The four horses -- seized along with 35 others from a Graham farm more than a year ago -- are much better off now, Pierce County animal control officers said recently.
No more hard times -- just lots of love.
The horses were seized in September 2012 after they were found living in substandard conditions. Some were housed in rundown barns. Others lived in stalls that had up to 2 feet of manure pooling on the floor, and some were underweight and had cracked or overgrown hooves, animal control officers said.
John Diller, the horses' former owner, originally was charged with 15 counts of animal cruelty. He pleaded guilty in November this year to one count of second-degree animal cruelty. He received a suspended one-year jail sentence and was required to pay a $1,000 penalty and $50,538 in restitution. As part of the deal, he is not allowed to own or care for horses for four years.
Diller originally got 11 of the horses back after improving his facilities, but he no longer has them. Some of the rest had to be euthanized, and others were adopted out, including Serowna and Needa.
Barn worker Bekah King has been helping to care for the last four still in the custody of Pierce County -- Lisa, Kassy, Nona and Amber. They're currently boarded at a facility in Auburn.
"Kassy, her personality is just hilarious," King said during a recent interview. "Licking on you. She just does a little nibble."
Sometimes she kicks on her stall door to make it clear she wants attention.
Kassy follows Lisa around when she gets the chance, and they both really like their food, King said.
Lisa tries to act tough, flattening her ears when someone approaches. But it's all for show; she's a big marshmallow, her caretakers said.
"You just have to work through their issues," King said. "People have to work to earn their trust."
It's been rewarding, she said, to see how far the once neglected horses have come since she started working with them in March. They were afraid to go outside then, but now they spend time in the pasture.
The trick, King said, is to "talk to them, love on them, pet them."
Some of the horses were euthanized for health problems immediately after being seized, and others later on, such as stallion Daring.
But the end of his story was a happy one too, in some ways.
His last year was a great one.
His new owner got him all the best doctors and even had his cataracts looked at, animal control officials said.
So when he lost his battle with colic (horse abdominal pain) recently, it was at the end of a year of being pampered and loved.
The rescued horses needed extra TLC, their new owners said.
Jeff Darby said he's been putting in lots of work on the feet of the horse he adopted, Needa.
He thinks that in six months or so he might be able to start riding her.
Meanwhile, she's been hanging out with the two other horses at her Bremerton-area pasture.
They eat out of the same trough and take naps together.
"Basically bonded like she's been there her whole life," he said. "She's just real laid back and easygoing."
And sometimes, a bit of a ham.
"About a month ago we were working in the barn, and she was leaning over the gate, licking her tongue and curling it," he said.
Amanda Tracy, 23, of Auburn, also hopes she'll be able to ride with her adopted horse, Serowna, soon.
"We're working on that," she said. "I can get a saddle on her now, and she does really great with that. We're just working on the next step of getting on."
The two met when Tracy was visiting a friend's horse. Her friend was showing her the rescue horses at the Auburn facility and explaining that Serowna has trust issues and doesn't much like people. That's when the Arabian mare poked her head over the stall.
"Everyone was like: 'Whoa, she doesn't usually do that,' and we've just been bonding ever since," Tracy said. "I've wanted a horse my whole life, and I finally have that opportunity."
In the month or so that Tracy has owned her, Serowna has gone from hiding in the back of the stall to nickering with excitement when she sees Tracy walking down the barn aisle. Strangers can even pet her now, and she lets Tracy touch her nose, pick up all four of her feet and braid her tail.
"She found out that she loves to have her head scratched," Tracy said.
Tracy visits her horse almost every day.
"Spending hours sitting in the round pen with her," she said. "Letting her get to know me. Getting to know her."
A lot of times, that means sitting in the stall and reading to her, Tracy said. They just finished the first "Harry Potter" book.
She said potential owners shouldn't be scared of adopting a rescue horse and that she would not want any animal for her first horse other than Serowna.
"They just want to be loved," Tracy said. "They don't like people. People mean pain. It's teaching them that that's not true. The bonding process is so special; to save these animals and give them a good life."
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