City Lights: Horses truly moved to better pastures

I'm glad to be here writing another article about Red Bucket Equine Rescue. The last time I did, I thought for a moment I was going to suffer death by horse.

Not that it was the animal's fault — and certainly not Red Bucket's. The nonprofit, which operated until this summer at the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center, has sheltered, fed and rehabilitated dozens of sick and abandoned horses. When I heard that the equestrian center had given Red Bucket a timeline to move out, I pulled for the horses to find a new home, and I was relieved when a new arrangement materialized in Chino Hills.

In June, I went to see Red Bucket's staff loading the horses onto trailers to transport them to the new sanctuary up north. Some of the horses boarded the vehicles smoothly, while others resisted and even tried to flee.

At one point, a particularly anxious one thrashed about and swung so close to me that I had to jump back a foot. After all, these are heavy animals, and they can do more than a little damage with an unexpected blow.

That moment, more than anything, made me realize what a hard and valuable job the Red Bucket team does. Each horse that enters the nonprofit's care has a harrowing story — abandonment, abuse, even rescue from a slaughterhouse. They can be weak and docile but also nervous and agitated, and they don't always warm up to new locations or handlers right away.

But now the trailers have all gone north, and Red Bucket is set to officially open its new home Sunday morning. With the ribbon-cutting and open house days away, I called President Susan Peirce to ask how the animals are faring in Chino Hills.

Before we even got to talking about the horses in general, though, we launched into Finbar.

When I covered Red Bucket's move in June, my story centered on Finbar — mostly because he was the horse who demanded the most attention. For nearly half an hour that day, I had watched the brown stallion enact a battle of wills with the volunteers and hired loaders whose simple duty was to bring him into a trailer and make him stand still long enough to be tied to the wall.

It took the group three tries to secure Finbar inside the trailer, and afterward, he banged against the walls so hard that the trailer wobbled. Afterward, though, Peirce told me his story: how he had arrived at the equestrian center skeletal and scared, and how the staff had coaxed him out of his shell to the point where he was training to jump in competition.

When I talked to Peirce again this week, she gave me a stellar report card: Finbar can now jump up to 11 fences in a row without stopping, and he may be headed for his first competition at the end of September.

Part of that is through practice, but he also has a top-notch place to train, according to Peirce. The Chino Hills sanctuary opens for visitors just two days a week and exposes horses to thinner crowds and less noise. The 20-by-90-foot pens are substantially bigger than the ones at the equestrian center, and the sanctuary has access to nearby riding trails.

"I knew there would be a difference, but I had no idea that all of our horses, and Finbar especially, would be so relaxed and so confident," she said. "They just have a new sense of confidence. They love their home and they feel safe and secure here."

Although the nonprofit has gotten support both in and out of the neighborhood — Peirce said locals have volunteered both money and structural improvements, while Huntington Beach residents work on the grounds daily — Red Bucket still seeks reliable funding sources. At the grand opening Sunday, Peirce plans to announce a program in which individuals, or even companies or neighborhoods, can sponsor a horse for $600 a month.

If you want to attend the opening of the Red Bucket Equine Ranch, as it's now called, it runs from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2885 English Road in Chino Hills. The official ribbon-cutting ceremony starts at 1:30. There should be nearly four dozen rescued horses on view. And if they seem calm and content, you know which humans to thank.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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