June 10, 2023
Grace and Skye propped themselves up against the wall of the foaling stall.
Finally. Almost fourteen days overdue, but here he was. They had missed the powwow. They had lost countless hours of sleep thinking the mare would foal at night.
"He's got great color" the boss said softly.
"When he took so long to get here I started looking up potential problems. Turns out Arabs don't usually have much trouble giving birth, but there is one terrible thing called Lavender Foal Syndrome, and he obviously doesn't have it."
"He's definitely not lavender" Grace said. "Bay or black bay would be my guess."
The mare was a good momma. Skye gave her some love.
"What is Lavender Foal Syndrome?" Skye asked.
"It's a hereditary neurological disease that cannot be cured. The first clue is the color of the foal - pale, from silver grey to lavender, but the real problem is they can't stand up or sit up or nurse. They don't recover from it" the boss explained.
"Are all Arabs at risk for that?" Grace asked.
"Apparently Egyptian Arabs are usually the ones who carry it. So then I had to scramble and figure out if *Bask++ was Egyptian. And he wasn't. He was Polish."
The foal was trying to get those lanky legs under control, nearly landing in Grace's lap.
"Well" Grace said, "He was worth the wait. He's gorgeous. Just like his mom."
There were other new arrivals that Grace and Skye hadn't met yet. They were outside, enjoying some fresh air and sunshine. A lovely palomino mare and her mini-me foal. The feisty foal was robust and quite playful. And her mom was beautiful.. No wonder Grace had such a fondness for golden horses.
"Oh I really like her" Skye said.
"I can see that" Grace replied.
"Think the boss will let me work with her?"
"I don't see why not..."
Back inside, Grace was hoping for a few hours' nap. It was a lovely day for riding, yes, but she wasn't very mentally alert, and days and nights of sitting in and around the foaling stall had left her a bit stiff. As she eased into bed she heard the laptop. An email notification. From the boss.
"You ain't gonna believe this" Grace said aloud.
"What?" Skye answered.
"We need to get back to the barn."
"Oh no. A problem?"
"No, I mean I don't think so. I don't know. Come on, let's go."
The boss was there with another mare, Wink My Way, an off the track Thoroughbred. "Surprise" the boss said softly. "Another late arrival, except this one was wholly unexpected."
The foal was tiny. Well formed, healthy looking, but quite small. Skye edged a little closer.
The mare appeared to be a bit surprised about the whole thing herself. Grace guessed it was probably her first foal. She also noted that the mare didn't seem to have very full teats, but hopefully they would in fact be full of cholostrum-rich milk, and the mare would find her maternal instincts, and the foal would be able to stand tall enough to nurse. They watched for some time. The colt was slow to his feet, and didn't stand long when he was able to get up.
"I'll stay here with them for a while" the boss said. "You two go get some rest. Hopefully everything will work out okay in the next hour or so."
"He's adorable" Skye whispered.
"He is" Grace replied. "He looks good...he's just awful small. I guess we'll just have to wait and see how it goes."
"I don't really want to leave" Skye said.
"Well, let's give them a little space at least, and see how they work things out."
Wink My Way's little colt wasn't doing well. He had nursed twice, with assistance, but reaching the mare's teats required a lot of effort, and her milk production was scant. With the road still closed, there was no way to get a vet to come up, and not much a vet could do that the girls couldn't.
They tried one more time to help the colt feed. He just wasn't responding. Nursing was going to take supreme effort on the colt's part, and he didn't have it.
"Let's get him to a vet" the boss said.
"Do you want to take the mare too?" Grace asked.
"No, I don't think so. If her milk comes in we'll take her down but unless it does, there's no point. The only other option we have is to see if the Bask mare will let this little guy nurse, but he's going to get trampled by her foal."
"Can we bottle feed him from her milk?"
"I tried last night" the boss replied. "He had a little, but not enough to get him up and moving around."
It was a difficult awakening for everyone. The remoteness of the location compounded by the road closure meant that if anything went wrong, you were pretty much on your own. Most of the time nothing went wrong. But now there was a problem, and the clock was ticking.
In their room, Grace and Skye launched into action. Skye took the dog bed, leaving its owner looking a little puzzled.
Grace tore apart her bed, then realized putting her mattress in the back of the truck wasn't going to work.
"You'll be up too high" she said. "The bed of the truck is shallow. This isn't going to work."
"The buffalo robe will" Skye replied.
The girls fuddled around with the truck while the boss made some phone calls. Ultimately, the buffalo robe proved the perfect gurney for the foal, whom they hoisted carefully into the truck bed. Skye settled herself in next to the foal.
"You good?" Grace asked.
"Okay" Grace said. "Let's go over this one more time."
"Okay" Skye replied. "It is totally illegal in the state of California for people to ride in the back of trucks on public roads, so once we get off the mountain I am to bury both of us in blankets and stay under the blankets until we get to the vet."
"Correct. And if something goes wrong while we're driving?"
"Bang on the window."
"Yup. Okay. Let's do this."
Skye peered at the flowers blooming in the mist-shrouded forest. They made their way down the mountain.
All at once it was summer. Flies, sun, heat, all of it. The girls turned out a couple of mares including Wink My Way. She looked good, healthy, not in any discomfort. Her milk never did come in.
"Is the colt coming back?" Skye asked.
"No" Grace said. "Apparently one of the vet techs who has been bottle feeding him would like to keep him, and the boss agreed it would be best. She said it was kind of a rough awakening, having a horse that needed help and so many obstacles to getting it. She said the foal will be better off in veterinary care for now and in the future, in case there are any complications from the ordeal, or, you know, if there's something wrong with him. Something we don't know about."
"I bet he grows up just fine" Skye responded.
"He very well could."
When the girls returned home they were greeted by a rather unsettling and puzzling scene. Grace's bed was in pieces on the floor. Literally. Lots of pieces.
The sheets weren't ripped, the mattress was intact...it didn't make any sense.
"I don't get it" Grace said. "I can't wrap my brain around this."
The big dogs were acting a little odd. Guilty odd. Hobo was more or less hiding behind Baron who was more or less hiding from Grace. Which gave the pups the idea they should maybe hide too.
Grace sat on the edge of the table, watching Baron and Hobo mill around.
"Is there something we need to talk about?" she asked them.
"Well" Skye said. "Thank goodness we have this wonderful bunk bed. Until we get your bed put back together, I'll be happy to give you the top bunk!"
Grace pulled the laptop out from the wreckage.
Skye turned to Ginger cat - "You tore that bed apart all by yourself and told the dogs we're going to think they did it, huh?"
"Skye....we have more surprises in the barn" Grace said after a quick scan of her emails.
Big surprises in the barn. Dogs. Six of them.
"I found them in Upper Big Tujunga Canyon" the boss said. "I almost think I should call Search and Rescue and see if they can fly over and look for an accident. These are really nice dogs."
"How did you get them all?" Skye asked.
"They were hot, and their feet were burning on the asphalt, and they were thirsty, and there wasn't any shade. It was pretty easy. Driving with them all in the cab was not easy, but getting them in was a piece of cake."
There were two very large Great Danes, a Dane mix, and three puppies of who knows what origin.
Skye's attention shifted to the dog in the corner. He was at least part Dane, and his body language was mixed...he looked scared, but his tail wasn't tucked. He wasn't shaking. Just standing very still in the corner. Like maybe if he didn't move, no one would notice him.
"These two are sure friendly" Skye remarked of the pure Danes.
"They are" the boss said, "and really in good shape. Someone is missing them. These aren't throw away dogs."
And then Skye noticed the rest of them.
"This is a mutt mash" Skye giggled. "What do you suppose these guys are?"
The boss shook her head.
"I have no idea. They are young, and I don't think they are related to the big dogs."
And when the dog in the corner turned around it became immediately clear that he was neither aggressive nor overly shy. But he was completely disoriented, confused, and entirely unsure what to do.
"Oh by the way, when I first came home I went by your place to see if you could help me with these dogs" the boss said. "And I guess all of your dogs were inside and they about went crazy when they saw these two big girls. I heard something crash. I'm just hoping it wasn't a horse shaped something."
"No, no horses were harmed" Grace said. Her lips parted again to tell the story of finding her bed completely destroyed...but then she stopped. No need for the boss to know about that. She'd just feel bad. They would figure the bed out on their own.
"Oh my gosh" Skye said. "Six more dogs. I love them all."
"Oh I don't plan on keeping them" the boss said. "I'm going to find their owners. I won't take them to a shelter, but I'm not keeping them."
Grace turned her face away from the boss and smiled. She'd heard those words somewhere before.
Grace's bed was all salvageable. Somehow. But the sun was shining and the wind was still and the air was deliciously rich with the smells of late spring. And how exactly the pieces went back together was a bit of a mystery anyway. Probably if the girls left, and then came back, the bed would still be right there.
It was a much better day for getting horses out. Especially since Grace suggested Skye ride the big baroque Friesian sport horse. And so they took that ride Skye had envisioned and cherished the memory of. They took a small herd of horses across Chilao and through the creek. To have water in the creek in June was a blessing they needed to take advantage of, or as Skye liked to say, they needed to honor the water with their attention. Grace wasn't sure where she'd learned that way of thinking, but she liked it.
The water was clear and just cool enough to be invigorating. But the girls and their horses weren't really all that welcome. A coyote made it clear with its constant vocalizations that this land was coyote land, exclusively.
They had forgotten to bring the paso fino, Vivaldi, and they chose to take Charmer, the horse that had bolted last time they took him for a tour of Chilao.
Skye hadn't recalled the path through the creek being so narrow. The calves they had driven through a month earlier were significantly smaller than horses though.
At last, they came to the place where the creek widened, and the horses could find their own pace to get across. Charmer turned on the speed. Love Letters from Heaven gave him some competition. Outnumbered, the coyote eventually moved off. The horses stayed together for the trip back home. The girls kept an eye out for signs of the wild horses, but saw none. Grace quietly recalled the times before Petrichor had a herd of his own, and he would appear out of the rocks and chaparral while the girls were exercising the ranch horses.
The big Coulter pine, the last one standing from a group of three that had succumbed to age and drought, was finished. The prescribed burn some seasons earlier foretold its weakness. Instead of being nourished by the ash and strengthened by the heat at its base, as a fire can sometimes do for trees, the already brittle tree was compromised. Nine feet of snow and six inches of rain came too late to save it. Skye penned her observations in a note to the Forest Service.
"To the US Forest Service Chilao Station firefighters. Thank you for giving this tree a chance. We were sure hopeful it would pull through. But that doesn't look like it's going to happen. We understand why the tree will be felled. We know it is for our own safety, for everyone's safety. We will miss seeing it, like so many things that have gone away. But we understand. Thank you for all you do. With respect, Skye. "
A breeze was blowing. The girls watched the boss leaving in the Pavement Queen, the big red truck, with the harlequin Great Dane in the cab.
"Where is she going again?" Skye asked.
"To a clinic at PetCo. She wants to see if those dogs are chipped so she can find their owners" Grace answered.
"I think that dog is sitting on her lap! How did she get them all home in that truck?"
"I think she told a little fib myself." Grace confided. "There's no way she got all those dogs in the front. I bet some of them went in the back and she drove real slow and prayed the whole way here."
The girls took their own definitely-not-a-pavement-queen Jeep in the opposite direction. Skye stepped on something as she squeezed into the driver's seat.
"Grace! Your long lost hat!"
"No way...How in the..."
"We thought we lost it at Willow Springs but I guess it blew down onto the floor and we never saw it."
"It's tweaked! But I'm still so glad you found it."
"Well" Skye replied, "in this wind you'll probably just lose it again."
Skye was right. The afternoon breeze was growing stronger.
The girls took a ride up the road a piece, below the quarry, to the sand bank.
Grace marveled at the plants, like none she had seen before.
Skye sunk her feet deep into the red-brown sand, the stuff they used to make their best arenas, and the stuff the wind was constantly taking away from them. This was the source of that wonderful sand.
The gate to the hilltop above was open. The road beckoned.
"Let's go!" Skye said.
Grace pondered the idea.
"I think the bosses' old Suburban would be better. We don't have much ground clearance in the front."
Grace spotted something a little less challenging. The dry creek bed adjacent to the sand bar. The vegetation was lush, thick as they had ever seen.
And despite Grace's best intentions to avoid deep sand, they did end up pushing their way through a little bit of it.
While the wind had been blowing all afternoon, Skye had made a sort of display in her studio, showcasing an unintentionally growing herd of sculptures.
KS Twister, a 3D printed resin in brilliant white. Grace marveled at his smoothness.
Skye had forgotten his name and he wasn't a resin, but she was still completely smitten by the Criollo horse.
"You know he's plastic, right?"
"I do" Skye said, "but I just love him."
"And I love this one too. She's a tank." Skye ran her hand over the grey draft horse. (Maggie Bennett's introduction to 3D printing horses that she graciously offered for free so hobbyists could get a hands-on feel of the 3D experience...by printing their own).
"And I haven't forgotten you" she said to her NaMoPaiMo horse, still only partially painted. "I think about you all the time. I just don't know when that's going to translate into action."
Sunday morning dawned cool and wind still. The sunlight quickly warmed the mountain air.
The horses at the ranch had tipped the girls off to the presence of wild horses. But who. And from where would they emerge. On foot, the girls made their way to Mustang Rock. Soon they heard the clatter of hooves. Highlander's band.
The girls stopped, waited. Highlander saw them. The mares saw them. They seemed relaxed, keeping their distance, but unruffled.
Next, Petrichor's band. The bay mare, the two foals. The orphan black colt looked good. Highlander looked healthy.
The girls edged closer, found a place to sit among the rocks, and waited.
Petrichor's band fell in behind Highlander and started to move away. Grace's heart seemed to swell into her throat. Where. Where was Petrichor?
And then he emerged. Gleaming, golden, glorious.
He too was relaxed. More bothered by flies than the presence of the girls.
Grace moved closer to him as he made his way toward her. He was going to come right up to her this time. She just knew it.
It was maybe no more than a minute. She touched his face, gentle fingers running the length of his head, near his eye, along the contours of his muzzle. He flipped his head in a measured way to rid himself of a fly. His eyes were pools of calm amber.
And then he was off again.
Skye wondered how many people had such a bond with a wild stallion. Grace's relationship with that big horse was like the stuff of novels.
And the horses disappeared back into the forest.