Amirat al Hasida, "Queen of the Harvest," or Cris for short, and Rabatina, or Tina, are sisters and best friends. Tina is 14, Cris is 12, and they've been together all of Cris' life. For the last nine years, they've been owned by Elmer and Sararuth Grimes of Rolling Hills Estates. The two horses are often seen along Palos Verdes Drive, hitched to a cart being driven by the couple's close friend, Hardy Zantke, who also trains the pair. The sound of their dancing hooves startles motorists idling at a stoplight; the sight of two matched golden horses pulling a carriage seems like a throwback to another era.
The first thing you notice is that they're nearly identical. Both are about the same height and weight and color--palomino, an amber honey laced with rich cream. Each has a long flowing mane as white as spun sugar and tail to match. Each has a long white blaze down her face. They're seven-eighths Arabian, a heredity that gives them a high-stepping, tail-waving grandeur that makes you want to salute as they pass.
About the only way to tell them apart, before you come to know their distinct personalities, is that Cris' mane falls to the right side of her neck and Tina's to the left. Tina, being older, takes a protective, mothering attitude toward Cris, who behaves at times like a spoiled child. But regardless of their differences, they're inseparable, bound to each other by birth and blood, the habit of years, by circumstance, and by love.
Being inseparable, they're a perfect pair for a growing sport called combined driving, a two-day event in which horses are harnessed to a two- or four-wheeled cart for a trilogy of driving trials, preceded by presentation for judging standards of grooming, safety and equipment.
The first event is a dressage test. The pair must work as one, pulling the cart at a walk, several speeds of trot, make smooth transitions, back and turn, all ordered by signals from Zantke. Above all, they must look elegant. Cris and Tina are somewhat fiery, says Zantke, and aren't always cooperative in the control department. But they are always elegant.
The next phase is the marathon, or cross-country driving. The sisters excel at this, maintaining a ground-covering trot for eight to 10 miles, with periods of brisk walking, and navigating a series of hazards that can include hairpin turns, water crossings, deep sand and uneven terrain. However, this is not a race; it's a test of timing that requires endurance, speed, agility and, most of all, teamwork. That, of course, is what Cris and Tina know best.
The third part is officially called the timed obstacle course, but is otherwise known as "driving the cones." Each cart is measured, then pairs of standard orange road cones are set up slightly farther apart than the wheel base. Each team must negotiate its way though the cone sets without knocking off tennis balls that rest precariously in the cone tops. The pair prove formidable opponents as Zantke clucks, "Let's go, girls," and they respond instantly, surging forward in unison, manes and tails billowing.
Being inseparable does make for problems, though, Zantke says, when he tries to work or ride one alone, even for the shortest time. The two cast longing glances, their attention riveted on the departed other. They cry piteously, and nicker contentedly when back together.
In a world where things go out of vogue in a single month, the bond between the sisters offers inspiration that understanding and harmony with another can prevail.