WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
During Prince Ali’s third year, Chris added more shows to his schedule. He included shows in different parts of the country. Chris felt that would increase Prince Ali’s appeal as a breeding stallion when the Howards decided it was time for that.
As promised, Becky attended every show so she could spend time with her horse. In addition to that, Becky spent her Spring Break and Summer Vacation with the O’Neals in Colorado. She had a bedroom in their home and began leaving some of her things there, so she didn’t have to pack quite so much. Becky and Todd were close as siblings, and they liked each other. Sharon and Chris O’Neal treated Becky as though she was their child during her visits. House rules for Todd applied equally to her. She had assigned chores the same as Todd. Becky soon dropped the Mr. and Mrs. O’Neal when she talked to them. She began to call them Mom and Dad the way Todd did. That was only a little complicated when the Howard family came to Colorado to stay the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Becky had two of each.
Prince Ali continued his winning ways. Every time he put a hoof in the show ring, he won. By the time the March show in California came around, Prince Ali was going so well under saddle he won his first English Pleasure and Native Costume classes in addition to his Halter classes. Ali’s winning in the under saddle classes proved to many people that he wasn’t just a pretty face. Ali could do so much more, and very well indeed. He always had tough competition from some famous and well-bred competitors with many wins of their own.
After his triple Championships in Canada, Chris brought Ali home, hoping for a month or two off between that show and the US National Championship show. By that time, Ali filled Caroline Howard’s trophy case, and she purchased another one.
Becky still had a couple of weeks in Colorado before flying back to California for school. Caroline took the rotation this time and decided to fly to Colorado to pick Becky up but added a couple of days to her schedule. She wanted to stay a few days in Colorado herself. Walter was at one of his conferences on the East Coast and not home anyway.
Caroline was at the kitchen table having a glass of iced tea with Sharon when the phone rang. Sharon answered. She listened for a few seconds with a curious expression on her face. “He’s on one of his training horses right now. Can I ask him to call you back?” She listened and took down a phone number. “Sure, I’ll have him call you as soon as he can.”
“That was a strange call,” she told Caroline. “That was the woman who rides Lightning, the Colorado Mavericks mascot, during their home games. She wants to talk to Chris about his gray horse. I can’t imagine who that might be unless she’s referring to Prince Ali.”
Caroline’s eyebrows climbed up her forehead. “Maybe we should get this message to him right away so we can find out what her call is all about? It sounds interesting!”
Sharon took the note, and the two women walked to the barn. Chris was handing the horse off to Roberto for a rinse. “Hey, Chris, you got an interesting phone call. Why don’t you call this woman back from my office in the barn? Caroline and I are curious what her interest is in your gray horse.”
“My gray horse?” Chris said, puzzled. “I don’t own a gray horse. Was she talking about Prince Ali?”
“She didn’t say. We’re dying of curiosity. Would you please call her? We want to know what this is all about,” Sharon told him.
Chris picked up the phone and dialed. “Hi, This is Chris O’Neal. I understand you want to talk to me.” He listened. “Where are you right now?” He listened. “Can you come over here and ride him? He’s comfortable here, so that might be a good idea. You can get a feel for him that way.” He listened. “Okay, we’ll see you in a couple of hours.” He listened. “See you then.”
“Well, that is a surprise.” Chris began. “That was the trainer for Lightning. Lightning has a slight injury and can’t perform in the next two home games for the Colorado Mavericks. She’s looking for a substitute to fill in. She wants to see if Prince Ali can do that.”
“Wow! Just WOW!” Caroline said. “That’s quite an honor.”
“Let’s not get our hopes up,” Chris suggested. “She’s on her way here from Denver. I’m going to let her ride him here and see what she thinks. If she likes him and thinks he’ll do what she needs, maybe we can celebrate then.”
“Caroline, come with me. I need to get something out for dinner,” Sharon said. “We can talk in the kitchen. I don’t want to tell the kids until we know for sure. There’s no need to get their hopes up. Our family has been Mavericks fans for as long as I can remember. Having a horse from here sub in for Lightning would be a real honor, not to mention a lot of fun!”
“I agree with you. I can call Walter later on this evening if things look good,” Caroline said. “I sure won’t tell Becky until we know.”
Nan Jacobs arrived at the ranch almost two hours later. She walked directly to the barn looking for Chris. He had a horse in cross-ties, pulling the tack off so Roberto could rinse him down.
“Chris?” she asked.
“Nan Jacobs, I’d know you anywhere,” Chris said. “My family watches all the Mavericks games at home.”
“Well, Chris, I’ve seen you in the showring with that gray horse. I saw him as a yearling, a two-year-old, and recently a three-year-old under saddle. I’m impressed. You’ve done a great job with him. What is he like to work with?”
“Oh, Nan, you have no idea. He’s the best horse I’ve ever worked with. He is so willing to work with me, and he wants to please. He gives me 110% every time. He is as good as gold on the ground too. He eats and drinks well at shows like it doesn’t bother him. He has enthusiasm for working. He has a special something that makes you want to watch him. He loves life. And he’s affectionate, not a biter or kicker ever.”
“Well, he sounds about perfect. Let’s go see him.”
Chris showed Nan the way to Prince Ali’s stall and opened the door. The two walked in. Ali nickered at Chris and looked curiously at Nan. Nan walked over and stroked his silky neck down to his withers. Her fingers found the itchy spot and gave it a good scratch. Ali turned his neck around to look at her and chuffed his enjoyment.
“Boy, for a three-year-old stallion, he sure is calm,” Nan said.
“Yeah, he’s as cool as a cucumber. We had a storm here last year. The rain came down in buckets, and the lightning sounded like it was right over our heads. Several horses in the barn were flipping out over it. I checked on Ali. He didn’t pull his head out of his feeder. He just kept on munching as if he’d been through lightning storms every day.”
“Those are all good points,” Nan said. “How do you think he would react to riding into a stadium with 70,000 screaming fans?”
“One thing I can say about Prince Ali is that he’s a ham with a capital H. He loves the crowd. He looks into the crowd and makes eye contact with them. The more they scream and cheer, the higher he flies, but he is completely under control at all times. I’ve never seen or felt anything like it.”
“Dang, that sounds perfect! Can I ride him?” she asked.
“Sure, Here’s his halter and lead. I’ll go get his tack out. Can you walk him down to the cross ties?”
Chris rode Ali in the arena while Nan watched closely. Chris told her what he was doing as he passed her on the rail at all gaits. After a few passes, he pulled Ali to a halt at the gate. “Your turn,” he said. “Remember to click for the trot and double click for the strong trot.”
Nan mounted and adjusted the stirrups. She walked Ali down the rail while she got a feel for him. Then she asked him to trot. After a complete round at the trot, she asked him to canter. When she finished an entire round at the canter, she pulled Ali back to a walk. She walked him around, turning left and right, then asked him to halt. She walked Ali back to the arena gate and dismounted.
“WOW! That was like driving a million-dollar Lamgorgini!” she told Chris. “I’ve never ridden a horse like that. I love Lightning, and I’m used to him, but this was an experience I’ll never forget. What do you think about asking the owners’ permission to use him?”
“A couple of things first,” Chris said. “We need to check the schedule to make sure there isn’t a show conflict. Then, we should probably get him to Denver and let him ride around the field to get accustomed to the area. This will not be like his usual show. How did you get Lightning used to the crowds, loudspeakers, players on the field, and all that stuff?”
“I have a plan,” Nan said. “The team is home practicing every day. I can make arrangements for everything. If we get the okay, I can do that to get him to Denver as soon as tomorrow. Does he rear? If not, I can teach him, but I’ll need to keep him at my ranch for a couple of days. I’ll sign whatever release the owners need. I think we can make your Prince Ali a football star! Both home games will be televised.”
The two walked Ali back to the barn and handed him over to Roberto. Nan, being a trainer, had a pocketful of horse goodies. She handed a couple to Prince Ali and gave him another scratch on the withers before walking back to the house with Chris.
Sharon checked the schedule. The two dates for Mavericks games were open. Ali wasn’t en route to or from a show or showing those days. Caroline, Walter, and Becky gave their enthusiastic approval. Nan talked to the team’s manager. He promised tickets to both games and all travel expenses for the weekend for the Howards and the O’Neals.
Chris talked with Nan. He had several horses he needed to work with and get ready for shows. They decided Chris would bring Prince Ali to Nan’s ranch the day after Becky and Caroline left for California. Chris would pick Nan up and drive to Maverick Field to walk Prince Ali around and get him used to the location. Then he would drop Ali off at Nan’s ranch before going home. Nan planned to work with Ali to teach him to rear on command, then bring Prince Ali back to Clearwater Creek Ranch. She and Chris would set up the schedules for the game weekends then.
Nan showed Chris how to get to the private area she used for Lightning on game days. It was screened from public view and had guards on duty when Lightning was there. The stall was large and bedded deeply. The automatic waterer was clean and in good working order. Nan stored feed, grooming supplies, and game day costumes for her and the horse in the locked tack room next to the stall. A small grass paddock surrounded the stall so Lightning could relax in comfort before and after game appearances. Nan and Chris used the hitching post inside the paddock fence to tack Prince Ali for a ride. Chris mounted, and Nan led them to the tunnel entrance.
The tunnel went completely under the stadium. The team covered the concrete floor with 2” thick rubber mats so a horse wouldn’t slip walking through it. The tunnel ran straight through to the ground level of the field. A staircase down from the players’ dressing room was about halfway between the entrances of the tunnel. The tunnel had bright ceiling lights so the players or horses wouldn’t be blinded by daylight when they stepped out on the field.
Nan walked beside Chris and Ali through the tunnel to the packed dirt area that surrounded the grass field. When they stepped out, the players were practicing. Some ran plays, practiced throwing and kicking the ball, and the coaches called plays. Nan used a walky-talky to speak with someone in the control room. The loudspeakers turned on and blasted the sound of 70,000 people in the stands during a game. The players froze in confusion. Prince Ali came to an abrupt halt. One of the coaches ran over to see what the commotion was all about.
Nan explained. They needed Prince Ali to hear the noise he would hear on game day. The players practicing was all part of that too. He needed to see the ball thrown or kicked, and the players tackle each other, the sounds of so many people in the space, etc. She introduced him to Prince Ali as Lightning’s stand-in. He ran back on the field and spread the word to the other coaches and players. They continued their workouts.
“Chris, when the Mavericks score a touchdown, that’s when Lightning streaks out of this tunnel. He races down the corridor behind the player’s bench to the other end of the field and back. I fly the flag as we go. I did spend some time with Ali and the flag at my ranch. Some horses get upset with something flying and flapping above their head and ears. Ali was wonderful. He didn’t flinch a bit. Why don’t you take a gallop down and back and let me know what you think? See if you can get Ali to ignore the commotion on the field.”
Chris cued Prince Ali. Just as they came out of the tunnel, the canned crowd noise changed. The recording caught a significant play on the field that day, and the crowd screamed and cheered. Ali thought they were cheering for him. That pumped him up. He was excited. He stepped into his high floating trot, looking around for the people. The only people he could see were players on the grass. They noticed him and stopped what they were doing to watch him. He charged down to the opposite end of the field and spun around before striking out for the entrance tunnel. Chris stopped him a few feet inside the tunnel. “How was that?” he asked Nan.
“I usually gallop Lightning down the sideline, but I think Ali’s trot is even better and showier. That’s what I’m going to do on game day. Did you notice how excited he got? It looked like he thought the crowd was cheering him. What a difference that made. I can’t wait. You’re right. He is a ham with a capital H.” she laughed. “Now, give me a turn.”
Chris dismounted and boosted Nan in the saddle. She shortened the stirrups and took off down the sideline. Halfway down the field, the crowd noise went into cheering again. Ali pumped up and stepped even higher than usual. Nan took him to the end of the field and turned him right to a spot behind the center of the goalpost. She stopped him and asked him to rear. He hopped on two legs twice before dropping down onto all fours and trotted back to the tunnel entrance.
“Oh, my! That was a thrill!” Nan said as she dismounted. “He was perfect. Let’s walk him this time. There are some places I want him to see. There will be TV cables and stuff snaking across the sidelines behind the players’ bench on game day. I want him to look at that so he knows it’s there. There will also be giant cameras and cameramen in those elevated mounts all around the field.” She pointed to the white structures above the sidelines. “I can’t do much to prepare him ahead of time for them. As long as he knows they are there, he should be okay with them.”
Chris and Nan began walking Prince Ali down the sideline. They came close to the players’ bench, and several players were sitting down taking a break. One of the players noticed the trio. “Hey, Nan, who’s that good-looking guy you’re bringing onto our field?” he asked.
Nan laughed, “Henry, this is Chris O’Neal. He’s the trainer for the lovely horse we’re walking.”
Henry laughed, “I was talking about that horse, but pleased to meet you, Chris,” he stood and extended his hand. Chris was tall at 6 feet 1 inch, but Henry towered over him and weighed at least twice as much. Chris took the hand offered. It was swallowed in the grasp. “Nice to meet you too,” Chris said. “My family are fans. We watch you every time you make it on the Sunday telecasts.”
“Thank you very much, Chris. Tell me about this handsome horse,” Henry asked.
Nan spoke up, “Henry, you probably know Lightning is out for a few weeks with an injury. I found Prince Ali to stand in for him. Prince Ali is the reigning National Champion stallion. I think he’ll make a good substitute for Lightning, don’t you think?” Several of the other players who’d been seated on the bench joined the group.
One of the men, another almost Henry’s size, spoke up. “I saw him out of the corner of my eye when you came down the sidelines. I almost got my head knocked off because I wasn’t watching my opponent for a second. He’s sure a beautiful horse. Welcome to the team, Chris.”
Henry walked closer and stroked Ali’s neck. “Are you sure this horse is a stallion? He’s so soft! And he’s so nice.”
Ali looked at the men in their practice uniforms. They looked huge in their shoulder pads and protective gear. This group happened to be linemen for the team, so they were all large men, to begin with. Henry’s touch was gentle. Ali nickered at him. Henry stroked him again. The players all came closer when they realized Ali was friendly. Someone finally said, “I thought all stallions were hard to handle and aren’t safe around people. This guy is nice. Who’d a thought?”
Chris laughed. “This one’s best friend is a 12-year-old girl.”
Henry looked dumbfounded. “You mean a little girl handles this stallion?”
Chris nodded. “She loves him, and he looks after her.”
Henry shook his head. “Well, I’ll be darned. My little girl loves horses. Maybe I should look into getting her one.”
“Bring her by my ranch sometime,” Chris said. “We’ll introduce her to some lovely horses like Prince Ali. These Arabians do love people.”
The lineman coach began blowing his whistle. Henry looked over. The coach was signally them to get back on the field. “We gotta go for now. Nice to meet you, Chris, and Prince Ali. See you on game day.” The men dashed back out onto the field and got in formation.
At the end of their walk around the field, Chris asked, “How do you think Ali’s going to do on game day?”
“Well, very well!” Nan said.