For horse people in King and Pierce counties, it was like a shot rang out in the dark that spring of 2008. When foals were being born and shaggy quarter horses were shedding their winter fuzz, a shocking arrest was made on the charges of animal cruelty in Auburn.
It was found that nearly 100 horses were crammed onto 11 acres of land, and eight of the horses that were in the care of Dean Solomon, the operator of Pacific Equestrian Center, were severely malnourished. Two of the horses had to be euthanized because of the severity of their injuries.
The horses were rescued from being slaughtered for food in Canada and Mexico, but ended up becoming neglected and starved. Solomon pleaded guilty later that year, but in the meantime, equestrians throughout the area stepped up to take care of the remaining animals — including Patricia Clark, 79, of Serenity Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation.
“It really all started with the Dean Solomon case. I had a friend who told me, ‘You’ve got to go and see this place,’” Clark said of the origins of Serenity Equine. “I went there and volunteered. It was just … unbelievable.”
Clark was initially able to take in a dozen of the Solomon horses, and Serenity Equine grew from there. Operating out of her own 10 acres of forested property in Maple Valley, with a 26-stall barn, arena and several pens, Serenity Equine became a top-rated non-profit in King County and has been operating for almost 17 years.
Currently, Serenity Equine is home to 17 horses of varying sizes and other farm animals that Clark has taken in. At the rescue, the number one priority is the animal’s well-being, even if that sometimes gets in the way of more human interests.
“I tend to be different from the other rescues. I don’t really like to use the word ‘natural,’ but we’re more into natural horsemanship,” Clark said. “We want them to live like a horse.”
At Serenity Rescue, this means not putting shoes or bits on the horses and never allowing the animals to be by themselves, as they are social creatures. While there are several pens for the animals, the property is completely fenced and gated, which allows a small herd of horses to roam free. Some of them even come up to the front door of Clark’s house.
Horses have always been a large part of Clark’s world. When she was growing up, she used to climb onto the backs of the horses when they were out grazing in the pasture, though she would also ride English saddle when taking them out on the trails.
“I’ve been around horses almost all of my life, except when I decided I needed a job,” Clark said with a laugh. She earned a master’s in public administration and a bachelor’s in political science, a certificate of livestock management from Western Washington University, and was a professor for 30 years before dedicating her retirement years to horses. In 2007, Clark donated her home and property to the rescue.
“The average horse goes through seven homes, and many come out with behavioral issues because of it,” said Clark. “We don’t adopt them out right away because we want to work with behaviors before that, and we try to put them into more natural homes. If people don’t have the necessary experience, then they come here and do training with me.”
Clark currently works with 90 volunteers who help keep the place running, where stalls are cleaned and the horses are fed and cared for every day. Clark said it’s becoming more expensive to feed the animals, calling the price of hay “beyond understanding.” It takes between 15-20 bales of hay to feed just one horse per month, and one bale of hay can currently cost well over $20. When considering feeding around 20 horses per year and any surprise vet visits, the bills pile up.
While the rescue makes due as a completely volunteer-run organization, the rising costs of taking care of animals, and the fewer donations coming in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have taken a toll on Serenity Equine.
“I just don’t know what’s going to happen to us. Our costs have been exorbitant,” said Clark. “It goes on and on and on. We’re really careful about everything.”
To help bring in more money each year, the rescue holds a fundraiser benefit called “Hearts and Horses” — which is also the name of the rescue’s veterans program. This year’s benefit will be Saturday, Sept. 9, starting at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 a person and the benefit features an auction, live music, appetizers, wine tasting and a chance to help keep the lights on and the feed bags full.
For more information on Serenity Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation, how to donate, or how to purchase fundraiser tickets, visit serenityequinerescue.com.