"He was clearly the dominant horse in the pen," she said.
At the time he entered Red Bucket's stalls, though, Finbar hardly looked dominant. His frame had withered to little more than hide and bones, and he showed almost no emotion or response to actions. When handlers loaded him onto a trailer, he went docilely.
Of the 50 horses in the herd, Red Bucket found homes for eight and took in the other 42 — more than doubling its case load. Finbar, named after the surname of Peirce's Irish grandfather, was a particularly challenging case. The trainers had to walk him every day in the bullpen, a small, round area with high walls, to help him focus, and even put cotton in his ears so sounds wouldn't distract him.
Moreover, as Finbar regained his strength, he required more skill — and courage — to handle. Even as a horse lover, Peirce doesn't mince words: Stallions can be dangerous animals when agitated, and their 1,000-pound-plus frames can cause significant injuries to people who aren't used to predicting their emotions or adept at dodging.
It took about two years of constant walking, feeding and other rehabilitation to bring Finbar up to ideal health. By then, he had learned to relax around his minders as well. Recently, Peirce found a photo of him when he first arrived at the stalls and broke down crying.
"I forgot how horrifying he looked when he came in," she said. "Now he's so strong."
A quiet new sanctuary
The property in Chino Hills, which Red Bucket officially acquired May 31, promises a different environment than the equestrian center: smaller and more private, with less noise and fewer distractions.