BY SUSAN PEIRCE
Red Bucket Equine Rescue is a 501(c)3 non-profit with a national presence achieving some of the best results in saving, rehabilitating, and re-homing high-risk horses. Red Bucket unconditionally serves the untrained, lame, sick, abused, old, forgotten, suffering, and unwanted. The profile of the unwanted horse is growing, and more of our show horses are joining the ranks of the unwanted. Red Bucket and The Plaid Horse are linking arms with the intention of shining a light on this growing epidemic, and celebrating those owners and trainers who are taking responsibility for providing much-deserved retirement for show horses.
This interview celebrates Amy Knox, her beloved horse Simon, and her trainer David Bustillos of Durango Farms.
Red Bucket: Amy, can you tell us about your horse Simon and what made him so special?
Amy: Simon’s a horse I often describe as “too smart for his own good,” which essentially translates to he gets into trouble—a lot. He has an insatiable need for attention and cookies. When “ignored,” he will scream down the barn aisle at me, and stomp his feet. In the winter, he flings his blankets off his stall door. If he sees me working with another horse, his behavior escalates. His favorite thing in the world is to be groomed and pampered, and he will tell you exactly where all of his favorite spots to be brushed are. In high school, he would recognize my white SUV pulling up to the barn. This would prompt him to rush over to his stall gate and intently peer at me while letting out a few nickers as if to say, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you all day!”
Since Simon was a baby, I have done extensive groundwork with him, enabling us to form an extremely strong relationship. He knows how to stand patiently in the barn aisle without being tied, how to follow me without a lead, and he even knows how to give kisses. Simon was not an easy horse to train under saddle due to his playfulness, larger-than-life personality, and sense of humor. I remember in our first year together, it was common for Simon to buck me off multiple times in one lesson, as he liked showing off his big kicks after each fence. I will never forget the time I took Simon to his first horse show when I was walking him in the warm-up ring for the first time. The moment I gently squeezed my leg onto his side, he leaped into the air, throwing me off his back and making a spectacle of himself as if to say, “Look at me! Check these moves out!” Despite his endless shenanigans, Simon went on to show with me for years, winning me many champion ribbons. Simon became my loyal partner, companion, and most trusted ally.
Red Bucket: Why have you decided to “rescue your own horse?”
Amy: My parents bought Simon for me when I was fourteen as a “project horse” they hoped would teach me to be a better horsewoman and rider. Simon arrived as a scrawny three-year-old gelding with a big personality and heart. Over the years, Simon not only taught me how to be a better rider, but he also taught me about partnership, sacrifice, dedication, and most importantly, the endurance of love.
Simon and I grew up together. He has been the constant in my life for the past ten years. When I moved from California to Ohio for college, Simon came with me. He was there through all the highs and the lows – high school and college graduations, transitioning to the amateur ring, heartbreaks, pandemics, my first and second full-time jobs, the coming and going of friends, the tears, joy, and everything in between.
Four years ago, Simon’s poor conformation and years on the show circuit caught up to him, and he suffered a suspensory injury. I spent years trying to rehab him, getting opinions from the best vets across the country, and sending him to a rehab facility that I drove an hour and a half to, four days a week. I knew Simon would never make a complete recovery, but I hoped he would be able to stay with me as a trail horse. Simon’s mind and body, however, had different plans.
After lots of tears, conversations with trusted friends, trainers, and most importantly, Simon, I made the decision to find a retirement pasture that had supervised care. Although Simon is only 13 years old, he has won me more ribbons than I could string around my room and taught me more about compassion and dedication than any person. Seeing Simon for the first time out in his pasture with his new best friend, Donny, brought me a sense of peace I had not felt in a while.
Red Bucket: Simon is still quite a young horse. What are your future dreams for him?
Amy: I have plans in the future for Simon to live near me, and hopefully be sound enough, physically and mentally, to be a trail horse. For now, he lives at a beautiful retirement facility called Happy N Ranch up in Buellton, California, where he spends his days munching on green grass, being the leader of his pasture group, scratching his best friend Donny’s neck, and soaking in the sun. I go up regularly to spend the day grooming and pampering him. He still recognizes the sound of my voice, and will immediately call back to me.
I have taken on the sole financial responsibility of paying for Simon, and I feel humbled to be able to provide him with the life he deserves after all he has given me. I make sure to budget every month for his board, shoes, regular vet work, and a little extra in case of a medical emergency. One day I hope to bring Simon back home closer to me. But for now, I am at peace knowing he is getting lots of enrichment and truly living his best retired life.
Red Bucket: What would you like to say to those horse owners who may not be thinking about their horse after the horse can no longer perform?
Amy: Too often people discard and dump “complicated, broken” show horses with little guilt or regard for the horse’s years of service and dedicated partnership. People ask me, “Why even have a horse if you can’t ride it?” to which I bite my tongue and kindly reply, “Simon is so much more to me than something to ride.” Simon owes me nothing, and yet has given me everything.
These horses perform for us, even when they’re in pain, even when we’ve crashed them through fences, even when we’ve failed them. All they seek in return is compassion, empathy, and kindness. The joy Simon has brought me over the last ten years has never come from the ribbons he has won for me, but from the relationship we have been able to build together and the trust we have in each other. Simon has saved my life many times; in the saddle when I’ve made mistakes, and on the ground when I needed to be reminded I am loved unconditionally. Now, it is my turn to always ensure his life is safe, too.
Susan Peirce, a lifelong horsewoman, is a behaviorist and business consultant specializing in organizational health and productivity, leadership, and mindset coaching. Susan is passionate about equine welfare, an amateur hunter rider, and the founder and President of Red Bucket Equine Rescue. Red Bucket is a 501(c)3 non-profit with a national presence achieving some of the best results in saving, rehabilitating, and re-homing high-risk horses. Red Bucket unconditionally saves and serves the untrained, lame, sick, abused, old, forgotten, suffering, and unwanted. The profile of the unwanted horse is growing, and more of our show horses are joining the ranks of the unwanted. Red Bucket and the Plaid Horse are linking arms with the intention of shining a light on this growing epidemic and celebrating those owners and trainers who are taking responsibility for providing much-deserved retirement for show horses.
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.redbucketrescue.org