Rescuing horses takes hard work and tears

From the Daily Bulletin: Rescuing horses takes hard work and tears

CHINO HILLS – It’s really tough for Susan Peirce to talk about the horses at her ranch without crying at least once, maybe twice.

The founder of Red Bucket Equine Ranch and its 400 volunteers are on a mission to save and rehabilitate horses who have been abused, neglected or malnourished.

The nonprofit was founded in January 2009 by Peirce.

To date, Red Bucket has rescued 109 horses and found permanent homes for 48.

“We’ve taken horses that are shattered; they don’t even expect to be fed, let alone us being kind to them,” said Peirce, who has rescued horses from breeding scandals, euthanasia or even being fed to mountain lions.

One of the rescued horses had been found by animal-control officers standing in a pool of hew own blood after being used to bait pit bulls.

Last month, Red Bucket moved from Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center in Huntington Beach to a 4.3-acre ranch, formerly known as Coyote Creek, in Chino Hills.

Last week, the nonprofit hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new ranch. In September, they plan to have an open house for the community.

“We believe in the intimacy of the horse. When a horse comes to us, they have nothing of their own, so when they come here they get a red bucket and they get a name,” Peirce said.

Once the horse gets a bucket with its name on it, it also gets a goal and a training plan to prepare it for adoption.

Every horse’s first goal is to whinny.

Once they’ve done that, Peirce said, is when she and her volunteers know they’re getting somewhere with the rehabilitation.

The goal for one of the horses, Hotwheels – which had been choked and dragged in a rodeo – is for him to allow a halter to be put on and taken off.

“We’ll do that, on and off, until he doesn’t twitch, then when he stops twitching, pulling back or rolling his eyes, he’ll get a new goal,” Peirce said.

All the horses are evaluated and assessed, receive a training or exercise plan, and are groomed daily and handled extensively to prepare them for a home.

Diets are prepared based on a horse’s individual needs and are assessed and adjusted during its time at the ranch.

Then, when a horse is adopted, the bucket goes with it as a reminder of where the horse came from and a reminder to the owner of the commitment they’ve made to the horse.

Volunteer Jenon Mathes said every horse at the ranch has a personality, and they all deserve a chance.
“Hotwheels really breaks my heart sometimes,” she said. “He has this tendency to run away, and now since he’s at the ranch you can see his thought process change. He’s fighting back and not running away; he wants to be trusted.”

Almost every rescue facility is full, Peirce said, which is why the nonprofit does a fair amount of networking.

One of the nonprofits they’ve worked with is Hanaeleh, an Orange County- based organization that operates out of Trabuco Canyon.

“The whole goal is to find homes for these horses. It’s not a competition, and if we want to maintain our goal then we have to work together,” said Elizabeth Zarkos, the founder and president of Hanaeleh.

Zarkos has known Peirce since 2009 and has worked with her to rescue multiple horses.

“None of us makes money off of this, and we can’t do it ourselves; the need is too great,” Zarkos said.

In order to be successful, Peirce says she has to run Red Bucket with a business mind and like a small city, making sure the needs of her residents – horses – are being met, her operating budget is within her means and having capital improvement projects for the ranch.

To put things into perspective, the ranch’s mortgage is about $8,000 a month and to fill the hay barn costs $19,000, which lasts for six weeks.

“And that’s why people donate. They look around, they look at our numbers and books, and they know we are fiscally responsible. We’re a business, and I’m a business person,” she said.

“My background is building healthy organizations that are profitable, fiscally healthy and emotionally healthy.”

Most of the ranch’s hard-core volunteers work 40 to 60 hours a week and drive from Huntington Beach to Chino Hills.

Peirce admits while she is not a micro-manager, she does have high standards and if the standards are not being met, she will “swoop in and not apologize for it.”

“Because I’m a behaviorist, we’ll screen people based on their application. We’ll advise them to lease a horse then come back to us or volunteer,” she said.

It can take up to three years before some horses are adoptable, but Peirce said it’s worth watching them through their journey of becoming healthy.

She compares the horses to a tight bud that slowly, over time, blooms.

“Your job is to prepare these horses to get a home. But we really get attached to them, they find a way under your skin and then you have say goodbye,” she said.

“I (have to) tell you, I’ve never written a contract out dry-eyed. You’ve given them the biggest gift, a second chance, and that’s great and that’s why we cry.”

Reach Canan via email, call her at 909-987-6397 ext. 425, or find her on Twitter @ChinoValleyNow.