The Mid-Hudson Valley has a breathtaking new event space, a renovated horse arena in Clermont that opens through soaring glass windows to pastures, animals and forest. The 108-acre property also features a four-bedroom farmhouse and a glass house for photo shoots.
Peaceful Windhorse Farm, off Route 6, debuted for its first event, a private concert by The Orchestra Now of Bard College, last Saturday against blue skies and gentle fall winds.
Owner Anne-Katrin Spiess notes that the indoor-outdoor design, and the arena’s size, make it an ideal place for social distancing events during the Covid pandemic. And it’s been her personal obsession for the better part of a decade.
“I had no idea how Peaceful Windhorse Farm would transform my life,” says Anne-Katrin, who mostly goes by Katrin. “Managing this property has been the biggest learning experience of my life and, in a very small way, I am hoping that the farm can make a contribution to making the world a better place, for one or two or more humans at a time.”
A STROKE OF LUCK
Katrin says she never thought she’d find the perfect farm-barn-home when she set out on her Hudson River Valley search some 10 years ago. But after three years of scouring both sides of the river, the property came calling in 2013, and Katrin, an environmental land artist, snapped it up.
“When I saw the property, love struck,” says Katrin, 52, who travels the world creating ephemeral projects centered around her devotion to the Earth. She has homes in New York City, aboard her Airstream mobile home, and now, on the farm, she’s spent the past seven years restoring and renovating. She grew up in Lugano, Switzerland.
Among the projects Katrin took on to create the space were both structural and cosmetic changes. For instance, she poured a concrete floor in the arena space, added the floor-to-ceiling windows against the north side of the barn, and painted the facility, indoors and out. The delicate white tone she selected allows the texture of the wood to peek through. Delicate string lights now hang from the arena rafters, and sliding barn doors can be opened on the western and southern sides of the arena, affording views of rolling pasture and woods. When the sliding doors open, the arena becomes truly an indoor-outdoor space, eliminating the need to rent an additional tent.
Katrin also has been working on the land, extensively removing invasive species. Two beekeepers are tending nearly sixty beehives, and the animals at the farm – two goats, two sheep, two horses, two cats, two pigs, several chickens — are a sort of Noah’s ark at Katrin’s special place. “And then,” she says, “we have lots of wildlife such as coyotes and wild turkeys adding to the vibrant energy of the land.”
Many details remain, including a decorative stash of worn horse saddles. Guests enter the facility through a rustic walkway flanked by horse stalls, which can be custom outfitted as intimate spaces for tarot card readings, poetry readings, cocktail bar, ice cream parlor, or face painting. The arena space can accommodate 150 people during non-Covid times, half that number now.
Katrin hopes to attract yoga retreats, weddings, film screenings, celebrations, and art fairs. A devotee of Shamanic practices, she also hopes to attract couples interested in Shamanic weddings and has a network of expert practitioners to lead them.
“I am hoping to attract an eclectic, artistic and spiritual crowd of people who appreciate the scenic and pastoral setting of the farm and who are willing to organize events that respect the peace and quiet of our neighbors,” Katrin said. For the past six years, the property has been used to host late spring and early fall artist residencies under the name, Residency 108.
Indeed, symbolism abounds at the property. The number 108 is considered a sacred number in Hinduism, Buddhism, and yogic tradition. Malas or Japa beads come in a string of 108 and are used for devotional meditation, mantra, and prayer. And the name, “Peaceful Windhorse Farm,” came to Katrin shortly after signing the purchase contract, while she stood beneath the big maple tree in front of the house. “Only much later did I find out that “Windhorse” is actually an important concept and symbol in Buddhism,” she says.
LINK TO HER PAST
Katrin’s love of the Hudson River Valley makes deep sense in light of her background. She inherited a love for great landscapes and for nature from her parents, and in particular from her father, Hans Spiess. Spiess first trained as a landscape designer in Switzerland and then started his career as an architect by building houses that would follow the contours of the land, often by using reclaimed materials.
Katrin’s artistic practice is centered on a passionate devotion to the environment. Her temporary installations, many in the American West, address ecological issues, global warming, and conservation. She leaves the landscape that serves as her canvas completely unchanged and photographs and creates videos of the projects as a documentary and artistic record. For one project near Canyonlands in Utah, she adopted a highway for several weeks, and saved every littered item she collected, then bagged them and posed with the bags in a chilling self-portrait. For another project in 2010, she staged a funeral procession for a dead Nevada Lake, dammed in 1903.
Indeed, the farm-arena is an artistic project of a different sort. “Peaceful Windhorse Farm brings together some of the great loves and passions of my life: great landscapes, ecology, art, and spirituality, in ways I could never have imagined,” Katrin says. “I am hoping to be able to steward this most spectacular property and make it a place for joy, for learning, for growth and transformation, and of course, for the beginning of new relationships.”
1) The horse arena at night, photo by Anne-Katrin Spiess
2) A view to the south, photo by Emily Sachar
3) Bard College student musicians Misty Drake and Nicole Oswald of The Orchestra Now at a private performance inside the arena, photo by Emily Sachar
4) The glass house sits against a pristine pond, photo by Anne-Katrin Spiess
5) Sheep!, photo by Caitlin Pickall
6) Anne-Katrin Spiess, photo by Sharon Birke