LA DUQUESA – Wonder Horse Book Two
By Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Authors of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Maryann and Brody became good friends. Maryann worked at the ranch after school and on Saturdays. They were only a year apart and found they had many things in common. When Brody wasn’t working with Uncle Mike, he was helping Maryann with her chores. They laughed, splashed each other from water buckets, and sat in the barn aisle talking about horses while they cleaned tack. As a Labrador retriever, Clyde was always in on the splashing parts. He loved the water. Occasionally Ginny let them ride together on short trail rides with Clyde along. Brody always watched Maryann’s lessons if he wasn’t busy. She was such a talented rider, he enjoyed the show.
Brody was almost as excited as Maryann was when Ginny told her she would be competing in the next All Arabian Show. Maryann couldn’t believe her ears when Ginny told her all the show clothes she needed were donated or loaned by the other girls, and they asked for her to ride with them during their group lessons. She made a point of thanking each of them and assured them any of the loans would be returned after the show, cleaned and ready to use again. Rose agreed to it after Ginny explained that Maryann was going to ride her horse, Bobbie, so Ginny would be paying all the show fees. Roy and Adele chipped in for Maryann’s food at the show grounds, so there wasn’t anything left for Rose to pay for.
Brody was the second one in the family to discover Maryann’s artistic talents. She showed him some of her work in art class. He was amazed at how lifelike her drawings and paintings of the horses were. He loved her painting of Bobbie, which Maryann planned to give Ginny as a thank you after the show.
The day of the show, all five girls drove to the show grounds with parents or Ginny in packed SUVs and trucks, pulling two trailers for the five horses. They took all the tack, gear, and feed for the horses they needed for four days. The girls planned to sleep in the tack room at the show so they could be close to their horses. They brought cots, blankets, sleeping bags, coolers, and overnight bags for their shower gear. They’d shower at the show grounds before and after each day’s classes. All their show clothes were cleaned, pressed and ready.
The show was a whirlwind of excitement for Maryann. There were so many beautiful horses to see and watch perform in every discipline. She rode Bobbie to warm him up before her classes and rode him perfectly in each class. She stood on the rail when the other girls were in their classes, watching and cheering them on. The girls all helped each other get into show clothes, get their horses ready and get to the arena in time. The team worked like a well-oiled machine. There was just so much to see and do! At the end of the show, Maryann brought home blue ribbons for each of her classes. There were a large number of firsts, seconds, and thirds among all the girls. Ginny was pleased with the performance of her team. Maryann was completely hooked.
Rose, Aunt Adele and Uncle Roy searched for used tack sales and bought items for Maryann so she could have her own things. They also purchased used show clothes. Christmas that year was all about the horse. All of Maryann’s Christmas gifts had something to do with horses. She got her own tack box filled with her own brushes, curry, sweat scraper, mane and tail combs and a really cute hook pick made from an old horse shoe by an enterprising farrier. Rose saved up and bought her a new pair of paddock boots to wear at the barn because her old tennis shoes were wearing out. They doubled as her riding boots.
Horse shows continued after the first of the year, about a month apart. Ginny spent time with Maryann teaching her a new discipline on Bobbie. He was as good a Western horse as he was a Hunter. It didn’t take her long to excel as a Western rider. Brody brought out some of the obstacles used in Trail classes. She practiced with Bobby going over the wooden bridge, going through a free-standing gate, and walking in patterns over poles.
The work continued through the winter even though the weather was cold, and water often froze in water buckets. Horse bathing was done inside the barn with warm water, and the horses were dried in their stalls in coolers instead of using the hot walker in the sunshine. Snow came and went but there was usually enough sunshine during the shorter afternoons to get some riding in before dusk. The only thing Maryann wished for was a horse of her own. She never told anyone about that because she knew her mother could never afford the expense. She was happy Ginny let her use Bobbie.
One Saturday in late March, she came to the ranch and Brody met her at the gate, excited about a horse that walked onto the ranch late in the afternoon the day before. He took her to the barn and showed him to her. The poor horse looked plenty worse for wear. He was terribly thin and had wounds all over his back, hips, and sides. Brody told her Uncle Mike thought the horse might have been attacked by a mountain lion. Aunt Ginny had been gone for a couple of weeks. She and a friend of hers were staying in San Juan Capistrano, taking care of Arabian horses for friends of theirs. It was sad. The couple’s daughter was in a coma in a hospital, and her parents wanted to stay with her. Becky Howard was the same age as Maryann, so she could relate to that. She’d want her mother with her if she was in the hospital too.
Uncle Mike and Brody were running the ranch without Aunt Ginny’s help. With all the extra work, Uncle Mike asked Brody to take care of the stray horse. Maryann offered to help Brody with that. She helped him clean the stallion’s stall, helped clean his wounds, and put salve in the open sores. She helped him prepare small buckets of soaked feed to get his metabolism working again and gain some weight. She helped Brody brush him down and keep him clean.
When Uncle Mike asked Brody to put flyers together about the horse so they could put them in local feed stores to try and find his owner, Brody asked Maryann for help. She was much more artistic than he was. The two managed to get a couple of photos for the flyer. She designed it to attract attention so more people would look at it. While working with the horse, Brody and Maryann came to know just what a nice horse he was, even if he was a stallion. He was sweet, kind, and gentle. He “talked” to them every time they came into the barn. He also seemed to like Clyde for some reason, always nickering to him when Clyde followed them into the barn. Several times they caught Clyde whining at the horse and the horse nickering back at Clyde like they were in a conversation. As Brody and Maryann worked with the horse, his appearance improved. Maryann thought he was a really beautiful Arabian horse.
Five days after the stray horse appeared at the ranch, Maryann ran into a flurry of news people and TV crews at the gate when Uncle Roy dropped her off. She couldn’t imagine what that was all about until Brody pulled her aside. “You’ll never guess who the stray horse really is,” he said. “That horse is Prince Ali, the million-dollar stallion!”
“No! Not the horse who’s been all over TV and in the papers?” she exclaimed.
“Yup, that’s him. I answered the phone last night when Aunt Ginny called and told her about our stray horse. Aunt Ginny came home with her friend Sharon and identified him. Do you believe it?”
“Wow! Well, we knew he was special. I just didn’t expect that. Any idea how he got here?” she asked.
“Today has been crazy!” Brody told her. “I didn’t go to school at all. Reporters started showing up here right after breakfast. You know Uncle Mike. He doesn’t say much. He was overwhelmed with people asking questions, so I volunteered to stay home and give him a hand. We’ve had the Sheriff’s up here, TV crews, and newspaper people all day. There was an old guy who bought him for a few hundred bucks that showed up with a Deputy. The guy lives way up in the Angeles National Forest. Uncle Mike says it is at least 70 miles as the crow flies from here. That’s way up there,” Brody pointed toward the South West along the mountain chain.
“How in the heck did he get all the way here?” Maryann puzzled.
“Aunt Ginny also told me that Becky is waking up,” Brody told her. “That’s why Aunt Ginny’s been gone. Becky’s parents have been staying with her at the hospital since it all happened so Aunt Ginny has been taking care of their horses. Maybe she’ll be home soon.”
“Is that Becky Howard?” Maryann asked.
“Yeah, Aunt Ginny was coaching her and Prince Ali. Becky wants to ride him at Youth Nationals this July. Don’t know what’s going to happen with that, though. You’ll probably get to meet Becky soon. When she gets well enough, she’s going to want to see Ali. They’ve been best friends forever. You’ll like her. She’s a neat girl, not stuck up or anything. You’d never know her parents are rich.”
Brody caught a signal from Uncle Mike. It looked like a couple of reporters were trying to sneak down to the barn again. “Come on, let’s get to the barn. We’re trying to keep the reporters from blinding Ali with the flash on their cameras. He’s been photographed all day. We may have to take him out of his stall,” Brody explained as he and Maryann hurried to the main barn.
Brody and Maryann spent the balance of the afternoon entertaining reporters. When Rose came to pick Maryann up, she had to wait until they finished up with water buckets and gave Prince Ali his evening bucket of soaked feed. On their way home, Maryann told her all about her afternoon with the million dollar stallion.
The next week was taken up by “lookie-loos” who stopped by the ranch for a peek at Prince Ali. Brody and Maryann spent time grooming him and cleaning his stall while talking with strangers about him. Prince Ali, on his part, was gracious with people and all the attention that focused on him. He made steady progress healing and gaining weight. Finally Uncle Mike told them he could be turned out for an hour to stretch his legs. He put on quite a show with roll-backs at the arena rail, flying lead changes, and that wonderful high floating trot of his. Ali had a “joie de vivre” that was as contagious as the common cold. No one watching him could help but smile.
Maryann was sad the day Prince Ali left to go back home with Becky and her parents. She was going to miss him terribly. Becky couldn’t have been nicer. She was truly thankful for the work Brody and Maryann did with Prince Ali while he was in their care. They all swapped cell phone numbers and promised to keep up to date on him. Becky told them she still hoped to compete with Ali at the Youth Nationals in July but was restricted from riding for the next month. She was worried about getting Ali back in shape to compete and didn’t know if there was enough time to get herself and her horse ready. Maryann volunteered to do whatever she could to help. That became the beginning of a lasting friendship between Becky and Maryann.
La Duquesa arrived at Hartley Ranch the Sunday following Prince Ali’s departure. Aunt Ginny put her in Ali’s empty stall in the main barn. Brody volunteered to work with her the same way he worked with Prince Ali. But the two horses came from very different situations. Ali had not been beaten and starved for months.
Ginny fed the mare breakfast Monday morning, petted and talked to her before leaving for other chores. The man who normally cleaned the barn stalls every morning opened Quesa’s stall and walked in with his muck rake in his hand. La Duquesa went wild. She tried to go over the stall wall to get away and did her best to go through it when that didn’t work. It startled the man, and he backed quickly out of the stall, closing and locking it before charging off to find Ginny.
Ginny rushed back to the barn with the man and saw La Duquesa standing in the corner of the stall shaking. “Put a red rope around the stall handle here,” she told him as she slowly slid the door open and stepped inside the stall. The mare flinched a little and then stood shaking. When the man was out of her sight, Ginny began talking to the mare in low soothing tones until she calmed down. Quesa finally walked over to Ginny and rested her head on Ginny’s shoulder. “No one is going to harm you here,” Ginny assured her while stroking her neck. Ginny thought about what happened. When horses are frightened, their “fight or flight” instinct takes over. Those that “fight” are the hardest to deal with. Ginny knew the “flight” could be handled with time and patience. Ginny cleaned her stall that morning.
Brody called Maryann Sunday night and told her about the new horse that arrived that day. He told her about what a mess she was and how skinny she was. She was worse than Prince Ali when he arrived, and she was covered in welts from a beating. It broke Maryann’s heart to hear about any horse being abused like that. She met Brody at the gate Monday after school, and they walked to the barn together with Clyde.
The horse picked up her head when she heard the three of them walk into the barn. She looked directly at Maryann when they came into her view. Maryann stood looking directly into her eyes. Her heart stopped in her chest, and she couldn’t breathe.
It was HER! How could this be? She stood staring at the Duchess! She was not the beautiful silver white horse in her dreams, she was a mess. But Maryann knew instantly she was looking at the Duchess she’d ridden in the moonlight so many, many times. How could anyone do this to HER? When her heart began beating again, it felt like it was broken. Tears slipped unconsciously down her cheeks. She couldn’t tear her eyes away.
“Hey, I was talking to you,” Brody said, looking at her curiously.
Maryann turned her head and wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. “I’m sorry. I, uh, I was just shocked looking at her. How could anyone do that to her? I don’t understand. She’s a beautiful soul, and she didn’t deserve this.”
“I don’t know how you can see a beautiful soul in there. She’s awful looking right now,” Brody answered.
“Look into her eyes,” Maryann told him “that’s where the beauty is.”