Intro to Horse Boy Method Workshop April 1&2

For  years Rupert and Rowan shared the saddle together on a horse named Betsy. The story of  Rowan opening  to the outside world through Betsy is told in the bestselling book and award winning film “The Horse Boy“.

With Rowan’s success,  Rupert started working with other children on the spectrum to see if what  worked with Rowan and Betsy would  work for them. While no method can ever be right for 100% of people  Rupert found a sufficiently high percentage of children benefited-sometimes  in astonishing ways.
The framework of techniques targets different  challenges.  Horse Boy™ and Movement Method are now being used worldwide. Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity!

Who should attend this clinic?

Important note: This workshop is hands on and intense.  We cannot have you bring your child to the workshop.  It is our organizational ethic that when a child is here – especially one that needs some support – we focus all our energy on the child.  This workshop is to give you tools to help support those you love and care about – so this is our chance to focus on you

Training Overview 

• Introduction to Autism
• What our methods are. Why they are different?
• Necessary Equipment
• Sensory session with horses
• Collection – what it is and why it matters

• Intro to Back-riding training
• How to create the right environment for Horse Boy Method
• How to cope with children unwilling or afraid to ride
• Long-lines (working with young adults too large to back-ride)
• Rule based games / Perspective taking
• Academics on horseback: how to use the dressage arena and round pen for math, biology, geography and more!
• How to work with the entire family
• Basic trick work. Learning the aids, and demo of how tricks are used for communication

When: April 1&2, 2019 10am to 3pm

Where: Green Acres –  300 16th Street, Montara, CA

Cost: Riders $675  Non Riders: $340. UPDATE: We’ve been approved to offer the following discount: $495 for Riders and $325 for non riders

Space is limited! use PayPal link below to secure your space.  If you prefer to pay by check, email to reserve your spot.

If you are traveling – the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel has rooms available – it’s a walking distance to the training and a world class view!

Riding or Non-Riding

Take My Horse or Else…….. 52 FREE Thoroughbreds

These are actual things I hear regularly:

“If you don’t take my horse, I have to put him to sleep.”

“I can’t afford a horse I can’t jump/play polo on/race etc.” 

“This horse is costing me a fortune and I can’t afford it anymore.” 

“Aren’t you a non-profit?  Then that means you HAVE to take him.”

“It sure would be nice to be on the payroll of some non-profit that gets free horses all the time.”

I try.  I really try not to be rude or angry.  I don’t want anyone to come to me and leave feeling like they weren’t heard and that they don’t have options. People are fundamentally good. So I try to listen and I try to offer alternative solutions.  One woman was telling me that she can’t afford a lame horse.  She said she’d already spent a lot of money for fancy shoes on the horse and now he’s just barefoot.  

“But if what you are telling me is correct -he needs some support.”  I offered.

“Yeah, but he’s not working so he’s fine.”

“If he was not lame – would he be worth it?”  

“He’s never going to be able to jump so no.”


I look out the window – it’s supposed to be my one day off. I’m spending it doing paperwork and that’s fine.  I look out the window and one of our staff is working with a horse in the round pen.  He needs support, physically and mentally.  He’s not a horse we could re-home.  But he’s down there and he’s trying to learn new things.  He gets worried and she re-assures him.  She pets him and I watch him lean into her.  He’s a good boy. 

I’m sure this other horse is also a good boy.

It sucks to have to say no.  Recognizing that there is only so much space, time and resources to properly care for the ones you have.  Knowing that even then, there will be chores left undone at the end of the day because time and limited resources won’t allow it. 

I’m not particularly complaining.  I have a brilliant life.  I’ve surrounded myself with animals and humans that inspire me to be kinder and harder working every day.  We searched for and competed for and nurtured donors who believe in what we do. We opened our hearts, our account books and our lives to serve those we choose to serve and it’s good. 

But that doesn’t mean that when I get off the phone with the “take my horse or else” folks that my heart isn’t heavy and I feel like I haven’t done enough.  I can’t help but picture the horse in question and what his alternatives might be. 

So here’s what your local horse rescuers want you to know:

A horse is a responsibility – an expensive one.  If you aren’t taking care of him – someone else has to pay for him;  feed, farrier, vet, bedding, staff to care for him, fencing, blankets, supplies and just the time to attend to the needs of a large animal in an enclosed space.  So *donating your horse is not a gift – it’s a giant, expensive responsibility.  He might live to be 35 years old – and those last seven or eight years he is going to need a lot of support and medicine and special feed. The vet who has been working with the rescue is almost certainly working at cost or less and he’s also attached to the horse. Someone like me and the kindhearted vet  is going to be there with this horse crying on the day he dies and someone will have to come up with hundreds of dollars in cash to render his giant body.  

Nobody wants to tell you no.  It gives us no pleasure.  The good rescues and sanctuaries are almost always full.  If someone is super eager to take your *FREE horse – be careful – there is a few hundred bucks in it for the kill buyer. 

And yes – the 52 FREE Thoroughbreds is an old post from 2011 so please don’t send it around social media – please – I know you are just trying to help.

2018 – A Year to Remember

Before giving, the mind of the giver is happy; while giving, the mind of the giver is made peaceful; and having given, the mind of the giver is uplifted – The Buddha.”

For Square Peg, 2018 was a year of unprecedented growth.

In July, we officially opened Square Peg at Cadence Farm in Sonoma, CA.  Our own Becca Knopf is at the helm of Square Peg in Cadence Farms making new alliances, bringing in new families and volunteers, training up the horses and bringing that special #TeamQuirky vibe to the California Wine country.

We forged new relationships in our quest to achieve ABA therapy objectives by leading with compassion and support.  The results are in – our clients hit all of their milestones well ahead of schedule.  Helping us prove that compassion, environment, movement and support and intrinsic motivation – rather than rigid and undignified methods are what make real change.

We said goodbye to Bert – our beautiful Dutch gelding who served families at Square Peg for 11 years and Thair, our beautiful Walker Hound who lived his 17 years on earth with grace and sweetness.  We miss them both dearly.

We partnered with Liskennett Farm in County Cork, Ireland to share ideas on how to improve services for families and how to replicate our programs to have greater impact – and we partnered with Farm de Lek in Thailand to bring HorseBoy Method to Asia.  We were able to present what is special about Square Peg in Germany, in Louisville Kentucky and we visited our mentors in Lisbon, Portugal to deepen our understanding of Classical Horsemanship Principles.

Truth is, I’ve personally logged more airline miles in 2018 than in the last 20 years of my life combined – and all of it was in the spirit of sharing and mutually improving our services to support autism families and for Off Track Thoroughbreds the world over.

I no longer feel like I’m shouting into the wilderness.  I feel connected and supported myself and further challenged to know that every wild dream the Darius and I have ever had for Square Peg is not only possible, but that beautiful and kind people have already paved the way and are willing to help us make these things come true.

I could wax on and on for pages – but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then here is a 1:30 video to tell the story of a very important year.

We need your support to continue to grow and connect and serve.

We PROMISE to make you proud to be a Square Peg supporter.

Please donate today.

In gratitude,

Joell &



“……turn and face the strain.” David Bowie

This week we hosted our gathering we call Salon.  We talked about Change.  We had the chance to talk about how fear of change balances with excitement about change and how trepidation and excitement are so closely linked and how we are better able to manage our fear of change when we feel connected and supported.

Connected and supported are the two things that come up every time we sit down and discuss complicated and difficult things.

Change. It’s all around us.  Seasons, climate, elections, aging.  Change our minds, change our space.

A friend posted on her Facebook page a story that a doctor had come to them to explain what he felt was “their reality.”  That they as a family needed to be prepared to support their child for the rest of her life because, in his opinion, she would likely never hold a job or live independently.

The woman’s social media community reached out in kindness and anger and we all digitally held this mother’s hand with words of encouragement and solidarity.

Connection and support.

But it wasn’t enough.

When I think of opportunities for Square Peg and where we are going and how best to honor families needs, donors’ contributions and employee and volunteer efforts – I think about where we are going and I remembered something radical that my friend Rupert Isaacson   said.

He was being interviewed and the interviewer asked him what his most dangerous idea was.

He didn’t hesitate – he knew exactly where he was going.

He said:

“What happens today is that a doctor walks into his office to confront anxious parents.  He/she sits down, looks them in the eye and says ‘your child has autism. You must be prepared that your child may never live independently.  He/she will need lifelong medication, special schooling and therapy.  He may never talk or hold a job.  You need to learn how to make visual schedules for everything and you will need special caregivers.’


Rupert’s wild and dangerous idea is this:

“Instead, the doctor walks into the office and addresses the same anxious parents by popping open a champagne bottle and pouring glasses and saying ‘you are in for a wild journey.  Your child has a different neurological makeup than most of us.  He sees the world differently and you, as his parent are going to learn more about this world than you ever imagined.  You will learn more about yourself, about nature, about language and about emotions than anyone you know.  You are going to meet some amazing people and your entire understanding of humanity will expand. So let’s toast to your new life and get this party started!’”

Change.  A change in perception – a shift from trepidation to excitement. A change from feeling abandoned to feeling supported and connected.

This shift means everything.  And the path for Square Peg becomes clear – to embody this shift from fear to engagement – from isolation to connection.


“………..And these children that you spit on   –  As they try to change their worlds –  Are immune to your consultations –  They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through”.    David Bowie 8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016

For Bert

October 2007, almost 11 yeas ago, a dark brown Dutch Warmblood came to stay at Square Peg.  He was handsome, he had a very good impression of himself, he had some moves.  For a time, he was king of the pasture and we called him “the Benevolent Dictator” because he ruled quietly, but carried a big stick.  He loved to lick people and did it with his eyes half closed, his thick and long eyelashes fluttering in pleasure.

He could carry you through exuberant lead changes and then pack a scared rider with care.  He always knew.

He was steadfast on the trail – brave and clever.

He and his best friend Panzer –  we referred to as “Grumpy Old Men” – they truly loved one another.

His favorite human, Carolyn cared for him daily with quiet walks and grooming.  Their bond was special and we are so grateful to Carolyn’s family for their support of Bert in his senior years.  They never wavered when he needed care.

He allowed pensive teen girls to scrub his white socks to a gleam and for wistful thinkers to braid flowers into his tail.

Dogs always wanted him to play with him and I never understood why they singled him out.

Last month,  friends were visiting from the Netherlands. The two teenaged daughters took him for a walk and spoke lovingly to him in his native Dutch.  I’m smiling just  remembering their sweet words and how he looked like he was enjoying it so throughly.

As his health and vigor faded, he never complained and I kept my promise that I’d feed and clean and medicate him as long as he still wanted to eat.

Today, he refused even the cookies he loved so much.  It was time.

Our steadfast veterinarian was with me to do what must be done. No matter what anyone tells you – it’s far from easy. But gentle Bert made it  clear to us that he was ready to go.

I’m so grateful to him – for the years of service and friendship.  For the joy he brought to so many.

Rest well my friend – and give my best to Cometa – another gallant soul who was part of the Square Peg Family that passed earlier this week.

This is the two of them together.  I’d like to think they are sharing stories again.

Is Square Peg at Cadence Farm – Sonoma What Your Family Is Looking For?

Square Peg at Cadence Farm is now accepting families to serve in Sonoma California. Conveniently located just off Hwy 121 in Sonoma we are able to offer our world class services for autism families.

Imagine a place where laughter is the norm – where sensory needs are addressed with kindness and respect and movement, curiosity, and play rule the day.  Imagine rescued and donated horses with a new lease on life caring for a family with grace and kindness… This is Square Peg

What you can expect? This video explains our method and illustrates our means of support

If this sounds like something your family wants to participate in – begin by filling out our online intake form.

One of our instructors will contact you to set up a no-obligation visit to the farm to see if Square Peg can support your family.

Interested in volunteering?  Start here.

Learn more about how Square Peg came to Cadence Farm 

Our News

Once upon a time there was a horsewoman.

Her name was Susan Pommer.  Susan was svelte, smart and strong.  She was  gentle and kind. Horses and humans adored her.  Susan earned her Bronze, Silver and Gold medals from the USDF.  In 2003, Susan and her husband Kurt bought 11 acres in sunny Sonoma and Cadence Farm was born.

For 14 years horses and riders found joy and acceptance at Cadence.  Under Susan’s thoughtful guidance, horses bloomed and humans achieved their riding goals.

Susan passed last year after a short and brutal battle with lung cancer. Everyone in Susan’s life, especially her family were left confused and heartbroken.

Susan’s family wanted Cadence Farm to continue with the spirit of Susan’s legacy – but who could live up to her vision, her kindness and her talent?

Sadly, nobody.


What if Cadence Farm would honor the spirit of Susan by offering a healing space for horses and humans?  What if horses needing a second chance could help people needing a place to feel they “fit in?”

In this spirit, Square Peg at Cadence Farm was developed.

Square Peg at Cadence Farm will be a satellite of Square Peg Foundation.  Our own Becca Knopf grew up at Cadence and is the project manager of the operation bringing her smile, her talents and her love of Susan to the project.

We are developing partners in Sonoma County in the autism community and working with CARMA to bring in more of our beloved OTTB’s to develop into program horses.

At 6am this morning, we sent three of our horses to begin their new life at Square Peg at Cadence Farm.

A new chapter for Square Peg has begun – to branch out into an additional location to serve more families.

We strive to honor this opportunity with the best of what Square Peg has to offer – the gifts of Dignity and Laughter and Care.

We officially begin operations July 1, 2018.

Stay tuned for more details.


Leadership – Calm is Contagious

The number one leadership factor is:” “Calm is Contagious” says former Navy SEAL commander Rourke Davis.

Imagine that?  Coming from a Navy SEAL – talking about leadership and he  sounds like a neo-buddhist hippy.

Calm is Contagious –  leadership advice.

Yesterday, a family came to the barn. The son is 18. He’s limited verbally and gifted physically. He loves riding horses, he loves waterskiing, swimming and snow skiing.

I was chatting with mom about their awesome ski trip while her son went with his favorite instructor grooming his horse. Mom and I were interrupted by her son yelling loudly and rushing toward us. His face was red and tears were running down both cheeks.

In hopes to help regulate her son, mom calmly showed him her phone with a visual schedule, she asked him to sit and we all did some simple breathing activities. After a few minutes, mom asked if he was ready to go back to his horse, he said yes and walked back to the horse.

A minute later, the same thing happened. He was seriously dis-regulated. His crying was real and he couldn’t tell us what was the matter. We asked him if he wanted to ride and he said he didn’t.  We told mom to go and get her helmet and that she could ride instead. This both excited and terrified mom but she’s as game as they come – autism moms are a tough bunch.

I took her son to the arena and we played his favorite music. He was fond of a country song, particularly of one phrase from the ditty where the singer crooned “I’ve got to pull myself together.”  He played it over and over and over.  Behaviors are communication folks.

The music played.

“I’ve got to pull myself

                  Pull myself

                  Pull myself

                  Pull myself together”   Over and over.

Mom was mounting the horse and like a lightning bolt, her son rushed at her, screaming, crying and reaching for her hair to pull.  I knew I couldn’t make it there before him so I shouted “incoming” to give the instructor, mom and the horse a heads up.

Mom was able to get off the horse and got her son to sit on the ground and told him clearly that rushing the horse and grabbing her hair was not acceptable – ever.

Disaster averted.

We decided to sit quietly with him as he skimmed through his music selection with the horse still close. We talked about life, weather and horses.  Mom brought the horse treats and we giggled at the horse’s lovely face.

We realized that the son was simply exhausted. The excitement of skiing, the drive home – it was a lot. He was not rested and therefore had no resilience available.  Mom also had been up late with him and she, like mothers have always done, put her weariness on hold and handled the day. The best thing we could do was to offer a safe and quiet space for both.

Mom sent us a photo 20 minutes after leaving – her son sound asleep in the back of the car. 

“Calm is contagious.”

Calm made the difference. Mom stayed safe, her son regulated. Calm is what turned a potential meltdown into a chance to find a space to rest. Calm kept the horse from reacting badly. Pedigree geeks in racing will note that the horse is a son of the mighty Fusiachi Pegasus, winner of the 2000 Kentucky Derby. He never wavered. Why?  Because Calm is Contagious.

Calm is valued and cultivated here – it’s how we help each other.

Watch the best horsemen in the world, no matter what the discipline and there’s  one uniting factor – Calm.

If we can help and support a tired autism family to cultivate calm – and find connection –  we have served our community.

There you have it – what’s good for Navy SEALs, world class horsemen, neo-buddhist hippies and us – is Calm and luckily, it’s contagious.

Now I’m going to try to take my own advice, put on some mud boots and deal with a broken water pipe in a muddy horse corral.

Peace out.

Prey Animals a blog post by Davis Finch


Blogger Davis Finch finds his voice and his truth in writing another thoughtful piece for the Square Peg website.


Horses are prey animals; they are constantly in fear of a predator that wants to eat them.  I have had bad anxiety all my life. Often I feel like a prey animal.  Like horses, I am big and could subdue most would be attackers but, also like horses, I still fear attack from a stronger force that I cannot subdue.  Horses fear of real predators such as mountain lions and coyotes has been an evolutionary necessity for them.  They also have irrational fears of harmless things such as floating plastic bags, tarps blowing in the wind, and poles on the ground.  

My anxiety has likely helped me by tempering my curiosity but can also result in persistent negative thoughts about confinement or death.  It is funny how I kept worrying about farfetched sources of harm but didn’t think to check where my dog was when I ran through the house in the middle of the night (I had a very bad fall).  Similarly, a horse could be freaking out about puddles and shadows but not colic and pasture accidents.

I guess we all have fears both rational and irrational.  Good horsemanship is earning the trust of a horse so he will follow you over his instinctual fears.  Maybe we humans can learn something from that?  Maybe if I can trust myself, I too can overcome my innate fears.  I know I have abnormally high anxiety, but perhaps those feelings of trust and fear are true for most people.  Perhaps, even though we can hunt and eat meat, humans are innately prey animals too.