There are few creatures more majestic than a horse. The ability to bear heavy loads as a ‘beast of burden,’ a natural beauty and an intuition to connect with humans is what made Sharon Levine so drawn to rescuing them.
A family-owned business ripened when Sharon Levine’s father Sam Rubin planted his own grapes, later growing an acre of land into the now 17-acre Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, an award-winning Long Island destination. When Levine and her brother Richard Rubin, who serves as president, opened a tasting house in 2007, corralling a few dozen horses wasn’t in the original plan.
“I started getting a lot of emails about horse slaughter, which I found odd in a country where we don’t consume horse meat,” says the Commack native, who after doing some initial research, discovered that about 150,000 a year were being massacred to be delicacies in Europe and Asia. “Richard and I decided that once we were up and running for six months, we would take in a rescue horse.”
Levine assumed that in that brief period, she would have enough time to educate herself on the care of horses. She was keen on studying books and articles on the four-legged steeds until one day, a picture of a 1½-year-old filly in a kill pen popped up on her computer.
“We had three hours to decide whether or not we would save her life. That day we rescued five horses,” says Levine. “I thought that rescuing them was the bulk of the expense, but taking care of them is so much more expensive. We brought them in and that really started the whole thing.”
The rescued filly, Angel, is now 10 years old and resides at Baiting Hollow’s horse rescue. The farm is set behind the tasting house and guests can visit several horses, including Angel, and learn about Levine’s passion for rescue.
“I always say she’s [Angel] the horse rescuer, not me. We have a wine named after her now and three other horses (Savannah, Mirage and Isis), as well,” says Levine. “We’ve rescued about four dozen horses so far and we currently have 26.”
Initially, Levine’s main goal was to just be a sanctuary for the horses that were rescued, but she found it very hard to obtain donations. The idea came to serve as a foster family and adopt out the horses, which enabled Levine to further educate the public about horse slaughter.
“We’ve only had one injured horse. He was supposed to spend the weekend because they had an adopted home for him, but when he got up we knew something was wrong,” says Levine of the horse, who had a broken leg. “All of the vets said to put him down, but I said no. We take the young untrained horses because when they’re in the kill pen, no one is going to save an untrained horse.”
Baiting Hollow’s horses enjoy long and fulfilling lives, thanks to Levine and her team. They not only retrain the horses and find them good homes, but rescuers are extremely careful about where the horses get placed.
“It’s nice because I’m able to see them and check up on them whenever I want, but we have tours that are a $5 donation to the rescue to get the word out,” she says, adding that horse rides for children around the stable are also popular among guests. “About 80 percent of Americans are vehemently opposed to horse slaughter. We’re here for nine years and almost nothing has changed. Horses are not biologically suited to slaughter and I’m not looking to change our culture, but our society is against it so why are we letting it go on and on?”
As a close-knit family business, everything at Baiting Hollow has always been about family. Levine, her husband Steve, and brother Richard always strive to have something for every guest, including an enjoyable time tasting and learning about wine.
The horse wines that the vineyard produces are very special in that the four varieties represent rescued horses Savannah, Mirage, Angel and Isis, and for every bottle sold, all of the proceeds go towards the rescue. As sweet as the horses themselves, both the Sweet Isis and Cheval Bleu have won gold medals and are just as marvelous over ice cream as they are enjoyed in a glass.
“The horse wines sell very well and the vineyard helps with the rescue, but donations are still very important to us,” says Levine. “As a family business, everything has always been about family, and we hope to keep it that way.”
Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard and Horse Rescue is located at 2114 Sound Avenue, Calverton. Visit www.bhfhorserescue.org to learn more and to donate to the cause.