The graceful, copper-colored thoroughbred threw up her head at the sound of Ashleigh Griffen's sharp whistle. The filly cantered toward the paddock fence where Ashleigh stood with her friend Linda March.
"Look at her go!" Linda cried, brushing blond curls from her cheek.
"She's looking great, isn't she?" Ashleigh said, studying the horse's elegant lines. She wasn't especially tall for a Thoroughbred, but not a midget either at fifteen hands, and she would still grow and fill out. The muscles beneath the sleek, gleaming coat were firm and well developed. Her mane and tail were long and silky. Her head was like a sculpture, with pricked ears, a wide, intelligent forehead, a slightly dished nose, and flaring nostrils. The long, seemingly fragile legs were straight and powerful.
The beautiful filly slid to a stop by the fence and leaned her head over the rail. Ashleigh reached up and hugged her. "You're my Wonder, aren't you?" she said, planting a kiss on the filly's nose.
Wonder responded by softly nuzzling Ashleigh's dark hair, pulling it loose from its ponytail. Ashleigh carelessly tucked the hair back in place. Looking at Wonder, she felt a rush of pride. At one year and four months old, Wonder had grown into a strong and healthy horse. She'd turned out to be every bit as beautiful as Ashleigh had dreamed when she'd first set eyes on the frail, newborn foal, with her still-damp copper coat and huge, trusting eyes. Back then, no one had thought Wonder would live. And no one had thought a twelve-year-old, as Ashleigh had been then, could save her. Of course, both Wonder and Ashleigh had grown and changed a lot in the year and four months since.
"When do you thinkWonder's going to go into training?" Linda asked, reaching over to rub the filly"s neck. She got an affectionate nudge from Wonder in return. "'My dad's already started his yearlings."
Ashleigh jerked back from her reveries. "I'm not sure." She frowned, squinting her hazel eyes. "'They've started most of the yearlings already-especially the ones they've got high hopes for, like Brad Townsend's colt, Townsend Prince. Wonder's one of the last. It bothers me."
"I guess they can't start them all at once," Linda said, understanding Ashleigh's worry. "They've got so many yearlings-over a dozen, isn't it?"
Ashleigh nodded. "I'm kind of scared about it," she admitted. "I mean, I cant wait for Wonder to start training, but you know what will happen if she doesn't do well-Mr. Townsend won't keep her on the farm. He'll send her to auction."
"She'll do okay, Ash," Linda said. "Look how she's come along. She's really got beautiful form now, and she's one of the smartest and friendliest fillies I've ever known."
"I guess I shouldn't worry so much," Ashleigh said. "Wonder is doing really well now." But Ashleigh couldn't help remembering all the struggles that had occurred during Wonder's first year of life. Ashleigh had nursed the tiny foal from birth, saving her life; then she'd nursed her again through equine influenza. But the owner of the farm, Clay Townsend, had de cided Wonder was too small and too far behind the other foals to ever be a good racing prospect. He'd been ready to send Wonder off to auction. Ashleigh had had to plead for the filly, then desperately work with her to build up her weight and strength. Townsend had finally decided to keep Wonder-but only for another year.They were already six months into that year.
"And I won't be able to help with the training at all," Ashleigh added. "Mom, Dad, and Charlie have already told me that Mr. Maddock isn't going to want me interfering. I don't know how Wonder's going to act with strangers handling her. She's used to me taking care of her. Aren't you, girl?" Ashleigh turned to the horse, who was rubbing her head against Ashleigh's shoulder. Wonder answered with a low nicker.
"They let Brad help train Townsend Prince," Linda said.
Ashleigh made a face. "But Brad's the owner's son. My parents only manage the breeding stables, and they don't have anything to say about the training."
Linda sighed. "I still wouldn't get worried yet, Ash. Wonder"s going to do great."
As if understanding, Wonder lifted her head and whinnied loudly.
"See?" Linda laughed.
"Yeah." Ashleigh smiled. She gave Wonder a final pat. "Linda and I are going for a ride," she told the horse. "We'll stop back later."
Wonder watched them go, then kicked up her heels and trotted to the far end of the paddock to join the other yearlings. The girls set off toward the paddock where the riding horses and Ashleigh's younger brother's pony were kept. All around them were the lush, rolling hills of Townsend Acres.
Ashleigh loved the place. She loved the sight of Thoroughbreds grazing in white-fenced paddocks, the sound of their calls, the smells of grass and fresh air and sunshine. It was early September, and the leaves would soon begin to change color. There was the end-of-summer sound of cicadas and the smell of late-cut hay. It was heaven to Ashleigh.
She hadn't felt that way when they'd first moved to Townsend Acres, though. TheGriffens had had their own breeding farm before that-until a virus had swept through their barns, killing the stock. Her parents' insurance hadn't covered the losses, and they'd been forced to sell Edgardale. Ashleigh had been devastated. She'd hated having to move. She'd hated everything that had taken her away from the home she'd known! But that was in the past. After almost a year and a half, she'd gotten used to Townsend Acres-and having Wonder had helped...
Joanna Campbell appears here with her six-year-old Thoroughbred, Meyersville Magic, known around the barn as CC. He's a son of Horatius out of Northwich by Timothy's Champ and is owned by Cathy Day. Formerly trained for racing, he is now being trained for eventing. Last Year he was the Maine Entry Level Champion in Combined Training.