WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Becky spent most of the first week home from Colorado in her bedroom. She didn’t go to the barn one time. She attended school but didn’t participate much at all. She didn’t interact with her school friends either. When Espi brought her home from school, she waited in her room for “the call.”
Todd, as promised, took his cell phone to the barn and called Becky every day from inside Prince Ali’s stall. When the weather was clear enough, he turned on the video option so Becky could see her horse and talk to Todd at the same time.
Prince Ali heard Becky’s voice over the phone and whinnied back to her, brushing the phone’s back with his nose while Todd desperately tried to keep from dropping it. “My Mom is going to kill me if your horse makes me drop this and crack the screen again,” he complained to Becky. “Mom and Dad had to get me a new phone for Christmas because my old one was so cracked I could hardly use it anymore.”
Becky immediately chided Ali, “Now don’t you make him drop his phone. I don’t want you to get it trouble while you are there.”
“Aw, he’s not in trouble. My Dad really likes him. He says he’s doing better than any of his yearlings have ever done in training. Dad thinks he’s going to kill it in Scottsdale!”
“Are you going to Scottsdale?”
“Oh, ya!” Todd grinned. “My parents are both going, and they can’t leave me at home alone, you know. Besides, I’m trying to learn from my Dad. I plan to be there to see how Prince Ali does in the showring. You’re coming too, aren’t you?”
“Of course!” Becky said. “I want to see my horse. He’s my best friend, you know. I miss him.” Becky’s voice cracked, and tears formed in her eyes.
“Don’t you go crying on me,” Todd chided Becky. “Wait until you see how beautiful he looks in Dad’s new show halter. He got it just for him. Ali is turning gray early, so Dad got one with a lot of silver on it. It looks wonderful on him.”
“Can you show me?” Becky asked.
“No. My Dad will scalp me if I mess around in his show tack. That’s off-limits, but I can tell you that you will love it when you see it.”
Becky and Todd spent nearly an hour together every day on the phone. At first, they only talked about Prince Ali, but they began talking about school, other games they wanted to play, and people in their circle of friends. Within a couple of weeks, they began to look forward to the phone calls and became good friends.
The month and a half flew by. Becky came home from school the day before their departure for Arizona, quaking with excitement. She ran to her room and began packing her bag for the week’s stay in Scottsdale. She was going to spend nine days with her horse and her other best friend, Todd.
Becky came to the dinner table that night buzzing with excitement. “I talked to Todd. He and his parents got to Scottsdale yesterday. Todd says it is cold at night but not as cold as where they live. He says most of the stalls are decorated and pretty now. The big trainers have their top horses there for this show. Several of them have seen Ali. Todd says they think he’s great! His Dad says he’s going to do well at this show. I can’t wait to see him. It will be so nice to have him back home.”
“What do you mean by that?” Caroline asked her daughter.
“You told me he was going to be in training until Scottsdale. I figure we get to bring him home now, don’t we?” Becky said with dread in her heart. She got through the days knowing her horse would be home after the big show in Arizona. From her mom’s look, now she wasn’t so sure.
Walter furrowed his brow before speaking. “You’re right. We never said anything about what happens after Scottsdale. I know it is a big deal to you to have Prince Ali home so you can see him every day. But, Becky, if he does well, we want to continue showing him this year. If we do that, he’ll have to stay with Chris O’Neal in Colorado. You want him to do well, don’t you?”
Becky sat at the table, stunned. She hadn’t considered what would happen next with her horse. She assumed he would come home. Her eyes filled with tears again. “Yes, I want him to do well,” she choked out. “But, I miss him.”
“I will make you a promise. If Prince Ali does well this time and your Mother and I decide to leave him with Chris in Colorado for a while, you will go to every show he does. We will take you, even if we have to fly, so you can see him and spend time with him.”
The tears finally escaped Becky’s eyelids and rolled silently down her cheeks. She nodded her head in agreement with her father and sat quietly with her hands in her lap for a few minutes.
“I’m not very hungry, Mom. Can I be excused?” Becky finally asked.
“Sure, I’ll come and talk to you in a minute,” Caroline said to her daughter as she looked questioningly at her husband.
As soon as Walter and Caroline heard Becky’s bedroom door shut, Caroline looked at Walter. “I guess we should have prepared her for that. I didn’t think to.”
“Neither did I,” Walter said. “But, Caroline, he’s a horse. We spent a pretty penny buying his mother in the first place, not to mention what we spent to get her in foal. Becky is just going to have to understand.”
“I know,” Caroline said. “I remember getting attached to a gelding my parents bred one time. He was my best friend too. I showed him in the junior classes and had a lot of fun with him. I referred to him as my horse, just like Becky refers to Ali as hers. But my parents sold him one day. Someone offered a good price, and they took it. I was devastated. It was their business, and they sold an asset. I didn’t understand. I do now. I don’t want her to feel the way I did when that happened.”
“We’re not selling him. He has potential as a breeding stallion. We need to show him to make that a possibility for us.” Walter said.
“Sure, I know, but I think Becky is a little too young to understand that. Ali is too young for that as well. I don’t want to sell that horse out from under our daughter. I’ll talk to her tonight,” Caroline said. “In the meantime, I need to get our things packed. Didn’t you want to get on the road early in the morning?”
The Howards arrived at the Scottsdale Show Grounds the afternoon before the show officially started. When Becky and her parents arrived at Coldwater Creek Ranch’s stalls, Prince Ali squealed with delight when he spotted Becky. She rushed to him and threw her arms around his neck. He grabbed her ponytail in his mouth and held it as she hugged him.
People packed the vendor booths looking at all things “horse” available at the show. The food booths offered everything from deep-fried candy bars to smoked turkey legs. Becky insisted on an enormous bag of Kettle Corn. She and Todd walked around the barns looking at the beautiful decorations and the gorgeous horses there for the show.
“Are you sure my Ali is going show well against all that competition?” Becky asked him.
“Wait until you see him when my Dad and Mom get through with him. You won’t ask that question again. He’s a good solid yearling. I’ve seen a couple of others here. He’s better than they are.” Todd told her.
The morning of Prince Ali’s first class, Becky insisted she be at the showgrounds with him as Chris got him ready. Becky helped bathe Ali and walked him back to the barn so Chris and Sharon could finish grooming him. Ali was calm during all the preparations. Becky was a nervous wreck. Sharon suggested Todd and Becky get some breakfast at one of the food vendors to get them out of the way while she and Chris worked with Ali. Becky and Todd walked back to their stalls just as Chris led Prince Ali out of the grooming stall. Ali didn’t notice the kids at first. He was paying attention to Chris as Chris asked him to stand up and show himself in preparation for what he would do in the showring. Prince Ali stepped into the proper pose. He stood with his front feet side by side, one back foot slightly behind the other, lifted his tail slightly, elevated his neck, and pointed his eyes and ears directly at Chris.
Becky caught her breath. She’d never seen Ali look that way. His grooming was show perfect, down to the hoof polish on his hooves. Chris’s new show halter on him gleamed in the early morning light and emphasized the silver hairs in his coat. He didn’t look like a foal any longer. He wasn’t a baby horse at all. And he was beautiful!
Chris was pleased! Ali looked like everything he thought he would. He lowered the lead so Ali could relax and walked over to pet him and stroke his neck. An older woman who happened to be walking past the barns as Chris was asking Ali to stand up for him stopped to watch. She stepped closer, her eyes never left Prince Ali, as she asked, “Who is this magnificent colt?”
Becky heard the woman. Before Chris could answer, she said, “This is Prince Ali, and he is my best friend.”
Chris stepped toward the woman and stretched out his right hand. “Hi, I’m Chris O’Neal, Ali’s trainer. I’m showing him in the Yearling Colts class in a few minutes.”
The woman took Chris’s hand in her’s. Caroline and Walter Howard heard her introduce herself to Chris before they could walk over to where they stood with Ali. She was one of the movers and shakers in the Arabian breed and had been an important influence for more than 50 years. The Howards were stunned. They introduced themselves to the woman as Prince Ali’s breeder/owners.
The woman stepped back. “I’d better get over and find a seat. This is one class I don’t want to miss. I’ve not seen a better yearling colt in years and years.”
Chris was just as excited as the Howards as they watched the woman hurry to the grandstand. “Wow! Did you hear that?” Chris whistled. “I think he’s going to show well today. Keep your fingers crossed! We might have a winner here!”
Everyone at Clearwater Creek Ranch’s barn hurried to the grandstands to find seats for the class. Chris patted Ali’s shoulder. “You’re looking good, youngster. Let’s go show them how this is done, shall we?” Chris lead Prince Ali toward the ingate to the arena. He stood waiting for the class to open. He stroked Ali’s neck to reassure him as he struggled to get his own emotions under control. What if Ali refuses to stand for the judges? What if Ali refuses to trot around the arena? What if the judges don’t like him? What if…..? Chris finally closed his eyes and did what his father taught him to do years ago. Chris envisioned winning. He heard the announcer call Prince Ali’s number as the winner of the class. He saw himself taking Prince Ali on his victory pass at Ali’s high floating trot while the spectators clapped and cheered.
When he opened his eyes again, Chris found his confidence was back. He stroked Ali’s neck and told him, “We’re going to win this one, my little buddy. You are going to be famous!”
The ingate opened. Chris stood in place as two young colts ahead of them entered the arena at the trot. Chris stroked Ali’s neck again. “This is it! Let’s give them a real show!” Chris started trotting beside Ali into the arena.
Prince Ali looked at the grandstands that surrounded the arena. People packed the seats. This was his big chance to show off for a real audience. He pushed himself into his high floating trot. Chris had to run to keep up with him. Prince Ali looked into the crowd and caught the eyes of people as he passed by. He snorted and flipped his head, holding his tail upright, so his tail streamed behind him like a flag. Ali did put on a show. And he loved every minute of it!
When his turn came to stand for the three judges, his attention was entirely on Chris. He stood like a statue. When the three judges finished walking around him to evaluate his confirmation, they asked Chris to trot his horse toward the wall, directly away from them. They watched the smoothness and balance Ali displayed in his movements, then Ali turned it up again to his high floating trot to finish his turn and get back in the lineup of yearling colts. The crowd clapped, cheered, and screamed their appreciation of Prince Ali. Ali soaked it all in and trotted bigger and higher than ever. He was thoroughly enjoying himself.
Todd and Becky were sitting in the stands by themselves. Becky’s parents and Todd’s mother were on the other side of the arena. When Ali came charging in, Becky’s heart was in her throat. On one hand, she wanted Ali to win. On the other hand, she wanted him to lose so they could take him home. Her desire for the win overcame the other side before he was halfway around the arena. She was screaming and clapping for him as loud as the other spectators and Todd.
After reviewing all the yearling colts in the class, the three judges conferred in the center of the arena before turning in their judging cards. The staff reviewed the cards and added up the points for each horse. Then they turned in the results to the announcer. Prince Ali had scored first on all three judge’s cards! The announcer called out Prince Ali’s unanimous win first. Pandemonium broke out in the stands with that announcement. Everyone there agreed with the three judges and let them know that.
Chris took Prince Ali to the center of the arena for the first place presentation and winning photo. Chris helped the show staff put the rose ribbon garland around his neck and put his Championship Ribbon on his halter for the pictures. Halfway to the out-gate, Prince Ali saw Becky standing waiting for him and tugged on the lead. Ali wanted to share his win with his best friend. Chris went along and ran beside him. Becky threw her arms around her best friend and hugged him for dear life. She told him what a good boy he was and how much fun it was to watch him win. It helped make it more worthwhile for Prince Ali. He knew, without doubt, he’d made Becky proud and happy.
“Don’t get too carried away,” Chris told Becky. “We have to go right back in the arena in a few minutes.”
Becky looked dumbfounded.
Chris explained. “Prince Ali just won the Yearling Colt class. The next class in the arena is the 2-year-old Colt class. After the judges decide in that class, the first and second place horses from the Yearling class and the 2-year-old Colt class have to go back in the arena to judge the Junior Champion Colt class. Ali has a good shot at that too!”
“Are you serious?” Becky asked. “How can a Yearling go up against a 2-year-old? Aren’t they much bigger?”
“Size isn’t everything,” Chris explained. “Size does matter, but Ali is almost the same size as those 2-year-olds in the arena right now. He’s also got something most of them don’t have. He loves what he’s doing, and the spectators and judges all can see that.”
“How does that help Prince Ali?” Becky asked.
“Becky, Ali has something extra most horses, and most people, don’t have. He has what the French call “joyeau de vive,” which means “joy of life.” It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. He’s a happy horse. He loves what he’s doing. He’s a natural show-off but in the nicest way possible. He likes the attention in a good way. I’ve never had a horse in training like him before. He is one of a kind. Does that help explain it?”
Becky looked puzzled. “I guess so. I know some show-offs at school. Most of us don’t like them. They are the ones with the answers to the teachers’ questions. They make the rest of us feel stupid because they know the answer, and we don’t. That doesn’t make me happy to be around them at all. Ali is different. I’m happy when I’m with him. How does that work?”
Chris smiled at her. “Becky, you got part of the answer right there. You are happy when you are with him. He helps make you feel that way. Even when he shows off, he’s there to make you happy, not show you how dumb you are. See the difference? Ali makes people feel good, not bad. That’s because he feels good too, and he’s excited about that! It is hard to be unhappy around an animal or a person like that.”
Chris took Prince Ali back into the show ring for the Junior Championship class. In a highly unusual move, all three judges agreed unanimously that Prince Ali was the Junior Champion Colt for the year, with the first place colt from the 2-year-old Colt class placed as the Reserve Champion.
The year began with red roses and blue ribbons. It was a great start.