Bonita, California - Simone probably would not have lived another day. The brown, buckskin mare horse was starving and in grave condition when she was found in an East County corral on June 22, 2008. Nearby lay her dead foal. A bale of hay sat just beyond their reach.

An agent with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection stumbled upon the heartbreaking scene that day, while on patrol in the Campo area. From there, County animal control officers rescued the horse and brought her back to the County Animal Shelter in Bonita for intensive care. Staff at the shelter revived the horse that they came to call Simone.

On Saturday, Simone will reunite at the same shelter with the staff who saved her life nearly six years ago. In recognition of “Help a Horse Day,” the County’s Department of Animal Services will welcome this special horse back to the Bonita facility.

Between 10 a.m. and noon that day, the public is invited to meet Simone, who is described as a “sweetheart” by her new owners at the local nonprofit Horses of Tir Na Nog. Anyone is welcome to take a photo with her and hear her story, and the stories of the 30 other horses that the nonprofit has taken custody of from Animal Services since a partnership between the two began in 2008.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) launched “Help a Horse Day” to raise awareness regarding animal welfare and the plight of at-risk horses. Horses of Tir Na Nog initiated the event at the County shelter.

Simone and the dozens of other horses were out of options when they landed at Tir Na Nog’s sanctuary. There, in the rolling hills of East County, the horses have a second chance at life. They are well-fed and exercised. What started as a near tragedy with Simone has gone on to become a powerful, lifesaving collaboration between the two organizations.

“The Horses of Tir Na Nog has been a savior to many elderly and infirm horses that the Department might otherwise have had to euthanize,” said Dan DeSousa, Deputy Director of Animal Services. “Through their compassion and dedication to these wonderful creatures, 30 animals have been able to live out their lives in a wonderful, caring environment.”

Over the past six years since the relationship began, Horses of Tir Na Nog has shifted its focus entirely from taking owner-relinquished horses to taking horses from agencies like Animal Services who are unable to be ridden or adopted as pets.

“Simone was the first,” said Amy Pat Rigney, who is President of Tir Na Nog’s Board of Directors. “We consider (these horses) the most vulnerable or most fragile.”

Unfortunately, like Simone, the horses that are sent to the Horses of Tir Na Nog sanctuary come from places where they were abused, neglected and abandoned, said Animal Services Director Dawn Danielson. An Animal Services investigation led to Simone’s owner, Derek Boyd of Campo, being convicted of one misdemeanor count of animal neglect.

“It is so gratifying to know that now they can live out the rest of their lives with full bellies and loving caretakers,” she said. “This is what it’s all about!”

Watch CBS8's Larry Himmel report on Simone's story

Help a Horse Day event:

WHAT: In recognition of “Help a Horse Day,” the Department of Animal Services will welcome back to the County Animal Shelter in Bonita a horse that it rescued from the brink of starvation in 2008. Simone will reunite with the staff there, and the public is invited to meet her, and hear her story and the stories of the dozens of other horses the local nonprofit Horses of Tir Na Nog has since adopted from the County. The event was launched by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and initiated by Tir Na Nog. A local Girl Scout troop plans to donate supplies for the care of horses.

WHEN: Saturday, April 26 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon

WHERE: County Animal Shelter, 5821 Sweetwater Rd., Bonita, CA 91902

For more information, visit the Horses of Tir Na Nog’s website.