Horsing Around in Katama

With a little help from her friends, Melissa Vasiliadis recently realized her childhood dream of owning a horse barn.

South Wind Stables’ owner Melissa Vasiliadis – her friends call her Missy – is living out her dream. Practically since the day this Island girl first sat on a horse at the age of four, she longed for a barn and a horse of her own. Then four years ago Missy remembers how she pulled out a dusty old briefcase and found the plans she had made ten years earlier for a horse barn. Three-and-a-half years ago, the dream began to take shape when a building kit loaded on a huge tractor-trailer rig arrived from Barn Pros Equestrian Facilities of Monroe, Washington.

“I just jumped right into this,” Missy says. A fancy, eighteen-year-old Welsh mare called Connect Four, nicknamed Nickers, joined the family for her two kids on the February day the last boards were going up on the new barn in 2007. Now Nickers – the family calls her their “freshy girl, their absolutely perfect princess pony” – and Missy’s new barn add to an already busy schedule.

“Owning a horse feels like the biggest responsibility,” Missy says. “It’s a lot of work. It’s a labor of love. You eat it, sleep, and drink it all day long.”

South Wind Stables is a co-op barn, which means everyone boarding a horse pitches in to share the considerable workload of caring for the horses and running an equestrian facility. On an Island where transportation costs are a perpetually expensive add-on, a co-op barn also makes keeping a horse more financially manageable. The co-op advantages matter to Missy, since she co-owns Wave Lengths Salon & Day Spa in Edgartown, where she puts in a ten-hour workday three times a week. She and her husband, George – who grew up on a farm in Greece, once trained to be a jockey, and now works as a painter for Baumhofer Builders in Edgartown – also have nine-year-old Alex and six-year-old Isabella to care for, so sharing the workload with six boarders makes a big difference.

“I’m the manager, but I’m the least knowledgeable,” Missy says. “I came into this blind.” Since going on a five-day ride in Colorado ten years earlier, she hadn’t been on a horse until the barn was built. Life and babies got in the way. She credits friend and boarder Kimberly Rogers in particular, saying, “I never could have done it without her. Our mothers were best friends growing up, and so were we from zero.”

The roster of boarders changes frequently, but for now Missy has been able to surround herself with six fellow riders, most of whom she grew up with in Edgartown, and their horses. “We’re all Island girls,” Missy says. “We all grew up together.” They knew each other from school, all loved horses, and hung out together at nearby Sweetened Water and Bittersweet farms, both of which are still operating. Kim, who works as secretary to Edgartown’s building inspector, keeps Indy Kid, a thirteen-year-old Dutch warmblood-thoroughbred cross; substitute teacher Elise Bonnell and her mom, Cindy, have Max, a mixed breed, and Hershey, a twenty-three-year-old Welsh grade pony; skin-care specialist Elizabeth “Liz” Carroll owns Dazzle-D, a big, ten-year-old Hanoverian; self-employed accountant Lisa Lawson has Guilty Pleasure, nicknamed Andy, a nine-year-old quarter horse; and Bizzarro Services office manager Jen Rose completes the current boarding list with a four-year-old Dutch warmblood, named Al Pacino.

Although Missy spends most of her horse time managing the barn, the other six practice a variety equestrian disciplines: dressage, hunter/jumper, and pleasure riding.

“It’s like a childhood reunion,” Liz says. “I feel connected with everybody.” Through that shared sense of community, Missy finds she learns something new every day. When Andy developed a foot problem that required soaking, Liz showed Missy how to cut off the top of an IV bag, mix the soaking ingredients in it, and put it on the horse’s foot. That way he could walk around instead of keeping his foot in a bucket for twenty minutes, something he refused to do. Missy has also learned a lot about people. Describing herself as easygoing, even passive, she’s learning to be more assertive. “It’s all for the better,” she says.

“It’s my cousin’s fault I started riding,” Missy explains. Her grandmother Madeline Montesion paid Missy’s cousin Christine Pacheco five dollars to teach her how to ride when she was a little girl. Stories like that pop up frequently. She remembers when Liz’s dad bought a pony Missy had wanted for herself; she felt as if he had been stolen away from her. A more recent family story comes from a stormy night in August 2008 when she and her children piled into the barn loft for a sleep over to help Earle – their newly rescued, big, gray barn cat – settle in; Earle was named so after an encounter with a cup of Earl Grey tea. Another story is Earle’s disappearance in early 2009. It happened not too long after Jen Rose, who had been boarding Al Pacino outdoors at Pond View Farm in West Tisbury, trailered him to South Wind to stay indoors in a stall for a stormy weekend. When Earle showed up with a fever and a scratched cornea a day after Jen had taken her horse back to Pond View, Missy deduced that the curious cat must have been exploring the trailer and went with it when Jen left, then jumped out and made his way home from West Tisbury.

South Wind demonstrates how Island networks pull together to make things happen. Missy’s uncle Gene Bergeron did the site clearing and planned the paddocks. He also introduced her to the late Joan McGurren, who became a client at Missy’s salon and an inspiration, recommending Barn Pro for the barn kit. (The barn is dedicated to Joan, who was killed in a horse and carriage accident in 2006.) Al Araujo poured the concrete for the barn floor. Tim McHugh, who grew up with Kim and Missy, built the barn. Greg Willett of Willett Electric, and Rob Young, Edgartown’s electrical inspector (and Lisa Lawson’s fiancĂ©), did the electrical work. Jimmy Cimeno of Walter Smith Plumbing & Heating did the plumbing. Virtually everyone is connected through family or friendship.

Kim’s husband, Dan Rogers, of Russell’s & Son Excavation in Oak Bluffs, built the 80-by-180-foot outdoor riding ring, which has a shavings-and-sand base and is situated beyond a tree grove behind the barn; he used fill from foundations he had dug. Sharon Mello of Martha’s Vineyard Screenprint Company in Oak Bluffs designed the logo and T-shirts for South Wind. Sweetened Water Farm, which is also a co-op barn, has divided trailer loads of hay and orders of shavings for stall bedding. Neighbor Janet Aldeborgh, who also shares hay and shavings, lets South Wind boarders ride on her field and small jump course next door at Herring Creek. Rather than having to buy new fill for the ring and barn, Missy worked out a trade for her premium topsoil with John Keene Excavation. Manure goes to Morning Glory Farm to fertilize crops.

“I feel like we touch everybody here on the Island,” Missy says. “At least everybody who buys produce at Morning Glory.”

A handsome, two-story structure finished with natural, tongue-and-groove barn siding, South Wind has five stalls, a tack-room/office, and a bathroom on the ground floor. Upstairs in the loft, where hay is stored, there is room in one corner for grain barrels, a small refrigerator, a microwave, and a table. Two cozy, Southwest-style, tag-sale sofas line the back wall. Missy had doggie dormers added on either end to create more headroom and light, as well as lockers for storage. Outside are a roomy hot-water shower for the horses and a two-stall shed, which expands the barn’s capacity to seven horses. Along with the Vasiliadis house, a checkerboard of seven turnout paddocks near the barn, and the riding ring behind it complete the property. The boarders exercise their horses in the ring, go on a hack (trail ride) down nearby Meetinghouse Way, or ride in neighbor Janet Aldeborgh’s field.

Boarders take turns doing barn duty one day a week. Missy’s day illustrates what needs to get done on barn duty day: She is up and at the barn by six a.m. to feed all the horses, put hay in their paddocks, make sure they have plenty of fresh water, put on blankets or sheets when necessary, turn them out into their paddocks, then sweep the barn, clean the bathroom, take out the trash, rake outside, and empty manure or trash from the back of her Deere Gator tractor. By 8:15 a.m., she’s also fed her children, driven them to school, and arrived at her salon on the three days a week she’s there. In her case, the other days are reserved for errands, shopping, laundry, and all the “regular life stuff – the other job,” as she says. She supervises the children’s riding on those days or longes (exercises on a long line) Nickers.

At night, Missy brings the horses back to their stalls, feeds and hays them, and puts on nighttime clothing for them if necessary. Her children go to the YMCA after-school program at Cottagers’ Corner in Oak Bluffs on the days she works at the salon, and George picks them up, feeds them, and gets on their pajamas. “I read to them every single night,” Missy says. Together Missy and George do a night check on the horses before bedtime – sometimes as late as 10 p.m. – to see that they are safe and comfortable. “We make sure they’ve pooped and are eating,” Missy says. “We’ve caught a few colics that way.” South Wind recycles its bottles, plastics, and paper, and also won a safety award this year from the North American Horse Association for meeting all of its standards.

Barn meetings once a month help boarders hash out problems that crop up and provide a time for socializing upstairs in the loft. During the winter months, they may meet at one another’s houses or at the Wharf Pub & Restaurant in Edgartown, “when we don’t want to freeze to death,” Missy says. At the meetings, boarders go over the “owe-sies” list, occasions when one has covered barn duties for another, and discuss things that have happened over the month. Missy’s father, Ed Montesion, who is a private caterer, supplies the food, so everyone eats royally. On occasion the menu has included baked stuffed shrimp, beef tenderloin, or spinach-walnut-avocado salad.

“It’s a time to introduce new people and go over the rules, and to enjoy ourselves,” Missy says. “We try to keep the barn drama down – the problems that come up because you’re dealing with a lot of personalities.” She keeps notes on scraps of paper about issues she wants to bring up.

It’s hard to catch Missy in a still moment, whether driving her little Gator out to the ring or cleaning paddocks. Her carefree enthusiasm masks a can-do attitude and propensity for step-by-step planning. She was just nineteen in 1989 when she and Jayne Leaf started Wave Lengths, which Missy says became the Island’s first full-service salon. Three years after starting the salon, Missy and Jayne bought ten acres of Katama land together. South Wind sits near Missy and her family’s home on their five acres.

“Sometimes I feel like there’s so much work,” Missy says. “Maybe it was too soon with kids so young. But I do have a lot of help. I get to do all this stuff, and I don’t even have a horse of my own yet. We’re busy enough with Nickers and the barn. What I have learned in the last three years is astronomical.” Everyone in the family pitches in. George serves as general fixer-upper man. Missy’s son, Alex, bought his Nintendo DS from money earned cleaning paddocks. Isabella will be running the barn by the time she’s ten, according to her mother.

“The other day she announced she’s also going to run Wave Lengths,” Missy adds. That might give her mother more time to redecorate her house. And more time to ride. You can be sure Missy has a step-by-step plan for it all.