A national animal rescue group is buying a Westchester County farm to provide a home and permanent sanctuary for retired carriage horses and other neglected farm animals.
The nonprofit group, The Gentle Barn, kicked off its local expansion plans for the hamlet of South Salem after Ryder, a Central Park carriage horse, collapsed on West 45th Street in August — and was flogged by his driver in a viral video that led to widespread outrage and further calls to ban horse-drawn carriages from city streets.
Despite the efforts of Gentle Barn and others to save him, sources told The Post both vet tests and a necropsy revealed that Ryder had long suffered from untreated cancer, among other ailments — and after collapsing at an upstate carriage horse farm in the wake of it all, he was euthanized.
The Gentle Barn was founded in 1999 in Southern California by Ellie Laks. Since then, she and her husband, Jay Weiner, have expanded to St. Louis and Nashville — where they rescue animals from food factories, farms, auctions and city sidewalks.
“We were talking about [opening in New York] when Ryder collapsed,” Laks said. “We knew it was just a matter of time until the next carriage horse falls and we have to be ready.”
A donor put them in touch with Douglas Elliman broker Janna Raskopf, who looped in her colleague, Bronx and Westchester market expert, Ari Susswein, to find the perfect spot. It turned out to be a listing from Ghlyaine Manning of Vincent & Whittemore Real Estate.
“It is stunning and has a wide open view, great sunlight and a stream — and makes you feel wonderfully connected to nature,” said Susswein of Gentle Barn’s new grounds that are adjacent to a forested park with numerous riding trails. “It lends itself to a perfect blend of education, nature and sanctuary.”
Laks added, “What was most important was that we were in close proximity to Manhattan, so people from the city can come out and find hope and healing.”
The Gentle Barn is now fundraising to get the $3.2 million needed to close and fix up the existing 18-acre spread — a former horse operation — by the end of the year.
That said, the new digs include two barns and a shed with more than 35 stalls — plus paddocks, pastures and turn-out areas. There’s also a heated indoor ring and a show-worthy outdoor arena, along with apartments for caretakers.
“It has beautiful barns and is totally set up, but we need to reconfigure the fencing and make other improvements,” said Laks.
“Right now, it’s set up for horses — and we also have cows, pigs, sheep and goats, chickens and turkeys,” said Weiner, ticking off a list of their convalescents that can also include the occasional peacock, llama and emu. “And we need to buy tractors and utility carts, snowplows and things like that.”
This is The Gentle Barn’s third public fundraising campaign focused on purchasing a property and the fifth they have bought, Weiner said.
Local staffers will care for their large and small animals and grounds, along with a national team that includes their daughter and son-in-law who live at the Nashville site.
The Gentle Barn’s public and educational programs combine tours of the facilities with cow hugging, horse feeding, cuddling with chickens, gobbling with turkeys, plus petting super-soft sheep, eyeballing goats’ rectangular pupils and giving tummy rubs to portly pigs.
Although the pandemic affected The Gentle Barn’s fundraising, they created virtual and pop-up programs along with Cow Hug Therapy to provide an immersive, individual experience meditating and healing with the cows.
While not therapists, they do offer one-hour “therapy” sessions, where up to two participants, age 14 and above, can spend time alone with the cows, horses or other barnyard animals for a $200 donation.
“We are always here to listen to what you have to say but we tell them, ‘The cow is your therapist today and you can talk to the cow or not,'” Weiner said. “If we bring in a boys’ home, they come in with their counselor or social worker or whomever is responsible for their own healing.”
Edita Birnkrant, executive director of the animal rights group NYCLASS, said, “They are a very well respected group and we are very happy they are opening up a rescue and will be the closest sanctuary to New York City.”
Creatures taken in by The Gentle Barn are provided medical and dental care, organic hay and feed, soft bedding, acupuncture, massage therapy, nutritional supplements and around-the-clock care.
A malnourished upstate dray horse destined to slaughter, for instance, was recently rescued and provided veterinary dental care so he can now chew and digest his hay, Weiner said — and will soon be housed in their new barn along with his wagon mate.
“I rescue animals from the pits of America and shut down backyard butchers and massive hoarders. I guess I don’t get surprised anymore,” Weiner said. “We are trying to create a place where the carriage drivers can bring every one of their horses and we will take them.”