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Meet Esta Bernstein of Saffyre Sanctuary in San Fernando Valley

Born in Connecticut, horse-crazy child, Esta Bernstein, began her love affair with horses before she could walk. Her parents owned a few Thoroughbred racehorses and she remembers fondly visiting them at the track and farms as a small child.

Though her parents were not affluent, she was blessed to have riding lessons at a day camp during her early elementary school years. At the age of 10, she volunteered as a trail guide in Easton, Connecticut, and witnessed some of the inhumane treatment the rental horses were exposed to at the hands of inexperienced people. These patient creatures endured beatings with sticks, being kicked and pulled, and non-stop riding in the heat and humidity of the summer months. They rarely felt the caress of a brush, and never saw a warm bath or an occasional kind word.

At age 12, Esta’s family went through unrecoverable financial hardships, and were forced to move many times over the course of a few years. One move to Denver, Colorado provided Esta the ability to volunteer part time as an assistant to a pair of horse wranglers. Having no idea at the time what that was, she witnessed the cruelty and abuse that some of the horses went through. They would purchase horses cheap at auctions or killer feedlots, break them, and resell them. The treatment of one horse was particularly disturbing. He was a 3-year old Quarter horse stud colt, which the wranglers attempted to geld themselves. After tying the petrified creature to a tree, they proceeded to beat him with a chain until he was too afraid to move. They inexpertly and ineffectively tranquilized him, tied his legs together, threw him on the ground, and cut off his testicles with an ordinary kitchen knife. “I went to check on him the following day. I cried on his neck, feeling helpless in the presence of this beaten, depressed, and confused hurting horse. I was going to call the humane society, but upon my return, the horses and the men that tormented them had disappeared.” She never saw them again.

Esta had an epiphany. Her life’s mission was to save horses from abuse and neglect, and provide them with a place to live out their lives in peace and dignity.

Many years passed and the call of the horses would wait no more. In her early 20’s, Esta had an opportunity to move to California, the place she envisioned her dreams to manifest. She was offered a position as a groom for Bobby Frankel’s racing stable and worked for about a year, until a back injury prevented her from returning to that kind of labor-intensive position. Knowing that she needed to stay in California to see her dreams through to fruition, she found employment outside of the horse industry, and remained in the Los Angeles area.

After working for about a year, the desire to work and be around horses, motivated her to save small amounts of money over time for the purchase of her very own horse. That horse turned out to be an 8-year-old, lame, Arabian stallion to do trail riding. Why would anyone purchase a lame horse to go on trails with? She knew she could fix him. He had severe ringbone (arthritis) in his right front pastern and the joint was almost completely fused. She was told by everyone she spoke with that he would not make it to the age of 15. However, after 2 years of research, she found a way to cure him, and now at age 33 he is serviceably sound, still her trail horse and sired two beautiful colts for her to show.

The horse she purchased was Caleyndar. Under her care and expertise, he became a world-famous Arabian that was featured in Robert Vavra’s “Horses of the Sun” and National Geographic’s documentary “The Nobel Horse”. He was also featured on many of artist Kim McElroy’s portraits, note cards, and other Leanin’ Tree publications, as well as Ron Kimball’s images used for screensavers and wallpaper. In 2004, he won the Arabian Horse Times, Most Classic Contest and his image can currently be seen in ads for Arabian Horse World’s web design services. Though his injury prevented him from ever being shown, he is still one of the world’s most recognizable equines in recent history.

Caleyndar’s injury lead Esta into the world of equine holistic nutrition and rehabilitation. Because of Esta’s well known success with healing Caleyndar, and dedicating almost 20 years educating herself in these fields, she has become a go to person across the country when other horse owners need information on assisting and rehabilitating injured horses. Caleyndar’s notoriety has brought many equestrian contacts to Esta’s door. These contacts are now proving invaluable in her mission of rescuing and rehabilitating other horses in need.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Starting the rescue was not challenging at all. in fact, all the pieces just fell into place. But sustaining it, well that is another story. Caring for the horses, organizing people, setting up programs, and running the business was probably easier for me since I had years of experience in all of those modalities, However, fundraising is something that has been extremely challenging. Being a 100% volunteer organization, we have managed to survive on a shoestring budget, with some days being super successful and some days literally only having pennies in the bank.

In November of 2016, the property where we were operating our rescue was foreclosed upon. The owners of the property knew this for months, but deliberately withheld this information from the boarders, until they were served with a notice to vacate. We had only 5 days to find a new facility and move our entire sanctuary. Thankfully, a fellow horse friend took us in, but it doubled our operating costs.

For the last 8 years, we have been searching for a property with horse facilities that someone could donate to us. Alas, this has been extremely elusive, especially here in the Los Angeles area where property values are at a premium. We know someone is out there who has just the right place for us and we are remaining optimistic that this will happen. If we had a place of our own, instead of paying boarding fees, our funds could be spent on rescuing more horses and providing more services to the public. Some days it is easier than others to see the light, but this year has been extremely challenging.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Saffyre Sanctuary is a rescue and rehabilitation program that cares for horses that have been abandoned, abused, or neglected. By allowing them to rediscover their true nature, we provide every opportunity for them to experience the possibility of enjoying a second career, or offer them a well-deserved retirement due to soundness issues, age, or owner hardships.

We assist homeless horses in finding their forever person. Through our networks, we successfully place them in homes that give them a new lease on life. If they are unable to physically perform in their new life path, we try to find other loving places where they can live in peace and comfort or serve as companion equines.

We specialize in rescuing horses that would have no other chance of being saved. These horses are ones that have behavior issues, or are in need of a lengthy recovery and complex rehabilitation procedures. Our focus on quality, not quantity, enables us to give the horses in our care the very best chance of complete physical, mental and emotional recovery.

Although Saffyre Sanctuary is an all-breed rescue, we have a special place in our hearts to the plight and distinctive needs of the Arabian breed. We are one of very few rescue organizations that work with Arabians, and maintains a following of Arabian enthusiasts who are familiar with their unique disposition. If you are looking to add an Arabian to your home, please consider adopting or fostering one of our loving horses.

Our unique approach of equine care specializes in holistic nutrition, holistic rehabilitation, environmentally friendly equine housing, and green facility management.

We are most proud of how we teach people to put horses first, but the horses are really the teachers. We don’t do things the same way as other rescues or equine facilitated programs. It is all about doing things from the horses’ perspective. Many people don’t know about the magic that happens when you are with a horse that is allowed to have and express their opinion, and not be obligated to do anything but be who they are. They bring out all of the suppressed feelings we have about ourselves, make us look at those feelings, and help process them in a non-judgmental, loving way that no human can emulate. They embody pure love, and when you discover that within yourself, you are changed forever.

I always knew that the horses were “calling” me to make a film.  But it was not until a series of events that the actual subject matter would reveal itself in the most magical way.  During my journey through the horse consciousness, and the unfolding of the horse’s message, people on the same path started to come into the world of Saffyre Sanctuary.  Breathing new life into not only what Saffyre Sanctuary does, and our understanding of why horses are here, the teachings of the horses have solidified their foundation in everything we do and wish to accomplish.

We are in final production of our documentary “Changing Horses.”  http://changinghorsesthefilm.com.  As the producer/director of the documentary “Changing Horses,” Esta is uncovering the depths of the horse/human dynamic from people all over the globe.  “Changing Horses” explores the personal stories of how horses change people, so people can change the world.  Through interviewing prominent individuals in the equine community, we discuss some very complex issues regarding our human value systems, and how we can adjust our societal beliefs to ensure our survival as a species.

Through the teachings of horses, we realize how much we have disconnected from our true nature, and that the things society wants us to believe, are nothing more than an illusion.

What were you like growing up?
I was a pretty introverted kid, who loved my time amongst the animals or reading a book. The only thing I ever cherished was my time with the horses. I never enjoyed doing the typical childhood activities most people do. My sole focus by age 12 was getting a job so I could buy my first horse. I did not have many friends in school and was frequently bullied for being different. Of the few friends I did have, most of them were older than me, and I quickly jumped into adulthood.

I had my first paying job at age 13 at a children’s day-care and I was an early graduate from high school. Leaving an abusive and dysfunctional home environment, I left home just shy of my 16th birthday and moved in with my then-boyfriend. I was into the 80’s hair bands and for quite a few years led a rock-n-roll lifestyle, getting distracted from my true path. I was a pretty self-destructive adolescent, but once the horses came calling again, by the age of 21 I found myself driving across the country to follow my true-life path.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Robin Constable-Hanson
Lynne Glazer
Lubica Mrockova
John Navalesi
Charity Poole

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