WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
The longer he stayed in the makeshift corral on the mountain, the more depressed Ali became. He missed his world, his people, and especially Becky. He wasn’t eating or sleeping well. He froze at night and shivered during the day. After the parade, the last thing he remembered was Becky flying headfirst into the building wall and rolling into a heap, not moving. He had no memory of being shoved into a trailer, but he did remember parts of the trip into the mountains. His first attempts at questioning Max were met with monosyllable answers that told him next to nothing. His future looked so bleak he wondered how he would ever survive it. Sadness enveloped him like a dark cloak.
Max watched him from the far side of their corral for the first day and a half. Finally, he spoke. “Hey, Sonny Boy, you don’t look so good. You have no hair, so you must be freezing. You got no hair in your ears either, and the gnats up here will drive you crazy. Where in the heck did you come from anyway?”
“Wish I knew the answer to that myself. I have to get home. I have to know how Becky is!” Ali told him.
“Who’s this Becky?” Max questioned.
“She’s my very best friend. She just rode me in our first parade. We went back to our trailer to go home. She was in the trailer changing her clothes when two guys came up to me. One stuck me with a needle. That really hurt! I didn’t know what they were up to. Becky came out of the trailer and told them to leave me alone. One of the guys pushed her. She hit her head and fell. She didn’t move. That’s about the last thing I remember before waking up in a strange trailer on the way to this place.”
Max snorted. “Well, Sonny Boy, this ain’t no palace, but it’s home, and the old man is kind to me.”
“I got that impression, but I miss Becky!” Ali almost whispered. Then raw anger struck him. “Sure wish I could get my teeth and my feet on the guy who pushed her. I’d make him wish he hadn’t!”
“Well, that ain’t likely to happen!” Max snorted. “You might try standing under the shelter with me when the winds come up. You’ll freeze your fanny off out there in the open. I’ll share the space with you.”
Ali and Max continued their conversation while Carl Nixon sat in his chair reading and staring at Ali every few paragraphs.
Carl thought long and hard about his new horse. He knew “Buddy” was not a two hundred dollar packhorse. He wasn’t a four hundred dollar horse at all. He wondered what the story was. Did someone steal the horse? How did he end up with those two rascals who brought him here? Why did the horse try to attack one of them? He wondered if he shouldn’t check in with the Sheriff’s Office in Little Rock and see if someone was looking for his newest horse. Then he would stare at Ali and admire him again, pushing those thoughts out of his mind.
By the third day on the mountain, Carl Nixon noticed Ali’s coat was dusty, and there were tangles in his mane and tail. He got his ancient truck out, poured gas into the tank from a red five-gallon can, and drove down the mountain to the feed store in Little Rock, where he bought hay for the horses. He searched around and found two body brushes and a mane and tail comb. He purchased them and a sack of grain and drove back up the mountain.
Carl took the brushes into the corral and brushed Ali down top to bottom. He stood back admiring his work. “You sure are a pretty one,” he told Ali. He stroked the silken neck and found the itchy place on Ali’s withers. He gave it a good long scratch. Ali dropped his head and closed his eyes. It felt good. Then Carl patted him on the shoulder and walked over to do the same for Max. When he finished grooming both horses, he gave each of them a measure of grain. He left the corral, re-latching the gate behind him.
Carl picked up his book, settled back into his chair, planted his feet on the bucket, and tried to read for the rest of the afternoon. He glanced up every few pages just to look at Ali. Thoughts nagged at him. He remembered how anxious those two guys were to get rid of him. His suspicion the horse was stolen didn’t explain the horse’s reaction to Danny, so maybe that was the reason they were so eager to sell him. He kept pushing those thoughts out of his mind every time he stopped to admire Ali.
One day rolled into the next. Carl fed the horses each morning and gave them fresh spring water. He brought out the new brushes and worked each of them over in turn. Max seemed to benefit most because he hadn’t seen much brushing in years. Ali nibbled on the hay and grain, drank some of the water, and spent the balance of the day at the north end of the corral looking away from this place.
Ali could see an occasional vehicle drive on one of the dirt roads down on the plateau. Vehicles always threw up a rooster-tail of dust in their wake. There wasn’t much to see down there but barren, arid desert. He could hear some kind of highway below, mostly because of large trucks using their jake-brakes to slow down for a traffic signal a few miles to the west. With the lack of buildings or foliage in the area, sound traveled for miles.
Rabbits and squirrels were the only living creatures he saw regularly besides Carl, Max, and a myriad of birds of all shapes and sizes. Two bolder rabbits crept into the corral to steal bits of hay and grain dropped by the horses. They high-tailed it out of the corral if either of the horses moved at all. The squirrels were braver. They only hurried out of the corral if one of the horses moved in their direction.
Nights were awful for Ali, although he finally accepted Max’s invitation to share the shelter when the winds came up. Several more times that week, he heard the snarl of a large animal. It made him shiver. The she lion was hunting and snarled loudly when she missed the mark, and her dinner got away. She stepped on something sharp a week or more before and cut the pad on the bottom of her left front foot. It wasn’t life-threatening, but it did slow her down a little. She was missing more meals than she was eating.
She had a belly full of kittens and needed the nourishment. During the day, she settled herself on a large granite boulder in the sun. She licked her sore paw to keep it clean. It was healing but would take another week or two, and her kittens were growing fast.
She already selected the den where she would give birth. It was beneath the boulder she used to sun herself. Instinctively she knew they would be born soon. She spent more time hunting while she tried to build herself up to the level she knew she would need to nurse a growing litter. Missing meals because of a sore paw made her nervous, hungry, and angry.
Ali heard the grunting cough of the she-bear Calvin and Danny saw on the way to this valley. She was coming out of her long winter sleep hungry. She had two cubs born in February to nurse. Bears are omnivores and will eat anything. This particular black bear had been out of her den for about two weeks, getting her metabolism working again after hibernation. She ate shoots of trees and shrubs, nuts, or carrion she could find. She was an opportunistic eater.
On occasion, Ali also heard the haunting chorus of coyote packs as they brought down their prey. They sounded vaguely dog-like, but there were so many voices in the choir he wasn’t sure what to make of them.
Nights were cold. Ali wasn’t used to that. He was always inside at night. His stall was secure, warm, and dry. This place was surrounded by scary sounds, and he was out in the open, subject to freezing temperatures. He never slept at night, always listening to the night sounds. Ali wasn’t cowardly, but he was uneasy about what he didn’t know or understand.
The monotony also bothered Ali. He was used to doing things every day. He’d go riding on trails or in the arena for practice. He got a bath several times a week. There were always people around and lots of other horses. Here his only companions were Max, Carl Nixon, and a few rabbits and squirrels. Carl just stared at him much of the time, and Max kept to himself and ignored him for the most part. Ali never got out of the corral.
Carl wondered more and more every day about his new “Buddy.” The horse looked depressed to him. He wondered if animals could feel things like that. He wished the horse could talk to him and tell him the real story. His suspicion about the horse being stolen grew stronger and stronger every day. He woke up each morning trying to decide if he should drive down the mountain to the Sheriff’s Office and check, and every morning he put it off.
On Ali’s second Saturday evening in the mountains, Carl Nixon fed the two horses as usual and gave them fresh water. He forgot to latch the gate. Neither Max nor Ali noticed the oversight until much later that night. Max dozed off, locking his knees and hocks to support his weight.
It was a windless night, so Ali stood at the corral’s north end, looking out over the high desert plateau and gazing up at the stars. About eleven, he walked over to the water trough for a drink and noticed the gate to the corral was standing open. A slight breeze must have blown it open.
“Max, come on, let’s go,” Ali whispered. Max snorted. Ali had startled him awake.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“Max, the gate is open. Come on, let’s get out of here.” Ali insisted.
“Sonny Boy, let’s think about that first,” Max replied. “I know you want to get back to where ever you came from, but I’m an old horse. My legs aren’t as swift as yours, and my heart is not as strong. If you really want to take the chance, I would only slow you down.”
“No, Max. We can do this together,” Ali encouraged. “Two heads are better than one any time.”
“Really? Just think about it,” Max got serious. “We don’t know where we are, and we don’t have any idea where you want to end up. It is nighttime in the mountains, and there are plenty of dangers out there, some we don’t even know. I’m a pokey old horse, and you are an inexperienced youngster. What kind of chance do you think we’d have leaving here like that? Who’s going to feed us? Who’s going to make sure we have fresh water? Who’s going to protect us from predators? The old man is kind. He feeds us and gives us fresh water. He will protect us. Sonny Boy, you might want to think about staying right where you are.”
“Max, if I don’t take this one chance, I’ll never see my Becky again. I understand what you are telling me, and my head knows you are probably right. But my heart aches to be back with my family, and I’ll never get there if I don’t leave now.”
“Okay, Sonny Boy. I wish you the best of luck. I hope you find what you seek.”
Ali walked through the gate into the unknown forest. He found the tracks of Carl Nixon’s truck and followed them several miles away from the camp before losing them in the darkness. It was pitch black all around him. He had no idea which way to turn. He heard rather than saw a stand of tall trees to his left. He listened. He didn’t hear anything rustling in the leaves or pine needles, so he thought it might be a safe place to stop for the night. Carefully he walked over and stood beneath the tall Ponderosa pines shivering in the cold. He knew he would see better in daylight. He resigned himself to stay where he was until first light.