You Really Got Me Now

I came across a newsletter for an agency that provides behavioral services to families.

I read and watched it all – despite the fact that I was sick to my stomach.

Videos of “success stories” showing a child sitting on the floor stimming and then the therapist taking the toy away and the child melting down – and then – flash forward some manner of months later – the child seemingly happily interacting with the therapist in an engaged and cheerful fashion.  Stories of hope from parents who were able to go out do dinner because their child who would not tolerate a caregiver is now happy with the respite worker and mom and dad can go and have dinner together.

It’s basically good – an alleviation of the more distressing tenets of  autism – the repetitive and disassociated behaviors that define the condition.


If we can’t start by accepting that BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION and that a disrupted sensory system must be respected before we can repeatedly ask someone to change a behavior or to want to communicate with someone –

Then it’s just another exercise in standing on the shoulders of the people we claim to be serving.

This morning while feeding the horses the Kinks “You Really Got Me Now” played over and over in my head.  A total “ear worm.”  What was my psyche telling me? The angry guitar line matched my mood as I stomped through the mud feeding horses, or maybe  the line “you got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’ “ was in my mindset.

I came inside, took of my boots and brewed a cup of coffee and brought the song up on YouTube

I started to rock and nod my head to the song loops in the wonderful pre-punk psychedelic phenomena that is The Kinks.

Why is it ok and sexy and wonderful to be so distracted by love and by music to rock and spin and be so fascinated with someone that you feel the way the Kinks feel in the song?

Why can we attach to this song and not to the stimming rocking child in the classroom? Why can’t we understand that this child is experiencing his world in a very real way?  Why do insist on  make him stop his behaviors rather than to respect that what he is feeling is real?

If it’s okay to be driven to distraction by love – why is it so different to understand that this child might be driven to the same level of distraction by the sound of the refrigerator motor,  by the color of the sky, by the thought of his favorite toy or by the burning stomach ache he’s developing and like the Kinks,

“……You got me so I can’t sleep at night.”

“…….You got me so I don’t know what I’m doing.”

I don’t know much.  But I know that if we don’t focus on respecting our kids and recognizing that a sensory avalanche comes in many different colors and flavors and not all of them are bad – and that creating resilience means building trust and that trust only comes from LISTENING and from genuine care.

I know that this dad – Jason Hague is closer to the truth

For now, I’m going to listen to some psychedelic music and rock out.

Happy New Year –

Creating a Culture is Easier Than You Think

Tag is underrated.  There is no clear winner or loser and it plays in an endless loop. It’s a hallmark of Horse Boy and Movement Method work.

Many years ago, we added a feature to tag we call “New Rule.”

“New Rule” means that when you are tagged and you are “it” you have the chance to make a rule that everyone must follow.

Why is this important?

Because you put a disempowered child in power.

Naturally, he will abuse it.  Why wouldn’t he? It’s his chance to be powerful.  His new rule usually involves something humiliating for everyone else. You MUST follow that rule – with joy and silliness. Yes, I said silliness.  When we react with silliness we model resilience.

Soon, you or your staff is tagged and you will make a new rule. You make a kind one – or a generous one, – or you concede your chance and let the disempowered child  suggest another rule.  Maybe you manufacture a rule where everyone does something ridiculous together. You can give choices too. Each turn is played with laughter and tickles, falling on the ground and more laughter.

Naturally, one child will not get tagged. She’s too shy or too slow, and you bring her into the game (you model inclusiveness). One child is terrified of the energy and your next rule says that everyone must whisper and run in slow motion (you model sensitivity). Within minutes, you have created a culture where power is wielded with kindness ease and real inclusivity. Nuanced social skills are being modeled and natural reinforcement of kind behavior blooms without the taint of artificiality. If your child continues to be a tyrant in his rules – you follow them to the letter (you relieve the grip of shame and anger and very soon, he learns to make and have friends).

Earlier this month, our group posted articles saying the game of tag is being outlawed on school campus’.  It’s a reactionary approach. It’s a lost opportunity to model kindness and peaceful exchange of power and a chance to move and express ourselves in a way that is healthy for our bodies, for our senses and for our sense of self. However, it seems this is still allowed.

Yesterday, a child with a history of violence was brought into the game. The child with no school placement because of his acting out, a child diagnosed with social skills so low his family couldn’t eat in restaurants for years was inviting others into the game, making rules that were sweet and funny, recognized a child who wasn’t participating because she didn’t understand the game (a very complex social cue) and made special rules for her. When he stumped us with Pokemon trivia, he gently whispered clues to us. I can’t imagine a more successful day. He got a ton of exercise and sensory input with all the running and tagging and he was able to regulate in his transitions smoothly for the rest of the playdate.

By modeling a culture of delight, movement and sweetness – we got all we bargained for – and more.

Tag as education, swinging in hammocks and singing or isolation boxes – sounds like a no brainer to me.

Understanding and Being Understood – a Journey

Que paso? What happened?

Lo que pasa? What happens?

Que pasando? What is happening?

Que pasa?  What’s up?

About five months ago I downloaded Duolingo, a free app on to my phone to learn Spanish.

Duolingo works like a video game and the learning curve, even for a non gamer like myself, was smooth.

The language learning however, is not smooth for me.

Despite the fact that Duolingo has great science of learning behind it – despite knowing I can breeze through a lesson in five minutes – despite the fact that I live in California and have been traveling to Mexico regularly – this learning comes hard.

Really hard.  I’ve not missed a day of practicing. I regularly exceed my daily goals for Duolingo lessons, oftentimes by a factor of three or four times the daily goal – I’m struggling.

Yesterday, our shoer, the world’s nicest person and a native Spanish speaker drove on to the farm.  My plan was that I was going to greet him in Spanish and use my Spanish skills for every exchange possible.  After five months of serious study I was ready.

I opened my mouth to say “Buenos dias Jose. Feliz Navidad!”

What came out was nothing.

I started to sweat, my heart was racing.

I tried again.

Nothing. Nada

Jose looked up and greeted me warmly – in English and we chatted away in my native language.

I thought about how well he spoke my language and how, after months of study, I couldn’t  do an elementary greeting in his. I could of course – but panic got in the way.

The obvious reason I’m studying Spanish  is that most humans speak more than one language and I’m ashamed that I never acquired this skill. Living in California, Spanish is accessible, help is plentiful and there are lots of opportunities to listen and develop skills. I can help more autism families if I’m fluent in the second most spoken language in the state. Being a professional horse person, Spanish skills can be handy.

But the real reason I’ve taken on this task: Compassion.


Learning a complex and nuanced skill. One that does not come easily to me. Knowing that I’ll have to work harder than the average person and knowing that I will fail often and publicly – knowing that I will sound unsure, possibly stupid and that I will have difficulty making myself understood.  I will stumble. Some days, I feel like I’m really understanding the lesson and other days – it’s all gibberish.

Knowing that it may cause me to panic and want to run away from a conversation – knowing that I won’t be able to lead a conversation for a long time – if ever….  This connects me to our students.

Autism is primarily an anxiety disorder.  When we are anxious, our ability to communicate decreases or even evaporates – we can’t express ourselves – we can’t be heard. Words jumble and what comes out is not what we’d planned. We get frustrated, even angry.  Angry at ourselves, at the Universe.

This morning, I had an imaginary conversation in Spanish with a friend.  Words flowed from me easily, I found the verbs I needed in my memory and the articles felt natural. I wonder if some of our less verbal students have these imaginary conversations? Exchanges where they are heard and understood. Where the crippling grip of anxiety is released and they can say what they think to those they need to understand.

I will keep trying. Seguire intentando.

One of my mentors – Dominique Barbier told me (in reference to horse training) “you can teach a monkey 100 words and think that you are a great monkey trainer – but you haven’t even tried to learn to speak monkey. So what does that make you?”  My intention for 2018 is to learn to understand the languages of others. 


An Open Letter to the Staff of Square Peg Ranch

Yesterday just before dinner I got a text from a little boy. He was excited to tell me that one of the kids in his school, a child who doesn’t speak at all at school,  said “hi” to him. The school thinks the child is non-verbal. This boy knew that the silent child spoke because he knows that they both  attend weekly sessions at the ranch. He’d heard that this child  has rich conversations with his favorite people and animals at the ranch.

This is not insignificant. It’s important. It’s also important to recognize that both children know the significance of the effort.

Dr. Temple Grandin told us years ago that the power of the barn and the horses when she was a teen had less to do with the horses and more to do with the fact that it was “the first place she made friends.“

Like I said, we are on to something. Something very special. By adhering to our core values of acceptance, kindness,  creating and fiercely protecting community, follow the child and cultivating curiosity – miraculous things happen regularly around here.

I ask you, the core providers at SquarePegs Ranch, to take a moment and appreciate the value and the real difference you make in the lives of our families. Some days are easier than others. As we grow and expand, let us never forget these values and let us support each other in the hard days so we continue to lead by example.

We are breaking new ground here. I am so proud of you.

What if “love is the answer?”

#TeamQuirky for the win.

In gratitude and respect,

What used to be boring Saturdays……

This essay, written by Aaron Foley was submitted to the TCA Youth Essay Contest.

Thoroughbred Charities of America Youth Essay Contest

SquarePeg Foundation-A perfect Sanctuary for Horses & Humans

“…….the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole isn’t that the hammering is hard work – it’s that you’re destroying the peg.”  (Paul Collins)

Dear Thoroughbred Charities of America Board Members,

My name is Aaron and I am 10 years old. I am writing to tell you about the most amazing place on earth. “Squarepeg” in Half Moon Bay, California. Like many other kids with learning and coping disabilities, I was really struggling to find true “happiness” in my life.  I had always connected with animals, as they are non-judgmental and always forgiving; horses, cows and dogs being my favorites. We cannot have an animal in our place, so my mom found out about Squarepeg through my therapist at school. We did some research and loved the fact that its tagline was “Team Quirky” and its mission was to connect people and animals who don’t quite fit in. Its “home” to retired horses and we go to the Square Peg because the horses need us. We went to check it out and it truly is everything you would imagine a dream world would be is there a Horse-land (minus the unicorns according to my little sister).

What used to be boring Saturdays are now fun family day trips where we all go and enjoy the peaceful environment that is filled with the most gentle retired horses and caring humans. They humans have learned well from their animal friends and are extra understanding, patient, and kind. My parents used to hover around me nervously and now they see how good I am with the horses and how gentle they are with me, they go visit their favorite horses and I am free to be me!

My favorite horse is Ace, I like him the best, he is a total ham (a little like myself). He tries to eat me whenever I sit next to him, he really loves it when I bring him treats. When we arrive at Squarepeg, I immediately run to visit Ace, then sometimes I ride Ace around the arena.  Did I already mention how much Ace likes to eat a lot of food? he is super friendly and my pet horse.

I have been going to the Squarepeg for 3 years now and it always makes me excited to visit. As we drive there, I feel the excitement building in my tummy and I cannot wait to arrive. I feel welcome and accepted by the horses and the staff.

I know they do not care that I cannot hold a pencil or ride a bike. But, I can ride a horse and how cool is that! Sometimes at school when I am feeling down, I think about Squarepeg and our next visit and it helps me to cope that day. 

I would like to invite you to visit Squarepeg as I think you need to see it for yourselves to believe how fantastic it is. I would be so excited to win this competition for Squarepeg so they can do even more for kids and horses that don’t fit into the right “hole”. By the way, I read this essay to Ace and he tried to eat me in appreciation.


6,000 years ago, man asked the horse not just for his flesh for food, but for his obedience in our quest for land and power. The horse delivered.

Two centuries ago, we began to record and plan the Master Race of horse.  A horse imbued with all the qualities we hold dear – strength, fortitude, courage, determination and grace. We asked the horse to show us these things in contests that might take his life – and the horse delivered.

We saddled the horse with our hopes and dreams – we celebrated his Glory as if it were our own and when he disappointed us, we turned our backs and looked forward to a new generation that might again deliver that thrill that shakes our deepest souls.


“Thoroughbreds” by Louis Icart

We glorified him in ways he didn’t understand.

To say that the horse doesn’t understand Triumph is to undermine his nature and the dignity he deserves and the sacrifices he makes.

The horse finds comfort in  safety and he will always recognize and honor kindness. He knows that gentleness may come from strength or from innocence.

He asks silently for fresh air, room to move, a tribe.  If in addition, he could

Wind Lady with Black Horse by Luis Icart

receive friendship – he  lends us his back and harnesses himself to our hopes  to be able to rise above the terra firma as he bears us, albeit more slowly, toward Glory.

We passed the inferior, the wounded and the meek horses on in hopes that they might touch the humans who society deems inferior, wounded or meek.

Without complaint, the horse delivered.

The horse is my conduit on my path to God.  Whenever I make strides, not towards greatness, but toward humility and gratitude, the horse is there before me, waiting to deliver me to my next destination on the path to being awakened.

More Things I Should Have Said

Yesterday, we filmed a reality show at the ranch – four teens in expensive clothing

“Giving back” by volunteering.

I was dubious, my staff and I watched the show and saw vapid, handsome, entitled teens prancing and hair tossing. I met with our staff and they were ready to defend with their lives the dignity of our kids and the safety of our horses.

Watching anxiously just outside the camera’s view we let our kids and our horses take over

It was good.

Very good.

There were chase games and capturing games and our kids demanding stories about unicorns. There were piggyback rides and it all spontaneously ended with a dance party in the arena with tutus and hula hoops and dogs. The teens in fancy clothes were laughing and running and serving and falling on the ground in their expensive threads. They messed up their hair, they kissed the dogs on the nose and they opened their hearts to our families.

I have no idea what the camera saw. I don’t have control of what the directors will cut and what the tween watchers will see and understand – but what I witnessed was our quirky kids bringing out the very best in others.

And it was good.

Very good.

At the end, several of us shared a meal and laughs. We recalled some stories and I absolutely must write this memory down:

Quirky Kid #1: “my sister has William’s Syndrome. Do you have William’s Syndrome?

Quirky Kid #2 “No.”

Quirky Kid #1 “Do you have autism?”

Quirky Kid #2 “No.”

Quirky Kid #1 “Well, what do you have?”

Quirky Kid #2 thinks for a minute and answers “Barbies, I have Barbies.  Do you want to play with them?”

File this under “Things I should have said”

When we encounter something strange or different – something we don’t understand – at first there is Rejection, and Avoidance.

With education, we develop Tolerance.

With love and patience and a little luck, this morphs into Acceptance.

But where the magic happens – what Square Peg strives to build in every interaction we engage in – the rare transformative space – is Celebration.

Celebrating the differences in each of us – letting our quirky side show – finding joy and innocence and supporting each other with Celebration and the freedom to be your most unique and most precious self.

It’s an important message to send to awkward tweens watching a reality show where everyone is well dressed and attractive.

But I failed.  Because I didn’t think to say this. It came to me in the early hours of the morning of a sleepless night. I spent all week thinking how I’d manage the message. I’d get two minutes to talk to these reality TV stars about what Square Peg is all about and hope it would translate onto the screen.  I penned it out – I reached out to colleagues and even to our Social Media. I failed to get the message together.

But did I?

Turns out – our kids, horses, dogs and goats, our staff and volunteers didn’t have to tell them – they showed them.

And it was good.

Very good.

The episode will air in early September – I will keep you posted.

Peace out

Will You?

Will you gift $1,000,000


Because it’s important.


The pain caused when autism and mental illness are viewed as a human that needs fixing is not just toxic, it’s deadly.  Deadly for the autist, for their family and for our communities. A “fix” is not needed – support is.

Families are suffering from isolation and shame. These families suffer less from their loved one’s condition – but more from their community’s inability or unwillingness to accept and support them. Support and care for these families saves lives.

We are changing the words and the outlook while the science catches up. We are changing the words and the perception that meltdowns are viewed more like seizures – something the autist desperately, so desperately, wants to stop but as with a seizure – cannot. We are building the support staff that will weave this change into our social fabric.

Real resilience emerges when someone is authentically supported.  Support can be the humility to simply “be there” in storms of dis-regulation and rejoice in the joys of sharing  this planet and acknowledge the differences that constitute honest humanity.

Radical acceptance – Its effects are magic. The transformation of a soul who feels “less than” but is through acceptance; seen, heard and celebrated is the most profound change of all.

Your $1,000,000 preserves a space where radical acceptance and celebration of dignity brings the contagious peace that is the only hope for our world.

Is there anything more important?

Donate. Do it now. We promise to make you proud you did.

With your help the revolution of kindness marches on.

UPDATE:  If this link doesn’t convince you that this entire way of thinking about autism and behaviors needs to be completely disrupted – then we can’t imagine what would. If we don’t change this culture – who will? the time is NOW.  Join us.