WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Later that afternoon, Todd asked her if she wanted to play computer games with him. It was freezing outside, so the idea sounded good to her. Todd’s playroom adjoined the Great Room in the O’Neal house. Sharon and Chris had sense enough to close it off from the Great Room with glass so they could keep an eye on Todd and his friends when they played, but it reduced the racket in the rest of the house.
Becky and her parents had time to look around the house that morning. The Great Room faced the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, separated by acres of pastures and arenas for working and turning horses out. The view was spectacular through the 24 foot high windows in that room. The house was, per Becky, a log cabin on steroids. The front of the house had a large covered driveway so Sharon could unload her groceries and not get soaked with rain or snow. Massive 12 foot high double doors stood at the front entrance. They were custom built with elk, deer, mountain lions, and bears in a mountain scene carved in them. The flagstone paved foyer led to the Great Room with its huge windows and a lovely patio area on the outside. The Great Room showed exposed beams and cross beams. Two large chandeliers of elk antlers hung high above the seating space. A gigantic rock fireplace occupied one wall, with the staircase to the second floor tucking behind it. The second floor had dormer windows from every room, including the Master Suite, that looked to the east and caught the first rays of the sun each morning. The furnishings in the home were Western Rustic in nature, with a few western antiques thrown in here and there. It was comfortable and casual.
The kitchen and dining room of the house were open to the Great Room as well. Sharon explained they’d redone the kitchen a few years ago and knocked down the walls that separated it and the dining room. The dining table was large enough to seat at least 12 people for dinner. Chris’s Dad had it made from trees he cut down to open up the western pastures.
Besides the Western-style artwork on the walls, Chris and Sharon hung their favorite photos of horses Chris trained. Their Win-Photos lined the hallways. On the ground floor, underneath the upstairs bedrooms, was a complete second apartment with two bedrooms. When they first got married, Chris and Sharon lived there and moved back to Colorado to help Chris’s Dad and Mom. It was furnished but empty at the moment.
After Becky and Caroline took their tour of the house, Becky told her mom, “I’d love to live in a house like this someday. This house is neat.”
“Don’t you like our home?” Caroline asked. She loved their more formal Spanish Colonial home in San Juan Capistrano.
“Yes, sure. But we can’t watch TV in the living room. That’s just for company. We have to go to our bedrooms or the family room to do that. I like this “everyone” room best.”
Todd led Becky to his game room. It had six gamer chairs sitting around a large screen. He pulled out a box of games and asked Becky to pick one. She shuffled through the chest and didn’t find a single game she had ever played before. She told Todd that.
“Well, be prepared then,” Todd said. “My Dad loves to play with my friends and me. He taught me the strategy for each game so that I could beat my friends. Be prepared to lose!” he laughed.
“I guess you don’t know my Dad also taught me. He also likes to win. I wouldn’t be so sure I’d win if I were you. I’m wicked good,” Becky laughed.
Becky selected a game and handed it to Todd. He plugged it into the machine, sat down in one of the chairs, and picked the game control unit up. He showed her some of the steps needed to score, and the two competitors were off and running. Todd was surprised at how quickly Becky picked up on the game and how fast she accumulated points. In the end, Todd only bested her by two lousy points. He was shocked. It was the first time she played the game, and she was that close to winning it.
He picked another game, one he usually won. Becky stuck right with him and nearly beat him again. Then it really became fun! The competition was closely matched. Both of them had the skills to win. Todd had to work extra hard to stay ahead of Becky. He developed serious new respect for her. When she beat him on the very next game, Todd was surprised and tried to tell himself he let her win, but finally conceded she won the game fair and square. He went all in and beat Becky in the next three games in a row, barely. She was on his heels the entire time. He had to concentrate hard to get ahead of her and stay there. But, the harder he worked to beat her, the better he liked her. She was always a good sport about losing. “Next time, I’ll get you!” was her stock answer. She didn’t get mad as one of his friends did. She didn’t accuse him of cheating like another friend usually did. Instead, she conceded the loss and promised to give him a run for his money the next time. And, she didn’t puff up about it when she won. She began winning the games as often as he did, and the two kids laughed and laughed. They had the time of their lives.
Beck and Todd stopped playing games when Sharon called them to the table for dinner that night. After dinner, Todd got up and began clearing the table. Becky jumped up and helped him. Both of them were a little short to stand at the kitchen sink and wash pots and pans, but they scraped plates and loaded them in the dishwasher for Sharon.
Becky wanted to go back to the barn to say goodnight to Prince Ali, so Todd took her into the mudroom, where they tugged jackets, boots, and gloves on before walking outside. Once they got halfway to the barn, Becky stopped in her tracks and looked around. There was a little light on over the mudroom door. There were lights on the sign for Clearwater Creek Ranch by the highway. There was a light on over the barn entrance. Other than those, there were no lights within view except overhead. The storm the Howards arrived in blew off to the east. So the sky above the two kids was clear and filled with millions of stars.
Becky was amazed. She stared at the stars, unable to speak for a few minutes. “Is it always like this here?” she asked Todd.
“Lots of times it is,” Todd answered as he stared at the night sky. “The only time we don’t see stars like this is when the clouds cover them up, and it rains or snows or gets ready to. Don’t you have stars in California?”
Becky, her head still tipped back for the best view, muttered, “Yes, we have stars, but not like this. This is amazing!”
“I’ve been with Dad and Mom at lots of horse shows in lots of places. There’s one other thing here, besides the stars, that you only get here. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Tell me what you smell.”
Becky closed her eyes and sucked in a lungful of air, letting it out slowly. “Wow! I see what you mean. I smell cold. I smell clean. I smell the woodsmoke from the fireplace. I smell snow. I smell pine trees. It all smells wonderful! The pine smell reminds me of Christmas!”
“It’s funny, but you don’t smell anything like this in Boulder or Denver. So I think you have to get way out of town to smell this and see the stars like tonight,” Todd said.
“I could stand right here and look at the stars and smell this wonderful place, but my feet are getting cold,” Becky finally said. “Maybe we should get into the barn and get out of the snow for a few minutes.”
The two kids hurried inside the barn and walked down the aisle to Prince Ali’s stall. Ali nickered at them as they opened his stall door and stepped inside. Becky threw her arms around Ali’s neck and squeezed him. He was covered in blankets and a hood, so she couldn’t scratch his withers for him. She stole a carrot from the refrigerator in the house and offered him a nibble of that. He happily crunched on it while he pushed his nose into the front of her jacket.
Becky looked down at her jacket. “Oh, you big silly!” she exclaimed. “You have to keep your carrot slobber to yourself,” she laughed as she brushed it off her jacket front.
“My dad sure thinks a lot of your horse,” Todd told her. “He was pretty excited when he came back from your house in September. Your horse sure is a pretty one.”
“I think he is handsome. Only girls are pretty. Boys are handsome but thank you for telling me that. Did you happen to bring your phone with you? Maybe we could check to see if you get enough signal to call me?”
“I was one step ahead of you,” Todd answered as he pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket. “I need to get your cell number plugged in here too,” he said. He switched the phone on and looked at the signal. “We got enough signal for the calls. We won’t know if we have enough for video until we try it, but at least we know I can call you.”
While Becky hugged her horse and fed him carrot bits, Todd programmed Becky’s home and cell numbers into his phone. When he finished, he said, “Guess we should be heading back to the house. It’s getting late, and the days start early here on the ranch.”
The following two days included horseback rides on the property with Todd’s and Becky’s fathers going along. The youngsters rode Chris’s “dead-broke” lesson horses to get them out of the barn for a while. Todd and Becky also spent time playing games in Todd’s game room until Becky won at least half the time. Caroline helped Sharon fix breakfast, lunch, and dinner and had time to catch up since their days of showing horses together. Finally, Todd and Becky dragged their Dads outside to the large patio beyond the great room for snowman building and a snowball fight to top that off. Todd and Becky also spent a lot of time in Prince Ali’s stall with him at Becky’s request.
At the end of the final day, Becky couldn’t sleep well, despite being physically tired from all the activities. She knew she and her parents were leaving Colorado the following day, and she wouldn’t be able to see her horse for a month and a half. She cried herself to sleep.
Becky got up before first light and packed her bags for the trip home. When she finished and set her bags beside the door, she slipped out of her room and quietly down the stairs. Becky walked in stocking feet to the mudroom, pulled on her parka, boots, and gloves before slipping out the back door. She walked across the covered patio to the walkway to the barn. As she stepped down onto the walkway, the first rays of dawn peeked over the eastern side of the ranch.
The barn sat north of the house. When Becky took her second step, she glanced around. She caught her breath. Dawn colored the mountains to the west in a pallet of pastels ranging from pale blue-gray to rosy pink and golden orange. A few puffy clouds floated above the mountain tops and shared the delightful palette with the snow-capped peaks. Becky stared in wonder at this early morning display. She shut her eyes to seal the image in her brain. As she did, she breathed deeply of the cold air. She noticed the spice of pine and wood smoke she enjoyed before, although it was different at this time of day. She opened her eyes again and realized she could see her breath in the cold morning air. She giggled to herself. “I sure hope we get to come back here,” she said before striding on toward the barn.
Becky slipped into Ali’s stall and threw her arms around his neck. Tears flowed. She could no longer speak. When she finally got herself under control, Ali’s hood was soaked with her tears. He nickered softly at her. She sat along the wall and told him how much she would miss seeing him every day. Ali laid down beside her and stretched out on his side. She laid down along his neck and back, put her head on his neck. She hugged him and fell asleep again.
Todd found her 45 minutes later. “Psst, Becky! Wake up! Dad’s coming to the barn to check on the feed crew. You can’t let him find you sleeping in here with Ali.”
Becky sat upright, tears threatening again. Todd reached out his hand and helped her to her feet. When Ali was sure Becky and Todd were clear of him, he stood up and shook the bedding off his blanket. Becky brushed her jacket down and pulled bits of shavings out of her hair too. “Thanks for getting here first,” she told Todd. “I don’t want to get your Dad upset with me. I’m going to miss Ali so much. I had to have just one more visit with him.”
“Your parents are getting packed. My mom is making breakfast before you leave. Let’s get back to the house. I promise I will call you from Ali’s stall every day if I can.” Todd said as he opened the stall door and stepped into the barn aisle. Becky followed him and closed the stall door behind herself.
“Oh, there you are!” Chris said as he walked into the barn. “I think your mom is looking for you,” he told Becky. “I think you two are needed to set the table for breakfast,” he told Todd. Then, Chris walked to the back of the barn to check on the feed crew.
“Wow,” Todd said. “That was close!”
“Yeah, Thanks,” Becky mumbled as the two walked back to the house.
Becky went through the motions over breakfast, picked at her food, and didn’t eat much. She also didn’t have much to say to anyone. When the time came to load the luggage up and leave for home, she made one final dash into the barn to say goodbye to Prince Ali. She climbed in the back seat of the truck holding tears back until the truck reached the highway. Becky pulled blankets up to her chin before laying down and crying herself to sleep. She slept much of the way home.