Healing with horses: North Fork Sunday Scene

Volunteer Nicole with mini-horse Red at the farm on Thursday afternoon. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Volunteer Nicole with mini-horse Red at the farm on Thursday afternoon. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Many of the animals living at North Shore Horse Rescue and Sanctuary in Baiting Hollow have been saved from lives of neglect and abuse, but it might be the volunteers and visitors there who are the ones really being rescued.

Founded by Laurel Palermo and her husband Tom Renzetti in 2002, the non-profit started out as a small boarding facility for horses. The couple now leases 40 plus acres of barns and a farm house and uses around 10 acres of paddocks for the animals. Today the organization has 13 boarded horses and 17 rescues on the property.

Louise Abitbol of Shelter Island, a licensed clinical social worker with a practice in Riverhead, brings many of her clients to the farm to work with the horses. She said the animals often pick up on your energy while you are learning to work with them and attempting to have inter-species communication.

“A journey with horses, that begins the healing for people,” Abitbol said. “Horses teach a silent knowledge of who we are. This therapy integrated with the knowledge of psychology and integrating psychology with horses creates a journey toward the inner self.”


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North Shore Horse Rescue and Sanctuary has about 10 volunteers and sponsors who visit the farm on a regular basis to work with the horses on equine assisted therapy.

Palermo said they find that owners of the animals often fall on difficult financial times and can’t care for them. Or sometimes a horse can develop behavior issues and can become dangerous. That’s when her organization steps in.

“We just deal with the situation at hand,” she said. “We do a lot of holistic remedies and a great portion of it is alternative medicine.”

Abitbol uses one of the horses named Jet who came to farm after he was found hit in the head with a sledge hammer and left for dead in a barn in Pennsylvania. He has been there for 6 years, though Palermo is not looking to adopt him out. He will spend the rest of his life on the farm.

“Jet is my PTSD barometer,” Abitbol said. “He lets my clients experience therapy without walls.”

One volunteer, who gave her name as Nicole, was visiting and grooming the farm’s 10-year-old mini-horses, Elroy and Red, which she plans on sponsoring. The horses were owned by an elderly woman in East Quogue who couldn’t care for them anymore.

Nicole has an autistic teenage daughter who began coming to the farm 18 months ago.

“She was instantly in love, unconditionally,” Nicole said. “She gained maturity from it. It was so powerful for her, it also helped her socially.”

Nicole too suffers from severe anxiety attacks and just coming to the farm environment has relieved her symptoms.

That’s all part of North Shore’s mission, Palermo said.

“I want to help our neighbors who fall on hard times,” Palermo said. “We step up and help people. Everybody needs help.”

Therapist Louise Abitbol of Shelter Island and North Shore Horse Rescue and Sanctuary co-owner Laurel Palermo with Jet. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Therapist Louise Abitbol of Shelter Island and North Shore Horse Rescue and Sanctuary co-owner Laurel Palermo with Jet. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)