Marstons Mills, Massachusetts
By Leslie Ballotti
At Cranberry Sunset Farm, we stand firm in the belief that the horse/human bond is an instrumental key to open a child’s brain. The horse, used as a facilitator, can stimulate a child’s verbal skills, improve motor skills, aid in cognitive abilities and contribute to the emotional needs of our students.
Do you remember your first love? How your life changed? Everything was brighter, even on rainy days. You would jump out of bed in the morning, because you couldn’t wait to be together. That love changed my life because in an instant it was gone. To understand how Cranberry Sunset Farm came to be I must start at the beginning.
It was a different lifestyle in Italy. Quantana was stalled more, so when she was turned out, she was quite lively. Knowing she preferred to be out with her friend Country, I inquired if they could be turned out together, they replied, “we don’t do that”. Every day Quantana would jump out of her corral and into Country’s, sending a clear message. She wanted to be with her friend. After all, horses are herd animals. When I arrived at the barn the following day Quantana was in a heightened state of agitation. To keep her from jumping into her neighbor’s paddock she was in a corral with a significantly higher fence. As I stood there complaining to the staff Quantana simply took two step and launched herself gracefully into Country’s paddock! She was brilliant! Jumping almost 6’ at a walk! I considered myself the luckiest person to have two of the most caring and compassionate mares and decided it was time for me to find another home for them.
I chose a place further out in the country with more turnout. Everyone seemed friendly and helpful. The owner offered to ride Quantana until I could get back in the saddle after my 4th child was born. After a couple of years riding at this barn they suggested I try another horse to ride and that I should breed Quantana. Not really understanding the “horse world” I assumed that’s what you did with young horses. I was then told to re-register her because she was in Italy now. Then came more offers to show her. Everyone loved her, but was it real?
Five years later our experience in Italy was coming to an end. I was preparing papers and passports for my family and animals to move back to the United States. We were finally back in the U.S when I received a phone call from abroad. Quantana had been stolen out of her pasture in the middle of the night. How does someone steal a horse?
Looking back, I was a baby lamb, surrounded by a pack of wolves. Quantana had super hero qualities with tons of potential in the show jumping world. Every week riders inquired if she was for sale, but I refused all offers. There was no price I would entertain. For me, she was my loving grey mare and I would never sell her. When we relocated back to the United States I was forced to leave my horses and two dogs behind temporarily with someone I thought was my friend. Animal travel had been suspended because of dangerously high weather temperatures.
When I returned to America I experienced serious depression trying to transition to being back after twelve years abroad with four children, a stolen horse and two traumatized dogs who had become aggressive enough that they couldn’t be trusted around other animals. I felt overwhelmingly sad until I met a woman from Equine Angels Rescue Sanctuary (EARS) in Connecticut who asked me to help with her rescue. She turned my world around! I was back in the saddle and had a new mission in life.
I am a pediatric nurse by profession and for me, animals and children are the most innocent populations. If I can improve a child’s life, I feel very accomplished. As for the horses, I feel the same way. EARS focused on Premarin mares and foals. That was an education for me, the horrible truth behind the animal abuse perpetrated the making the hormone drug, Premarin.
I began to formulate my plan to rescue Premarin foals and train them for my therapeutic riding facility that I would open on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I chose the Premarin foals for several reasons. First, they are in desperate need of being adopted before they are sent to slaughter. Secondly, they are quite special, typically presenting a bigger boned draft cross with a quiet easy going temperament. I find like most rescued animals, they know they were rescued and most exhibit the unique quality of “giving back.”
As I transitioned from the show ring to the real work of mucking stalls and training my foals to be therapeutic horses, I realized that many of the things these young horses would go through would be applicable to my students. We had a lot of work ahead as they began their education, conquered their fears, became good listeners and learned to respect individuals on the ground and under saddle.
Two years after I began rescuing horses my business partner Peter Dyrness and I opened Cranberry Sunset Farm, a 501 c 3 now in our tenth year of operation. We consider ourselves a “riding facility for all abilities” whose mission is to build upon each individual’s ability by providing them life skills and opportunities to succeed by overcoming particular obstacles, thus becoming more self-sufficient in their own lives.
To date, we have forty rescue horses who are primarily trained at my farm in New Jersey to become therapeutic horses. Horses that pass the test travel north to the Cape to work with the children and young adults with disabilities at Cranberry Sunset Farm. Others stay in NJ to continue their training, rehab, have some down time, or live out their lives in retirement. I am proud to say I have happy horses. Being a therapeutic horse requires special qualities. We take extra care to keep our herd exercised with well-conditioned bodies and hooves and lots of turnout time.
Over the years Cranberry Sunset Farm has experienced growth in many areas, including purchasing a cranberry bog on the adjacent property to help offset costs. It’s not just about the horses at the farm, we also have minis, 2 cows, numerous goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, honey bee hives and of course dogs. The farm offers therapeutic riding lessons to approximately 75 children a week with over 100 children a week coming to the farm for other programs. We also provide job coaching, horsemanship classes, a scholastic equine science program, approved by the state for high school credit, volunteer opportunities, community service and school programs.
At Cranberry Sunset Farm, we stand firm in the belief that the horse/human bond is an instrumental key to open a child’s brain. The horse, used as a facilitator, can stimulate a child’s verbal skills, improve motor skills, aid in cognitive abilities and contribute to the emotional needs of our students. Horses have so much to offer and ask very little in return. For Peter and I, our inspiration to continue comes from the joy on the faces of the children and parents.
It has been 12 years since I began rescuing horses and animals. Today, my beautiful gray Belgium warmblood Quantana would be 17 years old. She was microchipped where she had an unusual double swirl hair marking, pregnant and registered in Belgium and Italy when she was stolen just outside Formello, Italy in 2003. Today I am happy doing what I am doing but I haven’t forgotten her or stopped loving her. Deep down I know she would be pleased with me for rescuing her friends and providing a safe nurturing home for them at Cranberry Sunset Farm.
For more information about Cranberry Sunset Farm visit
We rescue horses/animals and train them to work with children who have extra needs. We teach children where food comes from in our garden program, and encourage movement in our dance/movement class. We have also created a sensory trail system for all to enjoy on foot or on horseback. The moment you arrive, we challenge your balance, coordination, vision, hearing on our mini trail, preparing your brain for the next level of our program.