“Live Big, Love Big” aptly describes the philosophy of BIG Heart Ranch in Malibu, where Co-founder and President Suzi Landolphi and a talented team of mostly volunteer facilitators lead evidence-based, progressive, inclusive and life-affirming experiences in nature with the help of a restorative herd of rescued farm animals.
“We take all of our cues from the natural world,” says Manager Nora Cohen, explaining that people can learn so much by spending time in nature. “Getting people back into nature” helps them reconnect to their natural energies that society often disconnects us from. “We come from nature; these energies flow through us as well. At BIG Heart Ranch, people get a chance to do that with the animals modeling the natural behavior,” adds Cohen.
With the belief that “humans + animals = healing,” BIG Heart Ranch provides individuals, youth and families who may be struggling with life’s challenges with an opportunity to connect with rescued farm animals and experience firsthand how the natural world models healthy practices and values that can be applied to their own lives.
“We meet people where they are on their path, just as we do with our rescued animals,” notes Cohen, adding that more than 100 rescued and rehabilitated animals, including chickens, bunnies, goats, pigs, horses, donkeys and alpacas, help visitors and volunteers experience physical, emotional and spiritual growth and healing through BIG Heart Ranch’s principled, clinical practices and facilitated experiential programs.
“Our values and principles—respect, boundaries and kindness—are modeled in nature, and that’s what the animals model for us,” explains Cohen, a former New York advertising executive who discovered purpose and meaning through her work at BIG Heart Ranch.
Since 2007, the nonprofit has become an integral part of the community, impacting thousands of lives through their nature-based experiences.
“We have basically three tiers of programs to bring together people and nature,” says Cohen. “The Animal Rescue; the Conscious Community Program, providing animal-inspired growth and learning; and our Volunteer Program, which provides community service opportunities that encourage growth and foster healing. Those are at the center of our heart.”
For more than 12 years, BHR has partnered with dozens of community organizations in Southern California to enrich human lives through connection with rescued animals.
“Since January 2006, BIG Heart Ranch has been helping disadvantaged children and families by providing therapeutic interaction with rescued animals,” says Landolphi. “We are self-funded and have donated over $250,000 in therapeutic services to children, families, veterans and those healing from trauma.”
Beginning her own healing journey by participating in a wild horse gentling program, which she continues to provide as a post-traumatic growth activity for veterans and organizations, including the EOD Warrior Foundation at Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, Landolphi created Horse Inspired Growth and Healing (HIGH) Horse Inspired Psychotherapy (HIP) to increase positive self-worth and life skills by helping participants with all aspects of relationship building.
“Through the responses from the horses, participants see the immediate positive results of behavior change and intention. When positive change happens, faith in self and others begins to heal and grow,” she explains, adding that the HIGH and HIP programs provide culturally appropriate horse activities to “increase physical strength, endurance and emotional resiliency; honors principles, spirituality and cooperation between horse and humans; models life mentoring for successful goal attainment; and creates a safe environment to explore trauma issues and opportunities for healing.”
A Senior PATHH Guide, equine therapist and licensed MFT in Virginia and California, Landolphi offers private sessions, full- and half-day retreats and training and certification programs.
Fostering a “conscious community connection,” BIG Heart Ranch believes in the interdependence of community, a principal that became essential during the recent wildfires.
“Our community was devastated by the Woolsey Fire, which quickly transformed into a mega-Malibu fire, hitting Malibu hard and fast on Friday, Nov. 9,” recalls Landolphi.
“It was wild how everything happened—the fire came so fast—within 10 minutes it was down to PCH; people were screaming and crying and we watched a fire tornado destroy five houses in a row in our neighborhood,” recalls Cohen. “But, as fast as the fire came, so did the love and support,” recalls Cohen.
Despite the chaos, “Our epic team of volunteers sprang into action and successfully evacuated 66 rescued animals out of harm’s way,” Landolphi shares. “Luckily, the majority of our property has been spared, however our organization took a huge hit with these unforeseen crisis expenses.”
While the community copes and recovers from the devastating losses caused by the wildfires, BIG Heart Ranch continues to serve those in need.
“Our vision is to continue our work of rescuing animals in need—there are so many more now out there that are displaced and needing a home—while supporting people displaced and grieving from our beloved Malibu and Los Angeles communities,” says Landolphi.
Cohen notes that traumatic times can also help build resilience.
“When huge trauma hits our community, how do we honor and respect what happened in a compassionate way and tap in and develop our resilience?” she asks.
Supporting the community by acknowledging, working through and growing from chaos and hard times, BIG Heart Ranch provides opportunities for healing and helping each other.
“BIG Heart Ranch is committed to not only help our Malibu community and neighbors rebuild after this unforeseen devastation by way of our BIG Heart Village Program, but also continue to provide a safe place for people to come out and connect, connect, connect! Connect to their grief, their experiences, their emotions, their healing, their balance, their well-being, with each other and their higher wisdom of all of it!” says Landolphi.
While providing free animal-inspired programs for the community, BHR needs donations and help to rebuild the beloved animal rescue sanctuary and community wellness center.
“Donations are greatly appreciated and will go a long way in supporting our animals and the people in our community overcome this devastating event,” says Landolphi, noting that efforts are especially needed to prevent further damage from mudslides.
“Materials are needed to build safety structures and to address water diversion ASAP, as we have more rain coming,” she says, adding that making a tax-deductible donation to the Equestrian Relief Fund through the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu will support these efforts and that community organizations and corporations, including Southern California Gas Co., have also provided grants to help.
In addition, BHR has designed a line of extra soft and cozy zipper hoodies and t-shirts to remind everyone of the community’s strength.
“For every BIG Heart Ranch Malibu Strong shirt and hoodie purchased, we will give the same hoodies/t-shirts to individuals and families affected by the Woolsey Fire, along with free BIG Heart Ranch animal- and horse-inspired growth and support sessions,” says Cohen.
Hoodies and shirts are available at BigHeartRanch.com.
“We are beyond grateful for our incredible staff, BIG-hearted volunteers, our supporters and our veterinarians at Conejo Valley Equine!” says Landolphi. “We are also SOOOO grateful for our amazing community and supporters for donating much-needed resources during this very uncertain and difficult time. Thank you everyone!!!!”
For more information, visit BIGHeartRanch.com.