MAHWAH, N.J. — Golden Star, a 41-year-old Palomino, arrived at the Bergen County Horse Rescue in Mahwah Tuesday, somewhat undernourished, with a dull coat, and a longing look in his eye.
He walked up to a pair of miniature horses grazing but they did not engage him.
“He wants friends,” said Betty Michelmore of Demarest, who has known “Goldy” for a decade. He used to be friends with her horse, who has since passed on, at Happel’s Barn in Rockleigh.
Three years ago, Goldy’s owner shipped him to New York State where his upkeep was less expensive. Michelmore visited him there. For the past three years, though, he’s hardly had any other human contact.
Tuesday, Michelmore cried tears of joy to see her old buddy so close to home again.
Rescuing horses is what they do at Mahrapo Farm, a 17-acre farmstead on Ramapo Valley Road dating to the late 1800s that is now home to 17 horses — 12 of them rescues, the others boarders.
The land and the original buildings, including an icehouse, have been kept up for the past 28 years by Jamie Dator, 70, of Mahwah, who inherited the place. He has defended its very existence, he said, turning back multiple advances from Ramapo College, the township of Mahwah, and even the builders of Route 287, all of whom wanted the land.
Erin Giannios, 39, a Maywood native, is farm manager. There’s no place else she’d rather be.
“My first horse was boarded here when I was 14 years old,” she’s said. “I’d ride in the Ramapo Mountains for hours. There’s a very spiritual feeling to the place.”
Miranda Vallese, 17, of Upper Saddle River, is also employed at the rescue. She shares the emotions of Dator and Giannios and wants to be a part of what happens there for years to come.
Additionally, volunteers help with chores.
Some of the horses who come to the rescue otherwise would have been killed because of the expense of caring for them. Others come from other horse rescues or abuse situations.
Others still were saved from the auction block, Giannios explained. At auction, horses often are sold to meat buyers who transport them to Canada and Mexico, where horses are still slaughtered for meat.
The very presence of the horse rescue raises awareness about the plight of horses, she explained.
In April, the Bergen County Horse Rescue became a nonprofit organization and started a GoFundMe campaign . It needs to raise money to build new fencing and a quarantine barn.
It’s also looking for long-term sponsors for some of the horses, Giannios said.
The very land feels sacred to Dator, who said his family has been in the Mahwah area since the 1760s.