Aislinn tossed her riding helmet on top of the stuffed backpack and slammed the trunk door. Her paddock boots crunched on the gravel driveway, and after sliding into the passenger seat of the old green station wagon she leaned over and blasted the horn. She couldn’t wait another minute for the best two weeks of the year to begin. No more boring grade six, no more violin-playing prodigy of a brother. Just Aislinn and Firefly, jumping jumps and roaming the trails at Summerwood Farm, her favourite place in the world. And this year, camp was going to be extra special: Grace was finally letting them ride the cross-country course!

She honked the horn again. What is she doing? We’re already going to be late! A few minutes later her mother stepped out the front door of their house. Behind her slouched Aislinn’s sixteen-year-old brother, Ben, carrying a violin case in one hand and a binder in the other.

The driver’s side door opened and Aislinn’s mother poked her head into the car. Her blue eyes were frosty. “That’s enough, Aislinn. I’m sure the neighbours don’t appreciate a blaring horn at eight o’clock in the morning any more than I do.”

“Yeah, Old Lady Settle might stab you with a pitchfork,” Ben said, holding the passenger door open. “In the back. My legs are longer.”

“No way, I was here first.” Aislinn sat back and crossed her arms. Ben always got to sit in front. “Why are you coming, anyway?”

Their mother started the motor. “Ben has an audition at nine and I don’t want to make two trips. Grace won’t mind if you’re a few minutes late.”

“Well I mind,” Aislinn grumbled. “You’re never late getting Ben to music camp. Riding camp is just as important.”

“You’re getting out first, Aislinn, so let him sit there. And Benjamin, don’t talk about Mildred Settle like that, it’s disrespectful.”

Aislinn sighed. “Whatever.” She pushed past her brother and scrambled into the back seat. “Let’s just go. I don’t want to miss anything!”

“For heaven’s sake, what’s the rush?” Once everyone was buckled, Aislinn’s mother slowly backed the car down the driveway, instead of roaring out and scaring everybody like she usually did. “You’re there every weekend for your lessons.”

“Mom, camp is totally different. I’ll be there all the time. Twenty-four-seven!” Aislinn’s family didn’t understand how much she loved horses, and riding, and just being at Summerwood.

“Hey, they mentioned Summerwood on the news last night,” Ben said, looking up from his phone.

Aislinn leaned forward. “Oh yeah? What did they say?”

“Don’t remember. Something about the land? Or the trails maybe?” Ben yawned and went back to texting.

Aislinn wondered what it was about. Maybe Grace was going to make the stable bigger, or build more trails. She stared happily out the window. Whatever it was, it must be something good. Only good things happened at Summerwood.

TOUCH OF GOLD – Chapter One

Jamie braked by the fence and stared at the solitary horse. Its head drooped and a faint outline of ribs showed underneath a dull gold coat. The horse seemed to be asleep, but when Jamie swung off her bike and jumped the ditch it looked up, ears pricked.

She held out her hand. “Hey you, come see me.”

After a moment, the horse ambled over and pushed its nose gently into Jamie’s open palm. It wore a scuffed brown leather halter and its long whiskers tickled her fingers. She reached up and patted its neck, then scratched underneath the tangled white mane. The horse leaned into Jamie’s hand. When she withdrew her fingers, her nails were black with grime. The horse shook its head, and then nibbled at her jacket.

“You’re hungry, aren’t you? I wish I had something.” Jamie looked down, but there were no green shoots poking through the dry grass around her feet. She wondered why the horse was so thin, and glanced up the gravel road beside the field: it curved left and disappeared behind a dense copse of evergreen trees. Beyond the trees stood a small red barn.

Jamie turned back to the horse and looked under its belly. A girl: just as she thought, with those sweeping lashes and kind brown eyes. She lingered for several minutes and then stroked the palomino’s velvety nose one last time. “Don’t worry, I’ll come back tomorrow,” she promised. Then she climbed back on her bike and pedalled away, turning back at the end of the field for another look. The mare stood motionless, head up, watching her. When Jamie checked once more before riding around the bend, the horse seemed not to have moved at all.

As Jamie rode home past bare trees and muddy fields, thoughts of the palomino swirled through her mind. She was nothing like Uncle George’s pampered Clydesdales, Daisy and Clem, who pulled his cranberry-red sleigh or big-wheeled wagon at maple sugar festivals. But she was beautiful, despite her neglected appearance–something about her clear eyes and the shape of her tall body and long, slender legs. And even though she was bony, she didn’t look old. Jamie didn’t think she’d been mistreated either, because she was so friendly. In fact, the horse seemed to want a friend as much as she did.