WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Sunday morning Ali saw the first rays of sun on the eastern horizon turning the black sky to coral, rose, and pink. There were a few clouds in the sky that glowed in deeper hues. As he watched, the light of the rising sun painted the bottoms of the clouds gold. The clouds lightened with time to white as the sky changed to blue.
He wasn’t the only creature to notice the arrival of the new day. Birds began scratching in the soil for breakfast and flying from tree to tree. He could hear small creatures scurrying through the pine needles and dead leaves beneath shrubs and trees. None of these sounds gave him reason to pause. They were the usual sounds of early morning in the mountains. Most of the predators had long since sought shelter and were sleeping away the day.
Ali was stiff with cold. He moved forward slowly, working out the kinks. He had no idea where he was or how he would get back to his family and Becky. He’d been gone from his family for eight days.
He remembered the barren rocky hills to the west. He saw those through the windows of the trailer and knew he wouldn’t find much to eat there. He started walking east. He was hungry. He walked into deeper woods looking for something to eat, picking at the few blades of new grass he saw poking up at the base of rocks and trees. The sunlight dappled his silver coat through the leaves of ancient oaks and tall pines.
He came upon a small meadow drenched in the early morning sunlight. There were several whitetail deer grazing there with their fawns. He hesitated before stepping into the light. The deer picked up their heads and stared at him. “Is this a good place to get something to eat?” he asked.
The lead doe hesitated then answered, “Depends on what you eat.”
“Fresh grass is good,” he told her.
“You’re not a meat-eater, then?” she asked.
“Oh, no! Not at all. If you don’t mind me asking, what are you? You are small but have four legs like me and sort of look similar.” he asked the doe.
She visibly relaxed. “We are the Inheritors of the Forest. We are called deer. We are grass eaters like yourself. We share with other grass eaters, so please eat in peace. And if you don’t mind me asking, just exactly what are YOU?” she asked him.
“Oh, you are deer. I’ve heard of deer but never saw one before. You are quite delicate and beautiful. Thanks for sharing your grass with me. I’m a horse,” Ali answered.
He and the deer were hungry. Now that they understood he was harmless to them, they resumed eating. Five or six does, previously hidden in tickets around the meadow, seemed to appear from nowhere and joined the herd on the far side. He watched them for a few minutes and then joined them for a bit of breakfast.
Ali spent most of that day wandering, eating where he could, and drinking from small streams of snow meltwater. The water was cold and clear with an earthy taste. He skirted around several areas where the fire had scorched the earth and everything on it. Dead, blackened trees and shrubs raised twisted and gnarled branches toward the sky in those areas. Roots of some were starting to send out shoots of new green, proving they weren’t dead, just burned above ground. Fresh green sprouts from seeds had started growing to replace foliage. There were blades of new grass poking through the black soil as well. Life was renewing itself.
As dusk crept up on Ali, he looked for a place to spend the night. He was out in the open for the second time in his life. There was nothing secure here. He finally found a small canyon, narrow and surrounded on three sides with granite boulders. He walked in and turned around. He thought the rocks might protect his hindquarters. He could watch the area in front of him because he saw pretty well in the dark.
He settled in for the night. The small canyon also offered him another benefit, shelter from the cold wind. Dead pine needles and dry leaves covered the ground, providing a soft place to lie down. For the first time in days, he did just that. It felt wonderful to get off his feet and give his legs a rest. He laid there for an hour, then stood and shook himself off. He dozed on and off through the night.
About dawn, Ali woke with a start. He heard rustling in the leaves. It took him a few seconds to locate the source of the sound. He saw a strange creature slowly moving on its belly through the leaves and pine needles several feet from him. He stared at it with intense curiosity. It had no legs! Its head was shaped like a triangle, and it blended perfectly into the surroundings by coloration and dark markings along its five-foot length.
Ali took one step in the creature’s direction lowering his nose to see if he could catch any scent. The creature pulled itself into a coil in an instant lifting its head and the tip of its tail. The tail began to shake, making a dry rattling sound. Ali froze. Then the creature opened its mouth, showing long white fangs. Suddenly it struck, using its coiled body to propel it toward Ali.
It was too far away, and the strike missed Ali by two feet. In a flash, the creature resumed its coiled position, and the tail shook again. It was hissing at him. Ali decided to take no chances. He quickly moved away from the creature and left the small canyon.
He found a cold stream and drank his fill, then wandered through the woods, still in an easterly direction. What he didn’t know was that he had now walked into the territory of the cougar. Ali looked for new blades of grass to nibble on as he moved along. These he found most often at the base of rocks where the water from winter rains and snowmelt ran down to the soil below and watered the seeds of last year’s grasses that blew in there.
The she-lion lay at the top of a granite outcrop catching the morning sun on her tawny coat as she licked her sore paw. The outcrop was fifteen feet above the floor of the woods. She smelled and heard Ali before she saw him. She froze and watched as he came closer and closer. Ali spotted a patch of new grass at the edge of her granite post and walked toward it.
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, are ambush hunters. They watch and wait. In this case, the she-lion watched Ali coming closer and closer to her and tensed her muscles like coiled springs.
She noticed this creature was much larger than the white-tailed deer she usually preyed upon, but she was hungry, and this animal would feed her for more than a week. She decided to take a chance and try to bring it down.
She waited patiently for him to get close enough. Finally, he did. She leaped. Ali heard the scraping sounds from her paws on the top of the boulder he was standing next to and jumped forward.
The she-lion was a whisker late again. She aimed for Ali’s neck so she could land her body on his back and grab hold, sinking her large fangs into his neck with a stranglehold that would cut off his air supply. With her sore paw and her belly full of kittens adding weight, she missed and landed on Ali’s rear quarter, too far back to hold onto his neck.
Her sharp claws tried to gain purchase. They slipped and tore gouges down Ali’s back and flanks. Blood streamed from the gouges making his hair and skin slippery. She kept trying to hold on. Every attempt made it worse. More bleeding. She bit Ali’s back, sinking her teeth in deep. Ali reared, screaming in panic and pain.
The she-lion had not anticipated that. She slipped. Her hindquarters hung behind his tail. Ali felt the cougar slip. He used his shod hooves and kicked out at her. One of his rear feet connected. He kicked again. The second kick caught the she-lion in the rib cage. It knocked the air from her lungs. She tried to release her grip with fangs and claws. The next kick connected again, tossing her into the boulders. She crumpled into a pile at the base of the rocks and lay still. Ali took off like the wind, screaming in fear and pain.
The she-lion lay at the base of the rocks for a few minutes. Then she stood and shook herself. She limped back to her place on the outcrop, lay back down, and licked her sore paw. She’d try again when she had an opportunity. This time she’d misjudged the size and strength of her prey and could have been seriously injured herself. She wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Ali ran as he’d never run before. Horses can see close to 360 degrees because of the placement of their eyes on the side of their heads. They have blind spots only directly in front of their nose and directly behind their tail. For that reason, he only saw the she-lion as she landed on his backside and saw her fangs sink into his flesh. He was bleeding from bite marks and long deep scratches from the cougar’s claws.
Because she jumped on him from above where he didn’t expect it, he hadn’t seen the attack coming. He was lucky he heard the cat before she landed on him. He was terrified, and he was feeling the pain. He ran and ran and ran until he couldn’t run any further.