Horse rescue needs community's help to continue mission

Diane Romano-Potocki poses with Sweet Rita, one of the horses she has saved living at Rivers Edge Rescue and Sanctuary. A direct descendant of the famous horse, Man-O-War, the Triple Crown Winner, Sweet Rita was sent to the slaughter house when she sustained a leg injury. Rivers Edge saved her and she'll live out her remaining days on the farm.

NEWTON — Nestled among the rock ledges and river in Newton, there's an incredible place most people doesn't know exists. It's called Rivers Edge Horse Rescue and Sanctuary and it saves the lives of horses slated for slaughter or whose owners can no longer care for them. The non-profit does what it can with the modest funds it has to help these animals, but with so many horses to rescue, they're dealing with just the tip of the iceberg.
Newton resident Diane Romano-Potocki is the guiding light behind the rescue and sanctuary. She grew up in the Oranges, but ventured up to a farm on Route 206 in Sussex County, where she often had a horse. Her love of horses started at a young age and all of her life Romano-Potock has been learning about them.
“There is so much reading and researching you can do about horses,” she said, “You can never learn enough about them.”
In 2007, she began rescuing horses, and when she realized the incredible need, her passion for these animals prompted her to start the non-profit rescue and sanctuary in 2010. To this end, she goes to auctions and bids on horses that, if not sold, are put on the slaughter truck. Rivers Edge also takes “owner surrenders” when someone has a horse but can no longer take care of it financially or for other reasons.
Rivers Edge Horse Rescue and Sanctuary is a struggling 501(c)3 organization. Romano-Potocki is dedicated to the health and welfare of abused, abandoned, and unwanted slaughter-bound horses and provides them with a caring sanctuary where they can live out the remainder of their lives with dignity and peace. Ultimately, the goal of the sanctuary is to rehabilitate the horses to a healthy, happy condition and provide them with the daily feed, exercise, therapy, general care and medical treatments they need. To achieve that goal she must bring the farm back to full working condition. A working horse sanctuary provides an opportunity for bonds to form between these beautiful gentle animals and the community of people who generously support the sanctuary. Eventually, Romano-Potocki would like to help children by using the horses for equine therapy. She is willing to teach and share her knowledge and love for horses with those who are willing take the time to care.
“Rivers Edge's goal is rescue, rehabilitation and re-home horses, but for some of these animals -- just like some people--they can be rehabilitated physically but not emotionally,” Romano-Potocki said. “Some of these animals have been through a lot, and if we can't rehabilitate them emotionally enough to be placed in a new home, they stay here at the sanctuary: this is a soft place for them to land.” She emphasized, “Most people don't know that hundreds of thousands of horses are killed each year. We are doing what we are able here to save as many as we can.”
But saving comes with a price tag. Though the rescue and sanctuary has done some fundraisers, and Romano-Potocki and her husband fund what they can personally, much more is needed. To this end, their website offers the opportunity to sponsor a horse or shelter. Romano-Potocki has big dreams of helping a lot more animals, educating the public about the great responsibility of owning a horse and perhaps even a reality show about the horses she saves.
“We want people to know that just because a horse winds up in the kill pen, it can be saved and that there are so many beautiful horses out there that people adopt and then realize they can't afford,” she said. “Owning a horse is a big responsibility and should be for the life of the horse.”
Rivers Edge Rescue and Sanctuary, which resides within the 4 Winds Horse Ranch, was badly damaged by Hurricane Irene and Tropical storm Lee in 2011.
“Since then, the rescue has been severely low on funds and trying to recover from the devastating damage caused by the storms,” Romano-Potocki said.
Undaunted, she struggles to keep her dream of a working horse sanctuary operating everyday, from sunrise to well into the night. The sanctuary is in desperate need of more donations and volunteers because the money they have been receiving is continuously being used on daily feed and care for the 21 rescued sanctuary horses, leaving no money leftover for the much needed repair and rebuilding work. If Romano-Potocki continues to struggle, and the needs of the sanctuary are not met, the sanctuary will have to shut down, forcing her to try to find another sanctuary willing to take the horses in or, sadly, to have many of them put down.
Karen Orefice is a volunteer at the rescue and sanctuary.
“What goes on here is just amazing,” she said. “Diane really puts her heart and soul into these animals. There is so much potential as to how many more horses can be saved here.”
“This is why I work so hard,” Romano-Potocki said. “Should the Rivers Edge Horse Rescue and Sanctuary fail, the fate of each of the horses would be in serious jeopardy. We will do whatever we can do to help people help us in this mission.” Her favorite quote is, “"You can't change the world by sponsoring one horse; but for the one horse you sponsor, you change the world."
Rivers Edge is located at 104 Halsey Road in Newton. To learn more about Rivers Edge Horse Rescue and Sanctuary, visit The web site has information about what the sanctuary does and profiles of its horses. You can also find them on Facebook or call 862-266-2140 or e-mail for information about visiting or making a donation. All are tax-deductible.