A Life Dedicated to Equine Therapy

(This article first appeared in the September 6, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper)


The relationship between two species is unlike any other. Bonds are created through nonverbal communication and strengthened by the spirit. At Spirit’s Promise horse rescue program in Riverhead, it’s a sanctuary for healing the souls of horses and humans together.

It was a beautiful Friday afternoon as the sun began to set over the ranch. I arrived for a tour and met some of the inspiring women who run this life-changing operation. It was clear how such a place could transform energies.

Founder and president Marisa Striano greeted me in her tasseled cowboy boots — it was line-dancing night, although I wouldn’t’ve questioned it either way — and a warm smile. She motioned toward the stalls. I already felt like a part of a family.

Striano grew up in Manhasset and spent years riding in Port Washington. Despite a near death experience after an equine accident, Striano couldn’t give up being near the animals she loved so much.

“I was very fortunate my whole life and I wanted to share that fortune with other people. But I had to do something with animals. I decided I wanted to give back to the world. I wanted to do something that would make a difference, to leave my mark.”

In 2011, a non-profit program and rehabilitation center surrounding rescue horses took hold. With the help of her partner and daughter, Jessie Siegel, who is also an event coordinator, success was on its way.

Rescuing horses from abuse or auction, it all started with a horse named Spirit who is still there today.

Upon finding Blossom Hollow Ranch, a bed and breakfast at the time, the idea of housing 26 of these majestic creatures was completely far-fetched. Now nearing capacity, the dream has become a reality touching the lives of others.

It’s through a lot of hard work and sacrifice that this program is continuously helping those who visit. It’s been shown through post-traumatic stress disorder victims that their stress levels lower and their minds ease upon interacting with these animals. Striano stated,

“Standing next to a horse, you don’t think about anything else than where you are.”

Spirit’s Promise is 100-percent run by volunteers, 75 of them, all women, as a means to empower the female community. However, their efforts go beyond to become a resource for the Northport VA, East End Hospice, Rolling Thunder Long Island Chapter, Semper4Veterans, 9-1-1 Veterans, Suffolk Police Veterans Association, the American Cancer Society, Aid for the Developmentally Disabled, the Independent Group Home Living program, and Autism Speaks.

“I help people through the empathic nature of the horse. My whole mantra is ‘help us, help horses, help people,'” Striano said.

Similar to humans, these equine rescues have gone through a lot in life and are there to start over through the assistance of those running it and guests. Their trust can sometimes be hard-won, since humans are the ones who’ve done the abuse.

“I make a promise to them, that’s why we’re called Spirit’s Promise. I will never put them in harm’s way ever again,” Striano explained.

Upon entering the gates at Spirit’s Promise you’ll meet Izzy and Roxy, the twin Nubian burro donkeys, alongside their goat friends and Babs, their donkey companion. Toward the back, in a field of peonies, you’ll find the miniature ponies Christmas, Sweetie, Mr. Peanut, and a few others. They’re all eager to play. In the back barn are the countless horses ready to meet guests and be loved by those entering. Sticking their heads out of each stall, they greet visitors with tremendous “pet me” eyes.

In the main barn, a place used for events such as barn dancing, are pictures of the entire “family,” with a boutique of postcards, t-shirts, and more for purchase.

“Horses have no agenda. They’re very intention driven,” Striano explained. A horse is commonly used in emotional and behavioral therapy due to its mirroring capabilities. Horses have the remarkable ability of social and responsive behavior, like humans, which is why interacting with them has a magical healing affect. The connection to these gentle giants can be healing and liberating.

Striano recalled a woman showing up at the gate after burying her 27-year-old son. This woman, in tears, expressed her son’s love for horses and requested to hug one. Big Mommie, great-granddaughter to famed horse Seattle Slew and still at the barn today, saw the woman pass by and lowered herself to comfort her. For 45 minutes the two remained in an embrace; a bond was formed and a life was changed. “Horses need contact. And they need love,” Striano said.

More than saving lives these ladies, and ponies, sure know how to have a good time. On Friday, September 22, there is Paint Night; Saturday, September 30, is a huge “In the Spirit of Woodstock” event, and on October 20 is the East End Walk with Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center event.

Be a part of a miracle, find your own, or just meet those two- and four-legged friends in person. Visit http://www.spiritspromiserescue.org or call 631-875-0433.

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