Horses, humans will be rescued in new home

In rescuing, I was rescued.

That’s Susan Peirce’s motto.

When she founded the Red Bucket Equine Rescue three years ago, the plan was to rescue horses. She had no idea how much all that rescuing would change her life and her heart; or, as it turns out, the hearts of hundreds of other Orange County residents.

At first, it was the photos that drew them in: Horses so starved their ribs are jutting out, a wild look of terror in their eyes.

The photos appeared in The Orange County Register a year ago when the rescue needed money to stay afloat. And people responded, showing up at the rescue, which was then at the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center, begging to whisper words of encouragement to a horse, or at least shovel out a stall.

Peirce started holding orientations to train her new volunteers. But the volunteers came faster than she could hold orientations and she had to start a waiting list.

That didn’t stop them though. They showed up anyway, wearing Red Bucket T-shirts they bought on the organization’s website, and begging to at least do grunt work, like clean out the feed buckets.

One Fountain Valley man, Les Carey, kept showing up even after he was diagnosed with stage V cancer and right up until he died. When a horse trailer, used to shepherd abused horses back to the rescue, broke down, a volunteer arrived one day with a new one. Another woman went out and bought a red Dodge truck for the operation.

“And these are just regular people. Not wealthy people,” Peirce says. “It makes me cry. It’s magic.”

Now Orange County residents have done something even more magical.

Responding to a story that ran in the Register a few months ago about the rescue being evicted from their Huntington Beach stables, they donated enough money for Peirce to close escrow last week on a ranch the horses can call their own.


The Red Bucket Ranch, known as the Coyote Creek Ranch until now, is on 4.3 acres in the affluent equestrian community of Chino Hills just across the Orange County border.

Rescue volunteers have been working quadruple time this week to pack up and move blankets and buckets and horses.

“I’m talking about 12-15 hours of manual labor a day,” Peirce says. “We’re almost all women. It’s emotional to see what’s happening here.”

By Saturday, the last of the 55 horses will be in their new home.

All of them have horrific back stories. They go something like this:

Sawyer, a 4-year-old paint mare, was found standing in a pool of her own blood in a vacant lot in the Inland Empire, abandoned with gaping wounds, so big that Peirce could have put her fist in them, oozing pus. Her ankles were marked with rope burns, “as if she had been dragged by her hind legs.”

Bite marks were found everywhere, a sign that she had been used for the twisted sport of dog baiting, and, according to Pierce, whip marks scored her neck and throat.

Looking into Sawyer’s eyes, Peirce says, she saw a fighter. “If she was fighting that hard, we were gonna fight that hard too.”

Back in Huntington Beach, they cleaned her wounds and gave her medicine. Sawyer has since gained more than 200 pounds and is back to popping her head over her stall door to nuzzle the people who come bringing treats.


Peirce believes most of her 150 hard core volunteers will follow Red Bucket across county lines.

One is even going posthumously.

Hope Ambe was one of 140 people waiting to go through volunteer orientation when she died last month. The Stanton woman left instructions before she died she asked her sister to give half her ashes to Peirce so they could be scattered at the new ranch. Peirce is going to honor her wishes after they get settled in.

The new ranch is a 34 mile drive from their old home in Huntington Beach. But when Peirce asked her volunteers who she needed to replace for the nightly shifts of feeding the horses and administering medicine, not one of them raised their hand.

“They were mad at me for thinking I was gonna give their shift away,” she said.


Red Bucket’s mission, by the way, isn’t just to save horses, but to rehabilitate them and get them adopted. So far they have found homes for 48 of the 104 horses they have saved. The horses have gone to meadows and fields and pastures throughout California and in Colorado, Wyoming and even Wales.

Their success is what attracts big donors like filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s granddaughter, Cecilia Presley, who lives in Newport Beach. Her husband Randall Presley, a homebuilder, also sent Red Bucket a big check before he died in April.

Presley said her family has been involved with horses for three generations.

“Through all the years of showing and racing horses, we’ve been involved in many rescue operations,” she says. “This one is truly exceptional.”

She plans to continue her support of Red Bucket, but hopes others do too.

“What I know about abuse no one wants to know,” she says. “It wakes you up at 3 in the morning.” Even with her help, Presley adds, Peirce “doesn’t have the money to rescue everything she would like to rescue.”

Presley recounts that Red Bucket recently found some horses that had been kept in box stalls for so long that they finally opened the door themselves. “One horse literally came out and tried to trot and broke itself into pieces.”

Peirce says the down payment on their new ranch has wiped out their funds. The new mortgage payment is $8,663 a month and that doesn’t include food and supplies.

“We’re broke now,” she says.

They are holding an open house fundraiser Sept. 9. And they are putting together a sponsorship program where a person or business can pay for a horse’s food, medical and housing costs each month for a year. Sponsors will get a trading card with a photo of “their horse,” monthly updates and invitations to Lunch With Your Horse days.

“We will not fail,” Peirce says. “But it is really scary. We’re taking a leap of faith.”

Original OC Register Article.