WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Sharon O’Neal stepped away from the baggage carousel and almost walked into Ginny Hartley. “Hey, don’t run me over, buddy!” Ginny laughed. “I’m your ride.” The two women laughed and hugged and strolled out of the terminal together.
“How’s Becky?” Sharon asked.
“I talked to Caroline just before coming to the airport. She said there is no change. Becky is still in a coma, but her vital signs are all good. The doctor is a little worried because there was some bleeding in her brain at first, but the latest scan showed nothing more, so it’s the concussion they’re worried about. He has no idea when she will wake up. Of course, the police want to talk to her too.” Ginny explained.
“Has there been any word at all on Ali? Any ransom demand, any sighting? Chris and Todd are worried sick about him too,” Sharon said.
“The only phone calls to the house have been reporters or friends,” Ginny told her. “It’s like he vanished off the face of the earth.”
“This sounds awful, but maybe it’s just as well Becky is in a coma right now. I wouldn’t want to be the one to explain this to her. You know how she feels about that horse.”
“Yes. Absolutely. But I also know how Ali feels about her. I’m really worried about him too. If possible, I know that horse would break down walls to get back to Becky if he could. I hate to think about what he’s going through right now. If he’s still alive at all,” Ginny almost whispered.
“Oh, let’s not go there,” Sharon said quietly.
Ginny and Sharon settled into guest rooms at the Howard estate. Sharon got instructions about answering the phone from the officers assigned to the house. Esperanza, who quickly became “Espie” to all, prepared elaborate meals three times a day because she couldn’t sit still from worry. Walter and Caroline took turns coming home to change and shower each morning. There was nothing to report. Walter and Caroline became more haggard as the days dragged on with no change in Becky’s condition.
No ransom demand came by phone, mail, or any other way. Brian Nelson and Ron Bentley, the detectives on the case, were frustrated. The lab did finally identify the drug used in the syringe found near the Howard horse trailer. It was Acepromazine Maleate and Butorphanol Tartrate, a combination used by veterinarians to tranquilize or sedate horses, dogs, and cats. The size of the syringe pointed at use for a horse. The detectives confirmed Ali was drugged, so he was the target, substantiating their kidnapping theory. The Sheriff’s Department transferred the fingerprints they got off the syringe to the FBI to run through their database, hoping for a match. Local law enforcement didn’t find a match in theirs.
People were on the lookout for him everywhere. Evening national news broadcasts on TV showed photos and videos of the 2.5 million dollar missing horse during his performances. All reported sightings anywhere in the country were immediately checked. None were Ali. The Sheriff’s office called at least twice a day for updates on the case. Brian and Ron had nothing to tell. Media pressure was on the Sheriff, so he transferred the pressure to his detectives.
Ginny and Sharon fell into a routine. They had breakfast and headed to the barn to turn out, exercise, ride, bathe and groom the Howard’s herd of Arabian horses. They worked until late morning and took a dip in the pool before lunch. After lunch, they helped Espie clean up when she would let them, then returned to the barn until dinnertime. After dinner, they cleaned up the barn and shared some time in the spa to soak aching muscles.
In the spa one night, Sharon asked, “I’ve been meaning to ask how your lessons with Becky and Ali are going?”
“You know Becky is determined to ride Ali at the Youth National Championship show this July. Those two work really hard. Ali is ready. He’s had all that experience with Chris, so he knows what to expect. Becky rides very well. All we are working on now is some ring strategy. Those two ride like one. She can change leads, change gait, or change direction by just thinking about it. It is awesome to watch.” Ginny explained.
“This situation is so sad. I hate to think about what will happen if we can’t find Ali. Or what if we do and Becky can’t ride?” Sharon replied.
“I can’t even go there. All I can do is pray.” Ginny said.
Spa time was about the only time Ginny and Sharon had to talk with each other. They shared tales about their husbands, spoke about their ranches, talked about their kids. One night Sharon asked Ginny, “Did I ever tell you how we got involved with Ali?”
“No, but I always wondered why Walter and Caroline sent him to Colorado when there are local trainers here.”
“I’ve never asked them about that either. They hired a professional horse photographer to come and do a video of Ali when he was about seven months old. We got it in the mail. It sat on my desk for a couple of days before we got around to it. We watched it after dinner one night. Chris watched that video six or seven times. He just had a feeling he was looking at his once-in-a-lifetime horse. He called Caroline that night and had me book him a flight to California to see Ali in person. He told me he was absolutely sure the minute he laid eyes on him.”
“I’ve never heard of a trainer flying out to interview a horse before!” Ginny exclaimed. “I don’t think it would even occur to my husband, Mike.”
“I keep the books for our place, and I’d never heard of it either. I got a little cranky about the expense at the time. But I have to admit Chris was right.”
“I’ll bet. Didn’t I hear you guys had to add on an extra barn and an indoor riding arena to keep up with new clients after Chris and Ali’s first year on the show circuit?”
“That was crazy!” Sharon exclaimed. “It started slow but got to the point all I could do was answer the phone. It just rang off the wall. I had to hire myself a secretary if you can believe that! We went from doing a decent business with Chris as the only trainer to being so busy we now have three trainers that work for Chris and two he is bringing along to show horses under our name because he can’t be in more than one place at a time.”
“How does he do that?” Ginny asked. “Mike trains cutting and reining horses. I don’t remember him ever letting someone else show his training horses except for the owners in the amateur classes.”
“Chris is demanding. He shows them what he expects and demands their best for our clients. It is working out.”
The first Friday evening after the parade, Sharon was upset when she stepped into the hot bubbling water of the spa for their soak.
“Hey, what’s up with you?” Ginny asked.
“It’s Todd, our son,” Sharon explained. “He is upset about Becky and Ali. He and Becky are very close friends. That all started when the Howards brought Ali to our place two months before the big Scottsdale Show, his first year of showing.
“How old is Todd now?” Ginny asked.
“He’s fourteen, almost six months older than Becky. They met when she was eight, and he was nine. At first, he thought she was just a pretty, stuck-up little snot. Then she beat the pants off him with his favorite video game,” Sharon chuckled. “You know how it is. If you want a man’s respect, you just have to beat them at their own game.”
“Yeah, I remember me and my little Arabian gelding could outride Mike on his favorite cutting horse back in the day,” Ginny laughed.
“Becky insisted on being at every show Ali entered. She and Todd spent a lot of time together. Becky stayed with us over part of Christmas break, spring break, and summer vacations from school. They were inseparable. He is also very fond of Prince Ali. This situation is hard on him. I’m doing my best to keep his spirits up. The longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes. He wants to be here, not 1,400 miles away.”
“What are you telling him?” Ginny asked.
“The truth. Becky needs this time for her brain to heal from being bruised. With Ali, everyone in the country is looking for him. We will find him!”