Our motto is ‘People Helping Horses Heal People,’” said Deanna Mancuso, founder and executive director of Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue in Dutchess County’s Dover Plains. “Over the years, we have found that interaction with horses grounds people with problems and helps to bring them peace.”
Founded in 2008, Lucky Orphans is dedicated to providing a safe haven for unwanted, abused, neglected horses and to improve the relationship between horses and people by using them as therapy animals under professional supervision.
“We are committed to a no-kill rescue operation that ‘pays it forward’ by helping children and adults in need of emotional healing,” Mancuso said. “Our horses, many of them senior citizens, are not ridden but instead interact with the children and adults we serve in a number of ‘on the ground’ ways.”
Mancuso cited the example of Casper, a former racehorse with a broken leg, who is now in her care.
“He came to us because his owner, unbelievably, still wanted to use him for riding, even though his leg had never healed properly and was badly misshapen. He is now a therapy horse for a child with a bilateral amputation. The child had attempted suicide before meeting Casper, whose very important mission became saving his life.”
Mancuso grew up as a “city girl” in the Bronx and later in southern Westchester.
“I was always interested in horses and somehow knew working with them would be the path I was going to take,” she said. “It was my grandfather, a Korean War veteran who took care of horses during his tour of duty, who got me really interested by talking about his experiences with them. Unfortunately, he returned from the war with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and then moved to California where he lived for many years. The connection with our family was broken until he returned to New York decades later.”
But her father also had a love of horses. “He would take me riding on Pelham Parkway, something I had also done with my grandfather before he left.” Mancuso’s family later moved to New Rochelle, and her father bought her first horse. “He was an abused and neglected animal when we got him, but after a few months was transformed into a beautiful horse, a chestnut and white paint. We named him Nitro.”
The family acquired a second horse, Snickers, a bit later, and Mancuso and her father went riding every day. “At this point, my path in life was pretty well set in my mind,” she said.
A move to Millbrook led Mancuso to work on a local horse farm and at The Millbrook Hunt. “I had multiple jobs at horse farms in the area,” she said. “Many of them belonged to the ‘rich and famous,’ who lived in the area, including Mary Tyler Moore, and I developed a reputation for providing excellent care.”
By now in her early 20s and a mother, Mancuso took the plunge and opened her own operation — Equine Escape Stables. “This was in 2003 and I started out with the standard boarding and training format. But about 2006, I begin getting requests for neglected horses to be placed at the stable for care and rehabilitation.”
Most of the neglected horses had been saved by the Dutchess County SPCA, which always needs to find places for them. “Although Dutchess County has a horse population of 10,000, there are no equine care facilities, which is hard to believe,” Mancuso said.
After realizing the true scope of the abandoned and neglected horse crisis, Mancuso decided to found Lucky Orphans. “I cleared out all of my stalls to make room for the animals I had agreed to accept and rehabilitate,” she said. “At the moment, we have a total 57. I later bought my 42 acres of property in Dover Plains on Route 22.”
Mancuso obtained nonprofit status for Lucky Orphans in June 2008 and dedicated herself fully to her cause.
“We do not go to horse auctions and do not take horses being given up by their owners,” she said. “We take in horses that are victims of serious neglect and abuse, usually resulting from abandonment and starvation. “
Today, Lucky Orphans is an accredited sanctuary and is recognized by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGLA). “The association is focused on equine assisted psychotherapy,” Mancuso said.
Mancuso’s human charges include veterans with PTSD, victims of domestic violence, abused foster children and individuals with serious mental health problems, including substance abuse.
“Most of our animals are too old to be safely ridden so we stay on the ground,” Mancuso said. “The horses serve as a catalyst for healing. They are both metaphors and mirrors for our clients. The average period of interaction, all closely supervised by professionals, is eight to 12 weeks, and we see wonderful results.”
Mancuso said the Native American tribes that once frequented the area believed firmly in the natural healing power of horses. “We work with some remaining members of these tribes in our programs and have peace poles planted on the farm,” she said.
Mancuso said she believed her grandfather, now deceased after his own struggles with PTSD and substance abuse, would be proud of what she has accomplished. “He put the ball in motion and the horses and people we care for owe him their gratitude.”
For more, call 845-416-8583 or visit luckyorphans.bravesites.com/.