"Mom, look at him. Isn't he pretty?" Amanda asked her mother while watching the frisky colt running and jumping in the field. "He's very young, isn't he?"
Mrs. Westland looked at her daughter. The girl was pretty with wavy, light auburn hair that fell just below her shoulders and she had soft, brown eyes. She was tall, like her father, and had a quiet, serene attitude. "Yes dear, he does seem so. We'll have to ask when we go to the house," her mother said absently. She was considering that her daughter was to stay on this island for the summer with strangers. Now that they arrived, Mrs. Westland was having second thoughts about leaving her. A holiday on the Magdalen Islands seemed ideal for Amanda, last spring. She had passed a difficult year, with poor health, poor grades, a move to a new home, her parents' divorce, a career mother and a poor choice of friends. Getting her away seemed smart, way back, whenever.
"I can't believe it. I just can't believe I'm spending my summer holidays here, on a horse farm," the young girl said enthusiastically.
They watched the young animal frolic around eleven other horses and foals awhile longer, then returned to the rent-a-car and continued down the long driveway. This was thirteen-year-old Amanda's first summer camp and she was very excited about the approaching adventure. She had been labeled horse-crazy, since she was four years old and had spent hours at the riding stables outside the city where they had lived before. She had known every one of the horses by name and most of the owners, also. She rode, whenever possible, but spent most of the time just petting and talking to the big, gentle animals. Now she would be trained to take care of a horse properly. Not just any horse, she would adopt a horse called Copper for the summer.
Amanda picked up and held a photo of 'her' horse that was sent to her upon registering for the camp. He was a black and white pinto, who stood about 15 hands high. She didn't need to read the card that came with the photo, because she had every word memorized. His description, his coloring, his health problems, his personality, and the special corral in the woods, where he stayed. She didn't even need to look at his photo, because she saw him, every night, in her dreams.
The driveway led to a circular turn in front of a large two story, white farm house. In the center of the turn there was a brilliantly colored flower garden surrounded by green lawn. Not far from the house and nearly completely surrounding it, was a thick, dark forest.
Mrs. Westland parked the car near the front door of the house and got out with Amanda. She looked around, pleased with what she saw. "It's beautiful, isn't it? I think I'd like a vacation here. This is an island paradise."
"Come on," Amanda said impatiently. "Let's tell them I'm here. I want to meet Copper." Eager as she was, Amanda waited for her mother to start toward the house. Before they walked very far, the door opened wide and an elderly lady came out to greet them.
"Hello there," the woman greeted them. "Welcome to East Coast Riding Camp. I'm Nancy Quinn, the chief cook and secretary here."
"Hello, this is my daughter, Amanda Westland and I'm Mary. She is registered here for the summer camp."
"Copper's new owner, right?"
Amanda nodded her head but didn't speak. She was a shy person when she met people she wasn't accustomed to.
"I was told you'd arrive today. Come in! Come in! Heavens where are my manners?" Mrs. Quinn admonished herself. "Are you ready for a look around or would you like to rest a while?"
Amanda lowered her head. What she really wanted was to see Copper but she was to shy to ask.
Mrs. Quinn seemed to understand. "Okay! Are those the clothes you'll be wearing around the horses?"
"Would you like to meet Copper right away? He's just out back. The big boy is a special favorite of mine. He is as sassy as they come. He just loves people food, so I save the vegetable peelings and leftovers for him. You'll love him, I think." The woman started toward the door. "Come this way. It's shorter."
Mrs. Quinn led them through the house and out a back door. There they followed a yellow flag stone path across the yard and through the woods.
Mary Westland couldn't help herself and commented, "Follow the yellow brick road."
"Exactly so," Mrs. Quinn said. "Many times I hear someone singing out here. 'Follow the yellow brick road, Follow the yellow brick road, Follow the, follow the, follow the, follow the, Follow the yellow brick road. Oh, we're off to see the wizard, The wonderful wizard of Oz,'" she sang coarsely. "Of course, Copper is the wizard."
"He is?" Amanda asked shyly.
"Heavens yes, child," Mrs. Quinn quickly replied. "He's a wizard at getting himself in trouble." They hadn't gone very far into the woods. Around some rather large trees, a large black and white head with wide, gentle, brown eyes and small, soft ears, perked straight up, neighed a greeting.
"May I introduce you to Copper," the elderly lady said. "He had all kinds of special problems, but he's the best friend anyone can have."
"Is this horse dangerous?" Mrs. Westland asked, concerned. "I mean he won't fall on Amanda, will he? The letter said he was lame."
"Oh dear, no! He had a disease called laminitis. He foundered. That's all. I don't know all the specifics of the problem, but I do know that as long as he gets the right food, he's fine. They say that he's kind of allergic to eating green grass, but the truth is he doesn't digest a lot of growing grass, well. Sometimes he gets out of the paddock and comes to the house. If he's hungry, he'll eat off the lawn out back. He may limp for a short while until the food passes through his system, then he's fine again. It doesn't happen often, though," Mrs. Quinn explained. "We all watch out for the problem horses."
"How many problem horses do you have here?" Mrs. Westland wanted to know.
Mean while, Amanda was getting to know her horse by smell, by touching, and sight, as she murmured softly to the animal.
"There are five under special care, just now, but Copper is the only one that belongs to the club, this year. Usually, we bring in a damaged horse, heal him, then sell him to a loving child who needs him, as much as he needs her. The camp is working with about thirty horses this summer."
"Where are all the others?" Amanda asked quietly.
Mrs. Quinn looked at her thoughtfully before responding. "I'm going to need a hearing aid to have a conversation with you, dear," she said, thoughtfully. "The other horses are out on a trail ride. To pay for some of the bills, we give two hour trail rides through the woods, on the hills and down on the big beach about a mile from here. You passed it on the way in. Were they not out there, yet?"
A shake of the head confirmed that they weren't.
"It works like this. You keep Copper cleaned and well fed and most importantly, loved to the hilt, but if the club needs him to rent for a trail ride, then we use him. You get to ride him in the morning and evening and you are taught to ride properly and to care for him and his equipment, for about two hours a day. You are given two hours in the evening to practice what you learn in the arena."
"If you want to go on one of the trail rides, you may go on Copper, if your chores and your studies are up to date," Mrs. Quinn finished.
"You'll receive a full range of computer studies. It was in the brochure."
"Computers, oh yes, I remember. What is it I'll have to learn with them?"
"There's a program set out for you to do. You can use the machines in the hall or have one in your room. You'll be hooked into the mini and networked to others. All are internet ready! Truth is, I don't know what you will take. Word processing, business, math, some art program, whatever you need in school. It probably depends on what you now know. You'll also have, what we call, rainy day courses in pottery, handicrafts, cooking - whatever. You'll be expected to do an hour of pleasure reading, everyday. Then, of course, you will have time to socialize with the groups of young people here. There will be very full days, no doubt about it," Mrs. Quinn explained. "Now there I go being long winded and probably scaring you off. We won't over work you dear, but we won't let you get bored, either."
"Now would you like to come in for milk and cookies and see your room or stay here and get to know Copper a bit better? Your Mom and I have some things to talk over, after which you will take a proper tour of the place with one of the others, when they come back."
"I can stay?" Amanda asked. "I'll stay with him."
"Will she be...?" Mary Westland started.
"She'll be as safe as a kitten, by it's mother, with Copper. He'll take good care of her. Now don't you go wandering about the woods and get lost. It's only fifteen acres of forest but it'll keep you busy till supper trying to find you way back," the elderly lady said over her shoulder as the two adults turned to leave.
"I won't leave him until someone comes for me."
"Now don't get too dedicated and stay out too long, either. The rest should be back, in about an hour, come to the house by then," Mrs. Quinn called over her shoulder.
Amanda whispered gently in Copper's ear. "Oh, you gorgeous, gorgeous horse. You are mine for the summer. I hope you like me, like I love you. I'm going to brush you and clean you until you shine better than any other horse in the world."
Amanda scratched Copper's ears while he closed his eyes in comfort. He was totally content. Here was someone who would love him for himself. A horse couldn't have it better.