By Rhonda Mix


BELVIDERE – On a brisk and sunny January day, the horses stand in pastures with contentment etched across their faces. A cozy barn awaits in case the equines feel the need to escape the elements. Nearby, three goats frolic in a separate enclosure, one of them appearing to smile as it peeks with curiosity through the fence.

A light-hearted feeling lingers in the air at Bertell Farms. Perhaps it comes from the appreciation and gratitude its residents may feel for being given a second chance at happy lives.

Located at 1217 Barberry Lane in Belvidere, Bertell Farms is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) animal rescue that primarily focuses on horses – though the shelter has rescued several other animals including goats, cats and chickens.

It is the only horse rescue in Belvidere.

Lora Bertell and her husband, Jim, own the shelter, which they started seven years ago.

Originally from Rockford and Chicago, Lora Bertell said the couple moved to the area and purchased the home with its 13.4 acres after meeting several people who had hobby farms. She and her husband thought such an endeavor would be fun, and decided to do something similar.

“The previous owners had two horses and we decided to take them as well,” Bertell said. “We knew nothing about horses, but the former house owners taught us how to take care of them and everything we needed to know.”

Bertell said she and her husband fell in love with horses and decided they needed to find a way to make use of the house’s large expanse of land, so they opened up a horse rescue.

“We just kept getting horses,” Bertell said, adding that most of the facility’s equines come from homes where they have been hoarded and/or neglected.

The rescue can comfortably house up to 15 horses and currently houses 12. Bertell Farm’s residents also receive regular veterinarian checks and complete dental work-ups. The horses are put through an extensive evaluation and, in some cases, rehabilitation process, before they are available for adoption.

“We do not rush them and we try to assess what they know,” Bertell said. “For horses that were taken in because of starvation, the goal is to feed them and build their confidence.”

Successful rehab

One successful rehab patient is Phoenix, a 16-year-old thoroughbred.

Horses are given body condition scores which range from 0 to 9 and a score of 4 to 6 is considered acceptable. Bertell said Phoenix was taken from a neglectful situation and came to the farm with a body condition score of 1. Initially, the horse had no muscle and appeared emaciated. He has improved significantly during his eight months at the rescue.

Though Phoenix will live out the rest of his days at Bertell Farms, there are a number of horses currently available for adoption. Two of them are Betty, age 10, and her comrade Mare Mare, 30, a guide horse. Betty is blind and Bertell said the two friendly horses are inseparable.

“They came in together and can only be adopted out as a package deal,” she added, gesturing to the two beautiful, noble-looking horses standing close together in the pasture.

Volunteer, donation opportunities

An important aspect of the day-to-day operations of Bertell Farms is its volunteers.

Poplar Grove resident Janet Gualano has volunteered with the organization for 5 years. She showed horses as a child and said she enjoys helping out at Bertell Farms in order to give back to animals she loves.

“The community needs places like this that take in large animals,” she said. “Horses do so much for people and it is really nice to be able to return the favor.”

There is always a need for more volunteers at the rescue and people with a wide range of skills are encouraged to apply.

Bertell Farms also is in need of donations. People can donate at Cherry Valley Feed, 1595 South Bell School Road, Cherry Valley, or through Paypal at Bertellfarms.org.

Items such as horse blankets, water buckets, trough heaters and enrichment toys also are much appreciated and can be brought directly to the farm.

The organization is unique not only because it is a horse rescue, but also because the Bertells and volunteers are hands-on in their work and passionate about horses.

“The horses are not numbers in a pasture,” Bertell said. “They are loved like pets and are family. We live by our motto here – hands and hearts helping hooves. We have learned a lot along the way.”

Upcoming events at Bertell Farms will include a horsemanship education class for adults in February and a horse show in September. The rescue also will host a volunteer orientation at 9 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 24.

For more information, visit bertellfarms.org.

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