Looking Back on Lad – a love story

Looking back on Lad’s 30 years of life, I realize that he acquired more friends and touched more lives with joy than a lot people.

At 17.2hh and 29 years old he looked his age. His lower lip hung loosely and he would drool. His fat belly hung so that down his huge withers and backbone stuck out as if he was emaciated. His perfect crescent moon star now something of a long crooked lightening bolt. Advanced arthritis meant that we couldn’t keep him in a stall, so he would live out in pasture. But his eyes alwasys held that wise, gentle gleam.

He lived out his last years in a pasture with some 5 or 6 weanlings on Joe Shelton’s rescue ranch. He was quick to reprimand a bold foal and even quicker to let the shy ones bask in the security of his huge frame.

At 25 he taught novice riders to jump and was still up for a good gallop on the trails when the opportunity presented itself. However, arthritis and size was a double-whammy. We turned him out for good after he got down in a stall late one night and couldn’t get up. Some friends owned a lay-up farm and I trailered him to their place for what I thought was the last time. Laddy limped out of the trailer; his one eye swollen almost shut from thrashing in the stall. His shaggy coat and enlarged ankles left no trace of the handsome show horse of days past. The owner of the farm patted Lad’s long neck and asked what the old horse’s name was. I managed to choke the word “Lad” as I handed him the lead rope. Suddenly the man’s eyes lit up and said “Not Lite Lee Lad?” Astounded, I nodded yes.

“Honey!” the man yelled as he handed me back the rope and went running to find his wife. “You’ll never guess who’s here! It’s Big Lad!” The wife appeared from the house, recognized her old friend and came running to him. It was obvious she know him as she immediately started scratching his favorite spot behind his left ear.

It turned out that this couple had taken care of Lad 20+ years and 1,000 miles ago during his race career in Arizona. Lad was nervous, difficult and probably previously abused. Billy, his one time exercise rider and now retirement manager told us stories of how Lad used to pace a stall all night and rage around the track no matter what part of him hurt. He said that Lad never ran a good race until the trainer built an outdoor pen for him so that he could watch the racetrack day and night. When Lad came off the track from his morning gallop, reared, wheeled and tried to jump back onto the track, that meant that it was time for Lad to race. He was indeed a hard horse to forget. He had found a home that would love him like I did.

At 20 Lad began his career as a lesson horse. I ran a riding program through a Montessori school in Sacramento, California. We had a couple of acres fenced in the front of the school with big oak shade trees and a small riding area. I always kept Lad plus the two lesson ponies, Bert and Ernie in pasture year-round and gave lessons for as long as the weather would let us. In the 100+ degree summer, the kids would ride around the pasture while I turned on the sprinklers. The kids and the horses loved it and Lad could always be counted on the carefully place the kids in the direct route of the water spray. He was spoiled with carrots and apples from the school kitchen and developed a taste for graham crackers. The children, age 5 to 12 were always enchanted to go from riding the ponies to enjoying the view from a 17.2hh Thoroughbred. He was my “Equalizer” who always knew how to instill confidence and when to issue attitude adjustments. You could count on Laddy to walk gingerly with the scared kids or to be found lounging peacefully under a shade tree while a particularly bratty child tried to kick him into a trot. He received more Christmas cards from students than I did. I keep them in a box with his ribbons and photos.

At 15 we performed our first dressage test. He kicked, bucked and whinnied throughout the entire test. The judge called us to her after our final salute and wanted to know how old the tall and slim promising prospect was. She assumed that he was a 4-year-old warmblood. “He’s 15 this year, Ma’am” I replied. She scowled. We placed 3rd.

At 10 Laddy was packing a very inexperienced me around jumper courses. There are times when I had no idea which fence to take next, but he always got me there. I didn’t know what a “spot” was; I just pointed and took ahold of his thick mane. He was honest and bold. He forgave me all my mistakes and taught me when to be a passenger and when to be a pilot. He was famous for dragging me along for a victory lap around the arena after a particularly good round. He taught me to live for the moment.

Along the years, I have many, many fond stories of Lad. Like the time I tried to use him as a pony at the racetrack. Somewhere around the quarter pole, Lad would transform from steady pony to racehorse. He would incite the horse he was leading into an all out horse race with me somewhere in the middle. He was always letting himself out of his stall at the track in the wee hours of the morning and roaming the grounds just out of the reach of the security guards.

Or the time he got tired of packing around a scared student and so he decided to trot back to me in the middle of the arena. Unfortunately, there were two jumps between him and me, which he cleared neatly. When I looked up and saw what was coming I called out to the student “Hey, I thought you said you never jumped!”

“I CAN’T!” she wailed.

“Ya can now!” was my reply.

She went on to be a fairly accomplished rider.

Laddy has an empathy that drew people in distress. He was the horse you told your troubles to. He nursed me through sick children, a divorce and career changes. He patiently stood as a dozen or so girls cried tears of teenaged angst on his strong shoulders. He has always had a soft spot for baby anything and treated chicks, kittens, foals and toddlers with a tenderness that belied his immense size. My dad always said that if he were human he would be Uncle Remus; a rich storyteller who taught moral lessons in life through gentle, colorful stories.

Laddy died many winters ago on Joe Shelton’s rescue ranch. He laid down in his stall and just couldn’t get up. The I’d like to think the vet cried as she mercifully ended his long and wonderful life.

He will always be one of my truest friends. Lad at 25

Let’s Talk

We are going to pepper this blog with stories of horses, the kids they touch, about the nature of real learning and reflections about what education is and isn’t. You will meet people who have graced the ranch with their presence and left us all wiser and richer. We are going to publish the artwork and poems and essays that come from the hearts of the students and volunteers of the ranch.

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Square Pegs is not just a rescue ranch or adaptive riding program. Ultimately, it’s a movement that helps us all understand who we are through learning from the animals and the land and each other.

Let’s talk about what’s on our mind.

Let’s talk about :

  • what it feels like to be a Square Peg in a Round Hole

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  • or about animals and people who need a second chance

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  • or about education – what’s working and what’s not.
  • what do YOU think about competitive horse sports? Do you love or hate racing? How about polo?

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Let’s chat about why it’s important to let kids take responsibility for large animals, or to have the space and quiet time to get to know them.

How about a discussion of why diagnosis of Autism and Childhood Diabetes is skyrocketing?

What do you think about using OTTB’s as school horses?

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Square Pegs is committed to having these conversations and having them out loud so that we can all learn from each other. We want to learn to be more compassionate, more effective and more informed. And we can’t do it without you.

Join the discussion. Send us your thoughts, share the blog with folks that have something to say. Remember Everyone Fits. Just don’t be mean.

Let’s start a movement!

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“Let’s Start a Movement”

Starting Square Pegs has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with some really famous people. Anne Firth Murray, Jane Goodall, Sir Elton John (seriously, he kissed me on both cheeks!) and more. But there is one couple that I have had the unlikely opportunity to sit across the table from and glean from them whatever knowledge they might be willing to share, is a series of casual meetings with Gerry and Lilo Leeds.

Here’s a quick excerpt from a bio written for their latest book “Wonderful Marriage”

They are both refugees from Nazi Germany. They arrived in the U.S. with virtually no money, but eventually became successful business entrepreneurs, and continued more recently as social entrepreneurs, with a primary focus on improving the education of children in poor communities. In 1971, they launched the now highly successful publishing company, CMP Media, Inc., which became a leading publisher of business newspapers, magazines and Internet services for the high-tech industries-electronics, communication and computers. They established a set of principles for the company that became a guide for all their future business and management activities. The company became known for its excellent socially responsible policies, its great products, its great services and, especially, for its pioneering on-site infant and child day care center established by Lilo Leeds. Fortune and Working Mother magazine repeatedly cited CMP as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Yeah, pretty cool. After 56 years of marriage, they are still working together and still focused on the same goals that they set out to prove when they launched CMP: To improve the education of children in poor communities. And they do it with a focused, no nonsense, multi-tiered approach that works. Go ahead, Google it.

So here I am, at the Stanford Park Hotel on the eve of my 40th birthday. Lilo meets us down in the restaurant and she’s supposed to call and wake up Gerry to join us. Problem is, he’s turned off the phone. Lilo peers over her glasses, blinks and gracefully excuses herself from the table to go and wake Gerry herself. They re-appear soon, hand in hand. They are both kind to the waiter but also very clear about what they will eat and how it should be prepared. Even the waitstaff is soon charmed by the quiet elderly couple. Gerry looks a bit tired at first but as soon as the discussion turns to education or to his successful marriage, he’s wide awake.

Gerry’s voice is soft and I have to lean in close to catch every word. Lilo chimes in between bites of her dinner, she’s got to keep her sugar level up to manage her diabetes. I don’t want to miss a single syllable from either of them and so I’ve hardly touched my food (very rare for me). Gerry talks about how the schools in the poor communities are failing the students and perpetuating the poverty. He tells us how their organization at it’s core believes that students are human beings with assets, talents and feelings who must be treated with respect, dignity and care. That developing, hiring and supporting talented teachers lies at the center of improved student learning. Believing that parents are a valuable source of information about their children’s strengths, talents and aspirations and they are consulted as partners in their children’s education.

Wow! It seems so simple! So clear. And yet, our goverment can only come up with changing testing standards and holding teachers accountable to them without support for the teachers and dwindling resources and outdated programs. Not by re-thinking how schools see the students as our nation’s assets rather than potential liabilities?

Gerry Leeds looked me straight in the eye and said “We aren’t taking on a project, we’re starting a movement.”

Now THAT is something to get excited about. Seriously. rachelface

To which I say, let’s get this party started!

Are you in?

The Square Peg Holiday Post

Happy Holidays reader. This story is a gift. Given to you this crazy season.

I can’t think of anything more precious or more timely.

Enjoy.

The Star Thrower

by Loren Eiseley

One day, a man was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a young person reaching down to the sand, picking up something and very gently throwing it back into the sea. As he got closer, he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?”

The young person paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish into the sea.”

“Why are you throwing starfish into the sea?” he asked.

“The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”

“But, don’t you realize that there are miles of beach here and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young person listened politely. Then knelt down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said…

“Made a difference to this one.”

Have a Happy Holiday

with love from a rather soggy, but otherwise happy, Square Peg Crew

Horse Community Pulls
Together for Fun and Charity

October 28, 2008

Polo, arguably the
world’s oldest team sport, reaffirms the special bond between horse
and rider. This weekend, 21 adults and kids alike came together –
most of whom for their very first attempt at the game. The event was
a collaboration of the Polo Training Foundation
(www.polotraining.org), the Horse Park Polo Club
(www.horsepark.org/polo.html) and the Stanford University Polo Club
in a benefit for the Square Peg Foundation. (www.everyonefits.org).

The fantastic Indian
Summer weather of the San Francisco Peninsula graced the Silicon
Valley’s Horse Park at Woodside with clear skies and gentle breezes
for the entire weekend.

“We told everyone
to bring their sense of humor to the clinic and it looks like they
did.” said Chris Dunlap, co-Founder of the Square Peg Foundation
who also rode in the clinic.

Polo Clinic 08

“Polo was every
bit as fun, and not nearly as intimidating as I feared” said
Brian Greenen who told us that he had always wanted to try polo and
the weekend opportunity was a gift from his wife.

Instructor Wilbur
O’Ferrall put in two consecutive 10 hour days patiently helping the
riders learn strategy, safety and skills.

“Wilbur does a
great job with the kids. He makes the clinic fun and has great
delivery. My daughter Jennifer, who’s only 7, made some real
progress in this clinic in starting to learn the game” noted
Bonnie Crater of Portola Valley.

In between the 2nd and
3rd sessions, participants had the opportunity to watch the Stanford
Polo Club practice in the arena. Wilbur umpired the practice while
Coach Greg Wolff was on hand to explain the game to a very engaged
audience. Suddenly, the notion of “Man, Line, Ball”
started to make sense.

“I just wanted to
thank you so much for doing the polo clinic. Wilbur is so nice and I
have a lot of fun playing with him and everyone.” emailed 12
year-old Farris Scott of Los Altos.

Wilbur was assisted by
Greg Crosta, ranch manager for Square Peg Foundation, who also helped
students in the Horse Park hitting cage. Greg observed that “we
were so lucky to have someone as talented as Wilbur teaching this
clinic.” Talented indeed. Wilbur O’Ferrall is the Field
Director for the Polo Training Foundation as well as a USPA certified
Umpire. A polo player since the age of 10, Wilbur went on to play
college polo for the UC Davis team that won the Pacific Coast
Championship four years in a row. As team captain in 1989, his team
won the National Title. In 1990, Wilbur was chosen Male
Intercollegiate Player of the Year.

The clinic helped raise
$3,000 for the Square Peg Foundation’s adaptive riding program and
horse rescue in Half Moon Bay. At a time when fund raising is
difficult due to the nationwide economic downturn, the timing
couldn’t have been better.

All in all, polo
garnered a new fan club in the San Francisco Bay area and the horse
community demonstrated that it can collaborate to have fun and to
support a cause. Perhaps it’s best said in quoting a famous verse
inscribed on a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Gilgit,
Pakistan: “Let others play at other things. The king of games is
still the game of kings.”

Plans are already
underway for a Spring ’09 youth clinic that will target ages 7 to 17.
For more information, contact the Square Peg Foundation at
650.284.5064 or http://www.squarepegfoundation.org.

photo caption

Instructor Wilbur
O’Ferrall poses with the clinic’s award winners (left to right)

Charlie Campbell, most
improved

Lauren Morgenthaler,
horsemanship award

Jennifer Buja, spirit
award

more photos can be found for download at:
2008 Polo Clinic Photos
or

http://gallery.me.com/joelldunlap#100049
and
http://gallery.me.com/joelldunlap#100051

Responses: Horsemanship; Art or Science?

Written by Amy 7th grade:

Horsemanship,

It’s both, because of this:

You have to know math in order to keep a horse, otherwise, financially you

would be broke, but spiritually, it is an art. You must feel the spiritual

bond of the horse, otherwise you will never enjoy the beauty of riding and

becoming one. You and the horse are a bond, a team, a herd. What some people

don’t get is that a horse is much more then an animal. (But animals are

beautiful and important people already aren’t they?)

Horses help people feel like they can do anything, people feel power when

they are with horses. But also what some people get confused with is that

horses are big animals, so they need to be controlled, show no mercy toward

them.

That’s sounds pretty stupid if you think about it. Horses are loving gentle

giants that are teaching people how to be disoplined and resourceful. (In my

case, horses are what get me outdoors.)

Horsemanship, you must think about the business, about also the horses. What

is your education on mathematics and spirituality on these powerful,

beautiful creatures.

That is what I think.

Horses as Family?

The subject has come up lately about bringing in new horses and selling others. I’ve been faced with students, parents and supporters who feel like this reduces our horses to commodities to be bought sold or traded at will. It seems like time to debunk this train of thought.

First, for every horse for whom we find a wonderful home, we are able to receive, rescue, care for another soul. The number of horses in America who end up at slaughterhouses is staggering. This year, the number of horses sent to slaughter in the US and Canada is expected to be 100,000. The work we do at Square Pegs is committed to be “one horse, one student at a time.” This is important work to us here.

Currently, with staff (that’s me) and volunteers at this level, the 9 horses we are caring for today is about all we can handle. This means that each horse is cared for, groomed, vaccinated, has regular vet and hoof care, special diets and exercise and lesson plans appropriate to their mental and physical needs are attended to. If you have spent any time at the barn, you know that there is ALWAYS work to be done. During the short days of winter, darkness seems to fall about 20 minutes too soon. Our board bill would make you cry. And our board just recently went up!

Continue reading “Horses as Family?”

Who’s Guy Kawasaki?

Well, since I mentioned Guy I’ll point you to his blog and a specific posting that is one of my favorite Guy-isms. It’s a version of his commencement address that he’s given a few times and it’s a great illustration of why I read everything Guy puts out.

Let the Good Times Roll by Guy Kawasaki: Hindsights

The rest of Guy’s blog is also some familiar stuff if you’ve already been reading Guy’s books, but I think his blog will be worth following. I’ve certainly got it on my GoogleReader

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