Prince Ali – Wonder Horse Book One
By Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Caroline had a short video of Prince Ali made that week and requested several copies of it. She sent one to Chris and Sharon O’Neal in Colorado with a brief note enclosed. Sharon O’Neal found it in the mail three days later. She read the note and set the disc aside for Chris to see when he got a chance. Chris put it on the coffee table in the living room and forgot about it for several days. Sharon reminded him.
After dinner that night, Chris picked up the disc and plugged it into the DVD player, and sat back to watch it from the couch. The first thing he saw was Prince Ali staring right at him as if he were in the same room with him. That caught his undivided attention. Then Prince Ali spun around and trotted down the white rail fencing of the Howard’s arena. Chris caught his breath. He watched the balance of the video; fortunately, it was a short one, without breathing at all. He reran the video, and again, and again. Finally, he called Sharon into the living room, and they watched the video together one final time. When the video started, Chris said, “Look at that! He’s looking right at the person holding the camera. If horses could smile, he’s doing it. It looks like he’s looking right at me!” The video changed to the shots of Prince Ali trotting down the rail in the arena. “Now, look at that trot! His foreleg is above level! Notice how he’s still watching the cameraman. It looks like he’s watching us! I’ve never seen a horse draw you in like that. He has charisma by the bucketful. He likes to be watched, and he’s showing off!” Chris and Sharon watched the video to the end, and Chris reluctantly shut the DVD player off.
“Can you get me a plane ticket to Orange County, California by the weekend?” he asked his wife. “I’ll need a rental car while you’re at it. But, first, I’d better call the Howards and see if they are going to be home.”
Chris dashed off to their home office and looked up the phone number. He dialed the phone and impatiently waited for someone to answer it.
Caroline was walking down the hallway with her arms loaded. She’d been shopping for more new school clothes for Becky. She was on her way to Becky’s room when she heard the phone ring. She stopped in her office, dropped the packages in a chair, moved around the desk, and picked up the phone a little out of breath.
“Hello,” she answered
“Hello. Caroline? Caroline Howard?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Caroline, this is Chris O’Neal.”
“Oh, Hi, Chris. You wouldn’t be calling about the video I sent you, would you?”
“I sure am. Are you going to be home this weekend? I’d love to fly over and see your Prince Ali in person.”
Caroline’s eyebrows climbed a bit on her forehead. “Really? You want to come here to see him?”
“Absolutely. That is if it’s okay with you and Walter. I can fly over on the first flight Saturday morning from Denver.”
“As far as I know, we don’t have any plans, or at least nothing I can’t put off to another time. We’d love to see you and let you see our boy.”
“Perfect. Then it’s a date. I’ll have Sharon call you with the details. I’ll rent a car, so I’ll need directions to your place from the airport. Can you recommend a good hotel nearby? I may have to stay over until Sunday.”
“Chris, if you are flying in to see our boy, you don’t need a hotel. We’d love you to stay here as our guest,” Caroline said.
“That will be great! I haven’t seen you two in quite a while. It will be fun catching up,” Chris told her. He finally began calming himself down. He was afraid they’d already decided to take Prince Ali to another trainer. He wasn’t getting that impression from this phone call. He breathed a sigh of relief as he hung up the phone.
Chris caught up with Sharon as she walked toward the kitchen to clean up the dishes. He hugged her, picked her up, and swung her around. “I can’t believe it!” he said. “This could be our ticket! They haven’t put him with a trainer yet. He might just be the one! He might be my “one-in-a-lifetime horse!” He could be the one that makes our training program famous! Keep your fingers crossed. Please call Caroline and let her know when my flight arrives and get directions to their place for me. Please rent me a car too. This is going to be a long week just waiting for Saturday.”
Saturday did finally come. Chris got up at 2:00 a.m. to pack for the weekend. Sharon made the two-hour drive to the Denver airport to drop him off. He was early but couldn’t sit still. He paced up and down the concourse waiting for his flight to board. He was too excited to nap during the flight. After landing, he rushed to the car rental counter and picked up his rental car. Traffic was light early Saturday morning, so he arrived at the Howard’s home before 10:00 a.m.
Earlier that morning, Caroline told Becky a trainer would be at their house that Saturday to see Prince Ali. Becky took it on herself to get him bathed and groomed right after he finished his breakfast. She walked him on the bridle trail until he was completely dry, then put him back in his stall so he wouldn’t lay down and roll in the arena and get himself all dirty again before the trainer arrived.
Becky was in Prince Ali’s stall, chatting away when Chris O’Neal arrived. Caroline met him at the front door and showed him to the barn. She showed Ali’s mother to Chris first and Spirit’s two previous babies before arriving at Prince Ali’s stall.
Caroline looked in the stall. “Becky, can you bring Ali out here? This is Chris O’Neal. He wants to take a look at him.”
Becky jumped up, dusted the bedding off her jeans, and quickly put Ali’s halter on him. Then, she pushed the stall door open and walked Ali into the breezeway aisle. Next, she picked up the body brush and dusted Ali off again with the brush.
“Why don’t you take him outside to your arena? I’d love to see how he moves,” Chris suggested.
Prince Ali knew there was something different about this man. He didn’t know what it was; it was just different. He looked at him differently, but he seemed kind, so Ali was not disturbed by him at all. When Becky took his halter off in the arena, Ali was ready for some exercise. He also had someone new watching him, so he put on a show. He trotted his biggest trot, threw his head around, snorted and blew like a stallion. His tail flipped completely over his back, and his knees were pulled above level in his excitement to show off for a stranger.
Chris took it all in with his eyes wide open, not missing a single thing. Ali finally wound down and stopped in the center of the arena. He looked straight at Chris as if he dared him to look away. Chris couldn’t take his eyes off Prince Ali! He watched in wonder. It took him a few minutes before he could open his mouth.
Chris finally looked at Caroline. “He is spectacular! If he looks this good at home, where he is relaxed and comfortable, I can hardly wait to see him in a showring. Let’s talk about Scottsdale tonight. I want to play with him a little while I’m here and see how he takes to some simple training if you don’t mind.”
“Can I stay and watch?” Becky asked.
“Becky, maybe we should let Chris get to know Ali by himself. Why don’t you and I go clean out your closet? I got you new clothes, and you have too many in your closet already. Some of those we can give to the Salvation Army or the church’s clothing drive,” Caroline said.
“Aww, Mom. Please let me stay with Chris and Ali,” Becky pleaded. “I want to watch.”
“Caroline, it would be alright with me if Becky stays to help me out. I can teach her a few things too. You never know, she might make a good amateur handler for Prince Ali,” Chris suggested.
“If you’re sure it’s okay with you,” Caroline relented. “If Becky gets in your way, we’ve always got a closet that needs some attention.”
Becky stayed in the barn area working with Chris until her mother called them in for lunch. Esperanza made a special lunch for “company” that day. Chris was impressed. He loved food with the Mexican flavors, and Esperanza’s dishes checked off all his boxes. After lunch, Walter came home from his office and joined Caroline and Chris on the patio for a discussion.
“I’m impressed with Prince Ali,” Chris began. “His conformation is very correct, he is easy to work with, and he has the show attitude that will get him to the top. I’d love to be his trainer. I want to be his trainer. I’m excited you are thinking of me as his trainer!”
“What would you do with him? How would you plan his future if we decide to put him with you?” Walter asked.
“My first thought would be Scottsdale next year in February. As a yearling, I’m convinced he will do well in the showring. He has a “want to please you” attitude, so he’s easy to work with. Ali’s also a show-off. He likes the attention. In the past, the babies I’ve worked with go through their “ugly” period between four and nine months of age. He’s seven months old now, right? If this is his “ugly period, I don’t see that at all.
“What do you mean by the “ugly” period?” Caroline asked.
“When foals are in their rapid growth period during their first year, some of them get gangly looking, with their butt higher than their withers or their withers higher than their butt, their neck looks too short, their legs too long. They don’t look like they’re put together correctly for a while,” Chris chuckled. “Your Ali is in that period right now, but I don’t see “ugly” anywhere on him. On the contrary, I think he’s spectacular from every angle.”
“Do you think there’s a chance he could go through the “uglies” later? Walter asked
“No. If he hasn’t by now, he’s only going to get better. We have plenty of time to get him ready for Scottsdale. The rest depends on how he does there. If he does as well as I think he will, we could end the year at the Nationals in the Futurity and maybe get some of your money back,” Chris chuckled again.
“I’d like to get my laptop and go over the financial arrangements if you don’t mind,” Walter suggested. He got up and walked inside to the office for it and returned. “I’m the finance man here, so let’s go over the details.”
The Howards and Chris O’Neal went over estimated costs for training and showing the young colt for the next hour. Walter created a spreadsheet with the numbers. He totaled everything up. “Wow, that’s quite a bit for a yearling’s first year,” Walter commented when he saw the numbers.
“Remember, much of what we talked about is going to depend on how he shows at Scottsdale. We can pick and choose between some of the other shows we talked about. I wouldn’t want to drag that poor horse to every show in the country as a baby. We can finalize the plan after the show in Arizona.”
“That sounds sensible to me,” Walter admitted. “We know how Ali is here at home, but we don’t know how he’ll be in a strange place with a lot of strangers around.”
“When do you need us to get him to your facility if we plan on Scottsdale?” Caroline asked. “Taking him that far is going to be rough for Becky. She’s attached at the hip to that horse, you know.”
“Yes, I saw that before lunch,” Chris admitted. “He doesn’t need a lot of time to get ready for a halter class in February. If you plan to bring him yourselves, why don’t we plan for the week after Christmas? Then, you can stay with us a few days before you head back to California. I know Sharon would love that, and my son, Todd, can keep Becky company. He’s nine this year, so they’re only a few months apart in age.”
Walter sat and sipped his iced tea, thinking for a few minutes. Finally, he looked at his wife and nodded. “I think we should do this. I believe it is the right thing for the horse. I know it’s going to be rough on Becky, but she’ll get over it. We’ll all go to Scottsdale to see Ali again. That’s only a month and a half. We can decide more after we see how he does in Arizona. Are you with me on this?”
Caroline nodded in agreement. Walter reached his right hand out to Chris and said, “You are officially our trainer.” Chris took the hand and let his breath out. He didn’t realize he’d been holding it. “I’m pleased as heck to be Prince Ali’s trainer!”
With the business settled, the adults sat on the patio and chatted. They swapped stories about their time in college and their lives since. Chris told the Howards about the passing of his parents and taking over the facility he helped them build. Espi brought out a fresh pitcher of iced tea and some nibbly snacks. Caroline introduced her to Chris as Becky’s nanny before lunch. He finally asked about her. “You call her the nanny, but she made the most incredible lunch today, and now these snacks too. I can smell something wonderful every time your kitchen door opens. Do nanny’s cook too?”
Caroline laughed. “Espi is much more than a nanny. We hired her when Becky was two days old. My parents were gone by then, and Walter’s parents lived in Florida. I had a full-time job with an attorney’s office at the time, and Walter worked for an architectural firm in Orange County. So we needed a nanny, and I needed someone to show me how to care for my baby before going back to work. We hired Espi. She’s a widow with no family of her own, except for siblings that live close. She’s part of our family now. She took over the housekeeping, cooking and takes care of Becky for us. I can’t imagine how we’d get along without her. I quit my job when Becky was four. Walter started his own firm a year earlier, and it took off. But Walter and I have gotten very involved with our community here in San Juan Capistrano. I volunteer a lot for the Women’s Groups and the J. F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center. Walter has his business and is involved with the Rotary Club and City and County politics. When we built this home, we included a private suite for her. That way, Espi can always live with us.”
“I bet Sharon would love to find someone like Espi. She takes care of the books for our business, helps train some of the horses, and manages the horse shows besides getting Todd to and from school. She’s a busy woman. I’ll suggest that to her when I get home,” Chris said. “Maybe Espi has a clone in Colorado?”
Sunday morning, Chris had coffee on the back patio with Walter and Caroline. They continued their conversation about Prince Ali. “I need to get back home. If I stay here much longer, I won’t fit in my show clothes,” Chris laughed. “I can’t thank you enough for your hospitality. Espi’s cooking is terrific, but I overate again last night.”
After coffee, Chris went to the barn and haltered Prince Ali. He brought him into the barn aisle and went over the few things they worked on the previous day. Chris was pleased Ali remembered and did what he asked. He stroked the young colt and praised him. “You are going to be a Champion, Ali. Remember that. I’ll see you in December.” Then, Chris left for the airport and spent the entire flight thinking about the handsome young colt in San Juan Capistrano. He knew, without a doubt, everyone in America would learn about him and remember him.