard time listening. She was mesmerized by the rainbows. They came from the window decals that were supposed to deter birds from hitting the window. They filled the room with rainbows in the late afternoon. It made an already magical space even more enchanted.
Grace had been wanting to hike down to a portion of Chilao Creek that usually had water when the rest of the creek was dry. The weather was lovely and the autumn light equally beautiful. The girls took a different route than they would have on horseback, and it proved to be slow going, but it was nice to see bits of the forest they had never seen before. Rock formations that looked like easy chairs and a glow to the light that brought everything to life.
Skye was fascinated with the tree rings.
"This was not a very big tree for all of those rings" she remarked. "Somehow I thought a tree with this many rings would have been much bigger."
"Good point." Grace had more questions than answers as she looked at the stump. She started counting the rings. There were many. And they would never get to where she was trying to go if she started counting tree rings.
After climbing over half a dozen tree trunks and navigating the dry creek bed for about a hundred yards, the girls emerged in familiar territory...except it looked so different. It was covered in plants, not water.
Frequent thunder showers had moistened the soil. Theirs were the first tracks on the wide sand bank. Grace could see no sign of water.
"Let's go a little farther."
They did in fact find water. And there were birds flying about. But there were no tracks of any kind leading to the water. Perhaps because there had been a light rain last night. Or perhaps because these tiny pools were no longer viable water sources.
On the return trip, they took a familiar path, past the giant oak and up a steep incline.
"I bet we have a nice sunset tonight" Skye said.
"I think you might be right."
"Do you like him better?" Skye asked. Grace was staring at Puddle Jumper again. She had begun the colored pencil re-creation.
"I think so. I've just done part of his side so far. I mean, no doubt, this is better. Now I've got all these white pencil flakes in the brown areas. And then I slip with the pencils sometimes. It's kind of hard. But I don't want to wrap him up and abandon him at the Goodwill store any more."
Skye was shocked to hear her talk about the piece that way. There were more things right about it than Grace was giving herself credit for.
"No! Just keep swimming. You'll save him. I know you will."
Skye shifted the conversation to another piece of artwork. "I wish I could paint like this" Skye said, admiring the Little Bucker sculpture by Rayvin Maddock, painted by Meredith Warren.
"You can" Grace said. "You paint a couple hundred horses and stay focused and keep learning new techniques, and you'll get real good. You'll be unique; your work won't look just exactly the same as anyone else's, but you'll get good to where you'll look at your own art and have a sense of satisfaction and pride."
As the words rolled so easily off her tongue towards Skye, Grace realized the same advice applied for her own work. Puddle Jumper was only her fourth piece, and the first one to give her real problems. She needed to embrace her own advice, and be gentle and courageous in her work.
A cloud layer cam in the afternoon, on the heels of a brief wind.
Predictably, the boss had asked the girls, when they had a chance, if they could track down some of their beloved wild horses and get good pictures of them. She even had a list. It was mostly mares and foals. But whether it was hunting season, or lack of water, noisy campers, predators or something else, the wild horses had been scarce for weeks now.
Skye watched a pair of ravens, flying about excitedly. But not because of her. They were preoccupied with something else. She just couldn't tell what.
Even if by some miracle they found horses, this was not great weather for anything but artistic photos.
The wind picked up again, ushering in the cool, damp air. Just cool enough to make Grace wish she owned a sweatshirt.
Skye welcomed the change of seasons. Autumn felt very alive to her.
Skye pretended she was still sound asleep as Grace prepared to go down to the indoor arena. Once Grace was well on her way, Skye struggled with the chunk of stone and other nicnacs, setting them aside so she could open her pine chest.
The thing was almost as heavy as that chunk of stone. The boss had shown it to her. It was a horse head, painted on metal with enamel, and it looked an awful lot like Petrichor. The boss suggested that she buy it for Skye to give to Grace, perhaps for Christmas. Skye really couldn't refuse. And she loved the piece.
It was very different from everything else they had, but Skye was pretty sure Grace would love it.
Skye put everything back, and headed to the arena. There were new horses to behold.
The boss was there taking pictures and Grace was handling. As best as Skye could figure, they'd acquired a real circus horse.
"He's not quite a circus horse" the boss said. "He performed for a number of years at a dinner theatre. Something like Medieval Times. He came with all of his finery."
Grace and Skye removed his finery. Skye couldn't resist but to try on the head dress.
"This is so heavy! Why is it so heavy if it's made out of feathers?"
"Now there's a costume" Grace said, laughing.
Underneath all the trappings was a lovely horse, with a smooth way of going and a kind eye.
The next horse was a show stopper. A gloriously colored standardbred trotter. The arena was barely big enough for the kind of speed this horse delivered.
The third pair of new horses were as different as different could be from the previous two. A substantial pony mare. And her incredibly cute foal.
Skye swung herself up onto the mare's back.
"She has high withers and a very short back, but she's not little" Skye noted. "She really feels like a...like a short horse. I can't get over how cute this baby is! I just want to squeeze her!"
Grace brought La Barilla down, but just to turn him loose. She hadn't ridden him in over a week.
And then, two by two, Grace and Skye brought some mares and geldings down to the arena to let them stretch their legs. It was gorgeous outside, but every time Grace thought the wind was over, it came back again. The wind could be so unsettling. For today, the arena would do.
The girls had meant to get out before daybreak. The sun was up, but there will still long, cool shadows to ride through.
Birds were making a tremendous racket. A pair of spotted towhees made their presence known. Quail darted about beneath the chaparral.
They searched for signs of the wild horses...any wild horses...but found none. The thunderstorms of summer and early autumn were not enough to fill the seasonal streams, but they were enough to keep wildflowers blooming.
And heading south across Meadow Campground, they discovered a water source...a broken pipe spilling a small but viable amount of fresh groundwater into a shallow depression. Plenty enough water for bears and coyotes, and probably enough for horses, two or three at a time.
The thunderstorms had caused a sort of "false spring" in the seasonal stream beds. There was, at the moment, plenty of fresh, tender grass. Still, no sign of wild horses. They headed home as the sun warmed the cool morning air.
It was a good day. Wild horses, no wild horses...a day in the saddle was a good day.
Back home, the girls found a surprise laid out o the table.
"What's this?" Grace said. "Looks like the boss was here."
Skye read the note out loud.
"The pumpkin is ceramic but the fudge and peanut butter cups are edible. Happy Halloween!"
"Sounds like a perfect breakfast" Grace said.
"Oh yes, I agree."
October 2, 2022
Grace and Skye took a pre-dawn drive while the horses ate their breakfast. They went through some of the hotter parts of the controlled burn.
The now-dry washouts were easiest to navigate. They approached a gully that didn't look terribly treacherous. But as Grace maneuvered the Jeep down into it, things rather quickly did not go to plan. And the modifications that had been done to the floorboard caused them to high side just as the rear wheels were not getting good traction already.
They came to rest in the gulley gently enough, but not where Grace had intended. They needed to be on the left side of the boulder they were currently lodged against. They were stuck.
Cool morning air and silence. The occasional sounds of birds. The girls circled the Jeep, looked at it from every angle, circled it again. Yup. They were stuck.
Dozens of band-tailed pigeons watched Skye's every move from the power lines as the sun crested Yucca Peak.
The girls began their walk home. The rocky parts were slippery in boots, with loose ravel appearing stable and then giving suddenly.
Skye was having a lovely Sunday morning walk, exploring everything.
Grace had this strange sensation. Like this was an epic journey of some sort. It was going to be if she couldn't figure out how to un-stick the Jeep.
Something blue caught Grace's eye in the shadows. Half-buried in the sand, a blue hat, black ears, and big eyes.
Skye looked up to see Grace examining something on the ground. That got her moving.
"It's Mickey Mouse all right!"
Skye made short work of digging the hard plastic mouse - and his sedan - out of the sand wash.
"He crashed a little worse than we did" Skye laughed. "There's not much left of this car."
"Go ahead and leave it there" Grace said. "We'll get it on our way back."
It took an hour to get the horses saddled up. At first Grace thought to take two heavy horses, but the only other saddle that would fit them was all taken apart. It had no cinches and no breastcollar. As it was, Ananda was so big that Grace could not attach the breast collar to the cinch.
As their earlier analysis suggested, there was no way to go forward. They would have to pull the Jeep from the rear and hope it came out of the little gulley as easily as it went in.
Grace put the Jeep in neutral, key in the on position. As she attached a rope to the hitch receiver, she slipped repeatedly in the loose soil. In that area of more intense burn, the fire had gotten into the organic matter in the soil, changing its composition, removing what plant material might have held it firm before. No wonder they lost traction. The soil was like powder.
There was room for error here. This could possibly be more problem than she had horsepower for. Or if Skye put the Jeep in drive instead of reverse, or the soil caved in more...
The moment of truth came. Grace nudged Ananda forward. The rope tightened on the saddle horn, the saddle snugged against Ananda's body, the big horse took one step forward, felt the weight, took another step, and then leaned into the work on the third step. The Jeep tipped back down onto the rear wheels and started to roll out of the gulley.
"Good! Good! Keep going!" There was nothing for Skye to do at this point but observe. Watch the rope, the wheels, the soil. So far so good.
The Jeep was on all fours, and the steepest part of the pull was coming.
"Are you ready Skye?"
"I'm ready! A little farther!"
Ananda was powerful and steady. The Jeep was coming up.
"Almost there!" Skye called.
"A little farther..."
Skye bailed out of the saddle and into the Jeep.
"Put your foot on the brake with gentle pressure and start it" Grace called to her.
The Jeep started. Skye pulled herself fully into the driver's seat.
"Put it in reverse, ease off the brake and give it a little gas."
Skye was nervous. She had to get this right. A little gas. She didn't feel anything happening. She gave it just a little more gas.
"Keep going, keep going, little more gas, good, good, turn the wheel...no the other way...perfect...keep going, keep going..."
It was a little exciting, and bumpy, but the Jeep kept backing up while Grace kept some tension on the tow rope. And then it was over.
"Put your foot on the brake firmly and put it in park. The top gear."
"How'd I do?" Skye said, smiling confidently. And just then there was a terrible cracking sound. The windshield fell forward, onto the hood.
"You did fantastic" Grace said.
"Do you want to drive it home?"
Skye thought about it for a moment.
"No. That was enough really. My heart is kind of pounding still."
The girls had forgotten all about their earlier discovery, but his blue beret caught their attention once again on the way home. Grace stopped and picked up the tattered remains of the long-forgotten Mickey Mouse toy. He was a fitting find for the morning.
"We don't need no stinking windshield, right Mickey?"
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
Road TripRead Now
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).
A Patient WayRead Now
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.
High SummerRead Now
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).
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