February 1, 2023
The rules for NaMoPaiMo - National Model Painting Month's International Painting Party - were few this year. Medallions and wall sculpture was acceptable. Grace eyed a piece the boss had offered up. She thought it was an Akhal Teke, by Rayvin Maddock. It was slightly larger than life-sized, and fabulous.
There was also a wonderful American Saddlebred by a European artist whose name the boss could not remember. Grace wasn't sure she could do these sculpts justice. But they would temporarily transform the tack room into an art space, as they had done a couple times before, and give it a try.
Also acceptable for NaMoPaiMo this year was finishing unfinished pieces. Skye had been looking at the orange horse since last year. They had tried out a new earth pigment on him and it was very rich and saturating.
"I bet you could do a gorgeous pinto on that Saddlebred" Skye said.
Grace shot her a look.
"Oh yeah, no more pintos" Skye whispered. "Ha! Just kidding!"
It was an absolutely glorious day in Chilao, as beautiful as any the girls could remember.
But everywhere they turned, there were linemen, contractors for Southern California Edison; in trucks, on the ground with jackhammers, operating augers and the like. The work on the power lines was welcome, but all of it was happening in the immediate vicinity, and it was a bit much.
"What if we rode across the station and then up the hill?"
Grace considered it.
La Barilla had no issues with rough terrain. It was tempting. And sooner or later she'd need to get her mount accustomed to things like big trucks. But her gut said don't do it.
They went to the arena instead, without any real plan.
"You know what we should do for MIM?" Skye asked.*
"I have a feeling you're going to tell me..."
"A performance challenge. Because isn't it a halter show?"
Grace laughed. "What are you envisioning?"
"I don't have a clue. But let's do something. A speed challenge or something."
Grace was liking the idea.
There was an empty spot on the wall. A little glue left behind from a previously attached banner. Curious.
The art supplies arrived. Grace was eager to get started on the wall sculpture. The conversion of the tack room would begin now.
"Yup. Hopefully enough to cover the saddles too."
"We've used mica powders before without this much precaution."
"Not on anything this big."
Skye thought Grace was being a bit overly cautious perhaps, but whatever. It was time to get busy on the NaMo projects, and if Grace wanted to cover the world in plastic first, fine.
The resin sculpt Skye was also working on was seriously heavy. She pushed it with effort close to the saddles, so it too could be underneath the tarp.
The girls surveyed their tarp work.
"Couple pieces of tape and we're good to go" Grace said.
Grace bathed the Akhal Teke bust in a swath of bronze mica powder, using a foam "brush" designed for house painting. It wasn't the perfect tool, but it was wide and carried the fine powder. It was good enough. The results were pleasing. But a problem became immediately evident. The palettes were difficult to navigate. You either had to stand on them and risk knocking over the sculpture, or lean way over to paint.
Skye made short work of the palettes. As she did, Grace realized the ground wasn't going to be a perfect solution either. She would live with it for tonight.
And so they worked on their first wall sculptures, Skye using copper mica powder, Grace using bronze.
"Is it just me" Skye said, "...or do they both look pink?"
Grace rocked back and forth from side to side, trying to catch the light falling on the pieces at a different angle. Finally she conceded.
"You are correct. They look pink. Let's quit for tonight. Maybe they'll look better tomorrow."
It was cold and windy outside, so the girls worked on their NaMoPaiMo InPaPa projects. But Skye wasn't pleased with the resin drafter.
"I used pan pastels for the dark color" she explained, "and I just don't feel like I can control them. They go on so dark. I think I ruined him."
"I really like your dappling" Grace said.
"Yeah but, I mean, thank you but, he went grainy on this side...either too much pastel or too much sealer, I don't know..."
"Go another layer of the dark" Grace said. Then if you still don't like him, you can always make him a roan. I think he's going to be fine once you get a little farther. Do his gray areas and get his back darker...you'll be all right."
They turned their attention to the American Saddlebred wall sculpture. "This guy...this is just the first layer of pan pastel. Too soon to say anything about it."
And then Grace's Akhal Teke. "I'm loving this guy" Skye said. "Do you like him Grace?"
"I do. I think the next layer I do will be a very light yellow. There's some wrinkles on his lip that aren't actually wrinkles, they are tiny little imperfections, and I'm not sure what I'm going to fill them with, but hopefully I can find a filler that will blend in and not mess up the color."
Puddle Jumper, Grace's first and last acrylic pinto, was finally done. At least for now. Chances are i a month she would look at it again and still not be satisfied.
"Did you see that we're hosting a performance challenge at MIM?"**
"I did" Grace said. "I guess the boss liked your idea."
"Apparently so! But I wasn't expecting that she'd make us the hosts! How cool is that? And umm, what does it mean, to be the hosts?"
"It means we'll sort of be running the performance challenge. Or at least keeping it on track. Or maybe even timing the timed events."
"And what about you riding other people's horses for a fee?"
"So, that just means that if someone shows up with a horse they want to compete with, but they don't have anyone with them to ride the horse, I can ride it for them. As long as it's western and not fancy get-up western."
"I think it's going to be a blast" Skye said.
On the south side of Chilao, the wind blew cold. Grace and Skye were worn down from it. It had been blowing for days, just hard enough to make things unpleasant. But on the north side, in the picnic area, all was calm.
So they took the big red truck that Grace liked to refer to as The Pavement Queen, and they went to the north side of Chilao where there were more trees, and sunshine, and far less wind.
"This is so luxurious" Skye said as they crossed the creek, meandering slowly through the picnic area.
"Are you looking for something Grace?"
"Sand" she answered. "Good sand."
The best sand in Chilao was presently under water, and being trampled daily by line workers in big auger trucks.
There was no shortage of sand in the forest. They came upon quite a bit of it.
But it was coarse, rocky...not at all what Grace was hoping to find. They returned to the south side, to the ranch.
When they returned, the wind had finally ceased, and the day was lovely, and beginning to warm. A variety of soil types eroded down onto the ranch property from Yucca Peak. Grace decided to investigate the red stuff. She had thought it to be some kind of clay a few weeks ago, when the ground was saturated to such degree that riding out to inspect it was impossible.
Dry now, they found a quite different scenario. The ground had frozen several times before it dried, and the going was difficult. They went slowly.
"This might not have been the greatest outing for this old girl" Skye lamented.
"Do you think she needs her blanket today, now that the wind stopped?"
"She loves her blanket" Skye said. "But no, I don't think she needs it. Especially not being black."
The line workers were operating helicopters from the fire station, but working elsewhere in the forest.
La Barilla was untroubled by the rough ground, which gave to a kind of gravelly powder under his hooves. Skye and the old black mare were a bit slower, but it looked like Skye might have been enduring more hardship than her horse.
"Do you suppose this is where red ocher comes from?" Skye asked.
"I don't know" Grace said. "It looks like it might be decomposed granite. Or decomposing granite, maybe. Or clay and granite combined."
"What makes the red color...iron?"
"I think so. Maybe. I don't know. But this isn't going to be any good for arena sand either."
"Oh heck no" Skye responded.
Grace watched the helicopters working, skirting around them, around the buildings, making short trips to move poles, then landing again.
"You are more concerned about those helicopters than the horses are" Skye laughed.
Skye needed to keep her head down, watching her footfalls on the rough terrain.
"Why don't you ride that horse" Grace suggested. "She's not struggling near as much as you are, and we'll find an easier way back."
Skye used a rock outcropping to give herself some height. The old black mare was very tall. And fortunately, patient.
They went along, slow and careful. The day had gone glorious. Any day on a horse was glorious, but today was especially so.
February 18, in Skye's studio
Skye had fallen rather silent on her NaMoPaiMo projects after the boss knocked down the resin drafter while it was wet with sealer. The damage couldn't really be fixed except by going even darker on th top line. Grace seemed to think it was a happy accident.
"I think you've the color pretty much spot on. But what I'm not seeing too much on this horse is dappling." Grace had made color prints of two pictures of a horse very much the build and color of the piece Skye was working on. There were no dapples to speak of, just light and dark reds.
"This might be the same horse" Grace said. "I got these off the internet and there wasn't much information to go with them. This guy is in his winter coat so I wouldn't expect to see dappling here. The pangare on the eye and muzzle is really nice. I'm not sure you could get the effect around the eye at this point, but you've got room for it on the muzzle. Good thing you didn't listen to me and make it gray. All in all I think your piece is looking lovely. But let's give this a rest for a bit. The boss said we should come down to the indoor arena."
When they arrived, the arena lights were off. The girls could see there was a horse in the arena. Then something like a spotlight came on, following the dancing horse.
Anamar. In what appeared to be traditional regalia. They stood, quietly, and watched the stallion move under saddle, riderless. Then Grace took the reins, and a stirrup, and swung herself up.
"This is a sweet saddle" Grace said. "Generous seat, sits well down on the horse."
The boos continues to offer them the romantic spotlight, following Grace and Anamar around the arena.
There was just enough daylight left to go outside, so they did.
"Where did his regalia come from? Africa?" Skye asked.
"No" Grace answered. "Denmark. From Shandi Gabriiella Cristel Bech." It took Skye a long time to respond.
The girls decided to come in before dark. Something had been prowling around the night before, and they had no desire to meet up with it.
"Did I tell you I talked to the boss about the performance challenge at MIM?" Grace asked.
"No you didn't."
"I asked what all we would need to do. She laughed and said 'pretty much everything.' But, the cool thing is, we will for sure be responsible for the cattle wrangling."
"Calves, to be more precise. That whole part of the operation will be up to us."
"I'm down! We'll be real cowgirls!"
The tack room was a bit crowded.
Calla lilies weren't made for sub-zero weather coupled with a blizzard warning. So the girls brought them inside. Along with all the current NaMoPaiMo projects. The calla lily project was a bit frustrating. Very few pairs of pots had well matched callas.
And two of the plants were clearly not going to follow the bonsai script. Their leaves were huge. Healthy, lovely...but huge, and their partner pots...nothing.
Skye's Saddlebred wall art was not too much farther along.
"This one is not going to get done any time soon" Skye said. "I'm okay with it. This one will be a slow and patient affair."
And obviously working dark to light had gotten frustrating on her drafter.
"I'm not as scared as I should be" Skye said.
"I don't think you need to be scared" Grace said. "I was wondering if you shouldn't do another pangare coat around the eyes. Just to make sure it's smooth and consistent."
They moved on to look at Grace's Akhal Teke. "Time for the eye" Skye said.
"It should be blue, right?"
"Yes" Grace said. "And I should be able to get all kinds of detail in it, because it's huge."
"Are ya skeered?"
Grace thought about it for a moment.
And then they looked at the pots of calla lilies - twenty of them. This project was not going to plan. "Are you still thinking of giving these as prizes at MIM?"
"Yes" Grace responded. "I don't know how well people are going to like us for it...they are heavy, I'm not crazy about the soil we used, and they need so much water. And sunlight but not heat. They have until the end of this month to sprout. Then I think we should replace the ones that haven't sprouted with succulents."
"You did it! Congratulations!"
Grace had completed her Akhal Teke bust for NaMoPaiMo.
She wanted to add some shading, but she was stumped for a color choice.
Skye had, for the moment, lost interest in her NaMo projects, likely because neither one of them was near completion, and neither one of them were giving her an easy ride.
Cabin fever had definitely set in. Something like seven feet of snow had fallen. They could not get the horses out. Even if they could, there was nowhere to go with them. It might be another day...or who knows how long...before they could get from the barn to the arena. At least repotting the plants would give them something to do. And so they did. Seven feet of snow in Chilao...and more on the way...who ever heard of that?
*MIM - Models in the Mountains live halter show and equine enthusiast's retreat at Chilao School
**Performance Challenge at MIM - this will be a high point, NAN qualifier full class list of performance classes. The horse accumulating the most points across performance classes will take home a large custom rosette.
January 4, 2023
Grace found Skye in her studio. She brought Charles the beagle along, who had spent most of the last two weeks living with the boss. Grace assumed the introduction would go well. Skye hadn't met a dog she didn't like yet. But Skye was not the problem. Charles had bonded to Grace. Pretty much from the moment they met. Even living in the main house, Charles was simply passing the days and moments waiting to be with Grace.
"Whatcha workin on?" Grace asked.
Skye let out a heavy sigh.
"Nothing. I'm stuck. I'm...I'm...stuck. I feel...cluttered up. I really wan the stuff I've already done to sell."
"Well, we aren't very aggressive with the marketing" Grace said. "Are you wanting to sell this piece?"
Grace looked at the smallest of Skye's paintings, done on canvas with watercolor pencils and a water wash.
"Yes. But I think I priced it too high because it's my favorite."
"Mine too" Grace said. "That's why I don't think you should sell it. This was your first ever piece, plein air no less! Carried around on horseback even. We should figure out how to hang it somewhere. So that problem is solved. Let's move on to the next piece."
They stood next before the trio of terra cotta deer that Skye had painted, symbolically, to be a part of the landscape.
"The deer. I love them too. But for sure I want to sell them" Skye said.
"Okay. Well, maybe we just aren't marketing them right."
"Right. How to market them. Hummmm..." Skye's thoughts trailed off...
"This is another piece I love" Grace said. She stood before the rather larger forest night sky in deep blue. "Maybe we should hang this in the arena. Then it would be out of your way. If it sells, great, if not, at least it will be on display."
Then they came to the golden horse in the night sky. "I can't stand this one" Skye said. "It just needs to go away."
"Then give it away."
"What if no one wants it? How awful would that be?" Skye wrinkled up her face.
"Somebody will take it off of your hands. Tell them the story about the bear teeth marks on the back side. And offer free shipping."
Charles meanwhile had finally wandered a few feet away from Grace.
"Oh look" Skye said. "Charles got brave. He seems to like the deer."
January 7, evening
The light was fading quickly. The pair of grulla horses, built so much like Petrichor and similarly gentle, trotted around the arena in the sun's final glory. Grace seemed a little quiet.
"Let's see if we can get some good pictures of them" Grace said, but her voice lacked enthusiasm.
The two horses were nearly identical. Skye looked at Grace, seeking an answer without asking. It was obvious Grace wasn't quite herself. Grace pointed with her face toward the slightly lighter colored of the two horses.
"The boss is thinking of selling this one." Both Grace's tone and her expression indicated her displeasure with the idea.
Skye didn't know what to say. She wanted to keep all the horses. Forever.
As the sun's last rays lit the landscape, the girls took the pinto sport horse out into the arena, without his paso fino sidekick. He seemed slightly unsure of himself, but he looked stunning in warm light just the same.
The air had a damp chill. Back inside, Skye donned her new favorite poncho, and showed Grace some leather samples for her saddles that the boss had given her.
There was a light golden deer hide, a white leather, Grace was unsure what its origin was, and a piece of leather that was somewhat reminiscent of suede and a reddish color.
Charles the beagle, meanwhile, had met the rest of the pack. He remained focused on Grace, for the most part politely ignoring everyone else.
"I wish it was a lighter color" Grace said, but I'm pretty sure this is my favorite." She took the bit of deerskin and held it around various parts of the women's saddle.
"The white would be gorgeous too, and more fitting if this is just going to be a parade saddle. Is this just going to be parade saddle?"
Skye shrugged. "I...I don't know. I don't think so. How often are we in parades aside from dressing up the ranch horses and leading them around?"
Grace laughed. "Good point."
Grace drew her soft blanket around her shoulders. Immediately her bed began to fill with dogs. Charles was hoping to be one of them.
"I'm not sure bed sharing is going to be a hit right out of the gate" Grace mused.
Skye scooped Charles up. " He can sleep with me tonight. I know he'd rather be with you, but he'll survive."
The rain hadn't yet begun but it was cool and damp and the cloud cover was building. They would get more rain, perhaps even snow. Wonderful, blessed, magical, life-giving water. Skye heaved the big watercolor pad up onto the table.
"I probably shouldn't have used the good paper for sketching" she said, "but I just love how it feels."
"You're forgiven" Grace said. "Use the good paper whenever you want to. Better by far than not using it. Calves?"
"Yes" Skye replied.
"They have really weird bodies" Skye lamented. "They don't really bend like a horse. And they have a strange chest shape and really bizarre hips." Skye was right. Cattle were weird shaped creatures. Nothing like a horse.
Grace had an idea.
It seemed like a good idea anyway. By the time they had found Mojo and messed around with draft horse halters trying to find one to fit Toro Tor Taxi's great big head, the wind had come up, and the rain began. The gusts of wind were so strong they found themselves leaning on the bull to keep their balance. Mojo was not impressed with the plan. The bull did not seem to mind.
In the arena, the Argentine Criollo bull moved about for five or perhaps ten minutes at the most before settling down.
"Can you get him to stay real close to the wall?" Skye asked. "I want to see if I can ride him. Just for a second."
Grace feigned a Scottish accent.
"Have ye lost yer mind woman? In case you haven't noticed, that's not a horse. It's got horns and all."
"He'd probably be fine" Skye answered. "Besides. All this rain. We could use a little excitement around here."
"You just fell off a pony not too long ago, wasn't that enough?"
"That was last year already!"
"I don't know" Grace said. "I think I'd stick to trying to draw him."
A light mist covered the forest. The ranch horses were restless, looking out into the shrouded woods, vocalizing. The girls knew it probably meant there were wild horses out there somewhere.
They decided to go looking, on foot, taking their cues from the ranch horses about which direction to go. Quietly, they headed toward Mustang Rock. Every now and then they would catch a sound. And then rather suddenly there they were. The color guard, Skye called them. Crazy's small but very flashy harem.
"Can they see us?" Grace whispered, not wanting to move too much.
Crazy appeared just then, on a rocky ridge, above his mares and foal.
"I would say yes, Crazy just saw us" Skye whispered.
He was the smallest of all the wild stallions, and the one Grace was a little leery of. He was all stallion and all wild.
"If he comes any too much closer, be ready to jump up and look big" Grace said softly.
"Or run away screaming..." Skye replied.
Crazy came no closer. He made it clear he didn't like company. But then he turned his back to the girls and rejoined his herd as the mist became a light rain.
It was a brief but exciting encounter and Skye was in no mood to go home.
"Let's go see the creek" she said. Grace agreed. Their path was riddled with pools of water. Some of them could be skirted. Others not.
"Whoop!" Skye slipped into the water. It was cold. Not quite snow melt cold, but definitely not warm.
They made their way to a tributary of Chilao Creek that ran through the fire station and then down past Mustang Rock and into Coyote Canyon. The sound of the water. Soothing and alive and mesmerizing.
Then home again. The ground was too saturated for riding and the rain and mist was cold. The girls bought horses down to the arena. They were enamored with the new Amazigh stallion.
He seemed hesitant to move around much, so Grace went about with him to help loosen him up.
"Maybe it's the blanket" Skye said.
"Maybe" Grace answered.
The next horse Grace brought down was the pinto Morgan cross. "Moose!" Skye had a fondness for the big, flashy boy. He was kind and easy going, collected and strong.
Jesse needed no encouragement. The little palomino mustang was high energy and the chance to stretch out in the area was welcome.
Dream Boat was next, the golden Friesian horse. Grace seemed to have a thing for the golden horses, and they for her.
The big bay Akhal Teke was next. They had not spent too much time with him since his arrival. He was spectacular, agile, eating up the ground with his big stride.
"What's his name?" Skye asked.
"Aahhh, his name...I can't remember."
"It should have something to do with beauty and speed" Skye said.
The final horse of the afternoon was an appaloosa. yet another gleaming golden blaze of beauty. Most of the horses had a registered name and a stable name. But there were getting to be a lot of horses. "Don't ask me his name." Grace offered, "No matter what it is, it wouldn't do him justice."
Grace had saddles and saddle stands filling the room. She studied one that was very ornate and highly unusual. And blue. Skye had never seen anything like it.
"What is it?"
"It's either for a Peruvian Paso or a Paso Fino. I can't remember which" Grace said. "Robbie Ramirez helped me identify it. I was thinking of trying it on Anamar. He has such a high neck and a short back."
Skye rested a hand on the western saddle by Fiona Covert. Which was much too long for Anamar and slightly too wide...but Skye loved the saddle.
"It says "AMAN" Grace noted, referring to the blue saddle. "I don't know who that is. I thought the saddle was by Alice Malcolm, but then the initials don't make sense. Anyway. We'll see if it fits tomorrow."
"So" Skye said, "do you have your NaMoPaiMo International Painting Party pony picked?"
Grace sighed. "Nope. Not a clue. How about you?"
The wind howled outside, making every rivulet and slow stream of water freeze, driving the temperature down to 20 degrees. It was definitely a good day to have an enclosed arena, but it was still chilly inside, and Grace rather wished she'd brought her coat.
Skye was running back and forth enough to build some body heat. There was no saddle pad for the blue saddle, and the english saddle pad they had was too small, so Skye grabbed a bareback pad, but the square saddle skirts reached beyond the pad.
"It's okay" Skye said. "I'll get a blanket."
Anamar followed Skye for inside the arena with interest. Skye dashed off to get a blanket. This was going to be another mash-up of tack that was never meant to go together.
Skye returned in short order. "Think it'll work?"
The girls tried. The blue saddle didn't fit him. The length of it was good, but it was too wide, and it needed a custom saddle pad. No amount of tightening the cinch would get it to sit securely.
"Oh well" Grace said. "We tried. Let's take it off."
The saddle didn't work, but the stallion was already bridled, and expecting to be ridden.
"Give me a leg up" Grace said.
"That's the spirit" Skye teased.
Grace preferred a saddle. She could ride without one, but unlike Skye, she'd learned to ride in a saddle and it was her preference. Beneath her, the stallion danced.
"His back is round but narrow even though his ribs are well sprung" Grace said. "Reminds me of riding Lightning for the first time. All those gaits I wasn't used to and no saddle and he was green broke..."
Her voice trailed off as they moved around the arena. He was not gaited, but there was a swiftness to his footfalls. He was gathered and ready to move out. Grace was careful not to give him a reason to prove his speed or agility.
"He's a ton of horse. I feel like he could do dressage. I definitely want to put a saddle on him. I don't care what kind of saddle, just one that fits."
January 29, 4:30 PM
Grace and Baron cut through the school on their way back up the hill to the ranch. As Grace closed the door she heard a noise. Baron heard it too. At first she thought perhaps it was the door squeaking, but they heard it two more times. Baron headed toward the sound, coming from the other side of the driveway to the south, just out of sight, in or perhaps just beyond the seasonal stream that last week still gurgled with water. It sounded like a kitten. A big kitten. Or perhaps a bobcat. Then there was another noise, coming from the north. Loud, like a short blast from the whistle of a yard duty teacher, part whistle, part chirp. Baron heard it but registered no reaction. Grace knew the sound from the videos they'd watched. it was a mountain lion. And likely so was the sound Baron was keyed into. A youngster. Grace slammed the school door firmly shut, making as much noise as she could with it; called Baron out, reached for his collar, realized he was not wearing one. They made their way back to the house, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, but knowing they were not alone.
She relayed the story of the cougar sounds to Skye as her hands examined the men's saddle tree.
"Maybe that's why there haven't been too many coyotes around" Skye mused, secretly glad that Grace's story was all about sounds and not sightings.
"I wanted to take Anamar to the indoor arena while it was still light out" Grace said, "but maybe tonight isn't a good night to do it."
"Did you find a saddle to fit him?"
"Grace smiled. "Maybe. I was thinking maybe this one."
"Oh!!! That's a great idea!"
"Well, since it's your saddle tree, I'm glad you think it's a good idea."
"Can we try it on him in the barn?"
"We could, I suppose."
"Do you think it's safe for us to walk to the barn?"
"I think so. I think we should leave the dogs behind though. If they get away from us and go after the cat, or its scent, it could be bad."
"Let me get my poncho" Skye said. "I look much bigger in my poncho."
In the barn, Anamar danced about but allowed the girls to rest the saddle tree, and another mismatched blanket, on his back.
"The length of the tree is good" Grace said, "but it's too wide."
"Can it be shaped? With heat maybe?"
"I don't know. We'll have to ask Maedb Esposito. She made the saddle tree. This is her design, after studying Native American saddle trees from the plains."
it was early Monday morning. The forest was silent. The snow had come in the wee hours of morning, a fine powder, so light, so magical, and deep. The girls stood for a while in silence, until Skye spoke.
"We should go look and see if we can find any tracks. Mountain lion tracks."
"I need to get my coat if we're going to stay out much longer" Grace responded.
They found fresh tracks right away, but they were coyote tracks. The coyotes had come through probably not long before them. Two of them, working as a team, looking to scare up or scrape up breakfast.
The girls crossed over the coyote tracks and headed up the draw. They knew where they were, and they knew they would be on more or less open ground the way they were headed. But the deep snow made everything look so different. And it made the going difficult. Skye donned the grey and white poncho, hoping to harmonize with the landscape. The wind started to pick up and clouds moved swiftly across the sky.
And then, suddenly, soundlessly, Petrichor's band was in front of them, coming down the draw toward them.
They had encountered each other this way enough times now that the pale mare did not immediately flee. She moved away, picking her footing carefully.
While the mares and foals moved away, Petrichor drew closer. A light snow began to fall and the wind blew flurries of powder about.
Petrichor took several more steps toward the girls. But the draw was not completely smooth beneath the snow, and a deep drift lay between them. He stopped before the drift, his attention torn between Grace and his herd.
"He looks really good" Skye said in a soft voice. When the sun broke through the cloud cover for a moment, Petrichor glowed golden against the snow.
He did not linger long, making his way back to the mares and foals who waited for him a short distance away.
Although the cloud layer was thin, waves of snow washed over the mountains. The girls had only gone a few steps forward when three more horses came into view. Highlander and his band.
A new mare. Highlander had a second mare now. The girls watched in silence. She was pale in color. Palomino? Grey? They couldn't tell. She was pretty.
The dun mare was as full of herself as ever.
Grace took a step forward to get a better look, and slipped into a hole. Highlander and the mares turned abruptly.
"Are you all right?"
Grace laughed. "Yeah, I'm fine. So much for stealth."
The mares continued in the direction that Petrichor and his band had gone. Highlander made sure the girls did not follow. The clouds danced across the sky, creating ever changing light.
The horses headed back into the cover of the scrub, Highlander and his mares following Petrichor's band at a respectful distance. It was safer for both small bands to be in close proximity to each other, and the stallions had obviously worked out their boundaries with regard to the mares. After they passed, Skye noticed something just beyond the horse-trampled snow. tracks that were not coyote, or human, or horse. They were made while the snow was still falling, and so they were impossible to distinguish with certainty. She could say that whatever animal it was, it was walking, slow and deliberate, and like the coyotes, searching through the brush.
Grace and Skye studied the tracks for a good while.
"This is where the sound came from" Grace said, "the shrill, chirping whistle. Sounded for all the world like a human noise. Baron didn't recognize it at all."
Sometimes there were one set of tracks, sometimes two sets. There was too much new snow...and Skye could not blow the new accumulation off of the original print to get a better look...to say for sure what they were looking at. But its legs were long enough that it went through deep snow without leaving a drag mark. It had four legs, and it was large. That is all they could say for sure.
The wind picked up, the sky cleared, and the cold air nipped at the girls. They headed home, leaving the land and its mysteries for another day.
December 31, 2022
A light rain began to fall. Grace rode the golden stallion up to the horse trailer. La Barilla was starting to get the hang of things, taking new situations in stride more and more often.
"Do you think he'll be afraid of the trailer?"
"I don't think so" Grace said. "He came here in a trailer, not too long before I came on board, and I don't remember any crazy stories about the experience."
Grace maneuvered him easily to the ramp. He started up. She halted him, and had him back for a few steps.
"I think he would have gone right in" Grace said.
In the arena, the girls set up a series of poles, and their one and only barrel at the end. La Barilla seemed comfortable and focused. Left turns were still a bit bumpy, but not quite as bad as they were in the beginning.
Skye decided to try riding a pony.
"This is harder than it looks! She's so narrow, I feel like I could fall off at any moment! And when I squeeze with my legs to hold on, she goes faster!"
The girls took turns weaving through the poles and around the barrel. Now on his left turns...that's where La Barilla was starting to shine.
The little pony was nimble and quick. Skye was getting the hang of sitting on her narrower-than-a-horse back. And then the pony did what ponies the world over occasionally do. Instead of going around the pole to the left, she changed it up, and went right. Skye tried to save herself by grabbing a hand full of mane, but it was too late. The ground was approaching.
The sand was deep, and thick, and tasted like sand.
"Are you okay?" Grace called out.
Skye spit out some sand.
The pony...Grace tried to remember her name...Princess? Goldie Locks? appeared to be having a fine time without Skye. She loped right up to La Barilla...and then turned abruptly. Grace lunged for her reins.
"Good catch!" Skye trotted up to retrieve her pony. She took the reins of her make-shift bridle...as they did not own any proper riding gear small enough to fit a pony...and ran with her pony back to the other end of the arena.
"You little rascal" she said to her feisty mount, "let's try that again!"
Grace gave La Barilla a well deserved pat on the neck. "You'll make a ranch horse yet" Grace said to him in praise.
Skye and the princess pony took another pass at the poles, at a slow lope, and all went smoothly.
Before they were done for the evening, Skye turned out Precious and Mista Spot.
"You know" Grace said, it's actually not that cold. This is a pretty warm storm."
"Yeah," Skye replied, "but these two...they never throw me. They deserve a little pampering."
The mail hadn't come yet, and it was getting late. Grace had ordered Skye's Christmas gift in October, but it had been put in the wrong box at the post office. There was nothing she could do but order again, and wait. If it didn't come...well, there was this guy. Charles. An adorable beagle. This time it was the boss who brought a new dog home. He was a mature male, not very big, and Grace wasn't sure about his back legs...but Skye would love him just the same.
And then there was this package from Michelle Sepiol. Maybe she could hand it to Skye on December 25. the beagle was going to be harder to keep under wraps.
Grace sat on the edge of the pallet stack. Charles jumped up. The leap surprised her. Maybe his legs were okay. That was a pretty big jump for a pretty small...and rather clingy...beagle.
And then at last, it came. The box was light, but big and awkward.
The women's saddle tree was on top. Grace was struck by the narrow seat it afforded. Fortunately, Skye was thin. And flexible.
The men's saddle tree was next. Grace thought this would likely be the one Skye used the most.
The stirrups were way at the bottom.
There were more than two sets of stirrups. She didn't know what the larger ones were called but she knew they went with the women's saddle. At least, that's what she'd seen in pictures.
Then Grace found the stirrups she'd ordered. Then she noticed there was still something in the box.
Another set of stirrups. Maedb Esposito had taken exceptionally good care of them with the saddle trees and stirrup molds.
All at once Charles let out a big, hound-like bark.
'Whoa there little guy. Don't worry. Skye will love you just as much no matter what else she gets for Christmas."
Skye made it down to the tack room without Grace noticing. she'd have to hurry to get Grace's gift wrapped. The dogs milled about, smelling everything. Skye wondered what it was that caught their interest.
Ribbon. She needed ribbon. There was rope on the floor. That would work. But the shiny garland from the fence...that would be even better.
"Come on you guys, let's get out of here."
Grace made her way to the tack room without Skye noticing. She had barely finished wrapping Skye's gifts when she returned.
The red fabric caught Skye's attention immediately.
"Oh that's pretty."
Grace responded, apologetically. "That's yours, except I made a royal disaster out of it. I wanted to make you a poncho like the one you gave to Elecktra, but it's just a hot mess."
Grace went on apologizing about the bad cuts along the edges and the head hole that was big enough for a pony.
"It's so soft" Skye said in a fabric-muffled voice.
She pulled her head through. "I love it. It's perfect." She held out one arm. And then the other. And then she danced, twirling the home-made poncho like a fancy shawl.
The other cloth item was lovely too.
"This is just a blanket."
"It seems to be stuck. Skye, give me a hand pulling it back."
The blanket was stuck on something with two round prominences. At last they freed it. Skye was, for a moment, speechless. She knew what she was looking at. A saddle tree. Resin, fabricated, yes. Not the wood one she wanted to gather and shape and bind from scratch. But a lovely women's saddle tree.
Finally she spoke.
"Yeah. Guess you're going to learn how to make a saddle."
So many thoughts were going through Skye's head.
"Come on" Grace said, "I made a second poncho after I butchered the one you're wearing."
Skye could see the second saddle tree beneath the poncho. It was surreal. She was excited, but also numb.
"They came with stirrups too" Grace explained. "You have a lot of stirrup options."
Skye looked at the saddle tree, then at Grace.
The head hole on the second poncho was still big enough for a pony. Skye didn't care. This one didn't have quite as much flow for dancing. She loved it just the same.
"Let's go turn out some horses."
"But I have a present for you too!"
"We'll come back for it in a little bit."
And so they did. Grace studied her gift. It was heavy, gorgeous, unlike any piece of art they owned.
"The boss found it. She thought it looked like Petrichor and said you should have it."
It did look like Petrichor. Her wild stallion heart horse. Grace studied her gift. It was heavy, beautiful, made with precise lines, very stylized.
"The boss found it. She thought it looked like Petrichor and said you should have it."
It did look like Petrichor. Her wild stallion heart horse.
"Thank you so much Skye. it's amazing. I've never seen anything quite like it." She paused for a moment.
"You know, if the horses ever get rounded up, i'm going to say Petrichor is mine, an escapee from the ranch."
"Do you think the horses will ever get rounded up?"
"I don't know. But i'm not going to leave Petrichor in the hands of the government, or anyone else. Not if I can help it."
The boss had also done some Christmas shopping. Skye tried to guess his breed.
"Moroccan barb" she decided after some careful observation.
"Excellent guess" Grace responded. "And closer to the truth than my best guess."
"What did you guess?"
"Something something Spanish. Or part Spanish."
"So...what is he?"
"An Amazigh. An African breed, ancient, fairly rare, but influential in the creation of many European horse breeds. Until recently the breed would have been referred to as a Berber. Or possibly Moroccan Barb, I'm not entirely sure. So your guess - Moroccan Barb...it would not surprise me if we found out that there's a relationship there."
Skye watched Grace interacting with the rather fabulous stallion.
"Careful now. You'll have another favorite stallion soon..."
Skye and Grace surveyed their work. Twenty pots, ten sets of two, planted with calla lily rhizomes. There were still plenty more rhizomes and plenty more pots, but the girls stopped at twenty. They already weren't sure what they were going to do with the twenty pots they had.
The red truck was big. A very different driving experience than the little Jeep.
"Can you see over the hood?" Skye was stretching her neck as far as she could to get a good view.
"I can" Grace replied. "But I can barely reach the steering wheel. I wish it telescoped."
The arena sand was deep and soft. Somehow it seemed like dual rear tires and good tread should have prevented the truck from sinking in.
"We better not get this one stuck" Skye said. "It will take a big horse to un-stick this one." She spoke the truth, Grace thought.
"Are any horse people coming to the party?"
"I don't know" Grace answered, "but it's okay. We'll take out horses and have a good time no matter what. The forecast is calling for rain, so the party might be pretty small."
"Oh. Gosh. After all that work. I mean we need the rain so bad but..."
"The boss said no matter what, it's okay. She said this year has been full of highs and lows. Things that went really well and things that went terribly wrong. She said sometimes her best intentions and best thinking has backfired in ways she could not even imagine. And then other things happened that were really good and completely not expected. She said maybe that's just life. We can set our goals on a destination but the journey is the real thing. It's where the memories are made and the relationships created. in a sense the destination is the end of the journey. So maybe it's okay if it takes a while to get to where we are going. This is a good place for the table. Let's set it here."
"Are you going to ride La Barilla for the party? He's very festive."
"So I can take a spill like I did off of Jesse?"
"Awe that didn't count. Your cinch broke and you were standing before anyone saw you."
"I'm not sure yet. A whole truckload of framed pictures came back from a
Forest Recovery Project show yesterday. The opening of the show was the day before the Covid lockdown began. We need to hang those somewhere in the school this weekend. I'll try to think about next weekend while we hang pictures."
As the rain continued, Grace and Skye brought horses down to the indoor arena for exercise. First, a small group of geldings.
Bramble, a draft influence mustang.
A lovely but as of yet un-named bay pinto stock horse.
A knabstrupper named Wanderlust. He had a big, bold way of going.
Captain RPG, a Hanoverian sport horse, one of the boss's favorites, now retired..
Then some mares. Always easier when all the horses go in the same direction. The Christmas tree might have given the bay mare a bit of a surprise. Some were less afraid of the new items in the arena.
Dawn came white with what began as a light snowfall. the first thing Skye noticed were the tracks. Coyote. Apparently two coyotes.
Grace had been waiting all year for snow. This one was supposed to be a light snowfall. But as the girls prepared a few horses for some much needed exercise, in what they liked to call "Chilao style", driving the horses across the range, the snow just kept coming.
Ladyhawk had no trouble with snow. she was, as always, high-headed and sure-footed. And then came a horse no one expected. Gunner! They big pearl Akhal Teke. They had put a blanket on him, yes, but they hadn't turned him out with the others.
"What should we do?" Skye called out.
Skye watched the pearly stallion tear past the other horses.
Grace watched the pearly stallion tear past the other horses.
"I don't think we can do much of anything. Let's hope he chooses a good direction and doesn't fall."
The new arrivals, the bonded pinto and bay friends, bit of an odd couple though they were, stayed side by side.
Gunner was quickly in the lead and making good choices so far. He was headed toward the fire station. Hopefully he would stay in open terrain.
Grace was focused on the front of the herd. The grey mare named Angelic was giving Gunner a go for the lead. Even as she watched, for a moment she had this feeling...like seeing herself in a movie, like watching from outside her body...for a moment, she was aware of some kind of magic, like she was riding through a dream. This was it...this was the journey and the destination, the dream and the now. Gunner veered left, and the other horses followed, and they started on a course that would take them around the Redbird Ranch property. And the snow kept falling.
The snow, deep in places, shallow in others, made for a good workout. It was fresh, and not yet icy or slippery.
The snowflakes were unusual. Skye had been told the Lakota had something like twenty six words for snow. She wondered what the word was for this kind.
They turned for home after an hour in the snow. Skye caught sight of a coyote as she brought up the rear of the herd. And then another, and another. Three. Probably Lives Among Them on lookout, Whiskey, the raspy throated mother, and The Singer, the pup with his own unique voice. Except Singer was big. If that was him, he did not look like a pup of eight months. He looked to be the same size as his parents.
The girls had the arena to themselves for the Merry Little Mountain Christmas Party. They did have some horse loving spectators though. Grace went ahead and rode La Barilla. He did not seem put off by her furry coat. He did not seem to mind the giant pink Santa's hat that one of the visitors to the arena wore.
The boss had made more brownies and peanut butter cups. And it wasn't just the dogs who noticed. Since La Barilla was doing so well, Grace and Skye did some passes. There was no agenda...they had all day to ride, or eat peanut butter cups...or both...
December 4, 2022
Skye saw him standing alongside the road. At first he looked like an abandoned or lost dog, standing there, wondering where he was and what to do next. Then for a moment he looked wolf-like. Then he moved, and Skye wondered if it wasn't Lives Among Them, the male coyote that had likely gotten in a scrap with a bear. If it was, he had made an impressive recovery. She went back inside, got the camera, decided to see if she could sneak a little bit closer. When the coyote noticed how close she'd gotten, he moved away...not that the presence of people bothered him, he was perusing the fire station...but people focused on him and getting that close seemed to put him off a little.
Skye was thrilled. She would have to crop the daylights out of her photos but if even a few came out in focus, she would be pleased. The sound of a truck coming up the road snapped her back into the cold, damp present. A light mist began to fall. There were horses coming.
Skye recognized the shipping blanket right away, even before the horse came out of the trailer. She knew the horse inside of it had to be big, and from what she could tell, very pretty.
There were two horses. The second one was diminutive by comparison, prancing in place with lightning fast footwork as Grace backed the big pinto in the shipping blanket out. The second horse unloaded quietly.
"He is" Grace responded.
The mist became a light rain. By the time they reached the indoor arena, they had all taken on some water.
'What's their story?" Skye asked as Grace made short work of removing the shipping blanket.
"They came together" Grace answered, "I mean, not just in the same trailer, but like a buy one, get one half size...apparently they have been stable mates forever and they are sort of inseparable."
It didn't take long to become fond of them. They moved with very different steps, but somehow, with one motion.
They were beautiful to watch. Then the cold began to set in. The big pinto was mostly dry and the little bay seemed to have shaken off much of the rain. Grace's coat was drenched.
Light rain and cloud cover continued throughout the afternoon. Skye had forgotten about the coyote until they were back inside, peeling off their wet coats, feeling the icy tingle of rain soaked hair.
Grace drew her soft blanket tight around herself, listening to Skye describe the coyote's shape-shifting, and then his body language, and how he stopped and watched several times, silently, the way Lives Among Them used to do. How in a few minutes, when she was warmer, she'd go through the pictures and see if maybe that was him.
It took a bit of editorial detective work, but in Skye's second to the last image, magnified 844 times in Lightroom, to the point of pixelation nearly beyond recognition, you could see the telltale scar. It was Lives Among Them. He had survived whatever encounter - Grace and Skye had heard the all-night commotion in the campgrounds and they were pretty sure the coyotes had taken on a bear - that had left him with a gaping wound on the side of his neck and a swollen head.
It was just barely December, and he was back, back to the place where they had denned and raised a pup the previous spring, behind the fire station. His loud, piercing reply to the sirens made his presence clear. He was an old man for a wild coyote...probably approaching five. And tough. And distinctly wild.
The girls were thrilled to know that he had survived, and in the same breath, disappointed to know he had chosen to return to the edge of the ranch property. Mountain lions weren't the only animals making the news lately...there had been an increasing number of coyote incidences, from the arroyo in Pasadena where several dogs had lost their lives to a coyote in Woodland Hills trying to make off with a small child in broad daylight. Lives Among Them had been named for his ability to coexist, and for his omnipresence...but somehow that habituation seemed less comforting today as the girls recalled the many encounters of last spring. Perhaps they could continue to coexist.
Mountain lions. Our relationship with them in the human-saturated habitat of southern California has many facets. There's so much I want to say, it's hard to know where to begin. Which audience to address. What belief systems to tackle. Yes, belief systems. Because much of what we know about these big cats, and nature in general, has been taught to us by people and groups whose real knowledge of biology is not experience based, nor grounded in sound, whole-ecosystem principles...or worse, comes from a place of bias that exceeds an understanding of balance.
So I'll get right to the heart of it. Maintaining viable apex predator populations cannot be achieved with land bridges alone. The habitats themselves need to be viable. They need to contain water. And they need to contain prey.
Big cats the world over have a favorite food source. Ungulates. Deer and antelope species. As long as their prey of choice is plentiful, conflicts between humans and cats remain minimal. Predation on livestock will still occur because an easy meal is an easy meal...but in an ecosystem that is rich with both prey and fresh water, big cats tend to stay wild.
So as we struggle with the dual realities of wanting to preserve our native wildlife and coexist, and also wanting to own domestic animals and go for walks and enjoy the outdoors ourselves, we need to look at the bigger picture. There are two key species in this equation of balance. The mountain lion is one of them. The other is deer.
Let's assume that a mountain lion is still able to locate and hunt deer in its habitat. If a mountain lion makes a kill once every ten days, it will be well fed. And so will the other species in the ecosystem. Bear, coyote, vulture, condor, fox, raven, bobcat, even rodents will also feast on the mountain lion kill. They will directly benefit from the mountain lion's hunting prowess.
A mountain lion, hunting deer, would take roughly 36 deer a year. So to maintain a healthy population of deer that is able to sustain a mountain lion, the deer population would need to be somewhere between 70 and 100 animals within that mountain lion's hunting territory.
Deer, which are browsers, would in turn help control the growth of foliage, maintaining the plant communities in the ecosystem. They, like all living things, would also need a clean, reliable source of water.
Deer are really a keystone species in our local open spaces and wilderness areas. And from personal observation, their numbers have declined dramatically in recent years in such places as the Angeles National Forest.
If deer are moving to the suburbs...to golf courses, for instance, where there is generally both grass and water, so too will all the other animals who are feeling the effects of drought, habitat loss, human encroachment and intense recreation activity.
We can make bridges and promote tolerance and educate Angelinos about mountain lions...but if their natural habitat can't sustain them, they will be moving into our human habitats and seeking sustenance where they find it.
Back in the 1980s (you can tell by the big hair!) our boss lobbied for the Mountain Lion Protection Act, Proposition 117. The Act was passed in 1990 and prohibited the sport hunting of mountain lions. She was also active in studies to determine the viability of building a wildlife corridor or corridors to link the open space regions than span Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. At the time it was believed that large predators had already declined beyond a salvageable population, and in thirty years would no longer exist.
No one considered the adaptability factor...that bears would move to the human side of the urban interface and stroll through grocery stores; that mountain lions would become as adept as coyotes at back yard predation. No one saw that coming.
One thing our boss did make sure of was that Proposition 117 addressed the issue of nuisance animals...cougars that, through habituation, become a threat, to domestic animals or humans. She knew that a mountain lion in Moorpark had attacked horses. And she knew that over time, mountain lions would lose their fear of dogs and humans...a fear that being hunted had instilled in them.
Animal populations respond to human behavior. Whales are perhaps the best example of this. After many species were hunted to near-extinction, when humans mostly stopped hunting whales and became interested in them for recreational experience instead, whales began tolerating human presence...even bringing their newborn calves close to whale watching boats. Animals adapt to our behaviors. They must in order to survive.
About 100 nuisance mountain lions a year are dispatched in California. These are animals that habitually prey on domestic animals or attack humans without provocation. Trying to tease the facts out of all the biased information available is difficult. It has been suggested that sport hunters took less than 100 mountain lions annually. The number of permits to take mountain lions that were killing livestock reached an all-time high in 1988, with 145 issued and 62 lions taken.
Mountain lions themselves were never endangered. But the quality of their habitat is. Vast tracts of land and bridges alone cannot support mountain lion populations.
Mountain lions need water. Mountain lions need deer. The rest of the inhabitants of these ecosystems need the predator-prey relationship of mountain lion and deer to fuel their own life cycles.
We can save all the open space and build all the bridges we like, but unless we are connecting thriving, viable natural ecosystems...unless there is water, unless there are deer...we are doing no great service to the mountain lion, or to ourselves.
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
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.