Southern California horse rescue group gives abandoned and neglected horses a second chance at life
The truck was dark, dingy, and smelled of fear and death. The 4-month-old bay colt forgot about his sore leg and became curious about his trip. Perhaps he was going to a new home? A bigger pasture? Would there be more horses his age that he could play with? Little did he know his destination was a slaughterhouse in Mexico.
Horse slaughter is illegal in the U.S., but it is not uncommon to ship unwanted horses out of the country to places where it is legal. Susan Peirce, founder of Red Bucket Equine Rescue in Huntington Beach, CA finds this unacceptable, and has vowed to save and rehabilitate these noble creatures and find them loving “forever” homes.
Finding Her Calling Early
Peirce fell in love with horses at the age of 8, and was only 12 when she rescued two abandoned horses in Kentucky. Her family moved to California 30 years ago and she continued to care for and ride horses, but did not get involved in horse rescuing again until the summer of 2008.
Peirce would accompany her husband David to the Inland Empire where he trained border collies. She stumbled upon a nearby stable, and became a regular visitor while her husband worked with dogs. One day, she noticed a half-starved espresso filly cowering in her stall. Peirce convinced the stable owner to let her take the horse home. She named her Harlow, nursed her back to health, and trained her to be suitable for riding.
Taking on a Life of It’s Own
That rescue last summer sparked a fire in Peirce. With the help of her husband David, her son Jared, and Mary Behrens, owner of Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center (HCPEC), this team now cares for approximately 50 rescued horses. They are also in the process of designing a website, obtaining 501(c)3 status, and scheduling fund-raising events to offset mounting expenses.
Behrens has managed the 25-acre equestrian center for 20 years, and is known for her generosity and compassion for horses. “When I told Mary about the horses I found, starving and living in filth, she told me to just get them. No questions asked, she just wanted me to get them out of those horrid conditions,” explains Peirce. In addition to providing housing for the horses–an expense that can exceed $1,200 per month per horse–Behrens has taken horses to her home and even paid for medical bills out of her own pocket.
Due to the sudden population growth at her stables, Behrens is looking to expand her facility to allow for more pasture land for the rescue horses. She is currently in negotiations with the City of Huntington Beach regarding an adjacent vacant lot that the city owns.
Raising Awareness and Promoting Education
Behrens and Peirce believe that education should be the fundamental building block of their mission. According to Behrens, “The only way to reduce horse abuse or neglect is to increase our educational programs. Learning centers, horsemanship clinics, and youth programs are critical in turning this dangerous trend around.” The group plans to sponsor programs that educate horse enthusiasts on the proper care of horses, such as grooming, feeding, or basic medical care.
The “Guardian Angels” are central to the rescue program. One Angel is assigned to each rescue horse, and must complete a basic training program before being assigned to a horse. It is the Angel’s responsibility to visit their charge at least five days a week, and to report any unusual behavior or ailments immediately to Peirce. The Mother Theresa of the “Guardian Angels” is Nanette Goodrich, a seasoned horse owner. According to Peirce, “I would be lost without Nanette. She is at the stables all the time, and she is absolutely indispensible with her wisdom, knowledge and caring way with horses. She is my single most valuable resource.” Nanette owns two horses, but loves and cares for all of the rescue horses as if they were her own.
Gemma Gishi has been a “Guardian Angel” for three months and cares for Niki, a 14-year-old quarter-paint mare. In the short time she’s been there, Gemma has noticed huge changes in the horses. “When they first arrive, most of them are nervous and shy. Some seem shocked, others seem really depressed. The beautiful thing about this group is that our only job is to give them love and attention. That’s it. We just spend time with the horses, and make sure they have a clean stall and get fed twice a day. It is amazing what a little love will do to coax a horse’s true personality out! ”
The mission of RBER is to save and rehabilitate horses, restore their trust in humankind, and find them safe, loving and permanent adoptive homes. According to Susan Peirce, “We strive to be seen as a point of pride in the equine community by demonstrating integrity and living with high values.” Peirce breaks down these values as follows:
1) To always make decisions that are in the best interest of the horse.
2) To rebuild a horse’s confidence through positive reinforcement, compassion, and consistency.
3) To be trustworthy for our horses, our volunteers, and our contributors.
The ultimate goal is for every horse to be adopted into loving “forever” homes. But first, Peirce makes it a point to give each horse a sense of identity and purpose. Every rescued horse is given a name and it’s own, personalized red bucket for feeding. “These animals have been through so much, the least I can do is give them some hope. They need to understand that not all humans are bad,” shares Peirce.
Brinker, the young colt that was headed to the slaughterhouse, was pulled from that truck and adopted by a family that was not familiar with equine care. For the next five years he lived in a tiny 12’x16’ pipe corral with almost no handling and no exercise. RBER rescued Brinker from his lonely inhabitance, and discovered a leg deformity that is most likely the result of a broken leg that was never properly cared for. Brinker gets daily workouts and is becoming more sociable and accepting of human and equine companionship, but his leg injury means he can’t be ridden, which makes him difficult to place. RBER is seeking a sanctuary that will provide him with the space, freedom, and love that escaped him in his early years.
What You can do to Help
HCPEC is sponsoring an All Breed Benefit Horse Show on June 27 to raise money for the Red Bucket Equine Rescue and the Therapeutic Riding Center of Huntington Beach. Trainer Julie Golden is orchestrating the fundraiser, which is free to the public and begins at 8 a.m. Local firemen will cook a pancake breakfast offered between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., and there will be pony rides, face painting and some carnival games! The class schedule is available on HorseShowTime.com and will have updated start times closer to the event date. Julie Golden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310)365-3866.
]Volunteers for RBER are desperately needed in various capacities, from website designers to fund-raising coordinators to horse groomers. For information on volunteering, contact Cathy Knutson at email@example.com or Sunny Dalton firstname.lastname@example.org. Bedding and feed donations can be made by calling Midway City Feed in Stanton (714)893-2613. Monetary donations are needed to offset vet expenses. Checks may be sent to RBER c/o HCPEC, 18381 Goldenwest Street, Huntington Beach, CA 92648.