Prince Ali – Chapter 39

By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses


Ali stopped in the middle of a small meadow, dropped his head, and began taking great gulps of air. His heart was racing from the exercise and the fear, and he trembled. He stood there for a while until his heart slowed down and his senses returned. The pain remained along his flanks, hips, and back, but the she lion had not inflicted serious damage. Fresh blood oozed and dripped from the deep scratches and bite marks.

Ali heard a great splashing not far from the meadow and knew it could only be water. He had a tremendous thirst. He walked toward the sound. A small waterfall tumbled over a dark rocky ridge into a shallow pool.

He drank from the edge of the pool and then tested the pool with one hoof. It wasn’t too deep or too slippery. He needed something to cool the burning along his backside. His feet found purchase on small stones lining the pool.

Slowly he moved deeper into the pool and turned his backside toward the falling water. He backed up until the cold water fell across his back and cooled the burning there. He stood there until the cold began to penetrate his bones. He slowly walked out of the pool and stood with a drooping head for a few minutes.

Ali began to wonder if he’d made the right decision. “What am I doing here?” he thought. “I don’t know if I can find my way back to the old man’s place now. This wilderness stuff is crazy scary! Maybe Max was right after all.”

He took a few steps and stretched himself. The cold water temporarily eased the pain in his back from the bites and clawing of the big cat. It washed away most of the blood. The ache left behind got worse by the minute. Ali closed his eyes. Suddenly he had a vision of Becky’s face. She was only eight years old and pressed her face to the back window of her parents’ truck as Mom and Dad drove off and left Ali at his new “school” in Colorado. Tears streaked her face. He’d never seen her look that sad before. He knew she loved him. How sad would she be if he never got back home to her? Suddenly his resolve came back to him with power and strength. He lifted his head. He shook himself. He would get home! He had to get back to Becky! He survived that horrible attack. What could be worse than that? “Becky, I’m coming! Wait for me! I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Then he knew which way to go. He had been looking at the high desert plateau for a week. He knew there were people there. He’d seen and heard their vehicles from the corral at Carl Nixon’s place. He saw the lights. That’s where he needed to go. In his experience, there would be food and water where there were people. He began walking north. There were too many scary creatures in the woods, and he didn’t feel safe at all.

He walked slowly and began his descent from the mountains. He had several hills to climb and valleys to get through, but he avoided rocky outcrops. He didn’t stop to eat, just continued on his way. He did take water whenever he found a running stream but only stopped for a few minutes each time.

As dusk fell across the woods, Ali found a place in the open for the night. He no longer felt secure near rocks. He spent another cold, shivering night with no protection from the wind. He ate some grass in the middle of the clearing, carefully avoiding the edges and the darkness there.

At first light, Ali turned his head north and continued his journey. If he’d had any experience, he’d have noticed the scent markings and scat marking the edges of territory claimed by the she-bear. He crossed the barrier.

The California Black Bear’s diet is about eighty percent vegetation; however, they will eat carrion when available and are just big enough and tough enough to drive other animals off their prey and take it over. They can also run very fast.

This she-bear loved the taste of fresh kill. The bear was perpetually hungry from feeding her two cubs. She was out early looking for food when she smelled the blood. She sniffed the air, coughed, and decided to investigate. She might get lucky and find the remains of a mountain lion kill. She ambled in Ali’s direction and spotted him slowly walking through a clearing.

This was not a dead animal, but she could see the cuts on his flank and back, and she smelled the blood. It might be crippled enough for her to finish it off.

She attacked suddenly. She ran toward Ali with her jaws wide open, snarling viciously. She moved much quicker than one would think. Ali smelled her, heard her, and saw her coming. He screamed and took off, running as fast as he could through trees and shrubs, around boulders, his shoes clanking on rocks. He quickly outdistanced the bear. She wasn’t going to waste a whole lot of energy on something that large that could move that fast. She stopped short and went back to digging for grubs in an old stump she came across.

Ali ran until he could run no more. He was sick with this crazy place and couldn’t wait to get away from it. Ali finally stopped running and stood on shaky legs gulping in the air, trying to calm himself. He was in an open area where he could see all around him, and there was no other creature in sight.

To the north was a steep, rocky hillside. He thought about trying it but decided to move along the base and look for an area a little less steep to climb. He continued east until he found a good place; less steep, with more grass and trees. He began his climb. Once he reached the top, he could see the plateau below him. This was the final hill. He began to descend.

By this time, dusk was settling over the plateau and the mountains. The setting sun painted the sky in the west with shades of coral to purple. His night vision was excellent, so he had no trouble picking his way. He did step into an area of loose shale and slipped a few feet but caught himself. The only damage was one of his back shoes came off. The shoes protected his hoof wall. Losing the shoe tore a small chunk from his hoof wall where the nails clinched on and held the shoe in place. It created a tender spot.

As he came out of the trees that ringed the top of the hill, the area below the crest had only low juniper trees and scrub. Little else grew there. He had reduced his elevation from over seven thousand five hundred feet above sea level to about five thousand feet. The air was a little warmer here, but not enough for him to notice the difference.

Ali continued his descent by dark until he was too tired to continue. He looked for a good place in the open to stop for the night. Ali spent another cold and miserable night without shelter from the wind and little or nothing to eat. He was also very thirsty, but there was no water on the surface here that he could find.

As dawn broke in the eastern sky, Ali began again. He began looking in earnest for water. He finally found a small stream tumbling down the mountain about two miles from where he spent the night. He drank his fill and moved on.

Off in the distance, he saw a couple of things that caught his interest. One was a large patch of deep green. The other was a small home with three horses in an area beside the house. They were both miles away, and there was one significant obstacle between him and them.

He watched traffic speeding by on a two-lane highway. There were numerous large trucks and many smaller trucks and cars speeding east and west. He wasn’t sure how to get over or around the highway. He’d never seen one when he wasn’t in a trailer. And the trailer always moved with the traffic, not across it.

He approached the highway with trepidation. As he climbed a slight rise above the highway, a semi-truck driver spotted him and blasted his air-horn. The loud sound scared him. He spun and ran the other way for a distance. He continued traveling east for a while and tried it again. This time he approached the highway from a level spot. He looked to the east and saw large trucks coming. He looked west and saw cars speeding toward that spot. He decided he wouldn’t have time to cross before they caught up to him, so he walked back a distance and continued east.

After a while, the traffic subsided on the highway, and he approached it again. This time he watched as a large truck heading west passed. Cars were coming from the east but far off in the distance. He took a chance and ran across the road. He slipped on the final step on asphalt and skidded into a ditch on the other side of the road. He pulled a muscle in his stifle or knee joint on a rear leg but walked away with only a slight limp. He headed in the direction of the horses he’d seen from above.

The distance can be deceiving in the vastness of a desert. From Ali’s higher vantage point, it didn’t look to be all that far from him. But as he reached the plateau, he walked and walked and walked before he noticed the house getting any closer. He reached the property around noon. He was very thirsty and had not seen water for hours. He was also famished. There wasn’t much to eat here. He’d tried nibbling on a few things but found some plants had hairy spines on the leaves, and they tasted terrible. He was traveling on his reserves.

The property was fenced. He couldn’t get to the horses from the front, so he walked along the side. There were no openings along the side either. He tried the back of the property and found a hole in the fence large enough to walk through. Someone had left the back gate open.

He walked through the hole and looked for the horses he’d seen. They were standing in metal corrals with three-sided shelters munching on leftover hay from their breakfast. They called to him, and he called back and galloped to their corral. He noticed large tubs of water just on the other side of the corral fencing.

The metal bars on the fencing were spaced widely enough to stick his head through and take a drink. The water was none too clear, but it was wet. He drank his fill and began to look around for something to eat. He found small chunks of hay that dropped from the owner’s hands as he fed the horses that morning. Ali grabbed the hay eagerly and started to eat.

Just then, the little dog guarding the property saw him. The dog came running at him from the back porch of the house where he’d been sleeping. He barked furiously. Ali backed up and looked for the hole in the fence he’d come through.

The little dog showed no fear of Ali’s size and came at him, snapping and biting his ankles. Ali kicked out and began to run, kicking as he went to keep the little dog from biting him. The dog chased him off the property for nearly a half-mile before giving up and heading back to his porch and shade.

Ali ran into a short cholla or jumping cactus bush in his haste to get away from the nasty little creature. Spines from pieces that broke off the bush embedded themselves in his chest, right front leg, and right side. They burned like fire. He attempted to pull one of the pieces from his right foreleg and got spines stuck in his lip for his effort.

He walked on, limping now on his left rear leg and his right front leg. He headed in the general direction of the vivid green patch he’d seen from the higher elevation. He was ravenous. The dog prevented him from eating more than a mouthful at the ranch. Fortunately, he’d gotten water.

Ali walked slowly but steadily through the rest of the afternoon and finally reached the green patch. It was an irrigated field of alfalfa. He could smell it long before he reached it, and it quickened his pace.

He looked out over the field and saw a large mechanical device spreading water on the growing crop. Giant wheels attached to long arms crossed the field, spraying water. The wheels turned very slowly as the arms sprayed the crop and made little noise.

Ali watched it for a while and decided it would do him no harm. He took a tentative step into the field. It was muddy from the water, but that didn’t bother him. He carefully took a bite of the fresh alfalfa, trying to avoid disturbing the cholla spines on the right side of his lip. It was fresh, damp, and delicious. He began munching in earnest, cropping the plants off above the ground.

One of the men who worked the field drove his truck back to this field to turn the water off for the night and spotted a horse standing in his field eating the alfalfa. He stopped his vehicle, leaving the engine running, and took a jacket from the front seat. He ran at the horse, waving the jacket in his hand and screaming at Ali.

Ali spooked and started to run, slipping and sliding in the mud. He changed his gait to his high floating trot. This worked. He quickened his pace, flipped his tail over his back, arched his neck, and snorted as he went.

The man stopped in his tracks and caught his breath. He stared slack-jawed at the horse, his arm holding the coat dropping to his side. The skinny, lame, dirty horse transformed into a magical creature that floated on air in a second.

The itinerant worker wondered if he should tell his Patron about the magic horse. He decided not. El Patron would think he’d gone loco. He needed this job. He would tell no one.

As soon as Ali noticed the soil change to dry, he changed gears to a gallop and ran until the man could no longer see him, just a plume of dust showing where he’d been. The man walked out into the field looking for hoof prints to be sure he’d seen a real horse. He found Ali’s tracks and stood looking in the distance at the dust plume in wonder. He wondered if this was an omen. He might talk to the priest after mass.

Ali stopped running as soon as he thought he was far enough away to be safe again. He walked east slowly. There was no place out here that looked safe to spend the night, so he kept on walking. About 11:00 that night, the wind kicked up. The gusts blew across the desert at fifty miles per hour, with some even stronger. It blew dust and sand everywhere.

There was no shelter here and no place to get out of the wind. The tallest tree in the area was about four and a half feet high, stunted by the heat of summer and lack of water. Ali wandered around for a while and then finally did as horses have done for thousands of years. He turned his butt to the wind and waited it out.

The wind hard blew all through the night. Ali was miserable. His hips and back hurt from deep scratches and bite marks, his front leg and chest hurt from the cholla, his right rear foot was sore from losing his shoe. His stifle was sore from the pulled muscle. He was cold and thirsty and hungry.

Dawn came with no let-up in the wind. Ali was reluctant to move. The sand blew so much it was difficult for him to see. Dust and sand filled his nostrils so that he couldn’t smell much either. He remained right where he was with his butt to the wind.

Ali slipped into daydreams. He remembered all the times he and Becky were at various showgrounds when Chris was showing him. Becky was always there to help get him ready for his classes, and she was always in the stands or on the sidelines cheering him on. After his classes, she insisted on walking him to cool him out. They walked around the grounds with her proudly holding his win ribbons. Todd walked with them most of the time. It was hard to tell which of the two youngsters were most proud of Ali’s accomplishments.

The terrible wind continued throughout the day and the entire following night. Ali stood in one place, locked three of his hocks or knees at a time so the fourth could rest, and stayed where he was. He had no shelter, no food, and no water. The cholla spines burned constantly. The wounds in his back and flank area seeped blood. His only movement was to switch which leg rested periodically.

Victoria Hardesty has owned, bred and shown Arabian Horses for more than 30 years. She and her husband operated their own training facility serving many young people that loved and showed their own horses. She is the author of numerous articles in horse magazines, was the editor of two Arabian Horse Club newsletters, one of which was given the Communications Award of the Year by the Arabian Horse Association at their national convention. An avid reader from childhood, she read every horse story she could get her hands on.