No horsing around at Will County equine rescue
By Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org November 10, 2011 9:34PM
Caitlin Satalic, 15, of Beecher, works with horses at Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County on Nov. 4. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 13, 2011 8:49AM
Tony Pecho rescues horses, but in doing so, he rescues people.
Like many, Pecho was chugging along at a high-paced career in 2009 when the economy sent him careening off in a new direction — a direction that, oddly enough, took him back to his roots.
“I grew up with horses,” he said.
Pecho was raised on a horse farm in rural Tinley. He even attended farrier school in his teens.
As an adult, he turned his attention to rehabbing and developing homes, as well as buying and selling property.
Today, the former carpenter and general contractor runs Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County, a non-profit in Beecher that saves and rehabilitates neglected and abused horses. The group also offers lessons, outreach excursions and birthday parties.
With 28 stalls, Pecho said the farm can hardly meet the need. Times are tough for horse owners. Too many abandon the animals, leaving them to starve in fields or turning them loose in forest preserves.
Times are also tough for teens, especially those of a sensitive nature who may struggle to find a sense of purpose, a source of acceptance or a place to fit in.
Caitlin Satalic has been there. The 15-year-old Beecher resident volunteers at the rescue every day, even when it rains, even when it snows.
“I come out here at 6 in the morning and there’s Caitlin’s jacket,” Pecho said.
“Last year, things were hard,” Caitlin said. “A lot of my friends started getting involved with things they shouldn’t have. I was hanging with them but I didn’t feel like I belonged. Working here changed everything.”
Now she has friends who share her love for equines. Now, every day has purpose. Instead of just following the crowd, she has her sites set on college and becoming a psychiatrist and, of course, owning her own horse.
Pecho said there’s something about horses — maybe it’s their size or the way they move or their ability to dispense unconditional love — that tugs at a human’s heart. Being able to nurse an abused horse back to health has a healing effect on the caretaker, he said.
“We like to think we help the horses,” Pecho said, “But the horses do a lot for us.”
He has a host of volunteers who come from as far away as Orland Park, Evergreen Park and even downtown Chicago just because it makes them happy.
Myra Young helps retrain newly acquired horses and gives riding lessons.
As the mother of a 4-year-old child who has been on life support since birth, Young understands what it’s like to live with a disability. Many of her students have been diagnosed with autism, depression or other conditions or special needs.
The horses seem to help them focus on something they consider to be special. In turn, it makes them feel loved.
Pecho said he’d like to extend the reach even farther. Problem is, that costs money. Most of the funds his 501C3 organization receives go to reversing the damage done by bad horse owners.
Just last week, Will County Animal Control called about two horses that were being badly neglected. Pecho went and picked them up. One was so starved it couldn’t stand on its own.
“We had to tie straps around him and then tie them to a tree and pull the trailer out from under him,” Pecho said. “He’d been starving for three months.”
Though the animal’s ribs and hip bones protruded, and although its legs were swollen from lack of use, within a few days the horse’s condition had improved greatly. He was back on his feet and his eyes had regained signs of life.
“He’s gonna make it,” Pecho said.
Veterinary care and medication is costing Pecho about $25 a day per horse.
“It angers me when I see these other shelter owners misuse funds. Do you know what we could do with that kind of money,” he said.
Sue Bartecki, of Evergreen Park, boards two horses at the rescue. She travels south to the farm as often as she can, to check on her animals and to help care for the others.
“I do whatever I can,” she said. “I especially like to help with the abused horses.”
Young said while the primary focus of Illinois Horse Rescue is to save neglected or abused equines, “It’s different from other rescues in that it also helps people.”
Pecho, who left a fast-paced career in real estate to spend his days, and sometimes nights, tending to farm duties, said demand for what he’s pedaling is far greater than he could ever meet.
“It’s happiness,” he said. “People will come out here, set up a chair and just watch the horses in the field because it makes them happy.”