Serenity Saviors serves horses and humans alike
“A horse rescue – but not just a horse rescue.” That’s how Allen Bornscheuer describes the nonprofit equine rescue and therapy center, Serenity Saviors, he operates with his wife Cherina. “We’re also a human rescue. That is what really drives us to make a change in our world with horses and humans.”
For the husband-and-wife team, horses are a way of life. Allen said his love of horses started while he was a teenager growing up in Florida. “My dad always said it was a rich man’s sport. I could only start riding when I was able to pay my own way, so when I got a job, that was one of the first things I did – start taking riding lessons,” Allen explained.
In his 20s and 30s, he was riding horses in Atlanta and Tampa, Fla., alongside his day job of international banking, working as a vice president for SunTrust bank. It was a stressful profession. “I dealt with my stress by riding horses, and I found that the horses had an amazing stress-relieving aspect to them,” Allen explained. “I forgot all about the tensions and everything that went with a job like that when I rode horses.”
He rode twice a week to manage his stress levels, getting his own farm in 2008. He realized he wasn’t the only one who looked to horseback riding for stress management. “I just noticed that people were coming through the front gate, just like me, looking for stress relief; with anxiety issues; one of them a police officer with PTSD from losing a partner,” Allen explained. “When they started riding a horse, all of a sudden, their mouths started working, and they started telling me all kinds of things.”
A few years later he met Cherina and her son Blake. “I really was not aware of the rescue side of the horse world for quite a few years – not until Cherina brought her son, Blake, to sign him up for riding lessons in 2011,” explained Allen. While Blake did some riding, it was Cherina who really embraced it. She had always had a love for horses – and over time she discovered she had a love for Allen Bornscheuer, too. “And of course, the rest is romantic history,” Allen noted.
Cherina had a master’s degree in psychology, and the pair realized they could – and should – combine riding and psychology, plus the great need for horse rescue, and do something more. That’s how Serenity Saviors came to be.
Since their work about saving not only horses but also humans, their motto became, “We save two.”
Horse rescue is the foundation, of course, and is a huge part of what they do. “Cherina opened my eyes to the world of rescues,” explained Allen. “I had no idea horses were going to slaughter in the United States at the numbers they were – a practice that has since been stopped in this country.”
The last three U.S. slaughterhouses – two in Texas and one in Illinois, all foreign-owned – were shuttered in 2007, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“Now, horses have to travel to Canada or Mexico, and in more recent times, Canada passed a law that horses have to stay in the country for six months before they can be slaughtered,” Cherina explained. The requirement has helped decrease horse slaughter, given the cost and logistics. “The numbers have plummeted, at least since 2011. It’s gone to half, but it hasn’t stopped horses from going for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.” Many horses the Bornscheuers have saved have been rescued from kill pens, horses destined for slaughter.
Allen said even with all of that, horses are still being shipped out of the U.S. for slaughter on a weekly basis. “Most of the horses we have here were going to be slaughtered, and we were able to save them. When they go to a kill pen, posts are made on websites and Facebook, and there’s a very brief window of time for people to ‘bail them out.’”
Although most of the Bornscheuers’ horses are kill pen rescues, many come from the Amish. “I’ve made more trips to Pennsylvania than I even want to count,” said Alan. He explained while the Amish don’t slaughter horses themselves, they take them to auction once they have outlived their ability to satisfactorily do the work needed, like pulling machinery and carriages. A horse at this stage has had a hard life and doesn’t command as much money. “The Amish send them to auction at cheap prices, buy a new horse, hitch it up and drive it home. It’s usually bottom dollar at this point, by the time they go to auction,” Allen said.
Cherina said she and Allen love the American Saddlebred, the type of horse favored by the Amish for their appearance in pulling their carriages. “They were bred in this country, and there’s a lot of history in them.” The breed has long necks, bodies and legs and pop their knees high. “The higher their head is, the higher they pop their knees. They’re very fancy horses.”
In total, the Bornscheuers estimate they’ve saved more than 250 horses, most of them American Saddlebred. “Most of the horses we’ve saved are not here on our property,” explained Allen. “Most of them were adopted out all over the country, from New England to south Florida, Seattle and California. I have driven to virtually every corner of the 48 states delivering or picking up rescue horses.”
As for the horses that stay with the Bornscheuers, some of them remain because they aren’t able to do anything any longer. “They’ve been ridden and worked too hard in their lives,” explained the couple, “and they have back, leg, tendon and other problems. Some of them have emotional problems. For this segment of our horse population, we call them sanctuary horses. They’re just going to live out their lives with us, eating grass for a living, and we’re just going to take care of them.”
The family is relatively recently transplanted to Franklin County from the west-central Florida area. “We needed to expand, but we couldn’t find a property big enough and affordable enough in Florida,” explained Allen, “due to the way the real estate market is going with everyone moving there. Prices have skyrocketed.”
They looked at properties from Texas to South Carolina and all across the southern United States. The price and climate were right in Russellville, so they moved to town over Labor Day weekend 2021.
“I lived in Florida for many years, and I don’t like the cold of the North. Here it is a little drier, less humid, and I like the people – how friendly everybody is,” Allen said. “I was determined not to move any further north than the Tennessee border.”
Cherina was about eight months pregnant with their daughter, Phoebe, when the family made the move. Allen explained that with having a little one at home now, and working on building up the farm in Alabama, it has become important to him to stay home more – but that doesn’t mean their nationwide rescue efforts will stop. “I can’t be driving all over the country anymore, so we hire that part out.”
Cherina said they are passionate about the difference they’ve been able to make in the lives of humans and horses. “We’ve seen kids on the autism spectrum, some that have never talked before, start talking to a horse, and we’ve had veterans wind up talking to a horse when they couldn’t talk to anyone else,” she explained. She said she doesn’t see herself as the therapist. “The horses are the ones that have the magic. We have veterans come through carrying ghosts with them from their experiences. We had one veteran who we got settled on a horse, and he started talking to the horse, asking the horse if he could feel his pain and know his emotions and thoughts. All I had done was put them together. It was all I could do not to just break down. I always say the horses are the therapists, not me. I’m just the facilitator. I bring the two of them together, and that’s when the magic happens.”
“There’s something more special about horses than most people realize,” Allen agreed. “There’s a deeper connection. They can sense our heartbeat four or five feet away, and they can match us. They’re very sensitive creatures, and they know when we’re anxious or angry or depressed.”
Cherina said she’s seen numerous occasions when a horse consoled or comforted someone. “There’s a special connection. They’ll nuzzle the person, rub up against them, provide comfort for severely depressed people, without even being able to say a word,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful connection, and it makes an incredible difference. It’s amazing.”
Right now, they have a handful of people coming for riding lessons and three coming for therapy sessions. While they want to grow, there are changes they need to make first. “We don’t have a riding arena or a round pen, and we really feel the control of having an arena and rails is important for safety, so that’s definitely a priority.”
For more information, call 256-902-8389, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website, www.serenitysaviors.org, or Facebook page.