Wonder Horse Book One
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Authors of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Caroline Howard knocked softly on her daughter’s bedroom door at 1:05 a.m. “Becky, it’s time. The baby is coming.”
Eight-year-old Becky threw her covers off in a flash. Fully dressed in a sweatshirt, pants, and socks, Becky’s heart pounded with excitement as she swung her legs off the bed and into her boots. She reached for her jacket at the foot of the bed, pulling her jacket over one arm. She rushed to the door pulling the other sleeve of her jacket on. She threw the door open and charged out, making a right turn down the hallway toward the kitchen, nearly running into her Dad.
“Hey, slow your roll, young lady,” Walter Howard laughed. “We have plenty of time.”
Walter had been through this many times. Walter and Caroline bred Arabian horses for years. Most of them were textbook deliveries. Spirit, their best mare, had two foals before this one.
Becky had been too young to go to the barn for those foals. This one, however, was different. Becky decided this foal was hers right from the start. She wanted a horse of her own. She went to the breeding farm with her parents when they picked Spirit up after the vet confirmed she was pregnant. Becky knew Spirit well. She was the first horse Becky rode, but Spirit was her mom’s horse. Walter and Caroline showed Becky the stallion who fathered Spirit’s foal. Becky fell in love with him at first sight. He was gorgeous to look at, but he was also sweet and kind. He took treats from Becky’s tiny hand with a gentleness not often seen in stallions.
Becky spent most of Spirit’s pregnancy trying out names for “her” horse. She finally settled on Prince Ali. When her parents reminded her the foal could be female, she told them she knew better. Spirit’s foal was a boy! She was adamant about that. Prince Ali was his name. And he was going to be as handsome as his father, and just as nice too!
Becky went to bed every night for two weeks wearing her clothes so she could get to the barn quickly when Fernando, the Howard’s barn manager, let them know the birth was imminent. Now Becky was so filled with excitement to see her new horse, she nearly vibrated.
Walter and Caroline laughed to themselves as they tried to calm their daughter down before heading to the barn. “You will have to be very quiet when we get there. You don’t want to disturb Spirit, you know. We can all watch through the window between the feed room and the foaling stall until she delivers her baby.”
Frustrated with the pace of her parents, Becky turned around and faced them. “I know, Mom and Dad. I won’t disturb Spirit. I want to get there, so I don’t miss anything. I want to be the first one to see my Prince Ali.”
“Come on, kiddo,” Caroline said as she slipped her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “Let’s go see if you’ve been right all along. I don’t want to name a poor little filly Prince Ali.”
“Mom, I told you. He’s a boy. Wait and see!”
Walter and Caroline grinned at each other over Becky’s head as they marched through the kitchen, mudroom, back patio, and into the barn area. Inside the barn, a dim light glowed from the feed room and guided the trio. First, Fernando pushed the folding cot he’d been using for the past several nights into a corner to allow more room at the window between the feed room and the foaling stall. Next, he flipped a bucket upside down for Becky to stand on so she could see through the window.
Fernando told Walter, “She started pacing about 11:30 tonight. I kept an eye on her, and she broke her water just before I came to get you. She is down now and in labor. The baby will be here soon.”
“Thank you, Fernando, for keeping watch for us. When this is over, I want you to go home and sleep for a while. Take tomorrow off.”
“Señor Walter, I sleep pretty good on the cot. But, my wife will appreciate you. I haven’t been home much for the past couple of weeks.”
“I see feet! Mom, Dad, I see feet! Prince Ali is coming,” Becky whispered a little too loud in her excitement.
“Sshhh, let’s not make too much noise,” her mother cautioned. “Keep your eyes on that. Pretty soon, you will see the nose.”
Becky concentrated on what the mare was doing in the stall beyond the window. She held her breath as the mare had a sudden, violent contraction. Then, as the mare relaxed, Becky was almost vibrating again. “Mom, Dad, isn’t that the head I see?”
“Yes, kiddo, that’s the baby’s head. Keep watching. It won’t be long now,” Caroline whispered. “Stand still on that bucket, or you’re going to fall off.” She giggled under her breath.
Spirit had two more strong contractions in a row as she strained to push her new baby into the world. The foal’s shoulders finally passed through the birth canal, and the mare heaved a groan of relief. She relaxed her head and shoulders and lay still in the straw bedding that filled the stall. She inhaled deeply. The hard part was over. The baby slid into the straw behind its mother. Fernando slipped quietly into the foaling stall and removed the membrane over the foal’s face. The baby lifted its head and took a deep breath. Fernando removed the rest of the membrane covering the baby. The foal flopped its head around, struggling to turn over on its stomach.
The new baby was dark in color from the tips of its ears to its feet. Short curly hair tumbled down the back of its neck and between its ears. Yet, in the soft light, it looked more black than anything. The only feature that differed was the four-pointed star of white hairs centered on its forehead above its eyes.
While Spirit relaxed for a few minutes, Walter, Caroline, and Becky slipped into the foaling stall and sat in the straw with their backs to the wall. They all pulled their knees up and wrapped them with their arms while they laid their chins on their knees and watched the new baby.
“What color is he, Mom?” Becky finally whispered.
“I’m not sure yet,” Caroline said. “If he’s bay, he should have beige-colored legs from the knee down to his hooves. This baby has black legs. We might not know for sure until he dries off. We can check his eyelids. If he has white hairs there, he’ll be gray like his father.”
“Are gray babies all born dark like this one?” Becky wanted to know.
“Not all, but most of them,” Caroline whispered back. “Some are born red, like the chestnut mare we have. When they turn gray, they almost look pink for a while when they still have red hairs mixed with the white ones.”
“Really? Mom, we can’t have a pink boy! That would be dumb,” Becky whispered.
“Well, I’ve seen one or two. I’ve also seen blue ones. If they are born black, sometimes they grow up with black hairs mixed with white, so they look blue.”
“Well, he looks black right now. We don’t want a pink baby, but a blue one wouldn’t be bad since it is a boy,” she said thoughtfully.
“Let’s let this one dry out a bit and let his mother get to know him. We’ll know for sure if it’s a boy or a girl in a few minutes,” Caroline said.
The trio sat back and watched. Spirit rested briefly, then turned herself around toward her new baby. She began bathing it with her tongue. She licked the little face and cleaned its ears. The mare finally stood up to reach all of the baby and continued with her tongue bath. She finished her initial washing and laid down next to her baby for a rest.
Fernando and Walter crawled on hands and knees through the straw to the newborn and looked him over. Walter looked under the tail and grinned at his wife. “She’s right! It’s a boy.”
He then looked closely at the baby’s eyelids. “I see gray hairs. He’ll be gray when he grows up,” he announced.
Becky was beside herself. “Prince Ali! Prince Ali! See, I told you so! And, he’s mine!” She was squirming with joy. “My Prince Ali! I knew it! I knew it all along!”
Caroline threw her arm around Becky’s shoulders. “Okay, I’ll give it to you this time. You were right. But wishing doesn’t always make it happen. I’m glad it did this time. He’s a pretty baby. He’s going to grow up to be a handsome horse. Let’s hope he gets his father’s disposition.”
“When do I get to ride him?” Becky pleaded.
Caroline shook her head. “He hasn’t even stood up yet, silly girl. He has to be three years old before you ride him, you know. You are eight years old right now. When you are eleven years old, he will be three years old. That’s the soonest you can ride him. Okay?”
Under her breath, Becky gasped, “Three years! That’s a long time to wait. I hope Prince Ali is worth waiting that long.”
Caroline stifled a laugh. “Three years will go by faster than you think.”
Fernando and Walter completed the initial examination of the new baby. Ali was squirming around in the straw, trying to figure out what to do with those long legs sticking out in front of him. The two men gently dipped the end of his umbilical cord in antiseptic solution to prevent infection and sat down to watch him try to get to his feet. Ali got his hind feet under his body and struggled to get up on legs that resembled stilts. He tumbled over in the straw but kept trying. His mother stood up beside him and encouraged him. He looked at her legs and tried to imitate them with more success. He finally stood without wobbling too much and squealed with delight. Becky squealed and laughed at him.
“Mom, doesn’t he sound like a little pig? That squeal is adorable,” she said.
Walter smiled over Becky’s head at Caroline. “Actually, I think he sounds just like you,” he said.
“Oh, Daddy, I’m not a little pig either!” Becky retorted. “I don’t ever think I looked as cute as he does.”
Walter held his daughter close with one arm around her shoulders. “Well, you never saw yourself at this age. I thought you were the most beautiful, cutest, sweetest little thing I’d ever seen in my life. I fell in love with you right then and there, even though you were all wrinkly and red and crying as loud as you could.”
“Oh, Daddy,” Becky spat, never taking her eyes off the baby horse in front of her. She giggled. “Was I really all red and wrinkly?”
“Scouts Honor,” Walter said as he hugged her close. “But, I thought you were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, next to your mother, of course.”
Suddenly, Ali tried to take a step forward. He was looking intently at Becky. He fell right over on his nose. He snorted and got to his feet again. He took another step forward before falling over sideways this time. He flopped himself around and got up again. He took two steps toward Becky before stumbling and falling. Something was glinting in the low light that fascinated him. He had to see what that was. He struggled until he was standing right in front of Becky. He stared at her then stretched his neck in her direction. He grabbed a piece of whatever was glinting in the light and tugged on it. It was Becky’s long blonde hair. The baby’s actions surprised her, and the tug on her hair hurt a little. She squealed.
Prince Ali was startled by the sound and fell over again. Whatever that was he put his mouth on tasted funny. Ali wasn’t sure he liked it. All of a sudden, Ali wanted something but didn’t know what or where to get it. He got back to his feet and walked toward his mother. She stood still as Ali searched her side, beginning at her neck. He wasn’t finding what he sought. He was starting to get frustrated. Walter’s eyes met Fernando’s, and the two men got to their feet to give the colt a hand. With one on each side of Prince Ali, the two men helped him find Spirit’s milk bag. He latched on immediately and began nursing. He made little squealing sounds between slurps of his mother’s milk. The humans in the barn were having a hard time not laughing. Ali nursed until his hunger was satisfied. Finally, he looked straight at Becky and flopped down in the straw, closed his eyes, and went to sleep.
“That poor little one is tired. So am I. I think it’s time to call it a night,” Walter said. “I’ll have the vet out in the morning to look him over. We should get some sleep ourselves.”
Becky got up slowly and reluctantly. It was the middle of the night, and she was tired. But she could have sat there watching the new baby for hours. He’d completely stolen her heart. She loved him. She knew he would be her best friend forever.