Amy Cheney-Seymour surrounds herself with nature while ducks, a 500-pound pig named Buckbeak, chickens, horses dogs and a cat mill peacefully around her 28-acre Stone Circle Farm on the Fletcher Farm Road in Vermontville. And let's not forget two children and a husband known for coaching biathlon.
In a moment reminiscent of a movie, Amy is combining her interests in coaching soccer and horseback riding with the "If I build it, he will come" attitude, which has become part practical and part whimsical. One goal is to nurture a new generation of equestrians. She wonders at her good fortune to be able to look out her own window and shape a place to be other people's "Field of Dreams."
Amy encompasses the whole area with a sweep of her hand.
Amy helps Rachel Fogerty before a riding lesson.
(Photo — Diane Chase)
"This was once all part of the Vancore Dairy Farm," she said. "The barn was intact, and this field is where I used to come ride. I started riding on my eighth birthday with Karen Johns. I was that little horse-crazy girl."
Amy describes that magical experience of having a place to come to in the summer where she could learn all the aspects of riding horses and always be welcomed. She would spend four to five days a week riding.
"A huge part of the reason I wanted to own this property was because of having spent time here riding," Amy said. "I would spend time here when I was 8 until about 15. When Karen relocated I was devastated and I just stopped riding and that is when I started playing soccer."
Fifteen was a pivotal age for Amy. She quit riding and would not take it up again for 15 years. She poured all her passion into playing soccer. She played through high school and on through college.
"When I studied abroad in France, I played soccer with a women's semi-pro team," Amy said. "At that time, in the '90s, women's soccer was not at the level it is today. Today, the level of play is so high globally. For me, though, I was able to play there and travel to Morocco, Italy and other cool places."
Amy claims to have gone "head first" into soccer. Not only did she play but she also coached development soccer at Lake Placid Soccer Center and Dutch Soccer Academy in Maine. She and her husband Kris coached at the collegiate level at the University of Maine. Then a few years ago, she and Kris decided to move back home to Saranac Lake to be closer to family.
Her eldest son, Lauchlan, was born in Saratoga Springs while her husband attended graduate school, and the younger, Colter, was born in Maine.
"We wanted to give all our coaching and teaching energy to our children,"?Amy said. "We were going to make this move happen."
Kris designed their passive-solar house, which Amy admits, is a journey in itself. An architect by trade, Kris combined his experience in sustainable architecture with his own fervor to lower their carbon footprint.
With the focus on raising their two young boys, the horses, soccer field, skiing, farm animals and finishing the house took a back seat to other, more pressing projects.
"The first five months we lived here in a yurt and then winter came and it got cold," Amy said. "Kris's parents were kind enough to take us in. So that winter we lived with them. We came back last summer, and are now living in the house. It is a two-stage process, but the house will remain small.
"This (property) is a melding of all our passions," Amy said. "I wanted land to have my horses, to have a soccer field and for my boys to be able to ski right out their back door."
Amy described how the existing fields will be altered with an addition of a pole barn, soccer field and horse paddock. She had been in a quandary about cutting trees from their own property to build their house. Kris was focused on the aspect of using from their own trees to keep with their life philosophy when Amy praises the "32 volunteer trees" that were felled during a windstorm. Mother Nature aided their decision process to satisfy both sides.
Amy is marrying two very different pastimes to form a year-round sports complex in an agricultural setting.
"There are not a lot of places in the area to take riding lessons," she said. "I will teach primarily English riding.
"I will have a lot of beginners. I learned in a very traditional setting with excellent instruction. It was very ridged and serious. There was no laughter. You worked hard for an hour-and-a-half. I am hoping to bring balance to riding. I want them to learn what is happening with the horse behavior and be comfortable with the basics, what we call 'ground work' to get the student used to riding. This isn't a trail-riding place. I hope to get children to go as far as they want to with riding."
Amy welcomes that young person who will come for a lesson and then want to move in, as well as the child that comes for a few times to just try things out.
"I want to offer that introduction to riding and take those beginner riders to an intermediate level," she said. "When they are ready to be at a more competitive level, such as jumping or showing, then I can recommend them somewhere within a two-hour radius."
Amy believes her goal is to provide the student with development equestrian skills. Amy is not going to require people to be part of a club to ride. She will also board horses once the pole barn is built.
"The most surprising part of the venture has been the number of adults that have called to come," she said. "I've had 13 women call that used to ride and want to be part of the women's riding group.
"Our website, www.stonecirclefarm.net, shows all that we offer, or people can call 354-2803 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will have an eight-stall barn. People can also check out the other arrangements. Horses also like to be outside. They are herd animals. My horses have been kept in a heated barn, and they did not like it. When we confine horses to a barn all the time, it just isn't healthy.
"With soccer, as well as riding, there is never a day that we can wake up and say 'I know it all." Every day your horse is going to teach you something else. I welcome those 'Aha' moments, right along with my students."
Amy reminds her riders that the horse is the teacher and she is just the instructor where they are all students.
Amy goes through some elementary tips on watching for the horse's body language. Her voice is quiet and calm and her motions slow while she describes how the animals accept her and why.
"People will start with ring work at the horse arena and then progress to the trails around the property," Amy said. "It is still nice to go for a walk, so sometimes I will lead the horse while the student rides until he is ready to go on his own. It is a big deal when a student finally can go into the field alone. Of course, this takes place about 10 to 12 lessons in. We want to utilize as much of the land as we can while keeping it as natural is possible. I don't want to mow it into oblivion."
Amy is quick to engage her children in the process and praises them for helping to care for the animals. Amy hopes that Stone Circle Farm can become that place for other children, who don't have pets or the space for large animals, to learn the responsibility involved in equine care.
Three of the horses came from a hippotherapy (meaning horse therapy) center where Amy worked while in Maine. The fourth is a quarter horse mare gifted for the program from Terri Giglinto.
"I taught straight lessons there, equitation, but the owner had a hippotherapy center where she worked with autistic children, nonverbal learners and those with physical limitations," Amy said. "These horses are not the therapy horses but some of the 18 horses there. It was amazing to see these nonverbal children be able to open up."
Amy introduces her horses. Jack is a gelding and her first lesson horse. Penny is a mare, and Lucky is an ex-dressage horse that suffered a back injury and could no longer compete at the same high level of competition. She reviews some basic concepts, like how to approach a horse that she would impart to her students. Her voice is always soft and gentle.
"Some of my instructing and riding in a relaxed environment began in Maine," she said. "The husbandry I've kept up with through reading and experience, but I have to give credit where credit is due, and I learned a lot of that right here where I learned to ride. We covered everything here. We were feeding, leading and trailering the horses here. I was here when the veterinarian came. I was here when the farrier came. So a lot of my foundation is what I hope to pass on to this new group of students coming through.
"It doesn't mean that you have to be a three-day a week eventer or go to college and ride on your equestrian team. It is basic knowledge that is applicable to life. There is a lot of crossover between the care of horses and life skills. There are many books on the subject that reference those people that can relate to horses can work in large groups and are more successful."
Amy was a high school French teacher at the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid and also taught in Oregon at a French immersion school before her husband began graduate school. Since then, she has taught at a variety of schools, both public and private, from kindergarten to the collegiate level. Amy currently substitutes for the public school district while shaping Stone Circle Farm into a horse-riding, soccer-coaching mecca for youth while finishing her teaching certification.
In the fall, Amy runs an under-12 soccer program, and for the first time, she will coach on her own soccer field adjacent to her riding arena.
"I believe there is a lot of crossover between successful teaching and successful coaching," Amy said. "Your job is to be approachable and to relate to everyone. Some children are musically inclined; some are linguistically inclined or artistic. It is my job to find out how each child learns. It is challenging, but I make it my goal to understand how to make that child relate to what I am doing."
She said she feels there is balance between the two disciplines. Horseback riding and soccer are both very physicaly demanding. Soccer is more strategic while horseback riding is about communicating with the animal. When it is time to switch her hats the horses take an outbreath as well and she continues to let her passions rejuvenate with the changing of seasons.
Coaching, teaching and working with animals has given her the ability to back away when something isn't working, to let go or approach the issue in a different way. It is a balance.
"When I am struggling with something either on the horse or on the ground," Amy said. "I have to step back. Every time I allow the horses to teach me, I can work through it. That is same thing with soccer.
"Coaching soccer at the higher collegiate level is something I miss. Though there is something about coaching a group of kids under the age of 12. The last group I coached was one of the most gifted teams I've ever had.
"It was almost magical. They loved the game and enjoyed being with each other. It made my job just that much easier."
Being part of this farm, Amy feels more in touch with other aspects of her life now. Each season has its place. In the winter her horse trails convert to the family's passion for cross-country skiing and biathlon.
"Yes, my boys would not be happy if my horses post-holed their ski trails," Amy laughs as she continues walking the path back to the house. Her eldest child Laughlin vigorously shakes his head in agreement.
"We live most of our lives outside." Amy pauses to look around. "We hope that we are giving our children a childhood that lets them know that sometimes you have to work hard in life and that those easy times come, but sometimes you just need to carve them out. You can work smart and work hard."