Trouble In Academia a post from Davis Finch

IMG_3965My name is Davis Finch and I have been involved with Square Peg since October 2011. I am 24-years-old and am on the higher end of the autism spectrum. I started out just taking riding lessons, but in the past six months have become a lot more involved in the organization. This is my first blog post on this website.

This past summer I had a disastrous experience with the admissions and disabled students departments at San Francisco State University. I had received a conditional acceptance letter as a transfer student in December 2012 and, after meeting the conditions as I understood them to be (confusion about the specific requirements caused me to fill out the application incorrectly), I was denied admission in late June, two months before I was supposed to start classes. At first I believed it was some sort of mistake and that everything would be cleared up quickly and rationally, but, alas, I was wrong. It started with some impersonal bureaucratic letters and emails that I found very disrespectful and ended with me storming off the campus after a
last-ditch meeting vowing never to have anything to do with the institution, ever again! What upset me greatly about the way I was treated was their lack of compassion, ignorance about autism, and attempts to pin all the blame on me while holding the deeply flawed system they work for in high regard. As a result of this, I have left academia and do not intend to return anytime soon.

As I thought this over, I realized that the core problems I had were not so much with SF State, but with the CSU system as a whole. After taking a semester off from education following high school, I started at College of Marin in January 2008. I spent the next five years (ten semesters) learning the system, navigating around roadblocks, and eventually earning my AA in political science in December 2012. Overall, it was a good experience. Some of the keys to my success were a level of autonomy that allowed me to take as many classes as I could handle (usually 2) and work out reasonable agreements with teachers when problems arose, a disabled students department that (usually) helped me when I needed them and had adequate influence in the school to get things done, an academic culture that did not shame me for being there for several years, a clear rubric explaining AA requirements, and an efficient electronic system for enrolling in classes.

I was hoping SF State, although much bigger, would be similar in those regards. Maybe it would have been once I got settled in, but I never got the chance because of two major flaws in the system that I found insurmountable. The first one, which was the reason my admission was rescinded, is SF State and all other CSU’s (I think the UC’s do it too, but I’m not sure) discard hard-earned units from community colleges that are not compatible with their seemingly arbitrary course requirements. For me, this meant that even though I should have had more than enough units to transfer, I was found to be half-a-unit short and thus denied admission. Even if I had been admitted, the lost units would have meant at least an
extra semester at the university, which would have ruined my goal of upgrading my degree to a BA in four years. The second major flaw in the system is the disabled students department doesn’t give you any serious help unless you are enrolled as a student, which is a major problem if admission is what you need help with. This meant that although I was allowed an appeal, I had no help from the disabled students office and had no recourse when the established processes used for resolving unit shortfalls were inappropriate for my situation. These two policies combined to make appealing the denial of admission a humiliating and ultimately pointless action and made me feel discriminated against, disrespected, and unwanted.

Experiences like the one I had with SFSU prove just how special and needed organizations like Square Peg are. The generally non-hierarchical, flexible, and compassionate atmosphere at the ranch is a refreshing exception from the condescending, bureaucratic, and often downright discriminatory conditions that are all too common in our society. In military and law enforcement, it is probably necessary, but why do social services, the legal system, academia, and the corporate world have to be so hostile to people with disabilities and people who are just different? That is something we as a society must change, and organizations like Square Peg are our best hope.

Question: “If I donate to Square Peg, where does the money go?”Answer – here

Join Us for Movie Night in Half Moon Bay on Friday, October 04, 2013

see you there!  RSVP to
see you there! RSVP to

How far would you go to heal someone you love?          In 2007, the Issaacson Family took their five year old autistic son Rowan on a  journey across Mongolia, traveling on horseback from traditional healer to traditional healer – which resulted in the 2009 bestselling book and PBS documentary of the same name: The Horse Boy.

The film sparked a movement now called Horse Boy Method™,  helping autistic kids gain direct communication through horses, nature, wilderness and learning through movement.

On hand at the screening will be Square Peg Foundation’s  Joell Dunlap.  Square Peg Ranch has been delivering programs for kids on the autism spectrum since 2004.  As a premier site for Horse Boy Method™ right here in Half Moon Bay, Joell will be able to tell you how you can get involved in this healing work.

Whether you are interested in travel and adventure, wilderness and its healing power, shamanism, autism, horses, or are just plain curious about how, when life hands you lemons, you make margaritas, this film is for you.
See you there!

So grateful to our friends at Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows
So grateful to our friends at Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows

What: Movie Night at the Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows Hall,

Where: 526 Main Street Half Moon Bay Suggested donation $10

When: Friday, October 4, at 7:30 pm – refreshments will be available

Why: A benefit for the Square Peg Foundation, helping special needs kids and animals in Half Moon Bay since 2004

RSVP  here

The Square Peg 12 Days of Christmas, days 1-7

I assure you that this mass post of days 1-7 is not a “Scrooge Move” attesting to my legendary lack of Holiday enthusiasm. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy  we simply couldn’t wrap our heads around Christmas cheer.

But the constant rains of the last three weeks bring home the reality that our beloved horses are in need of some winter and waterproof blankets.  A number of our blankets have simply given up trying to be waterproof or have fallen apart under the demands of covering bored and restless horses who miss their summer pasture.

So if you should wish to bestow some Holiday warmth on the critters at Square Peg, here is a list of the horses that need blankets.

Beetle’s preferred look
Beetle - 10y.o. Argentine/Tb gelding, 15hh
A clean Beetle

Beetle – otherwise known as “dirty little Beetle” we have never met a horse that liked rolling in the mud as much and dislikes a bath as much as Beetle.  It’s such a pity that nature chose to color this horse white as he seems to prefer mud brown. Beetle wears a 73″ to 76″ Blanket.  And the kids agree that he looks best in Green or Blue.



Bert - 24y.o. DWB gelding, 16.2hhBert – our big guy.  He’s going to need a warmer blanket than Beetle as he’s getting on in years.  He’s also a master at taking his blanket off and so we found that a blanket with an adjustable neck works best and keeps him that much warmer.  We think he’d like this one  size 78″(in purple).



Confer and Bob – the “Bromance” of the year.



Confer and Bob– the baby and the Pony.  They go together like peas and carrots and just hate to be apart.  So we think that they should have matching blankets – only different sizes.  Something like this should work in size 75″ for Confer and size 69″ for Bob. PS:  Sigourney says that chestnuts look best in green….


Stan and Mach – the destroyers.  Best to try a brand of blanket called “Tough 1” and see if it can meet the demands of these who can rip, trample, stomp and otherwise shred a blanket of lesser quality.  We hope that the adjustable neck on these blankets will help to keep them on.  Both of these guys wear a 78″ blankets.

DSC_0680Gigi – the princess looks prettiest in pink…. Size 78″

Blankets can be shipped directly to the ranch at

Square Peg Ranch   c/o Canyon Creek Equestrian Center   11631 San Mateo Road  Half Moon Bay, Ca 94019

Or you can always make a donation to Square Peg Foundation, a 501(c)3 which is tax deductible as allowable by law and we will purchase the blankets directly from State Line Tack


The soon to be warm and dry horses thank you so much!


Old Friends – New Friends

The NTRA announced that this year’s education seminar at Keenland would be even bigger and better than the inaugural event last year. This year, the seminar would include the chance to tour and have a Kentucky style barbecue at Old Friends Farm.

Old Friends is unique. Old Friends gives sanctuary to famous and not so famous racehorses and then dedicates itself to educating the public about the contributions and the needs of ex race horses. And they do it really, really well.

I needed a break – I needed to re-connect with people and a place that honored and revered the Thoroughbred horse – that valued their lives and their ability. I needed to learn more about best practices for biosecurity for our barn, about new vaccines and worming strategies and feed and care. I needed encouragement and advice about fundraising. As we know, time and funds are finite and precious at a small non profit. But I had learned so much at last year’s event and I longed to tour and meet the amazing people and critters at Old Friends. So off I went on the red-eye, flew all night and stumbled into the hallowed ground of the Keenland sales pavilion, a little rumpled, but fueled by excitement, curiosity and some high octane coffee.

As with last year, I got so much more than I bargained for.

Most importantly, I made new friends.

Like Barbara Fossum, who was my personal chauffer and tour guide. Her passion for racing and her love for the horses brightened the very air around her. I hope the NTRA knows how lucky they are to have such a dedicated and knowledgeable ambassador for the sport.

Steuart Pittman and I bonded over a mutual friend and a love of thoroughbreds as athletes. Steuart renewed my faith that professionals still crave to ride a swift and nimble horse.

Bright-eyed and quick witted Penelope Miller and I recognized a fellow foxhunter from across the sparkling coffee urn. Her intelligence and wit will help bring racing into the digital age. I hope she comes to experience the thrill of west coast Red Rock hunting soon.

Last but not least is my kindred spirit – Susanna Thomas of the Secretariat Center. Susana with her stubborn boots planted firmly in the bluegrass and her smile pointed toward the barn and her sharp and curious mind floating somewhere above, always thinking, always turning a new idea around. Her generosity, her spirit her staff and her energy are now firmly connected to Square Peg all the way across this vast country.

There were more of course.  People dedicated to the aftercare of the Thoroughbred horse.  Trainers, grants makers, lawyers, owners, veterinarians and scientists.  I’m inspired and energized and proud to be part of a community that is making progress and changing perceptions.

I’ll follow this post when I have a minute with stories of the tour of Old Friends.  Because the farm and the amazing horses and people that make it home deserve their very own post.

If I Donate to Square Peg, where does the money go?

It’s a perfectly legitimate question.

It’s December and so you are probably getting bombarded with requests for support from some very worthy causes. When making decisions on who to support, we think that it’s only fair that you know where your money is going.

Guide Star does the best job of publishing information about non profits. You can see Federal tax returns and financial statements for Square Peg Foundation here.

What does a donation to Square Peg accomplish?

  • $10 buys a bag of cat food for our FIV+ barn cats
  • $25 buys a bag of specialty feed for one of our elderly horses
  • $55 sponsors a student for one group lesson
  • $75 sponsors a special needs student for a private session
  • $125 feeds all the animals at Square Peg for two days
  • $160 pays our facility rent for one day
  • $500 pays for semi-annual vaccination boosters for the herd
  • $1,000 cares for an Off Track Thoroughbred Racehorse for one month including board, feed, shoeing and training
  • $3,500 buys 11 tons of feed
  • $4,850 pays our lease for a month
  • $7,000 provides bedding for the horses’ stalls for one full year
  • $7,500 builds the new pasture including fencing and shelters
  • $18,000 builds our covered arena, including lights
  • $25,000 kickstarts our program to provide job and leadership training skills for  young adults on the autism spectrum

So many have been so generous to Square Peg Ranch. This past year has seen our biggest growth yet in in-kind donations. The Lazarow, Anson-Hayes and Freiberger-Loveland families all jumpstarted our pilot job training program.  JRD Custom Saddles sent us beautiful tack, Dr. Ashton Cloninger again helped us through all the hard times with our horses.  Giant Steps Foundation, HEW Foundation, the Coxe Family, the Bielagus Family and the Finch Family all made our move to our dream location possible.

So many others to thank and so much to do.

We have some ways that you can help Square Pegs todayDonate through PayPal

or checks can be mailed to:
Square Peg Foundation
PMB 402, 80 Cabrillo Hwy North, Suite Q
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
or: Participate in our “Challenge Yourself Campaign” Where you decide what your challenge is – (either silly or sincere) and challenge your friends and family via your social networks to support your work by supporting Square Pegs. It’s easy and fun!

learn more

Horse (People) Heaven

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association sent me an email last month about an educational seminar event at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington Kentucky.  The line up of speakers and the topics sounded really interesting.  I played with the idea of going and even shared the forum agenda our vet.

Our vet pointed out that some of the speakers on the agenda were some of the brightest minds in their fields. We both mused about how nice it would be to go and be with people who are really smart and really engaged in making life better for equine athletes.  Both of us knew how hard it is to go away from our horses, our clients and all the work that needs doing after leaving town for a few days. Not to mention the expense.  It seemed a self-indulgent notion.

But then I got thinking.  I knew that several funders of Thoroughbred related charities would be in attendance and I knew that a couple of days away from the ranch is where I do my best thinking and organizing of efforts, priorities and energies.  In the meantime, I shot a text message out to Colleen Hartford, who I knew was  running at least one and possibly two horses in the Breeder’s Cup races at Churchill Downs on Oct. 31 and November 1.

“I’m at Keeneland with both horses running in stakes this weekend.  You would love it here.  It’s beautiful.”

Co-incidence?  I dunno.  So I called her and asked if I could share her hotel room and get a ride from the airport.

“The airport is literally across the street from the track and of course you can stay with me.  Get your butt out here!”

The seminar would cost Square Pegs just the cost of the plane ticket and a couple of cheap meals.  It was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

I flew in barely making my connection in Minneapolis to find the Blue Grass Airport freshly decorated for the World Equestrian Games that ended the week before.  Everything, and I do mean everything was about horses.  Sculpture, the pictures on the walls, the patterns on the employees ties, the ads – I mean everything was horse-related.  I walked outside, eager to touch my boots on the legendary Blue Grass that I’d only heard of and never seen.

The sun was beginning to set and my feet just kept moving.  I dragged my little suitcase down the road (where are the sidewalks in this town?) to take in the miles of perfect four-board fencing that surround Keeneland Race Course and her next door neighbor, Calumet Farm. Really, THE Calumet Farm.  I felt like I was in a dream.  Miles of rolling grass hills dotted with silky broodmares and immaculate barns. I kept walking up Gate 1 of Keeneland and was offered rides twice by passers-by who crooned in sweet Southern drawl “You want a ride ma’am?”

“No thanks, I’m just walking and then meeting someone.”  I continued to drag my little suitcase down the streets breathing the air that has fueled the lungs of so many running champions. Colleen found me walking on the street and picked me up laughing and pointing out that there were no other pedestrians in sight.  We drove to the stake barn and I greeted both Sweet August Moon and California Flag with carrots and pats.  Both horses looked happy and strong.

For dinner, we found a sports bar and asked our server if we could tune the TV to the baseball playoff game.  Colleen pointed out that we were in a sports oriented college town that was a lot closer to Philadelphia than to San Francisco.  True to form, especially after imbibing in the local bourbon, I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. Luckily, I received indulgent smiles from the locals.  Thank goodness for Southern gentility.


Exercising at Keeneland main track

The following day had me up before the dawn to watch both horses work on the main track.  Again the locals were friendly and the exercise riders were first class.  There’s a dignity to racing there that is something I’ve never experienced in California and it felt good to be a part of it.  I got so carried away watching the horses track that I ran out of time to change clothes for the seminar.  I didn’t figure it was any big deal.  Clean jeans and a sweater is about as dressed up as a bunch of horsemen would be expected to be – right?  Not in Kentucky it seems. Tweed jackets and ties for the fellas and matched sweater sets and pearls for the gals – some things never go out of fashion I guess. I stuck out like a grubby northern California thumb.The Keeneland Sales Pavillion,  was as lovely as I had expected from seeing photos and videos of the famous sales.  I could see how multi million dollar babies had been purchased on that stage. A nice man escorted me to a clubhouse room set up for the seminar portion I’d signed up for, the “aftercare” session.  I settled myself (and my dirty boots) in the back of the packed room.

The morning  speakers, primarily veterinarians, discussed various aspects of health care for rescued and retired race horses.  My note taking pen, normally a very quiet instrument in my hand, was flying across the notebook.  Mid note taking flurry, I looked up to see an old friend walk into the room.  Mike Ziegler and I started out in racing in parallel jobs.  He was the special events manager for Bay Meadows while I held the same position at Golden Gate Fields.  Mike is now the Executive Director of the Safety and Integrity Alliance for the NTRA and I muck stalls and teach kids.  We hugged and promised to check in with each other later. I think we both spent some time musing at the fact that, almost 20 years later, we meet in Kentucky, he wearing a lovely suit and me, still tracking dirt across clean floors.  Ah life!

Back to the seminar. I learned that:

  • The best way to put weight on underweight horses is pretty simple; alfalfa hay and corn oil.  This is significant coming from one of the head vets at Purina Mills.  I leaned that you need to know the DE (digestible energy) per Mcal/lb of your feed.
  • Strangles can live in a water bucket for 30 days!  And that dipping the end of the hose into the infected water bucket and then into another water bucket can effectively spread the disease via the hose nozzle. Who knew? If you want to prevent infectious disease at your farm or event – do not allow common water tub sources!  The speaker was the vet that managed the infectious disease aspect of the World Equestrian Games.  I’m so curious how that worked out in the endurance phase.  Does anyone know?
  • If you tell someone from Kentucky that you pay $18 per bale for decent hay, they will (quite politely) choke on their sandwich.  I didn’t learn what they paid for a bale of hay as most of them have enough acreage that they grown their own special blend that their grandfather developed.
  • West Nile Virus is here to stay.  Vaccinate for it.
  • “Operation Gelding” hosted by the Unwanted Horse Coalition and funded by the AAEP will donate $50 per horse towards the costs of hosting a “gelding clinic” in your area. It’s not currently opened up for funding to individuals, you need to host a clinic.
  • Some rescues are branding their horses and notifying the local auctions to get in touch with them if any horses of their brand show up at auction.
  • All rescues should have a database on their website so that ANYONE can look up a horse by his registered name and tattoo number in the case that the horse ends up at an auction or racing or at a breeding farm – if your organization has a published “no breeding” clause (we do).

And so much more.  Stuff that will make us a better organization, better equipped to help horses more effectively and to set an example for other organizations that will keep our horses safer and healthier.  The experience was rejuvenating.

That evening, Colleen thought it would be cute to see the movie Secretariat while we were both in Lexington, the great horse’s birthplace.  With the magic (not) of the iPhone maps, we got a grand tour of some Lexington neighborhoods while looking for the movie theater.  The brick houses are adorable and the lawns and hedges are beautifully maintained.  We finally found that the movie theater was only half a mile from our hotel.  Oh well, the tour of Lexington was not only cute, but typical of the kind of wild goose chases that Colleen and I have been on in the 20 years of our friendship.  We laughed a lot.

really, it's Cigar
Cigar at home in the Kentucky Horse Park

My last day in Lexington we spent traipsing out to the Kentucky Horse Park.  We just wanted to see what it was all about.  Of course, the Games had just ended and the flurry of activity was in putting away all the temporary barns and grandstands and signs erected  specifically  for the games.  Nobody could direct us and so we found ourselves driving down private drives (very pretty) and wandering into barns.  In one small barn we found some staff shoeing an older foundered horse.  We stepped out of the shoer’s way to find ourselves bumping up against a stall gate containing a brown horse.  That brown horse was the legendary Cigar.  We asked the staff if we might just “hang out with him for a bit” and they said we could.  He is lovely and healthy and curious.  We tried to take pictures but his stall gate made the photos look strange and didn’t do tribute to the amazing champion that lived behind it.  I’ve met some celebrities in my life and I’m always just a bit disappointed when and icon takes a real human shape.  Not so with Cigar, his presence was awesome.

A long plane ride home with delays for weather along the way gave me lots of time to digest the experience and to think about how I might apply my new understandings to a better quality of life for our horses.  When the band strikes up that first Saturday in May under the twin spires of Churchill Downs with “My Old Kentucky Home” I’ll know just a bit more of what that means to so many.

Reprint – Lost Girls

Lost Girls

first published by joell on November 5, 2007

This is a story about my school-age friend we’ll call “Randi.”

I’ve thought a lot about Randi in the 30+ years since we were best friends. I’ve wondered what motivated her, about what drove her to do the things she did and I’ve wondered why we were friends. Probably, she was the only girl in my class with horses at her house and that certainly made a  difference for me. Horses are what connected us. This week I met with some really brilliant people using horses to make a difference in the lives of

can horses make a difference in a person’s life?

battered women and I asked myself a lot of questions about what real change is all about.  I wondered, what did Randi need?

Maybe Randi  lashed out because her parents were  hard on her and maybe it was because the nuns blamed her (usually correctly) for any misbehavior. Nonetheless, Randi beat the heck out of me regularly. She pulled my hair, punched me in the shoulder, she knuckled me in the thigh to give me a charley-horse. Her favorite trick was to grab my wrist during the quiet part of mass and start pulling. When I pulled back she’d let go and caused my skinny elbow to hit the wood pews – BANG! I was mortified and she laughed out loud – every time.

Randi was literally, a red-headed stepchild. She was big and clumsy and had zits. Her body matured too soon. She had “female issues” before the rest of us knew what they were. She was loud and spoke her mind to the nuns at school, to the boys in the class and to me.

I adored her. I followed her everywhere. I stayed at her house. I found some way to get the nuns to let us sit together – the bad girl with the studious one. I was small, skinny, boyish and awkward. I never spoke my mind and I almost always did what I was told.

I was Randi’s constant companion for three years. From age 9 to about 11 we were inseparable. Other girls would ask me why I put up with her being so mean to me and I didn’t know how to answer. Finally, about age 11 I’d had enough and started to hang around another crowd. She befriended the new girl in school who was even smaller and sweeter than I was and we drifted apart.

I remember when we were 13 and everybody knew that Randi was into all kinds of trouble. Everybody knew  Randi’s parents were strict and there were all kinds of terrible consequences to her actions. Her house was right across the street from the school. When the nuns called home we winced to see her  mom’s angry face as she strode across the street, over the playground and up to where Randi was waiting in Sr. Dorothea’s cold office.

IMG_1830I can’t remember if Randi and I went to the same high school. I think we did. We had grown completely apart by then. I didn’t think about her, except fleetingly for a long time. I would see her parents around and when I would ask her mother would just roll her eyes and say “you know Randi”  and leave it at that.

Probably five years after high school, I got a letter, sent to my parents’ house from Randi. She wrote  from the women’s penitentiary. She was doing time for passing bad checks. She was passing bad checks to fund her heroin addiction. Her letter was humble and sweet and her handwriting still looked like I remembered it in grade school. I was shaken and shocked. We were girls in a white, California suburb in Catholic School. I wasn’t supposed to know anyone in prison!

Three weeks after getting the letter, I made arrangements to go and visit . She made no attempt to hide the tracks on her arms and I couldn’t help but stare at them. She didn’t make any excuses about what she had made with her life nor did she seem surprised. She was resigned and tired (at 23). We chatted, we giggled. We talked about our shared passion for horses. We had nothing else in common. We hugged, I left and drove silently the two hours home.

I never heard from her again. No letters, no more invites to visit her in prison. She’s not the kind of old acquaintance that you can Google and find out what Alumni Association she’s part of or what PTA’s she might be running. You can’t expect to find her on Facebook. She’s not on LinkedIN.IMG_4681

I, like most at the battered end of an abusive relationship, remember Randi as generous, funny and bold. I remember how badly I felt about the way her parents treated her compared to her younger brother and sister. I remember thinking that the nuns blamed her for everything until she just didn’t care anymore.

I don’t remember Randi being good at anything. She wasn’t a good student or a good athlete or talented at sewing or art. She was good at shocking people and that’s how she drew the attention she must have needed. Randi’s way of having some control over her life was to shock people into paying attention. That was how she got her feeling of accomplishment.

What could have helped? What kind of adult mentor would have helped flesh out Randi’s talents and given her something to be proud of? Who made Randi feel special? Who loved her?

Would Square Pegs have been able to help ? Or would her behaviors frustrated the instructors, her weight make us unlikely to put her on a horse? I’d like to think that we could have given her a space to be helpful, to reward her generosity and her outspokenness.

Summer Camp '13 - I will never forget.
Summer Camp ’13 – I will never forget.

It’s important to note that, even by today’s standards, Randi wouldn’t have qualified for any special classes except some counseling – maybe. She didn’t have a learning disability, she wasn’t poor, wouldn’t have been considered at risk until after her second arrest. Nobody would write us a grant to help the Randi’s of the world. But she had a heart that was unloved and unappreciated. And society got what it had coming from her.

Today, Square Pegs is loving our way toward changing the way people see themselves.

This one’s for you Randi, where ever you are.

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.


The Search for Meaning

Arianna Huffington was the morning Keynote Speaker at the Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp for Non-Profit, Saturday in Berkeley, CA. I was looking forward to her speech. I enjoy Arianna on KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center and usually agree with her editorials in The Huffington Post. I knew it would be a good speech – an inspiring and thought-provoking speech. It was a lot more.

“Tell your Story, so others can be inspired to action”

– Arianna Huffington

photo by Darius Dunlap CC-BY

In a time when everyone seems to be focusing on the financial effects of the current problems, Arianna instead emphasized caring, love, compassion, and meaning. She told us to think beyond the services we provide, the food, shelter, counseling, and money. We need to think instead about the people, how our services effect their lives, how compassion and and love make a difference.

While we grow physically by what we get, we grow spiritually by what we give.

– Arianna Huffington

As a business strategy for non-profits, this is also an important point. An organization that attends to the core meaning of their work will be better positioned for growth when the economic climate improves. They’ll also do a better job if facing tough decisions about their programs and services, staffing, or future direction.

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito

– Arianna Huffington

Photo by Darius Dunlap CC-BY

We also need to share our stories. By telling our stories, we might inspire others to action. By telling our stories, we remind ourselves why we do what we do and what it was that made us make this commitment.

Even in a room full of people who are doing good and meaningful work, it was an excellent reminder. Thanks, Arianna!