BRATTLEBORO -- "I come in here, and it feels peaceful, like it's my own barn."
Amy Sullivan pulls into the driveway at Windemere Farm, where she is manager of the horse barn. The snow beneath her car tires sounds a cold, dry crunch, and the sun glances through the tall, bare maples to make long rectangles on the fields.
She walks quickly to the spacious barn, her snow pants making a soft shush-shush against the air. She slides open the door, and the four horses in their stalls lift their heads, their blankets and breath shush-shushing back at her.
It is so quiet here. The air smells of sweet hay and hardwood shavings. It is morning-calm, sure and clean with the liveliness and order of a clear heart.
Amy moves with the confidence and grace of a lifelong horsewoman. She carries hay to the outdoor paddocks, refills water buckets, changes the horses' blankets, leads them two-by-two from their stalls. Applejack, a hale and mellow 32-year-old fellow, is her horse; she's owned him since she was 8.
The horses clomp delicately over the snow to their hay. Applejack stands with his rump in a run-in shed built to offer shelter in bad weather. Faith, a gently inquisitive lady colored Labrador-yellow, glances up at the long, fenced slope behind the barn, now buried in snow. For all the world, her eyes seems to glaze in a daydream of summer fields, clover and quackgrass, until she shakes her head and gives an especially horsey sigh.
Back in the tidy heated tack room, Amy leans against a small counter holding ribbons, photos, and trophies from competitions over the years.
"I call this a co-op barn," she says. Behind her, a wall of cubbies holds equipment. To her left saddles and blankets hang from long, sturdy hooks.
"There's a monthly fee, $175, and each person buys grain and hay for her horse, plus we split the cost of the wood shavings. Then we share the morning and evening chores, right now among three of us, " she says. "It ends up being a really affordable way to have a horse."
She peels off her gloves and flexes her fingers. It is an unusually cold morning; she's grateful for the heat in the tack room.
"This set-up is also a great way to get to know your horse," she continues. "You see what's going on with them, you see how they are moving, how they're eating. Part of the daily chores is to observe the horses and let the others know if you notice anything off. You really learn how to take care of your horse."
Now in her mid-20s, Amy has been learning how to care for horses for almost two decades. She first saw people on horseback when her mother took her to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum near Mystic, Conn.
"I was really fascinated with Indian life when I was growing up in Connecticut," she remembers. "There was an exhibit outside the museum, set up like a village, and two people just rode up on horses. It was like, Look! it turned out they were from a farm not far from us, and that's where I ended up spending so much time, taking lessons and then working to help pay for Applejack. I don't even know why I loved horses so much. It was just the way it was, and the way it always is."
When Amy was 14, her family moved to Vermont. She soon began working at Winchester Stables in Newfane, and a few years later connected with Windemere.
She slides her hands back into her gloves and leaves the tack room to finish up the morning chores.
She wheels a yellow wheelbarrow and purple muck rake into the first stall. With trim rhythm she cleans the rubber mat and smooth the shavings until the stall is ready for its horse. Puffs of dust flash through the sun sneaking through the open barn door as Amy neatens every inch, even sweeping away the cobwebs.
"Everyone feels, at some point, like this is their very own barn," she says with a smile. "You spend time alone here, with the horses, and it's just so nice."
She gestures to the rest of the barn. "We have room for more horses, of course. It'd be wonderful to really use this great barn.
She grins. "It's a good place. For horses, for people. In the summer, with the sun on the fields up there, it's beautiful."
Amy rests the rake against the next stall, takes up the wheelbarrow handles, and trundles the load out of the barn, past the horses in their dark green and sage-colored blankets. They chomp and stamp, nap and blink, dream of spring at Windemere Farm on Upper Dummerston Road.
"It's a beautiful place to be."
To learn more about Windemere Farm, contact Amy Sullivan at 802-579-4862.