Interview with returning counselor: Emily Westphal


Emily “Emma D” Westphal

I am from the “Mitten State” aka Michigan. I grew up in Gaylord, but now live in Hermansville, which is in the Upper Peninsula.

What do you do when you are not at your REAL job at camp?


When I am not at my summer home enjoying the beauty of Northern California with some amazing friends, I am an Art Teacher for a small public school district. I teach all ages, starting with young 4’s all the way through middle and high school students. Here is a link to my website:  I also am the Senior class advisor, run an after school art club for elementary students, and coach JV Volleyball. In my free time I love home décor projects, training for my first 5K, keeping in touch with friends, and spending as much time as possible being “Auntie Em” to my adorable niece and nephew.

When did you first start working at CCC?

I first took the leap and came to Coppercreek back in 2009. This summer will be my 6th year on staff, but it seems like time has flown by.

What were your biggest fears about coming to camp?


Coming to camp my first year was like going to college all over again, except this time, I was a flight away from anyone I knew. It was very hard for me to get on a plane and go somewhere that I’ve only seen in pictures. At least when I went to college, I could visit beforehand. I was nervous that I would not connect with anyone, feel homesick, and not be as good of a counselor as the veteran staff.

What was camp like when you arrived?


Chilly. All I can remember is thinking to myself, “Isn’t this California? I thought it was hot all of the time!” That summer, the nights were pretty cold during staff training, and I definitely wasn’t expecting that. The days were beautiful, and that made up for it 100%. The Directors and staff were friendly, welcoming, and I felt at home very quickly. I knew I made the right decision by taking the risk of trying something new.

What are your favorite activities?


My favorite place at camp is the high ropes course. I like to facilitate it as the course supervisor, but I love to be a platform supervisor high up in the trees. The view is incredible, and I love watching campers conquer their fears. In addition, I have come to really enjoy a mountain bike ride here and there. It may not be something I am an expert on, but I love the challenge, and the feeling of satisfaction after completing a hard ride. I also have a soft spot for the talent show, vespers, and dressing up for Friday night dances.

What is your best memory?

I cannot pick one, so I compromised with three.

When I successfully got up on a wakeboard on Lake Almanor with the help of an amazing past counselor, Ryan McDowell.

A silly interpretative dance for the talent show to “Circle of Life” from The Lion King with the amazing Becca Rudy.

Last year at Vespers when Eric James Barger (the first) wrote a piece for me explaining the “Emma D Rule Book for Life” that made both of us cry in front of all of camp.

How did you feel when it was time to leave camp?


Oh man… I am an incredibly emotional person, so I always take it really hard. I realize that I will not see everyone for at least a year, or more, or ever again for that matter, and I become quite sad. After leaving, I go through a period of time at home where I experience “camp withdrawals” and it is odd to adjust to everyday life. I definitely miss everything about Coppercreek instantly.

What do you know now that you didn’t know before you came to camp?

So many things. The first thing that comes to my mind is to try everything. You will never what you are capable of unless you give it a shot. Did I think I could fly across the country and make friendships with a “second family” away from home? No. Did I think I could try a riding lesson on a horse? No. Did I think I could complete an element of the high ropes course? No. But instead, I accomplished all of those things. ☺

If you could give campers advice on how to enjoy camp, what would that be?


Try a variety of activities. Be silly. Get to know everyone in your cabin, including your counselor, because they are awesome! Step outside of your comfort zone. Perform something in the talent show. Try a horse lesson if you never have before. Sign up for out of camp trips. Go all out for dance costumes (I do!).


And my top advice: Write down your favorite part of the day before you go to sleep. I call this concept Happy Thoughts. I have a happy thought book including all five of my years at camp, with entries from not only me, but ALL of my cabin members as well. It is SO amazing to look back and remember all of the times over the years. Those books are some of my prized possessions.

What is your favorite quote?

“A happy memory is a joy forever.”

What is CHA- Certified Horsemanship Association



All of our riding staff, at Coppercreek Camp, are required to complete a 5 day CHA clinic which we host here at camp. CHA’s mission statement is, “To promote excellence in safety and education for the benefit of the entire horse industry. This is accomplished by certifying instructors, accrediting equine facilities and publishing educational resources.”

A camper practicing pole work under, CHA instructor, Dani's watchful eye.
A camper practicing pole work under, CHA instructor, Dani’s watchful eye.

During CHA, our instructors, along with people from other camps and equestrian facilities, “practice” teaching riding lessons to each other. Under the careful supervision and instruction of two experienced CHA clinicians, each instructor must teach at least 3 mounted lessons and one unmounted lesson. After their lesson, they are given constructive feedback on what went well, what needs improvement, and any safety issues.

MJ- one of our wonderful clinicians.
MJ- one of our wonderful clinicians.

Each candidate is evaluated on two different criteria: their riding ability and their teaching ability. CHA is divided up into 4 levels with Level 1 being the most basic and appropriate for beginner riders. Level 4 would be for advanced riders who are capable of riding with an independent seat, leg and hands at all gaits and can jump. Candidates can only be certified to teach up to one level below their riding ability.


It is an intense 5 days filled with valuable information and experience. Each certified instructor leaves with a heightened sense of safety and competence. When you see a camp with certified CHA instructors, you know those instructors have been carefully “vetted” by the clinicians and you can feel more confident your child will be in capable hands, learning age appropriate equestrian instruction at the level of their riding ability.

Unmounted lesson on tying a horse.
Unmounted lesson on tying a horse.

In the horse world today, any person can hang a sign and call themselves a “riding instructor” and you have no idea if they actually know what they are doing. CHA creates a quality standard for instructors to follow. Instructors have to meet or exceed the criteria required during the clinic and then have to continue their equestrian education  to maintain their certification.