WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writer of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Prince Ali began his second year of showing the same way he ended his first year – winning! Every time he put his hoof in the show ring, he came out with roses and blue ribbons.
It began where the previous year did in Scottsdale. The only difference was Ali was a year older, a bit taller, and his coat grayed out even more.
In late March, Sharon O’Neal received a large envelope in the mail. She didn’t recognize the foreign address, so she set it aside and rediscovered it a week later. When she opened the mail and read through the letter enclosed, her breath caught in her throat. She dropped the letter to her desk as she flew out of the barn office looking for Chris.
Chris was in the barn aisle taking the saddle off a horse he finished working. She rushed up to him and said, “Chris, I have a letter on my desk you need to see immediately!”
Chris looked at her speculatively. “Is this good news or bad news?” he asked.
“Great!” was all she could muster in reply.
Chris called one of the grooms over to finish his horse and followed Sharon back to the barn office. She picked up the letter and packet that came with it and handed it to Chris. He got through the first two lines before he had to drop in a chair in front of her desk. He continued reading and flipped through the packet of information before making any comments.
“Do you realize what this is?” he asked his wife.
“Yes, I think I do,” Sharon answered. “What are we going to do about it?”
“We don’t have much time. I’m not sure this is doable. Should we look into it before we call the Howards, or should we call them first? What do you think?”
“Let’s talk to Caroline. This would be expensive, and we have to move fast. If they are interested in pursuing this, it will help if Caroline pitches in with all the paperwork and arrangements we need to make,” Sharon suggested.
“Okay. Give her a call. If you put it on speakerphone, we can both talk to her about it,” Chris suggested.
Sharon closed the office door before picking up the phone and dialing the Howard’s number. When Caroline Howard answered the phone, Sharon told her she was putting the phone on speaker so she and Chris could both talk to her. Caroline’s eyebrows climbed a bit on her forehead as she waited.
“Caroline, we got something in the mail today you need to know about. Prince Ali received an invitation to the Arabian World Championship Show in June. We don’t have a lot of time to make the necessary arrangements to get him there. We want you and Walter to think about this and decide if you wish to pursue it. This show only invites 25 of the best 2-year-olds in the world to the competition. The event is at the Salon de Cheval in Paris. The prestige of winning a class at that show is beyond my comprehension. It is a celebrated international event and would give you international acclaim if your horse does well. But, we only have four days to decide whether to accept the invitation or not. They want 25 horses. If you don’t want to go, they will cross Prince Ali off the list and call the next horse down on their list. If you’re going to go, it must be a definite yes.” Chris couldn’t think of much else to say. He crossed his fingers.
Caroline didn’t say a word for 30 seconds. “Whoa! That’s a surprise! You say we have to give them an answer in four days? Do you have any idea how much it costs to get a horse to Paris? I’m assuming you mean Paris, France? What about passports, flights, etc.? Who goes with him? How long does he have to be out of the country? Wow! I have more questions than answers. How do we go about planning for this?” Caroline finally wound down and stopped.
Sharon spoke up, “I have a couple of friends that work for the Arabian Horse Association in Denver. I’ll give them a call and call you right back. They may have suggestions for us about everything you just asked and more. Will you be home for a while?”
Caroline nodded her head as she answered, “Yes, I’ll be here. I may give Walter a call just to give him a heads up on this, but we can’t make a decision until we have more information. That would be his answer right at the moment,” she chuckled. Caroline thought about something else that popped up in her head. “You know if we decide to send Ali and Chris to Paris, Becky is going to want to go. We did promise her she could attend all his shows, even those we had to fly her to. I will cross that bridge when I get there. Since Todd and Becky talk all the time, can I ask that you not let him know about this until we decide? Becky would be on this like white on rice and unfit to live with if we said no.”
Sharon couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “Yes, we’ll keep this to ourselves until we get information for you. Heck, if you let Becky go, Todd will be all over it on this end to go as well. Holy Toledo! I think we have enough pressure worrying about the horse. He isn’t going to bug us daily about it in the first place. Oh, the joys of parenting pre-teens!”
Sharon made her calls to Denver and got a lot of information from her friends there. She also called their vet and talked to him about it. He gave her some additional information and promised to check on any vaccination requirements he may have missed. Sharon called her travel agent about flights for Chris. Fortunately, it was early enough to take advantage of early bookings for the flights and hotel.
Chris found out how long Prince Ali had to stay in the quarantine facility before moving to the Salon de Cheval. He decided to take his best groom along. That way, one of them could stay with Ali at all times. It added costs for the trip but provided better security for Prince Ali while they were out of the country. Chris also had one more brilliant idea he discussed with his vet. If he arranged for the groom to fly with Prince Ali on the flight, it cut down the cost a bit and might help Ali because he would be traveling with someone he knew.
Chris and Sharon talked with Walter and Caroline later that evening and went over all the information they found that day. Walter wanted to sleep on it one night. The following day, he asked Caroline to call the O’Neals back and set it in motion. Prince Ali would go the Paris. He didn’t want to bring Becky into the plans yet.
Sharon made up a detailed list of things to do and dates for completion. She sent a copy of Caroline. They went over it by phone and divided the tasks up. Some had to be done in Colorado because Prince Ali was there. Caroline paid for the trip for Prince Ali, Chris, and his head groom, Roberto Vega. Chris selected Roberto because he was from Canada. His mother was French-Canadian, and his father was born in Spain. He spoke English, French, and Spanish, so Chris thought he’d be the perfect one to take along and help translate for him.
In the meantime, the ranch was busy. Sharon kept track of the horses coming and going, hiring outside transporters when needed. Chris was the only trainer that worked with Prince Ali. He did the training work on all the horses but turned several over to his assistant trainers when he felt they could show the horse as well as he could. That freed him up to train additional horses or attend shows further away from their ranch.
Sharon found a transporter for Prince Ali’s trip to Paris. The plane could pick Ali up at Denver’s International Airport. The boxes the horses flew in were bedded deeply in shavings to protect the horses, with padded sides and thickly padded floors with drains. Several veterinarians flew with the horses in case of any emergency during the flight. She arranged for Roberto Vega to fly with Prince Ali, so he had a companion he knew instead of a stranger. Roberto was excited about it. He looked forward to flying in a plane full of horses, and he was especially fond of Prince Ali.
The O’Neals and the Howards finally told Becky and Todd. Becky was thrilled and expected to attend the show in Paris. She was disappointed when her parents told her that wouldn’t happen this time. There wasn’t time to plan a vacation to France. Chris was the only one going on the trip. Becky pouted a little about it, but that soon disappeared when she talked to Todd. Todd told her his Dad would be staying in a hotel close to the Salon de Cheval. Between Roberto and Chris, they split up the time. One of them would always be with Prince Ali while the other took a turn sleeping in the hotel. It didn’t sound like much fun at all.
Becky was in Colorado with the O’Neals when the day came for Prince Ali to fly to Paris. She rode with Chris and Todd to the airport to send her horse off on his big adventure. Becky hugged him and told him to do well at the show. She told him she would be waiting for him when he got back. Chris, Todd, and Becky watched as Roberto walked Prince Ali up the long ramp to the loading door of the plane. Ali looked back at Becky over his shoulder before entering. Becky held her tears back until they were in the truck on their way back to Clearwater Creek Ranch.
Chris left the following morning. His flight went to New York before he changed to an international flight to Paris. When Chris arrived in Paris, he passed through customs and took a cab to the holding facility for animals. He asked the taxi to wait a few minutes for him. He struggled to make himself understood until Roberto happened to hear him and told the man at the gate who he was. The man smiled and opened the gate for Chris.
Roberto told Chris someone found him a cot to sleep on. He put it outside Ali’s stall door and spent a comfortable night. He said the staff at the facility were helpful. Chris looked in on Ali and left to check-in at the hotel. Chris found one of the staff at the holding center spoke broken English. They managed to understand each other. Chris told him why he and the horse were in Paris. The guy was impressed and took another look at Prince Ali. He whistled in appreciation. Three days later, the quarantine hold on Ali lifted. A transporter arrived to pick Prince Ali up and take him to the Salon de Cheval. He and Roberto said goodbye to the staff members who were so helpful to them, climbed into the truck, and disappeared into Parisian traffic for several miles.
While Roberto stayed with Prince Ali in the horse van, Chris dashed into the building to check in and found out where their stalls were. Neither Roberto nor Chris saw a pair of brown eyes that followed Ali through the maze of stalls to their assigned ones. One bedded stall was for Prince Ali, and the other one was the grooming room. Chris hauled all his gear into that one after checking Ali’s stall and putting him in it. Roberto carried in a fresh bucket of water and put some of the feed Chris brought from home in Ali’s feeder while Chris arranged his gear.
A gentleman in Arab dress appeared at the door of the grooming room. “Excuse me,” the man said in English. “I would like to speak to the owner of the horse in the next stall. Would that be you?”
“No, I’m not the owner, but I am his trainer, and I can speak for the owner. What can we do to help you?” Chris looked puzzled.
The man handed Chris a business card. “My employer asked me to give this to you. He is interested in the horse.”
Chris smiled and took the card from the man. He handed the man a card of his own. “I’m Chris O’Neal, the owner of Coldwater Creek Ranch in Colorado, USA.”
The Arab gentleman asked, “Would you mind if my employer came over to see this young stallion of yours in about two hours?”
“I’d be honored to show Prince Ali to your employer,” Chris told him. The gentleman gave a slight bow and thanked him for his time. He disappeared into the crowd of people in the barn area. Chris looked at the business card the man gave him. His employer’s name was HRH, followed by a five-word name Chris couldn’t figure out how to pronounce. Then it struck him. HRH?? Would that be His Royal Highness? Was the employer he referred to a Prince or a King?
Good heavens! He was dumbstruck. He didn’t know what to say. He showed the card to Roberto. Roberto came to the same conclusion he had. They were expecting a visit by a member of a royal family from somewhere in the Middle East. Were they supposed to bow? He had no idea. His first thought was to make sure Prince Ali looked presentable. He grabbed brushes and combs and began working on Ali.
Two hours later, a young man stepped out of the crowd and walked toward Ali’s stall. He was wearing jeans, running shoes and a polo shirt. He looked like everyone else in the barn area taking care of the horses for the show.
When he arrived at Ali’s stall, he said, “Excuse me. I’d like to speak with Mr. Chris O’Neal.”
Chris looked up, smiling. “I’m Chris. What can I do for you?”
“I came to see your young stallion,” the man said. “One of my grooms came to see you earlier. I saw the horse when you brought him in and wanted to take a closer look. My friends call me Sameer.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Sameer. Why don’t you come in the stall with us? You can get a closer look at Prince Ali,” Chris suggested.
Sameer came into the stall and approached Prince Ali. Ali nickered to him and watched him as he looked carefully at Ali. He walked closer and stroked Ali’s neck, then walked completely around him, looking at every part of him.
“He truly is magnificent!” Sameer said. “I have a colt in this competition, but I believe yours is the better of the two. Tomorrow night’s competition will be exciting. How does this one move?” While he spoke, his brown eyes never left Ali.
“Beautifully!” was the only thing Chris could think of.
“Ahh, then it will be a real contest,” Sameer said with a smile. “I think my colt does too. We look forward to the contest tomorrow evening.”
Chris carefully prepared Ali for his class the following day. He took him out for exercise in the morning and scrubbed him within an inch of his life afterward. When Ali was completely dry, he took him back to his stall and groomed him for his class. When Ali was prepared, Chris took time to put on his clothes for the class, including the shirt and tie, polished shoes, and belt. Roberto looked him over, whisked a few light hairs off his pants, and told Chris they were both as ready as they could be.
Chris walked Ali toward the ingate to the arena and held him back as other young stallions entered the arena. He knew Ali would make an entrance, and he wanted it to have the most impact on the judges and the spectators. Chris closed his eyes and thought about their entrance and asked for some Devine Guidance and help. When the last one of 24 colts entered the arena ahead of them, he asked Ali to move forward.
Ali was excited. He’d heard the spectators around the arena, and he wanted to give them something to cheer about. He was pumped up and ready to show! The minute his hoof landed in the arena, Ali began to fly with his high floating trot. Chris had to run as fast as he could to keep up with him. Ali looked at the spectators, catching eye after eye as he flew by them. Ali knew they were looking at him, and it made his movements even more pronounced. He looked like he never touched the ground as he made the complete circuit of the arena. Spectators couldn’t believe what they were seeing and began screaming and cheering him on.
When they reached the starting point and the end of the lineup of 25 colts, Ali settled down and paid attention to Chris. He also turned his head from time to time, catching the eye of spectators all around the arena. One by one, the handlers presented their colts to the judges. Some of the colts were excited and almost refused to stand still so the judging panel could walk around them. When Prince Ali’s turn came, he stood as still as a statue, focused entirely on Chris, as the judges walked their circuit around him. When the judges finished evaluating Prince Ali, one of them asked Chris to trot his horse away from them toward the rail, then trot him back into his place in line. Ali exploded! It was as if he’d been holding his breath while they looked him over, and he wanted to move out. He did in his best and strongest trot back to his place in line. The arena erupted once again. Spectators shouted, screamed, and cheered him on, and the louder they became, the higher Ali trotted.
The purpose of this class was to thin the entries down from 25 to 12 for the finals in two days. Chris and Ali knew they’d done their best and relaxed a little while the judges compared notes and turned in their cards to the officials. Staff members added up the points. A list of finalists landed on the announcer’s table.
After a brief pause, the announcer started calling the numbers of the colts invited to return to the final competition, where they would select the finest 2-year-old stallion in the world.
Chris held his breath as the announcer called the finalists numbers over the loudspeaker. He closed his eyes again, hoping that Ali’s number would make that final call. Ali’s number was the last one announced! Chris was delighted! Prince Ali made it into the finals. He couldn’t wait to make the phone call home and let his wife and the Howard’s know the good news. He turned Ali toward the outgate and began fighting his way back to their stalls. Crowds of spectators blocked his path. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to get a close-up look at Prince Ali. Ali was delighted. He whinnied at people and allowed anyone who wanted to pet him to do just that. It took almost an hour to get back to their stalls. Chris was exhausted by the time they got there. He pulled the halter off Ali in his stall and let him relax and eat a few nibbles Roberto put in his feeder. Chris left the stall and sat on the bench outside with a cold canned soft drink. Roberto joined him.
“That was a spectacular show Ali put on,” Roberto said. “We’ve taken him to shows before, but I’ve never seen him do it like that.”
“It felt good to me too,” Chris said. “I’m glad we made the finals. It sure feels good to get to this point with an American-bred horse. Do you know what the odds against that are? Some of the finest Arabian breeders in the world here in Europe and the Middle East are showing against us. Some of them have more money than I can even imagine. They have the best mares and stallions in the world available to them. Do you realize they would consider Caroline and Walter Howard as “back-yard” breeders compared to them? Don’t get me wrong, Caroline and Walter are thoughtful breeders, and they only breed for one or two foals per year. They struck gold with this one!”
Chris shrugged his shoulders and leaned back against the stall wall. His mind was traveling in a thousand directions at once. He closed his eyes and tried to empty his mind. He was elated and exhausted at the same time.
“Mr. Chris,” the man with brown eyes stood in front of him as he spoke. Chris opened his eyes to see the man who visited Prince Ali two days ago. He wore traditional Arab clothing this time, including a jewel-encrusted dagger in his belt and the usual headgear on his head.
Chris jumped to his feet. “Your Highness, it is nice to see you again,” Chris said to him.
“Please, Chris, call me Sameer. I was in the stands watching the class. I was happy my colt made the finals. But, I must have Prince Ali! I could not believe what I saw. He is magnificent in every way. I must have him. Name your price.”
Chris was stunned and didn’t know what to say. He stumbled for words. “Sameer, I don’t think he is for sale. I’m his trainer, not his owner. His owner is a 10-year-old girl in California. I’d have to talk to her parents. I know how she feels about her horse. He is her best friend.”
“Ahh, I see how that could be a problem. But my offer stands. If they name a price, I will pay it even if I ask my father for help. If they do not consider selling him, ask if they plan to syndicate him. I will buy shares!”
“I have to call them to let them know Prince Ali is in the finals. I will mention you and your offer to them. I can let you know later today,” Chris said.
“Good. I am holding a celebration dinner here at the Salon de Cheval this evening. I will love to have you as my guest if you do not already have plans. It will be in the banquet hall in the next building at 7:00 pm. Are you free?”
Chris was surprised again. “Sure, I was going to bring something in from the café across the street. I’d be delighted to have dinner with you.”
“Good,” Sameer said. “I have many people to introduce to you. I also wanted to tell you I admire the way you handled your horse today. He was relaxed and easy with you, but when you asked him to show for you, he did. It was clear to me he likes and respects you. It is also clear to me that you like and respect him. It is the perfect relationship between trainer and horse.”
Chris smiled and nodded. “Sameer, I can’t take all the credit for that. Prince Ali is that kind of horse. I must also admit that little 10-year-old girl raised him well. I just showed him what I wanted him to do, and he does it.”
Sameer chuckled. “I have a 10-year-old daughter myself. I must get her to the barn and see what she can teach me. I’ll take my leave now. I will see you this evening.” The man and one who appeared to be his bodyguard turned and melted into the crowd.