California Riding Magazine • November, 2013

Red Bucket Equine Rescue
One hundred ninety eight horses saved, and Chino Hills rescue is just getting started.

by Kim F. Miller

River bed rescue - Rescue is life and death, 24 hours a day.

Horse rescue has its dramatic and adrenaline-packed moments.
During one of the hottest July 4th weekends on record, the team at Red Bucket Equine Rescue in Chino Hills was going about their business this past summer when the phone rang. "It was a guy asking us to help him rescue three horses from the river bed," relays Susan Peirce, who founded the program in 2009. The man said his calls to the police and animal control had not prompted action and the horses were clearly starved, dehydrated and in need of immediate help.

"Within 20 minutes we had our trucks hooked up and we were on our way," Susan reports. They drove without having an exact address, instead following the caller's texted directions and videoed reference points. They found the horses at a camp of homeless people, loaded them in trailers and hauled them back to Red Bucket's ranch. There, the long-suffering animals began new lives as the latest of what are now 198 saved horses in Red Bucket's four-year existence.

Before" - 4 year old Bentley arrived with a body condition score of one, he had been starved.

After" - Bentley today. He is being trained in preparation for his forever home. Like most rescues, he is grateful for his second chance.

Susan expects there will always be calls like that. In the middle of holiday weekends, the middle of storms, the middle of the night. If things go as Susan has carefully planned for, Red Bucket will always respond.

In between such phone calls, the action is less dramatic, but equally important. The majority of Red Bucket's work comes in the round-the-clock, day-to-day process of enabling its residents to regain trust in people and learn or re-learn behaviors that will enable them to find a forever home. The process for each horse is meticulously planned and executed with patience and expert horsemanship. That quiet, consistent, constant work is the foundation of a program that's become a model for sustainable equine rescue.

Low Return Rates

Susan is a businesswoman. When her heart called her to rescue work, her head told her to apply her professional expertise to the task. She studied rescue efforts, for horses, dogs and other animals, and realized that saving them from dire situations was only the beginning. Most rescue operations try to find permanent homes for their animals, but high rates of return are a common and huge problem.

"What differentiates us is our mission to restore trust and rehabilitate the horses," Susan explains. "Obviously, we can't adopt out a horse when they're starving. And, we can't adopt them out until we've trained them and can represent them accurately as an adoptable horse."
Red Bucket's unique training commitment has produced reliable trail mounts and pleasure and show prospects suitable for many disciplines.

Red Bucket Equine Rescue founder Susan Peirce and Seamus.

First, of course, the horses have to get healthy. Three hundred pounds is the average weight gain for newly admitted residents. A team of veterinarians, body workers, farriers and nutritionists analyzes each horse's complete health needs to establish an individual routine.
Next comes building a horse's trust. It's a process tailored to each horse's needs and one that usually includes time spent in gentle handling activities: hand walking, grooming, grazing, turn-outs, etc. Red Bucket's only paid employee, Kimberly Fohrman, leads the way in planning the horse's training routine. Ideally, rideable horses are given the foundation for work in a variety of disciplines to increase their adoptability. If a horse shows a proclivity for jumping, reining or another sport, they'll get extra work in that area. A graduate of Lamar Community College's Horse Training and Management Program, Kimberly has a great knack for identifying and developing each horse's strengths.

Seamus, gaining confidence.

An Expensive Endeavor

"The whole process is very money and time intensive," Susan explains. "But it's worth it because our return rate is so low."

Making the right match between horse and adopter is equally important to Red Bucket's success and much of that is attributable to the program's field support follow-up. Adopted horses go to new owners with contracts stipulating that, if the new owner can't or doesn't want to keep him for any reason, he is returned to Red Bucket. Contracts also stipulate what can and can't be done. A horse with extreme soundness issues, for example, may be adopted out as a pasture companion only.
Just as rescuing horses is only the beginning for Red Bucket, adopting one of their horses is only the beginning for the new owner. "Adopters become part of Red Bucket and we have great relationships with them," Susan reports. Field support team members are on call to address any issue adopters have with the horses in their new environment. "Behavior is the result of the horse, plus his environment," Susan explains. "When you change the environment, it makes sense that his behavior might change, too. That's where we come in to trouble shoot whatever the problem might be."

The end result is a very high success rate with adopters becoming the forever homes Red Bucket strives to find for the majority of its horses. In some cases, Red Bucket will be a permanent sanctuary for horses that, for various reasons, are not adoptable.

Of the 198 horses Red Bucket has now saved, 85 have found homes and another five adoptions were pending at presstime. The program's remarkable success stems from a careful, solid business plan. Early on, Susan determined that owning their own ranch was critical to fulfilling the program's mission and last summer's purchase of a Chino Hills boarding and training facility accomplished that. That peace of mind, of course, had a price tag in the form of an $8,000 monthly mortgage, just one of many enormous expenses on Red Bucket's balance sheet. "It's a little scary," Susan confesses.

Kimberly Fohrman and Dixon.

Getting the mortgage paid off early is a big and immediate goal and Susan has a great track record of achieving her goals. Next on the docket is hiring a staff veterinarian, which would make excellent care possible at a much lower cost. After that, Susan's many other hopes for Red Bucket include expanding community outreach programs that will help cultivate animal welfare awareness on a broad scale. Long-term dreams focus on being able to provide shelter for horses in need. Of the many daily calls and e-mails Susan receives, a high percentage are from owners hoping to, in effect, surrender their horses because they can no longer afford to care for them. "There is no place for horses in that situation to go," Susan notes. Red Bucket always attempts to use its network of supporters to help those owners find a good place for their horses, but Susan would love to do more.

Volunteers and donors have made the past four years possible, Susan stresses. Between 75 and 100 volunteers contribute to Red Bucket's operation every month, on tasks ranging from filling each horse's personalized red feed bucket to creating their annual calendar and holiday cards, both sold as fundraisers. All efforts and time are greatly appreciated and monetary donations are absolutely essential. From the elderly woman who faithfully mails a $10 check every month and boxes of wish-list supplies that arrive from anonymous senders to the big donors and corporate sponsors, the Red Bucket team is "so grateful for everything we get." Of every dollar donated, 98.3 percent is spent directly on the horses' care, she notes.

Hhelp the horses this holiday season!

The daily work for bringing these horses back from the brink of despair has many ups and downs, but every day there is something to celebrate. That's going to be especially true on November 24 for Red Bucket's First Annual Ruby Red Fundraiser Event. The organizing team is thrilled to have The Newlywed Game's Bob Eubanks, a Red Bucket advisory board member, as a special speaker and emcee for the evening. Gourmet appetizers and dinner, put on by Kings Seafood Company, dancing, fun and visiting the horses are all on the special night's agenda. Diamond Honda of Puente Hills has already stepped up to provide a horse trailer as a raffle prize and Susan expects that more sponsors will be on board soon.

Attending the Ruby Red Fundraiser is one of many ways to support Red Bucket. For more information and/or to get involved visit www.redbucketrescue.org.