Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue: Healing Horses That Heal People
To know anything about Deanna Mancuso and the genesis of Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue, a sanctuary for unwanted, abused, and neglected horses located in New York’s Hudson Valley, you’ll need to know the story of Nitro. A gift from her grandfather 24 years ago, Nitro, a 4-year pinto he found living in a nearby barn, taught Mancuso all she needed to know about healing, emotionally and physically, and the commitment it requires. Nitro had severe Lyme disease, cigarette burns on his nose, and he was growing into the halter that was too small for his muzzle. His demeanor was less than friendly, with reason. “Trainers said put him down, he’ll kill you,” Mancuso recalled. But today Nitro is 28 years old, one of 52 horses making their home at Lucky Orphans.
Hearing Mancuso tell her and Nitro’s story is genuinely inspiring, but it is no Hallmark tale. Mancuso and her grandfather spent years working with him, taking rides, talking, and just being around him, slowly integrating him into their world. He’s still one tough customer. Like Nitro, the horses that arrive at Lucky Orphans are no strangers to adversity. Neither was Mancuso’s grandfather, a war veteran – it was part of what prompted his tenacity, and his triumph, in working with horses.
It’s a trait he clearly passed on to his granddaughter. She founded Lucky Orphans in 2008, and since then, it has provided a sanctuary for horses and the occasional goat or sheep that are abused or abandoned. Once they arrive at LOHR, it is their home for life. With proper care, nutrition, and kindness, they are rehabilitated and their trust in humans begins to rebuild. But that’s only the beginning of this story: it’s then that these horses put their experiences to work helping to heal people.
A Circle of Healing
At Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue, horses that are ready and willing, go on to perform what Mancuso calls their “community service”: they use their experiences in overcoming adversity to inspire, build trust, and help humans overcome their challenges as part of an equine-assisted healing program. “I’ve learned that horses are mirrors,” said Mancuso, a certified humane educator, something her grandfather taught her and a key element to the unique mission of Lucky Orphans. “Every horse here has a person they connect to and who they are helping get through something.” That can take many forms, including equine-assisted reiki and yoga, equine-assisted team building for groups and businesses, and equine-assisted psychotherapy.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy programs are tailored to focus on all of these challenges with a licensed mental health professional using the EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) model, EAGALA is a solution focused, experiential approach to psychotherapy. Programs at Lucky Orphans occur on the ground, and are focused on closed-ended solutions, usually lasting 8-12 weeks. According to Mancuso, the sessions work in ways that talk therapy and drugs can’t. She has had clients who were victims of abuse, and violence, veterans dealing with PTSD, or those who have health challenges and disabilities, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other emotional or family struggles. By working with and developing a relationship with a horse with its own experiences overcoming adversity and regaining trust, adults and children learn to move past their negative experiences. The changes are individual, often deeply profound, and unmistakable. (Read more about the process.)
The Road to Regaining Health
As one might expect, Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue is home to many horses with special needs. Horses that have heaves are common, as are horses without teeth, but Lucky Orphans staff make every effort to meet their needs. “We’re not just throwing them grain,” said Mancuso. “We’re mixing the grain with hay stretch and alfalfa pellets making it into a soup because they don’t have teeth. They need the fiber, but they can’t eat hay because it’s too stalky, so they are fed a special chopped forage.” (Most receive Lucerne Farms, which donates their feed to the rescue, which “has been a lifesaver,” Mancuso said.) Giving horses what they need for nutrition means extra expense—the organization’s grain bill comes in at $800/week, and the hay bill is nearly as much. Because horses are designed as livestock, the availability of some grass and some water is all that’s required for care not to be considered animal cruelty, laments Mancuso. “But as we know, horses need more than grass and water.”
Other arrivals at the sanctuary may have difficulty keeping weight on, arrive with split hooves, hooves with rain rot and infection, or skin issues such as maggots or lice. Emotional conditions and physical conditions come hand-in-hand. When a horse’s physical needs are addressed, sometimes emotional improvement is simultaneous. But sometimes it is not. If a horse has been abused or shunted from place to place without consistent care, their experiences don’t disappear when their health improves. Those experiences linger, as is the case with Nitro, who, years since his rescue still displays the personality of a horse tending internal scars.
For Mancuso and her nearly all-volunteer staff, that’s where the commitment comes into play. Putting a horse down because of challenging health issues is not an option – Lucky Orphans is a no-kill rescue. In fact, horses at the sanctuary that would have been put down for less are thriving. This commitment on the part of the organization to horses of all ages is not trivial. Mancuso views older horses as gaining value as they age. They have more experience, more wisdom, and more to contribute, particularly in the therapeutic environment.
Standing Up for Horses
Horses have a life expectancy of around 50 years, daunting compared with other animals we keep as our own. Over the years, as it became more affordable to have a “backyard” horse, it was easy for owners to lose sight of horse ownership as a 50-year commitment. As a result, the need for rescue remains great. Mancuso also points to an increasing tolerance for dismissing living things, even those so closely connected to us, both physically and emotionally. “Whatever we ask of them, they are ready and willing to go,” Mancuso said of the horse’s historically integral role in humans’ lives that includes plowing the fields, going to war, and carrying policeman. And, today that includes participating in therapy programs that so meaningfully change individual lives. “Horses have stood by us,” she said. “It’s time for us to stand up for our horses.”
Support Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue. When you do, you’re helping the horses and so much more. Volunteer, make a donation, or visit Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue – the grounds are always open to the public.