Let’s start a movement!


“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?

A student’s perspective

My name is Max Freiberger. I am in 8th grade. I’m here to share with my you what it’s like to be a kid with disabilities. I am one of those kids, because I have Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, and other health problems. I want to let you know how they affect my life.

Tourette’s Syndrome is a very frustrating disease. It makes you twitch and tic and twist and kick and move uncontrollably when you don’t want to. It tires you out. It makes you ache from the inside out. It frustrates you. It makes you feel out of control. It makes you feel powerless. And it can lead to acting without thinking.

I don’t know why all this happens. I try hard to think about what I’m doing so that I won’t harm someone or myself. It’s hard for me and I don’t always succeed. But I try.

I do it by talking to myself. I remind myself to be quiet. I remind myself that the punishment or consequences of getting angry is worse than the reward of being angry at the moment. But, sometimes nothing works. Not even the dozens and dozens of medication I have tried over the years.

Let me come back to what it’s like to live with these kinds of problems. I don’t have a lot of friends. I’m not sure why.

I used to have a lot of friends at school until about 4th grade when my Tourettes got really bad. I feel very isolated because I had to change schools. I used to go to a Jewish school in San Francisco. I went there until my Tourettes got so bad that I needed an aid to go to class with me. They don’t have aids and my parents could not afford one, so I had to go to a public school where I could have an aid. But, they put me in a special education class. I am not learning anything because I am so much more advanced than the rest of the class that I actually don’t learn anything new. The teacher can’t teach two different curriculums at once.

The only thing I have learned at this school is ASL, American Sign Language. Now I know a little over 600 words. The reason I learned Sign Language was so I could volunteer as a Teacher’s Aid and help with the kids in the autistic classroom. In this class, there are kids with Autism, Down syndrome and Mental Retardation. All but one of the kids has trouble talking because their brains won’t let them even though they understand. So I’m helping them learn Sign Language. Autistic kids have a communication disorder, an obsession with themselves and a short attention span.

Most of these kids cannot phonic read, which means that they cannot sound words out, they can only memorize what words look like. They are not able to read any books yet unless they memorize each word in that book. It is really hard for them. The kids with autism often take in everything you say and they don’t forget. They just can’t communicate it and are probably a lot smarter than we are.

One of the kids has Asperger syndrome. He is able to read closer to his age-level. A kid with Asperger syndrome is a lot like an autistic kid but with a more mild case of autism. I love helping in this class. The teachers seem be understanding of what it is like for me. And it is fun to help the kids. I have a lot of patience with the kids just like people try and have with me.

What I think people need to understand about children with special needs is that you shouldn’t try to understand. You just can’t. There is no way you can put yourself in our shoes. You can try to understand but really there is no way to comprehend what it is like to live your life as a child with special needs.

You just have to understand that no matter what we do that we are not bad kids.

We just need more help and patience. And remember that we learn differently. An example is that one day while helping with one of the kids the special education teachers could not figure out a way to teach him to count. So they asked me for any ideas and I suggested using different types of toys as symbols. For example, watermelons mean one, triangles mean two, bananas three and banana plus watermelon means four. This approach worked. Imagine that!

I learn a lot from other special needs kids. I go to an awesome horseback riding ranch called Square Peg in Half Moon Bay. This is a non-profit foundation to teach all kids with and without special needs to care for and ride horses. The people at Square Peg rescue racehorses that would be slaughtered otherwise. Square Peg spends time retraining them as riding horses for children with special needs. I have gone to Square Peg Ranch since I was five. I used to only ride but now I am a student teacher and volunteer and I help other special needs kids. This is a place where we can be ourselves and have fun and be accepted. I wish there were more places like this in my world. If anyone is interested in learning more or volunteering or helping in any way about Square Peg, talk to me.

In closing, I hope that all of you remember that we are just kids who might need some patience, a little extra help and allowed to be a little different.

But, most of all what I am trying to say is you just need to love us anyway.

Ending Horse Slaughter

If you are in the horse rescue business and are debating about whether or not slaughter is necessary to control the horse overpopulation. You need to know about Nathan Winograd


Nathan is a Stanford Law grad that is putting an end to kill shelters for cats and dogs one county at a time.

It’s really important to understand that when he started his work at the San Francisco SPCA, shelter management from all over the country flew in to challenge the status quo. These people were the professionals that were running the shelters that insisted that the only way to control the pet population problems was through killing the unwanted pets. The shelters themselves couldn’t conceive of a world with no kill shelters!

Nathan knew there was a better way and so he went to the volunteers. He went to the the people who weren’t getting paid, just the people who loved the animals and didn’t want to see them die. He turned a 100% kill shelter to a 4% kill shelter in less than 3 years. Then he went to suburban New York and did it again in less than a year. He’s done it in Reno, NV and lots of other areas. And he did it without the support of the industry. You could argue that he did it in spite of the industry. He did it with the support of the volunteers.

He’s making it uncool to have un-spayed and un-neutered pets. He changed the status quo. He changed the way we think about animal population control.

Wake up horsepeople! We can do this, but the first thing we have to do is stop listening to the experts that say it can’t be done (like the Vets!) and the USDA. We are better than this.

Read up on Nathan’s work. We don’t have to re-create the wheel here. The trail has already been blazed.

Finally, the HSUS has developed guidelines for horse rescue operations. And guess what? The first item on the list is that the facility refrain from any breeding! Let’s start there.

As Joe Shelton says; Hug your horses.

Photo caption: Irresponsible King, slaughter-bound April 2007. Square Peg Hay-burner and resident comedian ever since.


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.


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

What’s the Deal with Dressage?

What’s the deal with this “Dressage” thing? Maybe you were able to catch a glimpse of the Olympic Dressage Competition on television or maybe you watched the travelling Lipizzan show as a kid. Your impression was that while beautiful, these “trick” horses had been taught their lovely skipping, prancing and dance movements in a manner akin to circus animals.

Or maybe you have watched a dressage aficionado at your barn struggle for the perfect transition or the correct symmetry of a 20-meter circle.

Either way, you may have decided that this sport is not for you, or your horse.

The truth is that you are wrong on both counts.

Dressage is a French word that simply means, training. The show tests, from Training level through Grand Prix are all designed to bring a horse and rider to harmony through progressive levels of balance, suppleness, precision and difficulty of movements.

Riders and horses are penalized for tenseness, resistance, and lack of willingness or rhythm. The ideal dressage horse will be light, powerful and relaxed. He will exude an aura that he is happy to do his job and that the rider is also having a good go.

Gadgets and training aids are not allowed in the show ring. Lower level horses are required to perform in a simple snaffle. No leveraged, port or alloy metal bits are allowed. It should also be noted that riders are penalized for vocalizing during a test. The intention is to have horses that are relying on the subtle and clear cues from a mild bit, leg and seat aids, not from learned voice cues, or artificial training aids.

A classical progression of training creates a horse that is responsive, limber and balanced. This makes for better jumping, reining, polo, trail riding and just about any other athletic endeavor you can do with your horse.

There are six goals when it comes to training a horse in dressage.

The elements of the Training Scale are (in order from bottom to top):

* Rhythm

* Suppleness

* Contact

* Impulsion

* Straightness

* Collection

Each goal is contingent on the establishment of the proceeding. Thus, to try and establish Suppleness before defining Rhythm would be like asking a 1st grader read before teaching him the alphabet.

Both you and your horse will find certain phases easier than others. This may depend on his breed, or either of your confirmation, temperament, physical limitations or prior training. Parts II, III and IV of this series will examine the specific Elements of Dressage in more detail and how they can help you and your horse achieve a better understanding of each other.

An interest in dressage does not mean that you have to go out and buy an expensive saddle, hire a new trainer and think about wearing a silk hat and a coat with tails in your next show. The basic elements of dressage can be built into your current training program with little or no change in tack or attire. However, the new level of communication between you and your horse may incline you to transform into a “Dressage Queen (or King).”

The Great Master Xenophon said it best:

“If one induces the horse to assume that carriage which it would adopt of its own accord when displaying its beauty, then, one directs the horse to appear joyous and magnificent, proud and remarkable for having been ridden.”

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 https://www.squarepegfoundation.org.

photo caption

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

Charlie Campbell, most

Lauren Morgenthaler,
horsemanship award

Jennifer Buja, spirit

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


Regarding Eight Belles

Regarding the amazing filly Eight Belles

by Joell Dunlap

I was out on a trail ride with students when the Kentucky Derby ran this year. Upon our return to the ranch, I rushed inside to watch the replay of the race on my computer. Big Brown owned the race from start to finish and showed the world that we may have a true phenom on our hands. No surprise to me who has admired the colt for some time. The real treat was watching the valiant filly Three Belles chase the colt down the stretch as the other horses tired. I emerged from my office to tell my students that Big Brown was “the real deal” and that the only horse to be brave enough to give him chase was a fantastic dark gray filly named Eight Belles. I was gloating as I brushed my own haughty OTTB mare Gigi.

“Um, Joell, I guess you didn’t see after the race” one of the mothers said with veiled eyes. “The filly broke down after the finish and had to be destroyed.”

I couldn’t speak.

Continue reading “Regarding Eight Belles”