WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
The first game weekend arrived. The Howards flew into Denver on Friday evening, courtesy of the Mavericks Football Team. They rejected the offer of a weekend at the team hotel in Denver. They drove to Clearwater Creek Ranch and stayed there instead. Chris, Walter, Becky, and Todd went to Maverick Field on Saturday. Becky insisted on seeing Ali before the game on Sunday. The security guard recognized Chris immediately and allowed the group into the private area where Ali stabled. Nan was with him.
“He’s going to do great tomorrow,” she told them after meeting Walter, Becky, and Todd. “The TV cameras are in their mounts, so I took him through the routine a couple of times. He knows where those darned cables are, so we can avoid them tomorrow. Now, all we have to do is hope the Mavericks score. The team they are playing this weekend is the toughest match for the year. Their opponents are undefeated.”
Becky looked concerned. “Do you mean that Ali won’t get to charge out of the tunnel at all tomorrow unless the Mavericks score a goal?”
Nan smiled, “No, Becky. I will ride him out before the game even starts. I always ride Lightning out onto the field at the beginning to fire up the audience. This time, I’ll be riding Prince Ali. I wrote an introduction for him and gave it to the announcer this morning. You will get to see your boy on the football field tomorrow. We also play a part in the half-time events. No matter if we win or lose, I always ride Lightning across the middle of the field when the game ends too.”
Becky asked, “Can we see where he’s going to be?”
“Sure,” Nan said. “Let me give you the tour.”
Nan took the group through the tunnel to the playing field. As they passed the staircase to the players’ dressing room, she pointed it out. “They’ve been practicing today, so I won’t take you in there right now. Someone could be in the showers or dressing,” she told them. When they came out of the tunnel, the stadium looked immense to Becky. The stands were empty except for the people cleaning and getting it ready for the game. Food vendors scurried around, stocking their booths. Officials walked around looking the site over for areas that needed attention. The video people worked on the screenshots that would play on the video display screens during the game. Some of the players were still practicing throwing and kicking the balls around. Camera operators checked over their cameras mounted around the stadium. Even with a couple of hundred people preparing for the game the next day, the stadium looked huge.
“I’ve seen this on TV hundreds of times, but I never thought it was this big,” Todd said as he looked around. “I’ve seen the football field at the high school. It’s tiny compared to this.”
Nan laughed. “Your football field is measured out the same way this one is, most likely. The difference is all the rest of it. I’d bet your grandstands are nothing like this!”
Todd nodded in agreement. “Neither is our snack shack.”
One of the assistant coaches came out from behind them. “Hey, Nan. I’ve been looking for you. The head coach sent me. We’re having a team dinner tonight at 6 pm. Coach wanted to know if you’d invite the owner of that horse and his trainer to join us.”
Nan introduced the man to the group. “Since they are both here, why don’t you invite them yourself?”
The man explained the dinner was early so players could get to bed and get sleep before the game. “Coach wanted you to know your horse made quite an impression on some of our players. They’ve asked to meet you. Dinner tonight will be a lot of “Rah Rah, Score Points!” stuff. It helps get the players up and focused on the game. We’d love to have you join us.”
Dinner that night included the wives of the players. There was a lot of juvenile joking around and kidding between the players and coaches. The Head Coach stood up and made a short speech about how important the game was for the Maverick’s season, concluding with poking fun at the quarterback. The team manager introduced the players and their wives to the Howards and O’Neals. Many of the players stopped by to meet Becky in person and tell her they could hardly believe such a sweet little girl owned such a big, beautiful stallion.
Nan and her husband sat with the O’Neals and Howards for dinner. Nan told Chris she needed his help in the morning. “We need to get Prince Ali show groomed, tacked, and ready to ride by noon. The game starts at 1 pm, but they will announce Prince Ali before that. I usually ride Lightning around the entire stadium with the American flag at that point. We charge back into the tunnel and wait out of sight until the Mavericks score.”
“Will you be in the tunnel when the players run out onto the field?” Todd asked.
“Yes, and there are a couple more things I should tell you. When the players come down the staircase into the tunnel, they slap the horseshoe mounted on the wall at the end of the stairs for good luck. Then, when they pass Lightning and me, they pat him on the butt as they run by. That’s the tradition. I hope Ali doesn’t jump around. I’ll keep him as calm as I can. He’s not a flighty horse, so he’ll probably be a lot like Lightning. He’ll stand there for me.”
“Can I be there with him?” Becky asked.
“If your Dad thinks you can help keep Ali calm, yes,” Nan answered and looked at Walter. Walter nodded his head. “Okay, then. I’ll see you in the morning at the stall. And, so that you know, Prince Ali is guarded overnight here. Our security guards don’t mess around, and they carry guns. No one will mess with your horse while he’s here.”
The following morning was a rush. Prince Ali had a bath, clip job, hooves sanded and polished, and a light coat of glitter spray added to his mane, tail, and body. Nan brought out Lightning’s tack and adjusted it for Prince Ali. She slipped into the tack room and put her clothes on. They were ready by noon, one hour before game time.
Nan mounted Prince Ali and walked him around with the flag. There was a slight breeze that morning, so the flag fluttered. Ali ignored it completely. Nan kept checking her watch. Finally, she said, “Let’s go. It’s time to get in position.” She walked Ali toward the tunnel entrance with Becky and Chris on either side. The rest of the group headed to the grandstand. They had seats behind the players’ bench where the players’ wives sat.
Nan knew the order of pre-game announcements even though the announcer’s voice sounded muffled in the tunnel. She walked Ali a little in front of the entrance to the players’ locker room and stopped. Suddenly the door to the locker room opened, and the team streamed out. The first player in line slapped the horseshoe plaque on the wall and rushed down the tunnel. He patted Ali on the butt as he passed. Ali flinched but didn’t move. The second player slapped the plaque and patted Ali on the butt. It all happened so quickly, Becky couldn’t believe it. All she heard was the wall slap from each player. Suddenly the last player passed them by with a gentle pat on Ali’s rear end. When the first player reached the end of the tunnel and ran out on the field, the stadium burst into applause. The applause didn’t end until the last man was through the tunnel.
At the opposite side of the field, the same scenario took place, minus the slap on the wall and the pat on Ali’s rear end as the opposing team came onto the field. Becky could hear boo’s from this side of the grandstand and cheers on the opposite side, nearly drowned out. Nan said, “It’s time for us to get ready,” and began walking Ali toward the tunnel entrance.
The announcer’s tone changed. He made a different announcement. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mavericks fans, you probably know our beloved mascot, Lightning, is on injured reserve for a couple of games. In his place, we have a surprise for you. This young stallion is the current Canadian National Champion, the United States National Champion, and the World National Champion Arabian stallion. He’s never lost to another. We are privileged to have him step in for Lightning for a few games to keep your spirits up. I’d like to present to you, Prince Ali! Let’s give him a big hand!”
Nan cued Ali to the trot, and they streaked out of the tunnel into daylight. The crowd roared! Ali hesitated for a split second, then struck off in his high floating trot with the American Flag streaming beside him. Ali made the circuit around the entire field. The higher he trotted, the louder the crowd became. Ali had never heard 70,000 screaming fans before. It pumped him up with adrenalin and excitement, and he stepped higher and higher than he’d ever moved before. Ali began meeting the eyes of fans as they passed by. Fans started calling him by name. They chanted “Prince Ali! Prince Ali! Prince Ali!” He loved it. Ali was a little sorry when Nan asked him to return to the quiet of the tunnel.
The teams ran out on the football field and set up their formations across the line of scrimmage, and the game began. After the opening show, the Mavericks were on fire and made their first touchdown with half of the first quarter to go. Nan and Prince Ali trotted out to the field and made their pass down the Mavericks sideline with the flag snapping in the breeze. The fans in the grandstands stomped their feet, clapped, and screamed. Nan turned Ali right at the end of the field and stopped him in front of the goalpost. She cued him to rear up. Ali reared and pawed at the sky. Then he screamed the stallion challenge in his own language, loud enough to be heard over the fans. They, in turn, screamed louder than ever. “Prince Ali! Prince Ali! Prince Ali!” It took a few extra minutes to get the players on the field back into position for the extra point. The placekicker set up and scored again. Ali and Nan made another run down the sidelines, firing up their fans.
By the time the fourth quarter ended, Nan and Ali traveled down the sideline to the goalpost four more times. Ali screamed the wild stallion challenge from the goalpost each time. The previously undefeated opponent scored once. The Mavericks players scrambled onto the field in joyful celebration. One of them called down into the tunnel, “Hey, Nan, bring that horse out here! He’s part of our team too.” She trotted Ali out onto the grass. There, 300 pond linemen were fist-pumping and chest-bumping each other and the quarterback. Ali joined right in, nose bumping and shoulder bumping players in fun. The head coach took a shower in Gateraide from a five-gallon bucket and laughed as he chased the players who soaked him. Everyone, including Prince Ali, was in high spirits before the team finally settled down and headed for the locker room. They walked down the tunnel as a group. Each player stroked Ali’s butt again before turning up the stairs.
Chris, Becky, and Todd stood against the wall, out of the way. Becky finally said, “That was really something, wasn’t it?”
Chris and Nan laughed. “Yeah, that was fun.” The group headed out of the tunnel to Prince Ali’s temporary stable. They just finished taking off his tack when the head coach charged out of the tunnel in their direction. “Oh, great! You’re still here. The team wants you to come to dinner tonight. We have a lot to celebrate. Can you make it?”
“Where and when? We’d love it,” Chris said.
The dinner was a raucous affair with lots of teasing and joking between players and the coaching staff. This time, nearly everyone in the group stopped by to meet and talk with Becky, the owner of “that fabulous horse.” The quarterback and his wife stopped by to tell her how much they appreciated how Ali encouraged them to their best efforts. The head coach and team manager came by with two signed game balls. The manager explained to Becky and Walter, “One of these is for you. The other is for the horse. When he trounces it and smashes it flat, let me know, and we’ll get you another one for him.”
The TV cameras loved Prince Ali. Cameramen on the opposite side of the field from the Mavericks’ bench zeroed in for closeups of him during his gameday performances. People across the nation saw him in brief clips before the commercial breaks in broadcasts of the games. Fans flooded the Mavericks Office with questions about Prince Ali.
At the team dinner following Prince Ali’s final performance for the Mavericks, the Mavericks gave team outfits to every O’Neal and Howard family member. They awarded Prince Ali a Mavericks stall plaque listing his title as “Fan Morale Manager,” along with a Mavericks saddle blanket, day sheet, heavy winter blanket, and polo wraps all in Mavericks team colors. As everyone got up to leave, the Mavericks manager pulled Chris and Walter aside. “If you ever want to come to a home game, give me a call. I’ll get you in the family section, front row behind the bench. We’d be delighted to see you and your families again.”
The sports section of newspapers across the country, including the New York Times, USA Today, LATimes, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, San Diego Union-Tribune, and Wall Street Journal, all had stories and photos of Prince Ali during his game performances. Stories like “Horse Fires Up The Mavericks,” “So-So Team Delivers No Fouls, No Errors – Could It Be The Horse?” “Is Prince Ali The Mavericks’ Secret Weapon?” “Team Climbs Out Of The Hole – Because Of A Horse, Of Course?” The articles included photos of Prince Ali and Nan in action at a game. Some were photos of Ali rearing, some trotting, and all showed fans on their feet waving banners. One point the journalists made was the Denver Mavericks were a solid team but had a lack-luster record until Prince Ali showed up on their field. Since his first appearance, they won every game and showed no intention of falling back into their previous “win-some, lose-some” habits. They were on track toward the Super Bowl at the end of the season. In weeks following Prince Ali’s final performance, so many people showed an interest in him the journalists began digging into his background. They wrote about his very human family and his 10-year-old owner Becky. They covered his unbroken streak of wins in the Arabian show ring, including his International success in Paris. The winning picture at the Salon de Cheval made the papers before other current news took him off the Sports Section’s front page. Prince Ali was the most famous Arabian horse in the United States, a standing previously held by Cass Ole, the star of the highly successful “Black Stallion” film.
Back in his stall at Clearwater Creek Ranch, Ali was oblivious to the attention. He settled right back into his training routine with Chris. They had shows to enter and classes to win. Ali would never forget his time with the Mavericks. A stadium full of screaming fans is hard to beat for a ham with a capital H.