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.