The Revolution of Kindness Continues – be a part of the Revolution

The horse is the main tool we use to connect Square Peg students to a world they are often shut out from.  Autism literally means “Locked within the self.”  Horses, environment, movement and humor are the keys we use to help connect autism and other special needs families so they can share love and joy together.  It’s not unicorns and crystal balls – it’s neuroscience.

Please join us by sponsoring one of these glorious animals. Each Square Peg Horse has a story to tell and something special to offer our families.  Each one has a personality that draws out joy and connection and empowerment from the kids in our program. Everyone deserves a place where they feel Safe, Accepted and Competent.  Our horses do that every single day. Hunter Flynn tells the story in film.

A gift of horse sponsorship is a gift to Square Peg Ranch, to the families we serve, to a loved one AND it’s tax deductible.

Here’s a chance to meet them and to give a unique gift that can never be bought in stores.

Square Peg is a 501(c)3 your gift is tax deductible as allowable by law. EIN 20-1253820

Autism Awakeness aka: Finn

Autism Awakeness 17hh foaled 2007 Tb by Unbridled Native

Even though El Camino Real (Gr II) winner Autism Awareness and our Finn are not blood related, they are connected deeply.  If you don’t know the story of the racehorse Autism Awareness, grab a tissue and read it. Autism Awakeness was owned and donated by our friends the Taboada Family who race horses with names that spread autism understanding to the horse racing world.  According to Johnny Taboada, “Finn” is the fastest horse he ever owned.  But racing luck was not with him and his career was started and stopped with minor injuries and a trailer accident.  He’s been at Square Peg ranch for a few months and this gentle giant wants some quiet stall and pasture time before he begins training as a Square Peg school horse April of 2015.  As you can see from the picture, this giant horse is extremely kind and steady and we look forward to many years together.


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Extra Fifty aka “Curtis”

curtis-alice&kem

Extra Fifty aka “Curtis” 2009 Tb by Afleet Alex

Curtis has learned to work a rake. You have to see it to believe it

 

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Extra Fifty lost his left eye in a pasture accident

This exquisitely beautiful son of Kentucky Derby Winner Afleet Alex has already in his short life acquired quite the story – while resting at Harris Farms last year, Extra Fifty saved the life of a foal in need of a blood transfusion. Shortly after that, Extra Fifty lost his left eye in a pasture accident.  He came back to racing, despite an ankle injury and then developed a tendon tear in a front leg. When we picked him up at Golden Gate Fields, the entire barn crew saw him off with tears in their eyes. As you can see from the photos, he’s charming everyone with his beauty, his curiosity and his willingness to learn.  He’s still shy about his blind side, but the more comfortable he gets in his surroundings, the more we get to see of his wonderful personality.  He’s young, injured and only track trained.  It will be some time before he will be a riding horse in the program, but we have faith that once you meet this special horse, you will be in love like we are.

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Seven Bridges aka “Ace”

Ace&JoellAceThis Five year old Kentucky bred son of E Dubai won $47k in just seven races, Our friends at CARMA rested him from a tendon injury. He has some issues with his feet that our dedicated shoer, Jay Payne is attending to.  While we wait for his feet to grow out, Ace just keeps getting bigger and more beautiful.  Ace has the pedigree and the mind to achieve just about any athletic goals we set for him.  We hope that this next set of special shoes will allow Ace to begin his training in January 2015.  One visit with this tall dark stranger and you will see why he’s a part of our special tribe at Square Peg Ranch.

Seven Bridges by E Dubai

Seven Bridges by E Dubai


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Red Power aka “Sam”

They don’t get more beloved than Sam

Sam wows the crowd at Abilities Expo

Sam wows the crowd at Abilities Expo

16 year old Red Power is a cornerstone of our program

16 year old Red Power is a cornerstone of our program

At 16 years old, Sam is one of the horses who has been at Square Peg the longest.  He was a heck of a racehorse until the age of 7 when he broke his knee racing. He came to us in 2005.  At the time, we had a policy of naming horses after jazz musicians.  When Red Power arrived we worked for a week to find the right jazz name.  We tried Satchmo, Mingus, Hawkins.  Nothing fit.  Then we thought about it and realized that Red Power, this redhead with a zest for life, a huge appetite and a will to party was really a rock and roller.  He’s been Sam or Sammy, the Red Rocker ever since.  Sam is our rock – he’s made two appearances at the Abilities Expo in San Jose (kind of an amazing story in itself) he’s competed in endurance races, he’s one of the most solid minded steady horses we’ve ever had the pleasure to keep. His fantastic rhythmic gaits help us draw out communication from kids with verbal challenges.  He puts a song in everyone’s heart.  Who says ex racehorses can’t do everything?  Not us!  And not Sam.

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Panz&AmyPanzur

If you knew Panzur like we know Panzur, you would know that he’s one of the most aptly named horses we know.  This 20 year old Holsteiner gelding really is built like a German tank ;-)  Panzur came to live with us this past summer after spending the last couple of years lounging in the polo pasture at Portola Valley’s Webb Ranch.  Panzur had semi retired from his successful career in both jumpers and hunters all over the California circuit.  Panzur’s person, Stanford Women’s Polo Coach Laura Hansen had been telling us about Panzur for years and how snuggly he was and how much he loved people.  When the program clearly needed a big horse capable of carrying riders of all sizes, Laura brought Panzur into our program and into our hearts.

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Irresponsible King aka “Stan”

Oh Stan.  Once deemed “The terror of Bay Meadows” this unruly son of the great Kingmambo and whose second dam is the Eclipse Award winning Eliza (that’s really impressive to pedigree geeks) was a disaster at the track.  Plagued with injuries, illness and a bad attitude, Irresponsible King had few career options.  It’s been a rocky road nursing him through physical and mental issues but if you visited the barn now, you would meet our most advanced trick trained horse and one of our very best jumpers.  Love and patience have transformed this fella into a wildly friendly horse who loves to please. See him in action here. 

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Beetle

Beetle is an Argentine/Tb gelding and we call him our little Energizer Bunny. He’s our best back riding horse which means he’s one of the most important horses in the program for HorseBoy work. See him at brilliant work in this video Beetle was donated by Julia Belford when she decided to give up polo. He’s given beginners their first ride and is a sturdy back ride because of his adjustable canter and sweet personality. He’s also a favorite on the trail. Lovin’ us some Beetle!

Beetle Smilllees

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“Baby Owen” Square Peg’s youngest member of the tribe

Colonel Clark:  

by Decarchy out of Wendy Darling aka  “Owen” came off the track with a broken knee and a curious brain. He was born in 2011 and has found a friend in Ace (we call them The Bros!) Owen enjoys running in the turnouts, snacking on hay, and practicing his tricks. Owen began his official training last week and we are absolutely blown away at how quickly he learns.

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IMG_6748Gigi

Is the one horse who has been at Square Peg from day one.  Gigi was deemed a “rogue” at the track.  Un-raced, injured and distrustful of humans, we began our journey together 12 years ago. Last year, Gigi was diagnosed with an arthritic condition and we thought she would be retired at 17 years old.  But with the combined efforts of our vet and our farrier and the team at Square Peg, Gigi is feeling better than she has in years and we are so grateful to have this brilliant mare back in the school.  She’s our lovely princess. GigiPasture

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Sponsors will receive a framed photo of their animal with their story.  Annual sponsors will also have a stall plaque with their name installed on the horses’ stall door.

This year, it became clear to us that true success isn’t measured in numbers, but by the sound of a child laughing or reading aloud, or by the smiles on their faces after a ride around the place where Everyone Fits.

We are so grateful for our current 2015 horse sponsors – you are our angels!

The Peters Family is sponsoring Eve

The Peters Family is sponsoring Eve

The Bielagus Family is once again sponsoring Bert!

congratulations Carolyn Bielagus!

 

We are so grateful for the continuing support of Geri Forrester and her sponsorship of Cee’s For Clever (Cecil) Momotombo (Henry) Snickerdoodle (Django) and Forbidden Stitch!  You are an angel Geri!

This is a wonderful gift.  Longtime volunteer and now all around ranch hand Hunter Flynn has an artist’s eye.  He’s been thinking for months about putting together a video of how he sees the ranch and how the horses and the families interact.

We are so touched by his beautiful gift.

Music by the innovative and all around awesome Wheeland Brothers.





 

 

We Aren’t Asking You For Money

james-adorbsThis is the season of gratitude and we want to thank you for your support and to show you just how much it means. We want you to be proud to be part of the little ranch that turns “I wish” into “I can.” 

“I am the father of a six year old autistic boy. His mother and I make every effort to help him have the most rich life possible. Like any child, a parent wants to provide opportunity in sports and social activity. However due to some of the challenges with working with autistics far too many avenues available to neuro-typical children are completely closed to him.

My son loves physical activity. He gets immense joy from water activities and moving his body…Beauty is too simple a word to explain what it is like as a parent to see your child being given the opportunity to participate in a world that he is often shut off from.

The environment Square Pegs creates is safe, fun, and loving. It is awe inspiring in every sense. This organization is full of compassion and understanding and giving. I have rarely encountered such acceptance of the range of human condition as this group shows.”

     Our weekly lesson program, which serves more than 30 students per week, inspired student breakthroughs in speech ability, social acuity and cognitive behaviors. One of our daily goals is to do everything we can to have special needs parents hear the sounds of their children’s laughter and to know that they are supported and included and accepted.  It’s the single most important thing we do.

This year, our beautiful and serene camping facility saw an increase in summer campout participants by five times over last year’s number. Families left camp with a reduction in the isolation often felt by parents of children with special needs, because their family found an environment where   Everyone Fits! 

Our Surf Days are in their third beautiful year. This year, we had some very special guests – Humpback Whales!

“ Having a “safety net”, a place where ’A’ can go and be himself, has been critical in his development. I honestly don’t know that he could be the incredible boy that he is without the help of Square Pegs…Speaking as a mom of a kid on the spectrum–I can only say that this is a very very tough job. It’s also very lonely. There is no other place for the families. We don’t need support groups to hear others problems. We just need an hour or two, [a few days] in a beautiful place to take a deep breath, relax and recharge. Without this–I am not sure I would ever have the energy to go on. I owe much to Square Peg and thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

      In 2014 so far we have taken in ten thoroughbreds from the race track and adopted  six to forever homes. We helped these athletes become happy and healthy, and transitioned them from racehorse to performance horse or companion.  We love getting stories of our horses playing polo in Hawaii and one will head to upstate New York to enjoy forest trail rides, local polo and even some jumping.

Extra Fifty by Afleet Alex

Seven Bridges by E Dubai

   A major accomplishment is being accredited by the TAA–Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. We succeeded in the evaluation for approval, passing a rigorous property inspection for safety and care, and meticulous examination of the organization’s procedures and financials with flying colors. After hundreds of hours of hard work on the behalf of staff and volunteers, we are officially recognized for our excellence in providing appropriate rehabilitation, thorough training, and thoughtful rehoming of former race horses. We are one of only 40 facilities in the United States to hold this honor.

World Champion  SF Giants Third Base Coach (now retired) Tim Flannery played a sold out benefit for Square Peg in November at the beautiful Mezza Luna Restaurant.  Tim’s #LoveHarder Project is the real deal and his music and his band were jaw-dropping!  If you get a chance to see Tim Flannery and his band the Lunatic Fringe – you will not be disappointed!

Screenshot 2014-12-11 11.27.28

As the much needed rain pelts the ranch, we are taking a little breather, a much needed rest for staff and horses and making the time to thank you, the folks who support the ranch.  We are so thankful for your contributions. 

We admit it. We are guilty. Guilty as all get-out of the sin of pride. Yesterday, we got the letter establishing us among only 28 other Thoroughbred Aftercare organizations in the nation as officially accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance! It was the most rigorous and thorough process we have ever attempted. Our finances, our adoption policies, record keeping, feed and farrier and veterinary protocols, our fundraising practices, our lease, our relationship with the local and national media were all combed through carefully by leaders in the Thoroughbred industry. A physical inspection of our horses was done by a D.V.M. and a surprise inspection by the Executive Director of the organization all culminated in Approval!

We couldn’t have done this without our staff, board and volunteers. When I got the letter yesterday, I found myself weeping openly. It meant so much to be acknowledged for excellence in dedication and care for these splendid animals. It felt wonderful to be counted among the very best in the nation in an industry I have loved and served for most of my life. It means having a legitimized voice in the racing world showing and telling these animals aren’t just capable of second careers as performance animals but to illustrate how they serve our Square Peg families with generosity, with valor and with compassion. We love thoroughbreds, and today, the thoroughbred industry loved us back.  Yup, our step is a little lighter today, our chests are puffed out a bit.  We are proud!   

Now the SF Giants are in their third World Series in just five years!  Giants 3rd base coach Tim Flannery is playing a benefit for Square Peg Ranch next month!  Just a few tickets left – click here to get them –  come celebrate with us and GO GIANTS!!!

SP_TimFlannery-2

Join our revolution of kindness.  Giant Steps Foundation has issued a $15,000 challenge grant through the end of September, 2014.  Every dollar you contribute will be matched by our friends at Giant Steps up to $15,000.  Please donate today.

One subject comes up time and again when professionals reach out to help us solve fundraising problems.  “The problem with Square Peg is that it’s just not scaleable.”  

Yup. It’s true.  100% true.  So, how can we have the impact that our donors deserve?  Are you ready?  Here it is: Square Peg is so much more important than scaleable- it’s inspirational. Can we show you how?

Ten years ago we set out to change the world – one horse and one child at a time.  It’s a slow, beautiful and positive road.  The ripples of acceptance and kindness emanate from the ranch every single day for the last 10+ years.

Here’s Seven Bridges.  He’s five years old and last year, he suffered a race career ending injury.  His owner/breeder is a thoughtful man and the folks at CARMA took him in and re-habilitated him for almost a year.  Then they paid for him to come all the way up from San Diego to live at Square Peg.  This is his first time under saddle at the ranch.  He’s kind, intelligent and sweet.  He’s going to be able to teach kids about second chances, about kindness and generosity.  He’s an example of responsible owners and breeders looking to place their horses safely after their race career is over.  He’s an inspiration.

Seven Bridges (KY) ( E Dubai – Take the Picture, by Doneraile Court) owned and bred by Bruce Chandler (photo by Hunter Flynn)

CARMA Placement program graduate Seven Bridges gets his first trip under saddle at Square Peg Ranch

the smile says it all. photo by Sarah Hitzeman

Here’s a montage of the smiles that our pony Rickie evokes.  It’s fall and most of our kids are going back to school.  Parents are suffering through brutal IEP’s.  Kids are doing their best to try to fit in and learn the ropes of a classroom that is a cacophony of flickering fluorescent lights, confusing tasks, and mind scrambling social rules.  At the ranch, they get to be the king, the princess, the warrior.  Ricky takes them places where they can explore, sing, squeal or just rest. Rickie is not scaleable – she’s a treasure.

This us Pickle – we laugh and say he’s the best therapy dog we’ve ever had.  He’s the best mouser we’ve ever known and he’s FIV+. Each day he goes without symptoms is a gift.

Let’s not forrget the surfers from the Half Moon Bay Surf Club.  Every year, Square Peg gives them the chance to share their surfing skills with kids who struggle.  Every year these uber cool teens come bounding to the beach eager to play and attend to and accept the kids we bring to them.  Want to be inspired?  Take a look at how these kids aren’t afraid to go wherever our Square Peg kids take them.  You don’t need to fear for the future when you see these kids in action.

We’re going to leave scaleability to the hamburger franchises and computer companies.  Here, at a little ranch by the sea, we are looking to our animals and our families to inspire us to continue to change the world – one horse and one child at a time.

Giant Steps Foundation has issued a $15,000 challenge grant through the end of September, 2014.  Every dollar you contribute will be matched by our friends at Giant Steps up to $15,000.  Please donate.

www.gapingvoid.com

Sand, Sun and Ocean

Sand, Sun and Ocean

...and friends; tons and tons of friends

…and friends; tons and tons of friends

play, excitement, acceptance

play, excitement, acceptance

oh yeah, and visiting humpback whales!

For the third year in a row, Square Peg teamed up with the Half Moon Bay Surf Club to bring Bay Area autism families to the beach for a two days of surfing, fun and respite – free of charge.

This isn’t about curing or treating autism.  It’s about love and laughter and friendship and caring for the family as a whole.  Siblings of the autistic children join in on the fun as well. The whales, however, that might have been magic.  In my 20 years of living on the Coastside, I’ve never witnessed humpbacks in so close to the beach.  I’m not prone to mysticism, but there was clearly something special happening.

“Catch a Wave and You’re Sitting on Top of the World”

Imagine your child’s perfect day – away from sensory triggers, in nature, with caring and silly friends.  He’s celebrated for his running in circles and singing to himself. He’s encouraged to explore and run and shout by capable and caring teens.  Then whales and dolphins come and visit.   You, the autism parent pour yourself another cup of tea and join the other parents on the beach squealing with pleasure or resting on the warm sand.

I have been meaning to write all week to say what an incredible morning that was. I know J never really got in the water, at least not past his waist, but getting in a wetsuit was huge and being in the ocean with such incredible, caring, young people was truly a gift.

“The day was magical and of course the things that no one could plan, the whales breeching, the dolphins and sea lions and all the birds, the perfect weather conditions were a awesome. But as a parent, who has been to many events, the things that you did plan, the wetsuits, the boards, the sand toys, all the food and the absolutely amazing team of adults and teens was beyond inspirational and touching. There were numerous time during and after that tears came to my eyes when thinking about the generous spirit you all brought to the day. I could not have asked for more and yet I wanted more. I wanted to stay forever and plan to bring J back down for riding if you can accommodate us.”

Dina Tarah, MFT

How it all happened

This day, with the exception of the whales, dolphins, pelicans and sea lions making a most welcomed guest appearance, is the brainchild of BenettonRupert Isaacson, founder of the Horse Boy Method™. The Method uses nature, humor, movement and horses to celebrate joy, wonder and communication between autistic children and their families. Isaacson has trained therapeutic riding centers all over the globe in the Method and works extensively with Half Moon Bay’s Square Peg Ranch in setting up a Flagship Center for HorseBoy work at the 10 year old non-profit. When Isaacson visited in the early spring of 2012 he was sitting in Peet’s Coffee with me, Square Peg’s Director and co-Founder.

“You know Joell, all these kids are so drawn to the water and the movement of the ocean is similar to the movement of the horse. Because its so big and rhythmic and powerful. I’ve always dreamed that what we are doing with horses, we can do with surfing.  Do you know any surfers?”

I already had my phone out  placing a call to Maverick’s Executive Director and Half Moon Bay Surf Club Head Coach Rocky Raynor.  Within minutes Rocky joined us at the coffee shop.  As he walked in I tried to hug him and introduce him to Rupert, but Rocky was busy dialing his phone.  “Talk to this guy.”  He hands the phone to Rupert, gives me a hug and says “This is going to be great!”

That phone call as it turns out was to former Coastside resident and teacher Jack Viorel of Wilmington North Carolina.  Jack’s Indo Jax Surf Charities has conducted adaptive surfing for kids with struggles such as sight and hearing impairment, homeless orphans and, as it turns out, autism.

Jack made plans to travel with his crew to Half Moon Bay and taught the local kids his secrets of how to keep the guest surfers safe and give them the thrilling rides that surfers call “the stoke.”

Since that first day, we’ve conducted a total of seven special surf days at Roosevelt Beach in Half Moon Bay for autism families.  We’ve racked up thousands of hours of volunteer time and service and served over 50 families.  Sitting on top of the World indeed!

Humpback Whales spy-hopping at Roosevelt Beach, Half Moon Bay

A Requiem for Bob

I believe in the power of kindness

I believe in the power of kindness

I wonder if you were aware of how much joy you brought to so many over your 32 years of life?  I wonder if you realized how much the people on your back needed what you generously gave them over and over, day after day, year after year?

SuperBobYour patience, the way you would stand still, so quiet for fidgeting children and doting women, baffled me. They braided flowers in your tail and painted pictures on your hips. Your placid acceptance of new people, young scared horses and confusing surroundings saved my bacon time and again.

Tiny Bob, with your world-class movement and steady gaits, you brought songs to the throats of kids, smiles to their exhausted parents, peace to unquiet souls.

And for what? For twice daily meals?

Did you ever think that there was something else for you? Did you look at the moon at night, swish your thick tail and think “unfair!”

How did you pull yourself together with such grace and poise to serve the suffering humans who needed to borrow your elegance, your strength, your power, time and again?

When you needed to roam, you simply let yourself out of your stall and wandered around the barn opening doors and eating weeds.  I’d get to the barn in the morning and you would snort at me unapologetically and if I could, I wouldn’t put you back in your stall until just before people started to arrive.  I’d go about my work and you would wander.  I loved those mornings.  I’d be doing my thing and you would be doing yours.  You were not the kind of horse to seek me out and follow me around.  You didn’t crave attention or praise.  I often thought it embarrassed you.

Our last moment was later than it should have been. By the time we’d found you, your eyes were swollen shut and all the hair was missing around your ears – from the thrashing. You’d had a nightmare of a night. Colic is the beast we dread.

When I got there, I knew it was bad.  Standing silently, eyes clouded with pain but ears alert your tail eerily still you submitted to my inspection of damage.  If I didn’t know that stoic look you got,  if I didn’t know that the extra wrinkles in your muzzle indicated pain,  I would have thought you were just tired. Despite all this, I  hoped for the best.  A walk, a nap, some pain drugs and day after tomorrow, you would be right as rain, ready as always to work shoulder to shoulder with me as we had for the last eight years.

DSC_0596I took your heart rate.  It should have been 40 beats per minute.  Your gallant heart was pounding away at 80.  I thought about taking it again, to see if I was wrong, but I couldn’t bear to hear your pulse banging in my ears at that frantic pain crazed pace. The fight had gone out of you. You were suffering.

I kissed the white star on your forehead. It was our last intimate moment.

Death is funny.  In the movies, the dying hero exhales and passes on.  In reality there’s an inhale and you wait for the exhale that never comes.  It stays inside and life simply leaves.

Horse girls are rough and tumble.  Horse girls are brave and tough.  They learn early to suck it up and kick on.  When working with an animal eight to 14 times your size, you’d better figure out quick if you have the moxie to stay the course.

I’ve seen little farm girls giggling while riding snorting broncs and I’ve seen trust fund daughters ride jumper courses with a broken wrist held together with vet wrap and two Advil.

A friend in her 60’s played polo her whole life.  The doctor told her that if she had another fall, her retinas would detach and she would be blind.  She played anyway and went down hard on the field breaking her neck.  After two months in the hospital she said “you know what?  My eyes are just fine!”

There’s a Spanish proverb that says “When I am on my horse, only God is taller than I.” Horse girls don’t fear what normal people fear.  They fear confinement, they fear boredom.  They crave the sun and wind on their face and strong muscles carrying them far and wide. They go to great lengths to feed their obsession.

Gabriela was a horse girl through and through.  We first met when she was 17 years old and 50lbs. She traveled in a wheelchair

“Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.” John Wayne

powered by an aid. She couldn’t talk without the help of a communicator and she couldn’t bring the communicator to the barn. I learned to ask yes or no questions and she would respond with eye movement when she wasn’t too tired.  Our first ride lasted five minutes before she fell asleep exhausted but happy. She’d been told by two different facilities that she was “too disabled to ride.”  But she knew she needed to ride.

I tried leading a trusty horse with two side walkers, but she couldn’t support herself and I realized that even with the strongest and the most attentive side walkers, it wasn’t safe and it didn’t give her the dignity of the ride she so richly deserved.  Gabriela wanted to ride.  I took a deep breath and a leap of faith and hopped up on the horse’s back, took Gabriela in my arms and away we went.

That was nine years ago.  In those intervening years, we had adventures.  Gabriela loved to go fast and I worked had to find and train horses that could deliver for her. We rode Feathers, Sugar, LeRoi, Cometa, Classica, Bob, Gigi and for the last couple of years – Django. If the arena was quiet and the horse steady, we would canter together.  Sometimes, she’d fall asleep in my arms and if I could, we just kept riding.  There were days I told her all kinds of things and days I relished the quiet ride.  She never complained unless we didn’t do enough trotting or cantering.  I’d get a Facebook message from her or a note from her mom or one of her aides telling me that rides were fine, but she really liked to

photo by Paul Van Allen

photo by Paul Van Allen

“go fast.”  There were scares, like the time the horse tripped and went to his knees with Gabriela in my arms. I was horrified! Gabriela’s aid looked at her face and her smile was as wide as Texas.  She loved it.

She loved Greg and when he could, he’d take her on a trail ride.  It took Herculean strength to balance her body coming down hills and iron thighs to not squish her while going up them.  Greg

Photo by Paul Van Allen

Photo by Paul Van Allen

alone could do it.

Gabriela died Friday losing her battle with a nasty flu.  I wonder what I would have done differently if I’d known that her ride a couple of weeks ago was our last together.

Tomorrow I’m saddling up my red pony and galloping up the biggest hill I can find. I will hold Gabriela in my heart with me.  It will have to do.

For nine years, Gabriela taught me about bravery.  She knew a fall would kill her frail body, and she rode anyway.  Toughest horse girl I’ll ever know.

PVA_2516 PVA_2547 PVA_2559

I was all of 22 years old when I hit a low point.

“Lad was the horse you told your troubles to. He patiently stood as a dozen or so girls cried tears of teenaged angst on his lanky shoulders. He had a soft spot for baby anything and treated chicks, kittens, foals and toddlers with a tenderness that belied his giant 17.2hh frame”

“Lad was the horse you told your troubles to. He had a soft spot for baby anything and treated chicks, kittens, foals and toddlers with a tenderness that belied his giant 17.2hh frame. http://www.squarepegfoundation.org/2014/03/looking-back-on-lad-a-love-story-2/

One minute I’m living my dream of working on a thoroughbred farm, the next minute I’m being chased across a parking lot by a 6’4” drunk ranch foreman hell bent on hurting someone. The ranch was bankrupt and all of our paychecks had just bounced. I was broke, I was scared and my brave move to live my dream was turning into a nightmare. I was too proud and too stubborn to call my folks or even my best girlfriends. There was only one place to go – to the side of my leggy horse Lad. He didn’t lecture or offer advice, he was simply present and he let me cry myself out. With his help, I was able to scrape up the dignity and strength to push on.

Fast forward ten years and it’s 2001. Now that I was fairly established in the horse business, I started pursuing my other ambition – to be a published author. I put my best foot forward and published a piece about my aging horse Lad. I led with the fact that a 24 year old horse had touched more lives than most people might. Not only had he served as my friend and leaning post these 12 years, but he was my constant companion in raising my impetuous and highly individual son. I poured my heart into the piece. Lad had been a racehorse, a show horse, a school horse, a racetrack pony and lastly a babysitter for weanlings. He’d spent his entire life serving everyone with everything he had.  It was the first piece of writing I’d ever gotten paid for. Lad had made another fantasy of mine come true; to be a professional writer.

Lad died on Joe Shelton’s ranch in 2002. I thought Lad’s story ended at that point and he was just a tender memory for me, my son and a few others.

Boy was I wrong. Hang on folks, this is where things turn mystical.

Just last month a Texas man found Lad’s story on our website and there is no telling how he did it. By admission, he’s not a horse person, but he Googled Lad’s racing name and there was my story (we had reposted it in 2008). He browsed the Square Peg Ranch website and picked up his phone. I was driving up the California coast on my way to the barn when his call came in.

“Is this Joel Brewster-Dunlap?”

“Um, this is Joell, can I help you?”

“My name is Terry and I’m calling from Dallas Texas. Do you remember a horse named Lite Lee Lad?”

Stop the truck.

I swallow hard. “Why yes Terry, he’s a horse I will never forget.”

“Do you have a minute to talk?”

“Sir, you have my undivided attention.”

“Well, I’m not a horse person, but my Dad was, and he bred and raced Lite Lee Lad.  My Dad’s name was Lee, you see.  Even though he had an artificial leg, he worked in car parts sales as a counter sales person most of, if not all, of his career and he loved the races.  When he retired, he bought a fifth-wheel trailer and had a few horses – he raised Lad himself.  He followed his horses around the California and Arizona racing circuit.”

Terry stops and I realize he’s crying “Sorry m’am, this is kind of hard.”

photo used with the permission of Terry Brantley

photo used with the permission of Terry Brantley

“Go ahead Terry, take your time.”

“One night the races were at the Solano County fair in Vallejo and my dad was found slumped in his trailer, he’d had a massive stroke. I flew in from Texas, and when the doctors convinced my sister and I that he was indeed brain dead, we agreed to take him off life support and some hours later he was gone. But Lite Lee Lad kept racing with my uncle. Within a month or two, he was claimed away and I never knew where he went. My dad’s horse you see, with his name and everything and then they were both just gone. I never forgot that horse. And then I found your article and found out that he was with you. I was so happy and I just wanted to talk to you, but I couldn’t find you. I held on to that article for years and I put it in Google the other day and I found you and Square Peg Ranch and you just don’t know how happy it makes me to know that Lite Lee Lad was part of what you do for kids and ex-racehorses.”

Both Terry and I have given up holding back tears. All I can do is thank him for his kindness, for his story and for finding me.

“I’m going to scan a couple of his win pictures and send them to you. Will that be okay?”

Of note; these photos are 34 years old – “Yes Terry, I would love to have them.”
Lite Lee Lad raced an astounding 46 times. For reference: Secretariat and Man O’ War both ran 21 times, Seattle Slew raced 17 times. He packed me and others over jumps for a decade, he was the key to me starting my first and second riding school and he spent his last days taking care of weanling foals. He was never famous and I never thought he meant much to anyone but me.

2014-04-19-0000 - Lite Lee Lad (3 of 3)

photo used by permission of Terry Brantley sidenote – this was Kentucky Derby Day 1981 – Pleasant Colony was winning the Derby as Lad won at the Big Fresno Fair

The day I received Terry’s call, I called my parents to tell them the story. My mother, also not a horse person said “I will always love Laddie because he kept my daughter from a nervous breakdown.”  All these years and I had no idea that my mother knew. Another gift from Lad.

Twelve years after his death, this hard-knocking gangly racehorse is still touching my life with grace and beauty. Now I know he’s also touching Terry’s life too. Terry told me he knows his father, Lee, would be overjoyed to know what his most beloved Lite Lee Lad had done.

Today I stand in awe of the power of a thoroughbred to unite us in our humanity and to build bridges. I honor your memory sweet Laddie and I am grateful for your service to all.


 

Joell Dunlap is the co-founder and executive director of Square Peg Ranch a non profit in Half Moon Bay that pairs horses who need a second chance with kids who know what it’s like to be a Square Peg (mainly, kids on the autism spectrum). Joell can be reached at joell@squarepegfoundation.org

“Clap along if you feel like Happiness is the Truth” Pharrell Williams – Happy

I’m pretty disconnected from the world of pop music. I learn about what’s popular from my students, their hip families and our teen and millennial volunteers.

I believe that kindness in children can and must be modeled, fostered and cultivated.

I believe that kindness in children can and must be modeled, fostered and cultivated.

I had however, fallen in love with Lorde’s “Royals.” So when a six year old student started belting out his own lyrics while cantering around the arena in my lap, I laughed and squealed with him as he sang “We can never be ROYALS, You can be a green bean!”

I lead a charmed life full of joy.

This week’s pop song might be my favorite of all time. One of our families visited and I won’t lie, this little guy can be a challenge.  Sometimes, he just needs to destroy things and the trick is finding a space and an activity where he can work through his struggles and keep himself, others, critters and equipment as safe as possible. He’s broken rocks, jumps, helmets, toys, our fire pit, earthworms and more.  We’ve had some ingenious ways to help him channel energy and anger and we’ve had to repair and replace some stuff. He’s also one of the brightest and neatest kids ever and a smile from him can make your entire week

When he and his sister visited we met him in the parking lot with Rickie, our feisty pony.  He wanted to head straight to the campsite, a 600 yard hike from his car so off we went, his dad and little sister in tow.  We’d had a week of rain and the campsite was soggy and our raft, which we’d forgotten to flip over, was pulled ashore and full of water.  He hopped from the pony and was in the raft, calling it his swimming pool before we could intervene.  It’s April and it’s the Coastside, so a warm day is about 62F.  In a few more moments, he was naked in his “swimming pool” and face down in the water blowing bubbles and licking the sides.  I gathered up his clothes and hung them to drip while he played.

Clap along if you feel like that’s what you want to do.”

Both his dad and I realized about 15 minutes in that he was getting chilled and we started thinking about

Lady Godiva – Josephine Wall Fantasy Paintings

strategies to get him back to some dry clothes and warmth.Nothing seemed to work, he was loving the feeling of the water on his face and on his body, even if his lips were turning a little bit blue. We both looked at his wet clothes dripping on the fence and knew that getting him back in them was going to be a sensory nightmare. I squatted next to him while the pony grazed and started talking about Lady Godiva, the 11th century noblewoman who rode her horse naked through the streets of the village to oppose the oppressive taxes her husband had waged against his tenants.  Our little swimmer was still lolling in the raft but I knew he heard me.  His little sister offered to be the mayor of our village if her brother, who we now called “Lord Godiva” would ride naked through our imaginary town and back to the barn.

Rickie our pony was wearing a wool square pad with a navajo blanket on top and I removed the navajo and told Lord Godiva that it was a warm and royal robe for his highness.  We lifted him like the nobleman he was onto his awaiting steed and covered his chilly shoulders with his royal robe and proceeded to ride back to the barn, with his sister the mayor telling everyone to “make way for the naked Lord Godiva.” We marched and pranced our way back to the barn.

I realized that Lord Godiva was singing quietly under his breath.  I leaned in and this is what he was singing “Because I’m happy. Because I’m happy.  Because I’m happeeeeeee.”

I really do lead a charmed and joyful life.  I’m so grateful for the trust and love of our families to trust us to follow their children and the beautiful and amazing places they take us. A simple reminder to stay present, stay joyful and “Clap along if you feel like Happiness is the Truth!”