WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Prince Ali went on to win the National Championships in Canada and the United States in the 2-Year-Old Colt Halter classes. He took home prize money in the Futurity Class again. He also won several Junior Champion Colt classes at smaller shows in Texas, North Carolina, and Michigan.
Chris called his vet out to x-ray Ali’s legs at the end of September that year. “When do you think we can start his saddle training, Doc?” Chris wanted to know.
“Looking at this,” The vet pointed to the knee, hock, and fetlock joints in the x-rays, “I’d say you need to give him until October 15th before you put the weight of a saddle on him. You can use the training surcingle and long lines to start his groundwork anytime. Give him until December first before you try weight on his back at the walk. You should be able to trot and canter him by his birthday in January. His legs look good. He’s healthy. You know what you’re doing. I know you never push a horse too early. If you want to get him into the showring under saddle, I’d shoot for March or April.”
Right after the US National Championship show, Chris began long-lining Prince Ali. He taught Ali how to wear a bridle and a smooth, broken bit in his mouth. Chris taught Ali about wearing the training surcingle around his midsection behind his withers. He tightened the cinch around his heart girth, where he would wear the cinch for a saddle in the future. Chris attached the long lines to each side of the bit. He threaded them through the eyes on each side of the surcingle so the reins were approximately where a rider’s hands would hold them while riding. Chris pulled on the reins gently so Ali could feel the tug on each side of the bit in his mouth.
Prince Ali was a quick study of the whole procedure. He learned that a pull on the right rein meant a turn to the right, a pull on both reins evenly meant halt, etc. Ali loved the long-lining. He enjoyed a different kind of work and excelled with it in a few short days. As Ali got better at long-lining, Chris took him out of the arena and began walking around the ranch, using the lines to direct him where Chris wanted him to go. They began taking short trail walks along the perimeter of the ranch.
One day in early December, they took a long walk off the ranch. As they headed back, it began to snow. When Chris and Ali got back to the barn, Chris hugged him. “Buddy, you are going to have to start wearing a saddle soon. That wasn’t bad on the way out, but the walk back in the snow was tough. You’re going to have to start packing me home on your back.”
The very next day, Chris pulled his work saddle and pad from the tack room and put them on Ali’s back. It felt strange to Ali, and the added weight felt weird to him. It wasn’t uncomfortable, just different. Chris took him into the covered arena and worked him on a lounge line to get Ali used to the feel of the saddle and the stirrups moving on his sides. Chris stopped Ali in the center of the arena. He put his weight on the saddle. Ali didn’t flinch a bit, so he swung himself up into the saddle and sat still. Ali turned his head from side to side, looking up at Chris. That was strange. Chris was suddenly taller than he was. The extra weight on his back felt weird too, but not uncomfortable.
Chris used the reins to turn Ali. Ali took two steps to the right. He kept looking back at Chris. Suddenly, Ali understood. He’d seen other people on horseback before. This was the first time for him. He liked it. Chris asked him to walk the perimeter of the arena. Ali was proud to carry him. He was so excited he began to jig a little. Chris pulled him back to a walk. “Buddy, we have to teach you to walk with a rider before you get to trot,” he laughed.
Chris and Ali worked on walking, turning left and right, stopping, and backing up at the walk for the next month. Ali enjoyed the work and appreciated it when Chris let him know he was happy with his progress. The extra carrot pieces didn’t hurt one bit.
Several days before Ali’s third birthday, Chris finally let him move out under saddle. He kept Ali slow, more like a Western jog-trot for a few laps around the arena. He also tried the left and right turns, halts, and backing up. Ali did so well he thought it was time to move him on up into his more intense trot. The next day Chris put his saddle-seat saddle on him. He asked Sharon to watch and tell him what she thought.
Chris walked Ali into the arena and waited until Sharon got to the center so she could watch him all the way around. He cued Ali to trot. Ali started at the slow jog he’d done the previous days. Chris squeezed him with his legs and clicked to encourage him to speed up. That was all the encouragement Ali needed. He struck out at his high floating trot. Chris adjusted to the new speed and started posting. Ali began to enjoy himself. Sharon told Chris later it looked like Ali was grinning from ear to ear. Ali found his pace and began to fly. Ali let out a yell of pure joy. He was having the time of his life, and so was Chris. Chris rode two complete circuits of the arena before pulling Ali back to the walk. He walked Ali to where Sharon stood.
“What did you think of that?” Chris asked her.
“I think you have an English horse there, and I think he likes it a lot,” Sharon said. “If he throws his front legs out a little further, you almost have a Park Horse on your hands. I’ll make you a bet that Ali would look great in a Native Costume. That would be the fun class to show him in.”
Chris was almost panting from the excitement. So was Ali. Ali wanted to go again. Chris thought better of that. Ali was using muscles differently with the weight of a rider on his back. There was no way Chris would take chances with Ali. He walked him out then walked him to the barn to remove the tack. Roberto was waiting to take Ali to the wash rack.
Sharon called a woman she knew in Temecula, California, not far from San Juan Capistrano, where the Howards lived. She made custom-designed and fitted Arabian Native costumes. They discussed colors and design ideas. The woman told Sharon what measurements she needed for the horse and rider. Sharon called Caroline Howard about it. Caroline had some pictures as well. Between Sharon and Caroline, they helped the costume maker create the perfect costume for Prince Ali. It was two-toned teal with silver trim, silver tassels and set with Swarovski crystals. The blanket was scalloped along the bottom and over the horse’s rear. A silver thread embroidered geometric pattern on dark teal followed the edges of the blanket and the edges of the rider’s aba, or cape. The rest of the blanket, headpiece for the horse, breast collar, and aba were lighter teal with a floral pattern set in crystals.
When the designer finished the costume, Caroline picked it up and showed it to Becky before shipping it to Colorado. Sharon showed it to Chris. “We’d better try this on Ali. I need to walk him around in it a few times so he doesn’t have a problem with all this swinging around him. When is the next show with a costume class in it?” he asked her.
“That would be the March show in California,” Sharon said.
“Great, we’ll be ready by then,” Chris told her.
Chris set up an evening to assemble all of his staff and many clients. During a costume class, the spectators stomp their feet in the grandstands and yell an old Beduin war cry as the horses enter the arena at a hand gallop. He wanted to be sure Ali was ready for that commotion as well as all the tassels flipping around. Chris knew many show committees scheduled that class in the evening, so the bright arena lights highlighted all the glitter on the costumes. He thought it could be a distraction for a younger horse. Ali was young. Chris didn’t want to leave any margin for error. He wanted Ali prepared in advance. He didn’t need to worry. That evening everyone stood around the outside of the arena. Chris walked Ali out of the barn in his costume. He cued Ali to a hand gallop, and they charged into the arena. Everyone outside the arena hooted, hollered, yelled, and clapped as loud as they could. Prince Ali gave them a show! He loved it. He was ready for the big time.