Michele Ryan has lunch once a month at a dusty, makeshift restaurant with dining companions who have little understanding of table manners.
She wouldn't have it any other way.
Ryan, who owns two horses at the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center, is among the regulars every second Saturday at Have Lunch with Your Horse Day. The fundraiser, hosted by the nonprofit Red Bucket Equine Rescue, invites owners and other members of the public to share box lunches with hungry equines.
"It's a unique environment for most people because if you're sitting in a stall with your horse or sitting outside your horse's stall, there's elements to the experience that are not what you expect at a restaurant," Ryan said. "There's dust and hay flying in the air if there's any kind of breeze. There are probably a few flies buzzing."
Two years ago, Red Bucket's volunteer staff came up with Have Lunch with Your Horse Day as a way to raise funds for horse feed. On a typical Saturday, about 50 people come to visit their own horses or others rescued by the nonprofit, President Susan Peirce said.
For $14, visitors can buy a "human lunch," usually with a barbecued entrée, along with a box of apples, cookies, celery, licorice, peppermints and carrots for a horse. The center offers picnic tables for those who want to finish their own lunch first, but some, like Ryan, opt to feed their horses between bites.
"I think the horses love the companionship," she said. "They certainly love the food."
Ryan's horses, Start the Party and Mardi Gras, live full time at the equestrian center. Their owner, who lives in Huntington Beach, often rides them in hunter and jumper competitions.
While the lunch program gives owners an extra chance to bond with their horses, another goal is to show off Red Bucket's rescued animals to the public, Peirce said. Red Bucket takes in abandoned or slaughter-bound horses from around Southern California and rehabilitates them to be adopted out.
"You cannot differentiate our horses from a show horse," Peirce said. "Our horses are complimented on their physical condition, their grooming. Our horses are probably the shiniest horses on this facility."
If You Go
What: Have Lunch With Your Horse Day
Where: Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center, 18381 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Cost: $8 for a human lunch, $6 for a horse lunch
Information: (714) 848-6565