On a late summer afternoon, Alivia Stanley, her long blond hair tucked behind her ears, pushes open a barn door with the toe of her muddy boot and shouts, “Bailey!”

A chestnut-colored jersey cow, busy chewing grass, looks up. Bailey knows when to pay attention – whether she’s being called to the barn or just listening as Alivia fills her in on her day.

“That’s the thing about animals,” says Alivia, 14, who lives in Buxton. “They’ll listen to you. They’ll listen no matter what.”

Well, they listen to her anyway. And she has the trophies to prove it.

Alivia has won first prize for showmanship in her class at the Big E at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts – the largest fair in the Northeast – for the past two years in a row.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” says Connie Wood, who is in charge of the Cumberland County 4-H dairy club, of which Alivia is a member.

In the showmanship category, judges look at how the animal presents in the ring and how well it takes direction from its trainer.

“You’ve got to build that relationship,” Wood says, “if you’re going to have a lot of success.”

Building relationships with animals has been Alivia’s MO since she was a little girl, despite her mother’s best efforts to widen her horizons.

“I got her into dance when she was probably 5, and she quit,” Amanda Stanley says, laughing. “I got her into ballet, jazz and tap, and she’d sit on the floor in her tutu, cross her legs and say, ‘I’m not doing it.'”

But when it came to animals, she was willing to do it all – from caring for her guinea pigs to cleaning the hamster cage. She graduated to cows when she was 9.

“I got to feed a baby calf for the first time at the fair,” Alivia says, “and that got me hooked.”

It’s not all cows all the time. Alivia is a member of the Key Club at Bonny Eagle High School, and she loves to play lacrosse and hang out with her friends. Animals and 4-H, though, take priority.

“My friends say, ‘Hey, come over this weekend.’ ‘I can’t. I have 4-H.’ ‘Oh, you always have 4-H.’ Well, it’s gonna get me somewhere someday, you know.”

That somewhere is veterinary school. Her goal is to become a large-animal vet.

She does her chores after school – mucking out stalls, hauling buckets of grain and mounds of hay to the feed bin. She devotes weekends to training.

“You can’t just stick a halter on a cow and expect it to walk,” she says. “They won’t.”

She seems to have a magic touch in the show ring. But to her it’s just common sense.

“When you’re in the show ring everybody is so serious,” she says.

And quiet. Too quiet.

“It gets dead silent and you make (the cows) walk funny. It’s not normal to them. It’s not natural to them. It makes them nervous.”

So she talks to her animals, soothing them. She scratches their necks and pats their backs – just like she does when they’re walking around in the field behind the barn.

They relax – and follow her lead. Lately that’s right to the winner’s circle.

Alivia is the first to tell you she couldn’t do any of this without her mother’s support. That’s no surprise to Mitch Mason, the 4-H youth development educator in Cumberland County.

“(4-H) is not a program where parents drop off their kids and pick them up three hours later,” Mason says.

Amanda Stanley – who spends much of the summer shepherding Alivia and her two younger sisters from one fair to another – can attest to that.

“I’ve learned how to drive a cattle trailer,” Stanley says, laughing, “and I can back it up if no one is looking.”

This week Alivia will show her 1-year old Holstein heifer, Lucy, at the Fryeburg Fair, Maine’s largest agricultural fair and the last fair of the season. She’s hoping for a blue ribbon. But if that doesn’t happen, it’s OK with her.

“I don’t do it to win,” she says. “It’s about what you learn.”

Patience, commitment and the ability to roll with the punches.

“When you’re in the ring and the cow steps on your foot,” Alivia says, “you just have to smile and keep going.”