New Beginnings

After two years of looking, a wonderful long term home for Square Pegs found us.  As with many things in life, the answers turn up in unexpected places.  I struggled with the decision to leave the beautiful flowered Purisima Canyon with our lovely neighbors and the sweet little red barn that has housed so many memorable moments.   I worried that I would dearly miss the purple African Daisys and the neighbor’s manicured white fences, the redwood grove and the sound of Purisima Creek.  I looked long and hard into my heart.  I asked anyone who had a moment what they thought that Square Pegs needed most.

I put all this information together and presented it to our Board of Directors.  With the trust that the board has always afforded me, they told me that they reccomended a move, but that the ultimate decision lay with me.

I needed room to think.  I needed time and space away from the daily needs of the barn.  One of our board members offered Chris and I their place at Tahoe for a couple of days.  We packed our skis and headed up the mountain.  The house had a lovely view of Lake Tahoe and the winter snows delivered a fresh blanket of white for me to stare out at from the warmth of the home.  I thought, I wrote, I read.  In the silence of the snowstorm I listened hard to what my heart and mind were telling me; “Go, be brave, make the change, the time cannot be better.”  Then I listened harder and knew that the only way this would work is if I made the move the effort of the entire community at Square Pegs.  I knew that it would take hundreds, possibly thousands of man hours to pick up and re-establish ourselves as a stronger, closer and more effective community.

With resolve I came back to the coast and prepared the biggest, boldest move that Square Pegs has ever undertaken.  With 16 horses, 6 barn cats, the goats, an 11 ton grain silo and more tack and equipment than you could shake several sticks at, I called a staff meeting and started with a list.

The rest now is mostly history. We are getting settled into our new space.  We have stalls to build, boxes to unpack, things to organize and re-organize.  We have horses to feed, waterers to fill, holes to dig, weeds to pull.  We are exhausted and exhilarated.  The horses are happier than ever before. Just like the wildflowers that spring up on the hill behind our barn, we are stretching out in new and colorful directions with new growth and new hope with a stormy winter behind us.

We have made new friends and forged new alliances for which we are very proud.  The days are longer and the winter rains have given away to spring showers and warm sunshine.

What we have learned is that community is everything.  That Square Pegs is all about participation on whichever level works for the individual.  We couldn’t have pulled off the move without the people who came out in the rain storms and helped us trailer horses, mend fences, scrub the old clubhouse, drive the tractors, groom the horses, answer the phone, reorganize the office files, keep the bookkeeping on track, pick hooves, clean stalls, walk sick horses, deliver lunch. The legal help, the pats on the back and the encouragement.  The list is endless of what this community was able to accomplish.  The donations that were sent in saved us from financial ruin while the February rains pounded us and made lessons impossible. All of it made the difference.

In gratitude and humility, I thank you all.

The Parks Family has invited us not only to their barn and their business, but into their hearts and home as well.  When they bought Canyon Creek Equestrian Center, (formerly Serendipity Stables) they had a dream of a family friendly place for people to enjoy their horses.  We hope to help make that dream come true for them as they host our program and help us turn “I wish” into “I can.”

Learn to Play Polo! Square Peg Polo Clinic Fundraiser is Scheduled for October 17 and 18, 2009

Square Peg Foundation has teamed up with the
Horse Park Polo Club and the Polo Training Foundation and the Stanford Polo Club
to bring you an opportunity that can’t be missed!

Intro to Polo Clinic
October, 17 & 18, 2009

COST: This is a fundraiser for Square Peg Foundation
a $250 donation is suggested (discounts for Pony Club and 4H)

WHEN: Saturday and Sunday October 17 and 18, 2009. Classes will run from 9am until approximately 5pm

WHERE: The Horse Park Polo Arena, The HorsePark at Woodside
3674 Sand Hill Road, Woodside, CA

KIDS ( AGE 10 AND OLDER) AND ADULTS ARE BOTH WELCOME

SPACE IS LIMITED REGISTER EARLY VIA EMAIL  joell@squarepegfoundation.org
TO RESERVE YOUR SPOT

Bring your horse or learn on ours

** A LIMITED NUMBER OF HORSES WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR USE. CONTACT SQUARE PEG FOUNDATION FOR AVAILABILITY AND COSTS.

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Stella Update

Stella continues to eat and thrive.  She’s made close friends with Fran who never leaves her side.  Friends, students and volunteers are amazed at how she is improving in her skin tone, her attitude and her weight.

Standing with a friend looking at her yesterday, we started to chat about the funny way that she is gaining weight.  It all seems to be accumulating in her lower abdomen.  While looking at her from the front, we noticed that she is significantly bigger on one side of her abdomen than on the other.

Folks, we will wait to hear back from the veterinarian.  But I would put money on the fact that Stella is quite pregnant.  It boggles the mind.  To think that she’s been starved, tripped and either bred or left to fend for herself and her food with a stallion in the pen.  Just how irresponsible can somebody be?  I can’t afford to be shocked anymore, we just have to do our best to get her the proper feed and medical attention that she will need.  And then see what nature brings us.

*Sigh*

Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel has agreed to add a flyer and a collection box at the store for shoppers to donate to help us help this mare.  They will also work with us to offer us discounts on feed and supplements.  We are so grateful for our local community.

Stay tuned.

Stella
Stella

Meet Stella

Stella arrived yesterday at Square Peg Ranch in a gold colored trailer.

The barn was buzzing with activity. Dr. Kari DeLeeuw was treating Super Bob the Wonder Pony with acupuncture, there was a lesson going on and two hardy volunteers were tacking up to take a couple horses out for some exercise. Greg was awaiting the farrier with his list in hand of horses needing services.

In rolls Georgie and Jenny Hartman, stalwart hauling volunteers for the nearly famous Joe Shelton of Thoroughbred Friends. Joe had left me a phone message telling me that he’s sending a lame but cute paint gelding that was a lesson horse and also a very hungry black mare who he thought was “a sweetie.”

The gelding unloaded and indeed has very sore feet. Dr. DeLeeuw grabbed her hoof testers and went right to work advising and appraising how we might make this adorable gelding more comfortable. The kids have named him LeRoy and he has settled in like a champ. More on LeRoy this week.

Then she emerged from the trailer.  Those eyes. With her pitiful, gaunt haunches poking through cracked and scarred skin, her tail eaten by other starving horses, her legs caked with filth. Her withers protruded from her shoulders like a shark’s dorsal fin, her hooves strangely, are recently trimmed. She looked around, curious, confused and, as Joe put it “hungry.”

I was holding LeRoy for the vet and so I instructed the kids to put her in the empty stall where there was already 12 pounds of feed waiting for her. I turned my attention back to the sore gelding and tried to block her out of my mind. “She’s eating.” I reminded myself “And that’s the best thing we can do for her right now.” I sighed and turned my attention back to the vet and to the sweet people who needed to use the bathroom after a long drive. Later I gave them a tour of the farm, introduced them to the horses, the goats and the dogs. They hugged me when they left and I found myself making an excuse to go to my office.

Once in my office, I tried to make myself busy. I returned a call and several emails. I didn’t want to go outside and see that mare. I wasn’t ready. The kids soon found me and had questions about the new horses. They had brushed the gelding and discussed who might ride him first after he gets new shoes. “Whadda we gonna do about that poor skinny mare?” They wanted to know. “Did you see the scars on her legs and the whip marks on her side?” “How old do you think she is?”

Important questions that need to be answered. I took a deep breath and we all went to the barn together. There she was, head down in her feeder munching away. But not with the satisfying munching of a healthy horse, it was a desperate munching, always looking side to side to see who or what might take her away from food at any moment. The scars on her back and hips showed that she had fought for food a lot.

I went in her stall and she looked at me briefly and went back to eating. She didn’t seem to mind me touching her sides or running my hands down her legs to feel the scars from the lasso. Her legs looked pretty clean, and a step back to see the whole picture showed me a somewhat nicely built, fairly young mare. I pushed away the urge to look in her mouth to see her teeth or to look for a tattoo that might give us some clue as to who she is, how old she is and what her story may be. No, today is just about eating and resting. Tomorrow we will take her temperature, look for a racing tattoo and complete an intake sheet to chart her progress at the ranch.

I had the girls turn her out in the arena. I knew that Joe had been feeding this mare for the last ten days or so and I explained to the girls that the initial period of worrying about founder and colic had already been taken care of by Joe. When a horse has been severely starved, the first days of feeding have to be careful and measured out over time. A starving horse will eat like crazy and his gut often times is not ready for the rich food and the results can be disastrous or worse. But this mare, as long as we took her out for short walks several times a day, could eat to her heart’s content, the hay pellets that we feed at the ranch. I should tell you now that this mare was rescued from a string of horses used in a rodeo event called “horse tripping.” I won’t post videos of the event here. If you are curious, you can search the internet and find it yourself. I can’t view another clip of the “sport.” It seems that the stock contractor had also run onto hard times and there was not enough money to feed the animals that he used.

While the kids turned her out and took photos and brushed her, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched the mare search the perimeter of the arena for something to eat. She trotted around (amazingly sound) and nickered a few times. I know in my heart that the world has many problems, but something knocked by breath out to see this animal who was bred by someone with dreams of a great race horse who had been thrown away, abused, chased, tripped and starved and was ultimately headed for death by slaughter if starvation hadn’t claimed her first. She had no voice in her fate, no vote. If it weren’t for Joe Shelton rescuing 31 of these animals, she would be a carcass right now. Senseless cruelty.

And then she saw the girls with the halter at the gate and she went to them trusting that they would be kind. That kind of trust, in the face of what this mare had been through took all the air out of my body.

Horses have so much to teach us.

Stella’s road back to health will be long. But if she is strong enough to trust us, we have to do all we can.

And now I have to ask you for money. Because she will need feed, dental, farrier and veterinary care. We have no guarantees of what she will be able to be as a school or a saddle horse – but she needs our help.

Some of you have already joined in. Last night, before I even asked, we received $100 towards her feed from Mary Burns and Chris Wilson. If you are a shopper, there are three days left on our on-line auction – lots of great deals on neat items.  Or you can donate here.

I promise to keep you updated on her progress.

Stella

Thought for the day

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.”
– Rabindranath Tagore

Nature’s Nurturing

I got a call this morning that our neighbor’s horse died.  I see this horse every day, all day as he lived in the pasture adjoining ours.  I do recall seeing him yesterday, belly deep in grass while his longtime companion horse flirted over the fence with our geldings.  So I was in a funk driving to the barn today to help my neighbor make the arrangements to render his old friend and to discuss what to do with his remaining horse who was upset and lonely.  It would also be my job to try and figure out if this horse’s death might be caused by something enviromental that could affect the Square Peg herd.

Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best of moods driving to the ranch.  The weather today is forecasted to possibly include thunderstorms and to be quite warm.  Funky weather.  The drive from my house to the ranch includes 12 miles on Hwy 1 straight up the coast.  The view of the ocean is world class and I so often forget to look.  But today, the sun peeked through heavy clouds and turned the Pescadero coast a brilliant deep blue and I was transfixed.  As I continued north, my eye was caught by motion in the water and I turned to see a pod of dolphins playing in the surf not far from the shore.

I jerked my car across the highway into the north parking lot for the Pescadero State Beach.  I parked and hopped out to watch the undulating play of the dolphins.  I was exhilarated and calmed in exactly the same breath.  I laughed out loud.  For about five minutes, I didn’t think about anything but the ocean and the waves and the spectacular scene unfolding in front of me.

When I got back into the car, I had a different outlook on the world.  I was focused on beauty and lovely surprises and the vastness of the life that is under the waves all the time, whether or not I choose to acknowledge it.  I felt like the planet smiled gently on me and I did my best to receive her gift with gratitude and humility.

It was a great way to start the day.

If you have a minute, do what you can to help keep the State Parks open.

Poetic Justice?

With Square Peg’s first Day at the Races fundraiser coming up this weekend at Golden Gate Fields, I’ve had some strange and conflicting emotions floating around my head.

Namely:

1. You can’t go back.  I worked in racing for many years.  Essentially, I raised my son at the track.  I worked in the marketing department of Golden Gate Fields for years as the Special Events manager.  It was a great job to have in your 20’s.  Now I’m going back to the track and all the memories, good and bad after 10 years and a whole lot of life changes. I know I’m different,  I wonder how it will make me feel. (I am however, sincerely looking forward to seeing some wonderful people who still work there.)

2. Conflicted to be watching racing after spending so much time and love knitting ex racehorses back together.  How will I explain to people (yikes, the  kids) at the event if a horse should fatally break down?dsc_0208_jpg

While musing over these feelings, I searched friend Tom Ferrall’s recent press releases from Golden Gate Fields to find this:  An odd pairing of racing and Autism Awareness.  A story in a story about a horse that overcomes huge odds to win.

Ah racing.  It never ceases to surprise me.  I wonder what surprises are in store for me on Saturday?

Join me.

“Is this the mountain you want to die on?”

Wow.

Hmmmm.

Uh, actually; yes.
img_2632Strangely enough, I’m where I want and need to be.  Each day, I wrestle out how to continue my tiny little life’s work.  Sure, there are days when I phone it in, I whine or snivel about how hard it is, how many hours I put in. Or I pine about our families financial implications as a result of me not bringing home any bacon and even investing more time and money into what it is we do.  Truth is, I don’t bring home a paycheck.  I’m a full time plus volunteer.  Right now, I have no health insurance.  Yeah, I know, that’s insane.  My friend Jim is rolling in his grave at the notion. And yet, it’s honestly the mountain I want to die on.  Shuffling up rocky slopes with an unreachable peak, clawing my way hand over hand not to teach horsemanship, but teaching joy and trust.  Yup, that’s what we do.

There is an article in Teacher Magazine (here) about whether or not teachers are empowered.  It poses the question that children can’t learn empowerment from people who are so badly paid and who are in the school system where they are repeatedly stripped of power.

Bullshit.  And several teachers in the article call it.  One of the teachers, the mentor of the article’s author, points out that the students watch everything you do, a very small portion of which happens to be your subject matter.  They watch who you are and how you react.  When you take up the teaching mantle, you are on the stage, stripped of a persona and your students see you for exactly who you are.  Get over it and start modeling the best of what you’ve got.

Who thinks that showing a kid how to clean a horse’s hoof doesn’t make a bit of difference in the suffering of the world?  Oh yeah, that’s me, late at night when I’m trying to figure out how to pay the ranch lease or the horse shoer.  That’s me when I’m honored by a volunteer’s gift of her time and her heart.

It’s time to re-define teaching.  More importantly, it’s time to re-define learning. Each day, I talk to parents who are battling school systems and IEP’s.  They are wrestling with big decisions about where their child goes to school and what services they need.  All the schools are coming under tremendous budget constraints. I hate to tell you but it’s going to get worse. We will have to do more with less.  Teachers will have less resources and more demands.  That means each teacher and each parent will have to learn to entrust the students to own and care for their own education – teach them how  to value what and how they learn.  Folks, here’s the kicker, the part you don’t want to think about; the academic part is only a small portion of what they learn in school. It’s an important part to be sure, but smaller than you think.

I had breakfast with a young volunteer and her mom last weekend.  She’s 13 and hates school.  Well, she likes the kids, she even likes most of the teachers but she refuses to turn in work.  The school is at the end of their rope.  They suggest upping the ante and forcing this young woman to start producing work.  She’s made it clear to everyone that forcing her is going to create mayhem.  Serious mayhem.  The school tells her parents that it’s a life lesson that she needs to learn.  That life is not all about doing whatever you want all the time.  That she needs to learn this now, or it will be even harder the older she gets.

Stop.

Rewind.

So what the school is trying to get across is that work needs to get done, on time and with best effort.  Fair enough.  However, what the student is learning is the bigger lesson: That if someone doesn’t do what you want them to do, you just up the ante until you force them to.  Gosh guys, I think she already knows that lesson and it’s not such a good one.

It seems to me that what this very bright young woman is desperately trying to establish is a sense of self.  She’s refusing to turn in work not because of laziness or impudence but she’s desperately trying to set boundaries of who she is and how amenable she is going to be about who forces her to do what and when.  For her, caving in and turning in work feels like giving up and of being less of her own person as a result. Of course I’m not advocating that all teachers or schools do away with assignments, deadlines and grades.  It’s been tried, with varying results.  But it’s clear that what’s going on here has a lot less to do with book reports than it does with a developing human’s struggle for self-hood.

Profound?  Maybe.  But this is a typical week at Square Pegs.  For each of these stories, there are scores of others. Kids who don’t fit in, or perhaps even more scary, kids who manage to fit in and fade away. These are opportunities to make a real difference.  To teach compassion and joy.  To let the world experience what’s special and beautiful about a person.

So I’ve answered my own question; this is the mountain I’m willing to die on.

Peace out.
j

Farewell to Precious Feathers….

Twenty nine years ago, Precious Feathers was born on Lew and Jeanee Conner’s ranch.  Part of a long line of prized Quarter Horses revered for their versatility and solid minds.  She was raised in the Sacramento Valley and trained as a performance/working cow horse.  She went on to raise several babies and was known as a wonderful mother whose babies excelled in the show ring and as working and trail horses.  She taught several of the Conner’s grandchildren to ride.

Feathers in 2008

September 11, 2006, Precious Feathers arrived at Square Peg Ranch with her best friend, Sugar.  Together they were the stars of the barn and the best horses for beginners.  Their patience and excellent training introduced hundreds of new riders to the wonders of horsemanship.

Feathers was quirky, she could never be tied and was always extremely girthy.  She had opinions and she shared them freely.  All of the male horses at the ranch fell in love with her even after her advanced age began to show.  She loved soft brushes and hated baths.  She could be gentle as a lamb with a beginner and yet she was the horse you wanted to be on when you needed to put the neighbors cows back in their pen.

She taught students until this past weekend and then developed a deep cough and a fever earlier this week.  She spent the last couple days of her life eating grass and visitng her favorite horses.  This afternoon she struggled to breathe and we surmised that she had a tremendous amount of fluid in her lungs.  When she started to stagger as she tried to walk, we knew that it was time.  Dr. Ashton Cloninger canceled dinner plans and was at the ranch just as the sun was going down over the hills.  She ate a bag of carrots and a bucket of grain while we stroked and petted her and told her that she would soon be galloping in green fields with her very best friend Sugar.

She was an exception to many of the Square Peg horses.  She had only two homes in her long life and in each home, she was loved, understood and cared for.  She had never had a major injury nor had she been homeless or gone hungry. We should celebrate a long and good life of a wonderful, kind and gentle little red mare.

I wrote a blog post when we lost Sugar in 2007.  Maybe it bears revisiting here.

Humbly,
joell

Join Us – Square Peg Needs Your Help

I have a confession to make.  Many of you have seen photos of me teaching the kids vaulting tricks, including standing on a moving horse.  My confession; I’ve taught hundreds of kids to do it, but I haven’t done it.  Ever.  Because I was always too scared as a kid to let go and I never trusted the horse or the person holding the longe rope to take care of me.  Every time a student trusts me and the horse enough to try, I’m left breathless.

You see, at Square Pegs, it’s not about what we can teach you.  It’s about believing you can do the impossible and then actually doing it.  We believe that nobody has ever taught a student anything.  Learning comes from within the student.  As a teacher, that’s a really humbling thought.

I could write on and on about all the compassion that we show for the animals here and how that inspires the students.  I could tell you how we all work at the same important, dirty and difficult tasks that it takes to run a ranch with 20+ horses.  The real truth is that the concept of EveryOne Fits is all about the way the animals see us and how that changes us.

Because the horses and other animals don’t care about the label on your shoes, or that you talk with a funny accent, walk with a limp or that you repeat yourself when you are excited.  The barn dog doesn’t care that you spent last night in a homeless shelter, but she does know that you are feeling fearful. The crazy goats will make you smile even if you flunked your spelling test yesterday.

The animals teach us a few absolutes too; that compassion always conquers fear or that some days were just meant for letting the sun shine on your face and for breathing clean air.

I don’t need to tell you that our world is changing faster than ever before.  That our children will inherit a vastly different planet.  The time has come to take a harsh look at how we teach and how our children are taught and what they are learning and what they aren’t.  Rote memory and overfilled classrooms will never teach them to accept themselves and to appreciate their own curiosity.

These animals will.

Our animals are rescues, throwaways, retirees.  Our students deal with autism, homelessness, drug addiction, loneliness and normal teenage angst.  Here’s a quick idea of what Square Peg Horses have taught them:

Seeing the world set out full of disappointment and failure
A blinded truth
I was once blind
But was given a gift
To see through the eyes of a horse

A strength grows over all that is dark
Able to comprehend a person and see only what should be seen
Courageous and triumphant over the world’s complications
Believing I can do anything
Now that I’ve seen through the eyes of a believer
My life saving gift from a little grey horse.

from Through the Eyes of a Believer by Natalia Feliz

If someone needs a helping hand, the
animals will be there.
If someone feels restricted and isolated,
an animal will encourage them

written by Amy Bell

A HORSE’S FRIEND
A horse’s friendship is like a dream
Brushing his hair
Feeling comfortable
Next to me
Riding on his back
Is like floating in the sky
Why do horses have to die?
Will they go to heaven
Just like us?

submitted anonomously by a Square Peg student

So, with the efforts of the horse, the staff, some fantastic volunteers, we strive to inspire people:

to own their education

to own their experience

and ultimately to own their actions.

Because this makes us better people.

Because this is what it means to  turn “I wish” into “I can.”

I humbly ask you to join us in this work by your support as we change our world one horse, one student at a time.

Click here to make a donation.

Thank you.