Spirit’s Promise horse farm offering comfort for animals, people
In 2010, Marisa Striano left her life in Port Washington behind to move to the North Fork and start a new journey.
Shortly before, Ms. Striano, whose busy career included jobs with the Manhattan fashion label Escada and the construction company Unity Electric, realized she’d lost touch with herself. Her then-husband encouraged her to discover her passion — and it didn’t take long for her to find it with horses.
As a child, Ms. Striano loved horses and was even a dressage rider. As she began to reconnect with that side of herself through riding, she realized what she wanted to do with the rest of her life: provide a home for horses that are unwanted, abused or too old to work. And for the past six years, she and her daughter, Jessie Siegel, have been doing just that at their Baiting Hollow organization, Spirit’s Promise Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation.
At the Sound Avenue ranch, Ms. Striano gives her 26 horses new purpose, referring to them as healers and teachers and using them as therapy horses. The four-acre property is also home to donkeys, goats and chickens.
“It has changed my life,” she said. “It took me into my 50s to realize that I am put on this earth for a reason — and that is to heal people with the beauty of these horses.”
The organization’s name is a nod to Ms. Striano’s own horse, Spirit. Years ago, she kept Spirit at a Nassau County barn where he became sick and unhappy. To help make him well again, she brought him to a rescue where he fell in love with a horse named Promise.
Ms. Striano believes finding companionship with the carefree Promise brought Spirit “back” to life. The experience helped inspire her to establish her organization as a place where people can relax, be at peace and live in the moment.
To help achieve its mission, Spirit’s Promise works with East End Hospice and other nonprofit organizations that assist people with special needs and post-traumatic stress disorder, offering them the ability to interact with the horses in a therapeutic manner. Ms. Striano said she also offers individual therapy sessions.
“Whatever energy we are giving out to the world, the horse mirrors back to us exactly what we give them,” she said.
To illustrate this point, she described the case of an introverted boy whose mother had difficulty communicating with him. Initially, the Spirit’s Promise horse assigned to the pair wouldn’t approach the mother due to the energy she gave off, Ms. Striano said. By learning to adjust her behavior in order to interact with the horse, she said, the mother improved her relationship with her son.
Spirit’s Promise operates with the help of volunteers and monthly fundraisers. Ms. Striano is currently preparing for a Christmas event first held last year. On Saturdays and Sundays during December, she’ll dress up as Mrs. Claus, read stories to kids in her decorated barn and offer them a chance to tour the site and feed the horses. The cost is $25 for children and $10 for adults.
While fundraising has been successful over the years, Ms. Striano said she wants to continue to raise awareness in the community about her organization’s purpose.
“We make a difference in our little corner of the world,” she said. “I love to see the growth and how the horses are so ready to help.”
The horses at Spirit’s Promise are docile and friendly, always waiting to be petted or offered a treat.
Ms. Siegel said she loves spending her Saturdays introducing the animals to new volunteers and families. At just 23 years old, she has already devoted significant time to her mother’s organization. In 2012, she was attending Pace University in Manhattan, where she felt anxious and spent most of her time alone in her dorm room.
“The horses completely changed my life,” she said.
Ms. Siegel said she felt an immediate connection with Bo, a horse who had been abused by his previous owners and was afraid of people when he arrived at Spirit’s Promise. Now, she and Bo have overcome their fears and anxieties by spending time together.
“We kind of worked through it together, that not everyone is bad,” said Ms. Siegel, who decided to leave college to help her mother grow the organization. “It kind of helped me find myself. I decided that I never wanted to do anything else because I wanted people to feel the same way that I did.”
Volunteers at Spirit’s Promise feel similarly.
Diane Eissler of Southold, who has volunteered there since April, said she first visited the rescue to attend a line-dancing event with a friend. After touring the property, she decided she wanted to help.
“I haven’t left since,” she said.
Ms. Eissler said everyone at the ranch — employees, visitors and volunteers — feels like family.
“The place itself is really special,” she said. “When I first came, I just felt like it was magical.”
Kelli Radcliff of St. James, who volunteers at Spirit’s Promise about four times a week and brings her two daughters along on weekends, agreed.
“They absolutely love being here,” she said of her girls.
Since her daughters began volunteering a year ago, Ms. Radcliff said, they have gained a sense of confidence that has helped them at school.
Ms. Siegel said she admires her mother for launching such a unique organization and for changing both of their lives for the better.
While searching for her passion, Ms. Striano said, she realized she was happiest helping others.
“I needed to give back to the world,” she said.