Helping Local Horses

(This article first appeared in the November 15, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper)


Marylou Kaler is an East Hampton resident with a passion for equine. Driving down Route 27 heading east, just before Red Horse Market, is a wide-open space where many a passerby has pulled over to take a picture of the four magnificent White Shire horses — Gunner, Patsy, Tess, and Isabelle. They have had a rather tough life. Rescued in 2015 from Quiet Times Shires in Ridge, their former owner was found guilty of animal cruelty, abusing them as carriage drivers. In the almost three years since, with 25 years of equine caregiving experience behind her, Kaler has rehabilitated her new friends and formed an incredible bond.

Yet, without outside funds, her resources have become exhausted and thus a non-profit, Stable Environment Equine Rehabilitation, was created.

“I’m aware of the horses’ profound effect on people, their therapeutic value for equine-facilitated mental health,” Kaler explained.

“I hope to be able to create a more positive image of working horses by making the correct information freely accessible. Gunner and Patsy have some driving experience; however, I am lacking the proper equipment to move forward with their training. They are a team and I have only a single harness.”

With the cold weather officially setting in, the animals need to be moved indoors no later than November 30. Over $25,000 is needed in order to properly shield the four horses from the weather, and that’s where photographer and restauranteur Lincoln Pilcher stepped in. Owner of the former Hamptons’ hotspot Moby’s, Pilcher spends a lot of his time on the East End, passing by the creatures often.

“I was so taken with their presence and beauty,” Pilcher acknowledged. “It’s been an amazing experience creating the bond and camaraderie that I now have with them. It would be great to share with others, this equine relationship.”

Pilcher spent some time developing a relationship with Kaler after photographing the breed. Upon finding out there was no place for the animals come winter, he came up with the idea for a show. In the days following Thanksgiving, November 24 and 25, visit Dune Alpin Farm for Pilcher’s photography exhibit in which a portion of the sales are going to Kaler’s non-profit to board the horses. About 20 prints will range in size with the largest 6′ x 8′.

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 or call 631-875-0433.

Equine Lifestyles of Long Island

(This article first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Luxury Living Magazine- a subdivision of Newsday Media Group)

The connection between horse and rider runs deep


When envisioning the traditional American cowboy, the Wild West is sure to come to mind. However, factually speaking, it’s the “Wild East” that birthed the concept—Montauk, to be exact. Deep Hollow Ranch, established in the 1600s, holds claim as the first cattle ranch in the United States, and it’s still running today.



Fast forward, and the equine lifestyle on Long Island proves to be not only historic but also diverse. Horse races at Belmont, polo in Old Westbury and equestrian jumping in Bridgehampton are all held to be part of a lifestyle for the privileged. For a pastime that relies so heavily on an animal, though, without the vibrant community surrounding these events, it might all be as simple as bareback riding (with women perhaps riding side saddle).



George Fox, an equine enthusiast living in New York City, began taking weekly polo lessons in 2016. As living in a metropolitan area isn’t normally conducive to an equine lifestyle, Fox leases a horse named Bubbles from Country Farms in Medford, where it’s cared for throughout the year.



“I like being around things that are sophisticated; it’s an elegant type of activity,” Fox explains. “Everything about the equestrian lifestyle is interesting to me. It’s an open community where everyone is engaging and wants to have you involved.”



Robert C. Ceparano is the owner of several equine corporations, but most locals likely associate him with Meadowbrook Polo in Old Westbury and also Country Farms, which is a camp, equestrian center and year-round polo facility. Like many in this circle, Ceparano comes from a long line of equine professionals. His grandfather was a horseman, as were his uncles, who taught him.


“I look at the families that have longevity in horses and that were able to make money. I learned a lot from my uncles and their business model and formed my own business model,” Ceparano states. “I really think that when my son gets in charge of this, he’s going to come in with a level of knowledge that I don’t even know about. I really believe he’ll be able to do it.”

Robert Ceparano, Jr., has become his father’s right-hand man for these multiple enterprises, as the guy who can fix anything, learning from the time he was 8 years old. Unlike other industries, being in the equine field is a round-the-clock commitment. It is not just about the horse itself but also the maintenance of equipment, programs and people. It’s only through sustainable resources, hard work and passion that an equine organization succeeds.

Having grown up in a family that surrounded themselves with horses, Juan Vasquez’s titles range from “farrier to the stars” to polo referee, with new roles emerging every few years. “I consider us [his family] the most fortunate guys in the world…I go to golf courses that I’d otherwise never be able to touch, but because I’m a friend, a farrier, because of my clients,” he confides, “I see things I’d never be able to see in my life.”



This Venezuelan native began his own farrier business 20 years ago. With time split between Wellington, Florida, and Long Island, Vasquez’s company is a new kind of B2B, a “barn to barn.” Working from his truck and trailer, he can be found horseshoeing for undisclosed celebrities and equine owners alike.


Business aside, Vasquez is also a board member of HorseAbility. The not-for-profit organization was founded in 1993 by Kathleen Kilcommons McGowan and dedicates itself to providing therapeutic programs to individuals and families with special needs. HorseAbility, on the grounds of SUNY Old Westbury, is the only organization in Nassau County honored as a Premier Accredited Center of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.

On the East End, Amaryllis Farm, located in Bridgehampton, is a not-for-profit equine rescue center. Established in 1989, Amaryllis is Long Island’s first horse sanctuary and largest rescue center. Granting sanctuary to former service horses who are unable to adapt to a new home or were scheduled to be put down, it is dedicated to these horses, while teaching the community the value of caring.

Mixing sanctuary with sipping, Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard in Calverton is also a horse rescue center and sanctuary on the same property where the proprietors grow wine. Co-founded by Sharon Rubin Levine and Richard Rubin in 2007, 100% of profits from a selection of wines support their cause.

Matthew Donohue is a professional photographer who became enamored of horses while horseback riding in Cambodia in 2009. In 2015 he began snapping everything from barn stills to polo thrills and says it’s all about respect. “It’s fun, it’s thrilling,” he admits, “but I’m always fully aware of my surroundings when I approach a horse.”



Like any successful relationship, the codependence between man and horse requires dedication and trust. The equine lifestyle is more than the polo matches and horse shows; it’s the connection to a majestic being and building a beautiful community around it.