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Riverhead Horse Rescue Offers New Life, Promise

A fundraiser will be held on May 13 to help support the horse rescue.

Spirit, Traysea, and Star Luna. Photo Credit: Marisa Striano Charles.
Spirit, Traysea, and Star Luna. Photo Credit: Marisa Striano Charles.
Fourteen horses who would otherwise have been sent to slaughter have found new life on Sound Avenue.

Marisa Striano Charles and her husband, Jeff, founded the Spirit's Promise Horse Rescue Program on Sound Avenue in Riverhead three years ago, when they moved to the area from Port Washington, where they had two horses and were spending lots of money on a stable. "We thought, 'Let's move to a farm,'" Marisa Striano Charles said.

Charles felt compelled to do something to help after she learned the facts about horse slaughter in the United States.

"It's horrible," she said.

Currently, there are 14 horses who have been rescued by Charles and her husband; they are being "repurposed" as teachers and healers.

"We are presently teaming up with Stony Brook Cancer Center to heal families recovering from cancer," she said. "This is just the beginning of the impact we plan to make with helping people in need."

But financing the operation isn't always easy; fundraising is critical. To that end, a fundraising event will be held on Monday, May 13, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Digger's Fine Food & Spirit on West Main Street in Riverhead. The event costs $25 per person and includes food and non-alcoholic beverages; a cash bar will be available. Guests can enjoy music by A Little Sump'n Sump'n on the Side Band, as well as a 50/50 and raffles.

The horror of horse slaughter motivated Charles to take a stand. "If people from the pioneer times came back now and saw what we are doing to the horses that helped to create America, they'd be sick," she said.

Charles said her journey began when she sent her horse Spirit, who was sick, to her good friend, Christine Distefano, founder of the Amaryllis Farm Equine Rescue and Sanctuary in Bridgehampton. While being rehabbed, the horse made friends with another horse at the rescue organization, Promise. "That's where our name came from, Spirit's Promise," she said.

At first, Charles and her husband began by rescuing horses and utilized their own funds. Next, they became a 501(c) non-profit organization in October.

The plan, Charles, said, is to work with the Stony Brook Cancer Center to bring equine therapy to patients. "Horses that have been rescued are very compassionate," Charles said. "They're very empathetic creatures."

Charles hopes to create a program for breast cancer patients to groom horses; the brushing, she said, will serve as therapy -- and the horses will nurture battered souls. "They can come to feed and groom horses and wash them," Charles said. "It's very therapeutic. The motion of stoking the horses as part of physical therapy -- it's a dual thing. Instead of just going to the gym, you are loving a beautiful soul,  a horse that would love you for it. There's an emotional connection -- horses are very spiritual."

Charles not only rescues horses, the family's farm is home to roosters, chickens, donkeys and a dog. "I'm the kind of person that saves bugs," Charles said. "Animals are the true innocents of the world -- they depend on us. I became the voice of the voiceless."

Horses, she said, "need so much help." The issue of horse slaughter is one about which many remain unaware, Charles said. "If you walk through the mall and ask people what they know about horse slaughter, they have no idea."

The couple have three children -- it's a second marriage for both -- Peter Siegel, Jessie Siegel, and Anthony Charles; Jessie wants to help on the farm during the summer.

The horses' stories speak of abuse and pain. "One horse, Pirate, came from Washington State," Charles said. "He's a quarter horse, and he watched his whole family get on a slaughter truck." Charles rescued Pirate. "He's such a wonderful animal."

Two others, Tracy and Star Luna, went to the slaughter lot together. "They wouldn't leave each other's side," she said. "They screamed for each other. They had to be rescued together." Only now, three years later, can the pair bear to be separated at times.

Horses, Charles said, are herd animals. "They depend on each other. One sleeps and the other stays awake. One gets food and the other stands guard. They've figured everything out -- people should be so lucky."

For Charles, the horse rescue has opened the door to a new life. Having loved horses since childhood, she said, "I was 42 and I thought, 'What am I going to do with my life?' I wanted to make a difference."

And now, in horse rescue, Charles has found her passion. "It's a wonderful, wonderful life."

The farm, she said, has an Old West theme, where people are encouraged to come and forget about cell phones and laptops and tablets for awhile. "It's where we can be brought back to a simpler time where people can unplug," she said.

The couple also grows peonies and sells them outside. "We call them Peonies for Ponies," she said.

Caring for her horses, her "1500 pound kindergartners," Charles said she has been imbued with important life lessons. "It has taught me so much patience," she said. "It’s taught me to watch for the voiceless language. Now I'm able to interpret people -- their body language. It's taught me to be really aware of my surroundings. Horses say so much with their ears and eyes and tails -- you just have to pay attention. I've become a good listener."

And, she said, "Animals teach you so much."

Of her horse rescue, Charles said likened her mission to a poem about a man on the beach, saving the lives of one starfish at a time by throwing them back into the ocean. "I can make a difference, one horse at a time."


Dennis May 02, 2013 at 04:07 PM
What a great story....I had a pony as a kid and the lessons learned by caring for one is beyond words..I have wanted to take in these horses after hearing about this travisty,but I dont have enough property....You guys picked a great project and as you know the love from these horses returned i s ten fold! Good luck!!!!!!!!

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