WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
At eleven o’clock a.m., two Eagle Scouts marched down Ortega Highway toward Del Obispo Avenue. They carried the banner for the Swallows Day Parade.
The theme for this year’s parade was “How the West Was Fun.” The first entry was a large group of rodeo clowns. They had painted faces and crazy red, white and blue costumes. Some wore barrels held up by suspenders. They did all kinds of silly things. The crowds down the parade route cheered and jeered as they passed by. The louder the crowd got, the crazier the clowns acted. Three carts pulled by goats followed the clowns on foot. The drivers were face-painted clowns that dangled carrots in front of the goats’ noses on sticks. The clowns in the carts threw hard-wrapped candies to the children along the parade route as they went by. Behind the clowns was the first of many school bands.
Equestrian groups in Western and Early California attire moved between bands and strolling mariachi groups. Walking “Soiled Doves” sashayed down the street with their “Cowboys.” Several Color Guards from military and police units rode their horses down the streets. Draft horses or mules pulled floats. Miniature horses pulled carts. Individual and family groups of equestrians moved west on Ortega Highway to Del Obispo. The parade turned north on Del Obispo to Camino Capistrano. Then everyone turned east on Camino Capistrano to the finish of the parade route. El Mercado, the street faire, was near the end of the parade route.
El Mercado would start up right after the parade. Many vendors set up booths with items for sale, food, and plenty to drink. The City kept streets in town blocked off after the parade because of the people walking through the street faire.
Prince Ali and Becky followed the local high school marching band. When the band started to play, Becky was surprised at the music. She immediately recognized the Overture from the movie Lawrence of Arabia. The flutes, piccolos, and clarinets carried the soothing melody, highlighted by the xylophones and trombones and punctuated by the bass drums and tubas. It put Becky in the mood of an Arabian Princess. She looked the part, except for the blue eyes above her veil. She straightened her shoulders and moved with the music, waving at the crowd as they passed down the street.
Prince Ali and Becky were the only ones in the parade not wearing some kind of Western costume. Ali strode down the parade route proudly, looking to his left and right, making eye contact with spectators, especially the children. He kept pace with the marching band in front of him. He knew he was looking good. This was fun! The attention was what he loved, and he had his best friend along for the ride too. What could be better?
Fiona and her sisters followed Ali down the parade route. Ali knew Fiona was nervous. The sound of her hooves against the asphalt was more tentative than her companions at first. As the parade moved along, she was getting better and more relaxed, her stride more purposeful.
A two-year-old child beside the road lost her bright red Happy Birthday balloon. It drifted across the road in front of Fiona. It touched the pavement almost beneath her front feet. It exploded! The child screamed and began to wail. Fiona froze. She stopped in her tracks for a heartbeat, then screamed out in fear and began to shake. She scrabbled backward away from the noisy thing. Her shoes slipped on the pavement. She slammed into Sally, hitched behind her.
That caught Sally off guard. The impact drove her backward. She crashed into the buckboard. The buckboard jolted back several feet. When Fiona threw herself in reverse, she dragged Peggy, hitched beside her. Peggy slammed backward. Her rear rammed Missy. That shoved Missy into the buckboard. The impact sent the buckboard several more feet backward. The first jolt tossed the Boy Scouts to the floor in the back of the buckboard. The second jolt sent them crashing into the front of the wagon.
Gloria hung on for dear life. Chuck hauled on the reins and hollered, “Whoa! Easy! Whoa! EASY! WHOA!” Gloria turned her head and saw the kids knocked about on the floorboards. She saw blood. Her heart raced.
The Marine Corps Color Guard marched behind the buckboard. The explosion stopped them in their tracks. The Marines held onto their Palomino mustangs. They grabbed flags and held them against the flag poles to stop flapping that could cause further distraction.
A Marine on the outside of the group spun his horse around and moved to the school band leader behind them. He asked them to stop the music until the horse situation was under control. The band passed the word backward person to person quickly. Everyone went silent, standing at attention. Word spread back from the band to every group behind them down the parade route. Every float, cart, carriage, walker, wagon, and band stopped in silence. The spectators watching this went quiet from shock. They watched with their hearts in their throats.
Fiona threw her head and brayed. Sweat poured down her neck and flanks. Her chest heaved. All four animals voiced their fear. They fed on each other’s fright. The four danced and scrambled on the asphalt to keep their footing. The sound of metal shoes scraping asphalt screeched through the still morning air.
Fiona couldn’t move backward because of Sally behind her. She started jumping forward. When her metal shoes hit the asphalt, they slipped. She started to go down. All she wanted to do was run away from this thing that was going to kill her. She shook all over, tossed her head around, and screamed in terror.
Ali saw what happened and was momentarily startled by the exploding balloon himself. He turned and walked calmly back toward Fiona. Becky could not change his direction. She finally understood and went with him. Ali stood sideways in front of Fiona. His body became a granite wall she couldn’t get through. He blocked her. He reached around with his muzzle and touched the side of her face and neck. He nickered at her. Fiona stood shaking, sweating, and ready to bolt.
“Hey, Beautiful, its okay! That thing is dead and can’t hurt you.” Ali was so calm and unruffled Fiona began to settle down. Her breathing slowed. Becky sat on Ali’s back and spoke to the Hinnies in a soothing voice, “Easy ladies. Everything’s all right. It was just a balloon. It can’t hurt you. Easy, Whoa…Easy girls,” Becky kept talking to the Hinnies in a soothing voice until the other three mares began to settle down. They stopped hopping around. “Beautiful Fiona, I know you want to run away from that thing, but you can’t do that. If you did, you could get hurt. Look around. There are many little people here that could get hurt too. It’s okay. I promise you. Calm down, catch your breath. I’m right here. I’ll look out for you.” Ali told her.
When Fiona was calm enough, Ali found a piece of the red balloon lying in the street in front of her and stomped on it with his front foot. “See what I mean?” Ali said to her. “This thing is dead!” He kicked it and stomped it again. Ali looked at the thing under his foot then looked at Fiona. He looked back down at the rubber thing and up again at Fiona.
She finally got it! She answered him at last. “Oh, thank you. I was so scared. I don’t want to get hurt, and I don’t want to hurt anyone else either. I thought that thing was going to kill me! I can’t thank you enough, sir. Thank you!” She and her stable-mates felt consoled. Their breathing slowed to normal. They stopped sweating and stamping the pavement.
During the commotion, spectators on both sides of the road couldn’t turn their eyes away. They remained quiet, holding their breath. The mother and father of the child who lost her balloon took the sobbing child away from the area. The crowd parted to give them room.
Chuck was blown away. He watched the interaction between Fiona and Ali. He knew positively Ali prevented a disaster. For a few seconds, he was sure he had a four-horse stampede on his hands. He thought his family, the scout troop, their buckboard, and the four Hinnies were goners and maybe some of the spectators too. His wife was next to him on the seat. A couple of their kids were in the back of the buckboard with the rest of their scout troop.
He and Gloria saw news coverage of a wreck caused by a four-horse hitch like his bolting at a parade a few years back. The news report said it destroyed the wagon. Some of the horses and several of the spectators were seriously hurt. One person in the wagon died.
Chuck had never seen an animal diffuse a situation like this. He had tears in his eyes. His hands were shaking as he held tightly to the four sets of reins. He leaned toward Gloria and she hugged him. She was shaking too.
Gloria checked on the boys in the back of the buckboard. She saw two bloody noses and a few scrapes. None were seriously hurt. There might be a couple of black eyes in the morning. All the boys were shaken, her sons included. Her eyes welled up thinking of that old TV newscast. She reassured the boys. They got back to their seats on the hay bales. She handed out Kleenex to those bleeding and helped mop up the bloody noses.
Fiona took two paces forward until she felt the tug of the harness on the breast piece then stopped. Sally moved forward the same two paces until she’d pulled the harness tight from the wagon. Fiona tightened up the rigging again and halted. Next to them, Peggy and Missy also moved forward and tightened up the harness. All four stood and waited calmly.
Ali resumed his place in the parade, but he looked over his shoulder at Fiona. When he was sure she was alright, he turned back and faced forward with his neck up and arched like nothing ever happened. He waited for Becky to signal him onward.
Fiona nickered to him, “We’re okay now. We’re ready. Thank you again!” All was right with the world. Everything froze in place for about ten seconds. Nothing moved; no sound was heard except the slight squeak of harness leather as the hinnies drew their breaths.
Chuck handed the reins to Gloria. He jumped down from the buckboard to check the rigging on the animals. He stroked and patted each one as he checked harnesses, breeching, saddles, breast collars, and reins. He straightened those he found out of place. He smiled up at Gloria when he discovered no damage.
“We’re good to go,” he said as he climbed back up and took the reins from Gloria. “We sure dodged a bullet that time.”
Chuck leaned over and whispered in Gloria’s ear, “We may want to consider switching to Arabian horses. I understand they drive beautifully.”
Gloria whispered back, “I’ll get in touch with the owner and see if any of Ali’s foals are available. I want his breeding if we switch to Arabs. That kind of intelligence is inheritable!”
Walter and Caroline were right across the street from the incident and watched it happen. Both of them felt sheer panic in the first seconds. It all happened so fast. In the end, they were so proud of Ali and Becky they could have popped the buttons off their shirts. Caroline no longer worried about Becky with Ali. Ali demonstrated what he was made of – courage and intelligence. Becky showed her own courage. Caroline had tears in her eyes. Walter didn’t know quite what to say. He sat with his arm around his wife’s shoulders and let out a big sigh.
Becky squeezed her legs to signal Ali on. He struck up the pace. The parade resumed. Ali strutted on. The jewels on his costume glinted and sparkled in the light of the mid-day sun. He was having the time of his life. It was a gorgeous day – blue sky and sunshine with just a hint of crispness in the air. There were so many beautiful mares to see. That little Hinny wasn’t a bad looker at all, and he thought she might like him a little too! He flipped his head, flared his nostrils, elevated his tail, and snorted like a bad boy.
For Ali, this whole parade thing was much easier than the horse show routine. There was no pressure to perform because all Becky wanted him to do was walk down the street. He was carrying his best friend with him. He knew there were special treats and extra oats in a bucket when he was done. He knew there was a dry barn, soft bedding, and a manger full of fresh hay. What could be better? “Aaahhhh! Life is good sometimes.”
When they heard about the incident, the parade committee huddled together. Someone ran to get the Mayor and the City Council of San Juan Capistrano. Together they came up with an award for Prince Ali. At the end of the Awards Ceremony, the Mayor gave the Key to the City to a horse! And the day wasn’t over yet.