Apropos of today in our post feast feelings - today's perspective is from Robyn Peters whose name you may recognize because she is the photographer credited with most of the amazing images you see on the Square Peg site.

Volunteering:  It’s cheaper than a gym membership

Curtis wants to know – “Does Robyn have treats for me?”

Back in the day, for exercise and fitness, my daughter had a riding lesson every week, and I had a gym membership.  Then she wanted to ride more, and I looked at the budget and thought “so long, gym, it’s been nice to know you”.

But then, as I came out to Square Peg, twice a week, sometimes for several hours or more on the day of her lesson, I realized that I didn’t need that stinky gym membership, after all.

Why run (ok, true confession: I walked) on the treadmill,  smelling the armpit air of the folks around me, when I could be dancing around in the pasture, smelling relatively fresh air while trying to put a halter on a horse who wasn’t done playing yet, while his friends try to stick their noses into my pockets for snacks?

Said “Naughty Goats” photo by Robyn Peters (and her fitbit)

Why lift weights while Top 40 hits blasted at top volume, drowning out my thoughts, when I could sit on the top of a pile of feed and shovel pounds after pounds of cubes into rolling feed dispensers for the horses, while the silence (interrupted by the occasional naughty goat) gave me space to gather and arrange my thoughts?

Why climb endless flights on the Stairmaster, going nowhere while watching myself in the mirror, when I could hike up the hill to the top of the upper pasture and watch the sun set while slipping soft treats to Stitch and Monty, two retired lesson horses who have earned the good life?

Sit ups?  Who needs sit-ups to strengthen the core, when you can sit at the picnic table in the sunshine, and laugh and laugh and laugh at the antics of the crazy goats and hounds?

Square Peg.  It’s more than a farm.  It’s a full body workout.

“and a one and a two” workouts – Square Peg style

The Kunze Family has offered up a challenge to raise funds for Square Peg. Every dollar you donate between now and the end of the year will be matched up to $10,000! Your support is a lifeline to our families and the horses who call Square Peg their sanctuary. We are so grateful for your support.

the full moon over the ranch – photo by you-know-who

Today is our national day of giving thanks for the abundance in our lives. 
Once again, teen volunteer Tessa Biggs boils things down to the things that really matter.

By Tessa Biggs

As a high school freshman, I exist within the social confines of peer-imposed apathy. If I dare to join a club, engage in a conversation with any depth, or voice a personal passion, I will be ridiculed and shunned. I am surrounded by high schoolers who are either unable or unwilling to reveal the things that matter to them, the things that bring both joy and dedication to their lives – it is, frankly, socially unacceptable to give a $h!*.

But, I am energetic. Scratch that – I am beyond energetic. I am passionate and exuberant and I love being fully engaged. I want to matter, to learn everything I possibly can and strive to make an impact on our world.  

At Square Peg, I can, and I do.  

Almost two years ago, I stumbled into Square Peg as an over-eager Pony Clubber looking to do some good in the world. I didn’t really know what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to be at this barn. Joell happily put me to work and I have loved every minute.

I don’t have to pretend here. It is impossible to be indifferent when the children you spend time with continuously inspire and impassion you. About a year ago, I made a choice. In both my school and my social life, I no longer wanted to pretend to not care. I figured out that time spent detached from my true-self left me empty and bleak. I could not continue this way; So I stopped.

I remember someone in my history class mentioning their work at a soup kitchen for community service credit. Many students found this important work worth making fun of. I laughed, then kindly told the class where to shove it. My volunteer work at Square Peg is one of the most enriching and valuable aspects of my life. I have found a safe place where people praise my individuality, not diminish it. I have found my people, my ‘tribe,’ for whom I will be forever grateful.  

The best part is, I decided to care and no one cared. People respected my choice and liked me just the same – if not more. So all I really want to say is – it’s okay to care – in fact, it’s everything.

The Kunze Family has offered up a challenge to raise funds for Square Peg. Every dollar you donate between now and the end of the year will be matched up to $10,000! Your support is a lifeline to our families and the horses who call Square Peg their sanctuary. We are so grateful for your support.

Today’s story is from rider Davis Finch.  He tells his story of meeting Panzur – and how connecting with a special horse has helped him overcome anxiety and fear.

In August of last year, I was ready to return to riding after a nasty fall but I needed a new horse to ride. The fall IMG_0665 2made me realize the horse I was riding was too reactive for me and I no longer felt safe riding her.  The plan was for me to ride Henry, a large Thoroughbred that could support a rider my size. A few days before my first lesson back a 19-year old bay Holsteiner gelding named Panzur arrived at the ranch. The day before my lesson, I was having a bad day and didn’t have much time but Joell was adamant I meet the new horse. I visited him inside his stall, a tight squeeze owing to both of our large figures, and was smitten by his calm demeanor and sense of caring.  Despite being prepared for Henry, after meeting Panzur I knew he was the horse for my return to riding.  The next day I had my first lesson after a horse gave me the scariest moment of my life and it was a success.  His calmness and generosity were the perfect combination to counteract my anxiety.

Panz&AmySince last August I have been riding Panzur weekly and my anxiety level has slowly decreased.  While he is not the easiest horse to ride, he listens to me and we have a strong connection.  My primary motivation to return to riding after my fall was to feel that rhythmic movement of a horse walking. Riding calms my nerves and puts me in good spirits.  I think it is the result of the hormone oxytocin. I am not the only person he has this effect on. Panzur is the go-to horse for anxious riders including adults with eating disorders and kids on the autism spectrum. 

I am grateful to Laura Hansen for giving Square Peg her wonderful horse, Joell for guiding me in my lessons and everything else, and, of course, to Panzur himself for being so kind and giving.  I feel I was destined to work with Panzur the way he showed up just in time for my return to riding.

Sponsoring Panzur makes a special Holiday gift – The gift that keeps sharing joy and second chances for all of the Square Pegs who call the Ranch their community. The staff at Square Peg will work with sponsors to create a special momento if you would like to gift his sponsorship to a loved one.  A framed photo montage, a brass name-plate – The possibilities are fun – the gift is precious.


$9228 annually $769 per month
Monthly Breakdown of Panzur’s care and costs

  • Occupancy: $298 (rent, maintenance, insurance – does not include staff)
    Staff: $158 (includes care, training, grooming and exercise)
    Feed: $181      Farrier: $39       Vet: $52      Other: $41 (Dentistry, chiropractic, supplies, supplements)

Panzur having a group snuggle

Adults and children giggle, whisper, point as my teen son happily splashes in the shallow end of the pool. 

At the mall, little children run into him and fall down. Not my son’s fault! But, he gets lambasted by the mothers because he is a big guy who walks away rather than helping the child up. 

He can’t seem to do anything right. 

photo by Robyn Peters

It’s a cruel, judgemental world. 

He tries so hard. No wonder he is so anxious.

Yet at Square Peg, there is peace. The sun shines, trees sway with a gentle breeze.

There is a calmness that envelopes the ranch. Positive energy emanates from everywhere: the people, the animals, the land. 

Connor gets on a horse and he is transformed. No one looks at him except in awe of his posture, his natural seat, his command of the reins. He doesn’t flap his hands, he rarely vocalizes. He is one with the horse. He is in his heaven. He loves to ride. Walk or trot. Trail or arena. He doesn’t care. Fifteen minutes or an hour. He just needs to be on a horse. 

At Square Peg, Connor has no disability. The world isn’t hard.

My son who struggles to pay attention, especially to people speaking, pays rapt attention to his instructor. He does everything in his power to do exactly as she instructs. But, she is not judging. She is not dictating. She gently leads him. Where would he like to go in the ring? His choice. Would he like to trot or walk?

His choice.

She is teaching him to make choices. To be more independent. To let him know his opinion counts. To have confidence in himself. To be successful on his own terms. 

LaDonna Ford – a Square Peg mom

And, he thinks he is there for the horses. 

The Kunze Family has offered up a challenge to raise funds for Square Peg.  Every dollar you donate between now and the end of the year will be matched up to $10,000!  Your support is a lifeline to families like Connor's and to the horses who call Square Peg their sanctuary.  We are so grateful for your support.

Conner’s dad adds:

“I’ll admit I was skeptical when my wife told me that my son, who is afflicted with autism, was going to learn to ride a horse. I’ve witnessed Connor trying to drive small cars at amusement parks. He didn’t have sufficient concentration to keep the vehicle from hitting the track guards. How was he going to command a 1000 lb animal who has a mind of its own? How could he concentrate well enough to steer this animal or even stay in the saddle?

Learning to ride was a process. But, with a kind, gentle instructor and a like-minded horse, Connor has excelled and rides independently. There is no loss of concentration. He seems to connect with horses. The look of joy when he has the horse trotting is priceless. He can successfully steer the horse; something he cannot do with an inanimate car. And, it makes him and his parents proud. “

Conner really is here for the horses – photo by Robyn Peters

Today's perspective is from instructor Rachel Bisaillon.  Rachel started riding at Square Peg at the tender age of nine. She's been a rider, a volunteer, a mentor and now, while juggling college classes - she manages the barn, the volunteers, the ever changing lesson schedule and she teaches.
This is her story of the horse she loves and what he means to the Community at the Ranch:

bros-alicekem2I was offered my dream opportunity. One of the newest “Square Pegs” was a beautiful 17.1hh bay OTTB with long legs and the world’s cutest white snip.

Seven Bridges, also known as Ace, a Kentucky bred son of E Dubai, had me head over heels in love. Quiet and sweet, he had all the right makings of an easy horse to bring along. His canter was what we call “uphill” and he was reliable. Joell and one of my coaches encouraged me to put Ace into training at a show barn down the street and see how far we could go together.

I was astonished- this leggy guy could be all mine. I could see us flying around the cross country course, winning blue ribbons, and headed to Young Riders (a bit of a stretch but you never know!!) That thought lasted about 48 hours.

I put one of my younger students on him, and we ended the lesson with a little canter around the arena- her first time off the lungeIMG_4659 line. He quietly struck off, and the girl proceeded to lope happily around, yelling, “THIS IS AWESOME!” I knew that moment this horse was never leaving Square Peg. I shed a tear- this horse belonged here.

He is meant to be teaching the next generation how to be patient, overcome struggles, and enjoy learning. It meant more to me to watch him teach others than any ribbon ever could.


IMG_5309Like all of us,the horses here are “Square Pegs.” Everyone should ride a horse that makes them want to explode in sunshine and love.

Ace is also currently in training for his and my show debut at the Woodside May Eventing show, with a crew of ‘tweens who have assured me they will be flaunting “Team Ace” t-shirts. That is what really matters at the end of the day- a community full of love and support. And a horse who bats his long eyelashes in trust and willingness.

Who says you can’t have it all?


Sponsoring Ace makes a special Holiday gift – The gift that keeps sharing joy and second chances for all of the Square Pegs who call the Ranch their community. The staff at Square Peg will work with sponsors to create a special momento if you would like to gift his sponsorship to a loved one.  A framed photo montage, a brass name-plate – The possibilities are fun – the gift is precious.

Monthly cost to keep a horse at Square Peg
$9228 annually $769 per month
Monthly Breakdown:

  • Occupancy: $298 (rent, maintenance, insurance – does not include staff)
    Staff: $158 (includes care, training, grooming and exercise)
    Feed: $181
    Farrier: $39
    Vet: $52
    Other: $41 (Dentistry, chiropractic, supplies, supplements)

The holidays are upon us.

Short days, cold nights, warm beverages sipped from red cups…..

The fall harvest affords us the chance to convene and give thanks for all we have.The Solstice – however you celebrate it – is another gathering to help us through the the longest nights together.

In the Holiday spirit the pervading themes are – Togetherness, Community and Tribe. It’s this coming together that brings out the very best of who we are.

More than a ranch, more than a horse rescue, more than a riding program – the BEST of Square Peg is that we are a community.

From now until the new year, we will be publishing from the varied viewpoints of the Square Peg Community.

Essays, pictures and stories of how coming together in acceptance,  joy and service to the animals and to the families that trust us – makes us better, happier and healthier.

Today’s story is from Lisa Valerio – who is many things including an autism mom. We gave her 600 words to tell her story. She told it in twelve words and a photo.  She says that the smiles say it all. We couldn’t agree more.




Speaking at a conference last year, I made friends with Jill Carey who runs Festina Lente (Hasten Slowly) an equestrian

Jill Carey, Exec. Director of Festina Lente, a true Sageprogram in Wicklow, Ireland for disadvantaged kids.

program in Wicklow, Ireland for disadvantaged kids. 

Jill presented on the last morning and the room was full. She had a polished presentation with useful advice, good stories and evidence based practices. People were leaning in. Towards the end, a mother with an infant shyly slipped into the back of the room – some of the women frowned. They’d seen this mother and baby in other sessions and the baby was notoriously fussy and loud. Sure enough, as Jill was winding up to deliver her key points, the baby started wailing.

Eyes rolled. Heads wagged.  I looked to Jill to see how she would handle this. She stopped talking, cocked her head and said in her lovely Irish lilt “is there anything more beautiful than the sound of a healthy baby crying?” She smiled and looked lovingly on the mother and baby.

The room changed immediately. I changed profoundly. Most of us were mothers and/or aunties and grandmothers and for a minute, we we all grateful that this child’s lungs were clear and her cry was robust and healthy.

My friend Jill, with a moment of gratitude and humanity, turned a roomful of resentment into a estrogen-laden love fest. With one question, she turned eyeball rolling to sighs of contentment and celebration. Through compassion – she moved the room to joy.


butterflySo when I read this news story about neighbors suing an autism family for decreasing their property values. I wondered how to change the conversation.

Last night and was talking to a friend – a smart and thoughtful friend and she brought it up. She said she had mixed feelings after reading the articles.  She wouldn’t want to live around a kid that was “attacking her kids.”

She asked me to weigh in.

“Every family we serve at the ranch lives in fear of something like this. Each one has stories of how people see their kids as ‘spoiled’ ‘crazy’ or ‘undisciplined.’ They’ve been attacked in restaurants, found terrible notes on their cars and doors. Their stories will break your heart as a mother.”

Oh – she said.

“Every family” I continued “gets bullied by neighbors and even well-meaning family members about ‘all that kid needs is a good spanking/military school/whatever.'”

Wow – I didn’t realize – she said.

“One moment of compassion or a little effort to try and understand this family would make the neighborhood a real community and yet these neighbors chose to be small minded and turn the rest of the neighborhood against this struggling family. They had the chance to touch something special and they chose otherwise.”

My friend nodded and was quiet for a while.

Then I told her the story of my Irish friend and the crying baby. She was clearly affected. She was able to connect with the story of the crying baby and the shy mother in a way that she couldn’t identify with the autism family. But through that story, she began to understand. And it was good.

I wish I had one sentence that would connect communities to the autism families in their neighborhood in a beautiful and compassionate way. I don’t yet, but I will keep looking.

In the meantime, I’ll share one of my favorite bits of wild wisdom from the Sufi poet Hafiz

It’s your choice to be the small man or to be the Sage. Be the Sage.

How to Make the World Safer, Happier and More Supportive for Autism FamiliesPickle

A Diatribe by Joell Dunlap Sept 20, 2015

It’s not science, nor research.  It’s not engineering. It’s not even (dare I say it?) education.

The answer is – wait for it – it’s what you don’t want to hear –  but it won’t cost you a cent and it will improve our lives, but it strikes fear in the depth of our beings. The answer; is love.

Love with a lower case “l.”  Love in everyday things.  It’s not complicated and you don’t need to read a book about it. You don’t even have to understand it much. It’s just fucking love.

If it’s that simple why isn’t it happening?

Truth is – it is.  It’s in the posture of the dad in front of me in the BBQ line at the airport while his handsome autistic axel-jumpcrewteenaged son flapped and toe walked in circles while he ordered. In the teacher who works up a smile instead of an admonishment when her undiagnosed student launches into a monologue about cat breeds. In the autist herself as she steps back and views the people around her as strange and amusing aliens. In the sleepy dog who wants to run away from but instead stays present with the anxious boy tugging her ears. In the horse who  lowers her head knowing that the hand approaching her face will poke her in the eye again.

When we acknowledge this love – we can re-create it in the hard times.  We can forgive us our sins as we trespass against ourselves and our community time and again. Then, we radiate that love. We can’t help it.

And the world begins to change.

FullSizeRender 172

Written by Tessa Biggs


Every Sunday I drive to a small, hunter-green barn in Half Moon Bay.  Eucalyptus trees line the winding dirt road, greenery flourishes everywhere, and crisp ocean air fills your lungs.  It’s a magical spot – but what makes Square Peg Foundation so special isn’t the location. Square Peg is a non-profit, horsemanship center that works with disabled kids, mainly autistic.

Autistic people have an excess of a chemical called cortisol in their brains, which creates anxiety and stress. Rhythmic movement of the hips, such as riding a horse, produces oxytocin, which counteracts cortisol and creates feelings of happiness and peace. Aside from the neurochemical benefits, letting a child interact with such patient creatures helps them learn in a different way.  I’ve watched a four year old tell a seven foot tall horse to nod, give her a kiss, and then smile.

For a child who can rarely make eye contact,  this illuminates the idea of communication itself.

Today,  I want to tell everyone about J, a little boy who changed my life. The day I met J was a chilly Sunday morning in February. Out of the fog he emerged,  a wild-haired, pink-cheeked, 6 year old with a smile that could kill and and a giggle that rang out.  Instantly, I fell in love.

This past year, I have spent every Sunday with J, playing hide and seek, tag, and watching him grow. We’ve invented songs, built forts, caught lizards, wrestled, and rode.  No matter how terrible my week had been, he always brightened it. One week, he created handmade shirts for everyone. Another week, there was a jumping lesson that HE got to teach, with a singing lesson afterwards.

But every child has inevitable ups and downs. J fell into a rough patch: terrible frustration, violent tantrums, and negotiations. To him, punching, kicking, and spitting were how he communicated his anger. Yet somehow, the worst part was – he was unable to explain to us his inconsolable frustration.

Before we continue – I need to clarify: at Square Peg, acceptance is absolute. Elsewhere – acceptance is a privilege that can be bestowed or revoked depending on a child’s behavior. Acceptance, patience, and kindness are fundamental to any child, even more so for one who is not neurotypical.

After several explosive lessons, we knew that the game plan needed to be changed. After thorough discussion, we settled on a new idea.  J is a natural born leader, his creativity blossoms when he is given a task.  J would do an obstacle course, but he would have creative control. We set up barrels, ground poles, zig zags, and hula hoops.

When J arrived, we greeted him with hugs and waves and told him our big news. “ Hey dude, guess what? You get to do your own obstacle course: and we will all do it with you. You can teach us!” J shrieked in excitement, grabbed the pony, and bolted to the arena.

The minute he saw it, his eyes became fiery with determination. He immediately began to rearrange the course. We quickly said to him, “Two minutes of course building, and then jump on and ride your pony”

Surprisingly enough, after we told him his time was up, J happily mounted the pony and rode the course. Over the next hour, J carefully told us each new combination. Sometimes it was “around the barrels and through the hula hoop, and other times I had to canter around like a horse while he chased me – giggling uncontrollably.

While this seems like such a small event, he stayed focused, asked for permission to dismount, and thanked us at the end of the lesson; a profound breakthrough.

Author Paul Collins wrote, “the problem with pounding a Square Peg into a round hole isn’t that the hammering is such hard work, it’s that you are destroying the peg.” It isn’t about forcing those who are different into a predefined mold, it is about changing the mold of society to support and help the individual thrive.

J still has incapacitating meltdowns, but he is learning to communicate his needs in a nonviolent way.  I meet a lot of square pegs at the barn, and each one is beautiful, creative, and inspiring in their own unique way.

Square peg has taught me that sometimes its okay to fall on the floor laughing, to go with the flow, to check your ego at the door and openly make a fool of yourself. I have learned that depth and intellectual greatness lie in every individual.

“Love is all you need” The Beatles

 I would like to leave you with this poem by

Rob Siltanen with participation of Lee Clow

Here’s to the Crazy Ones/The round pegs in the square holes./ The ones who see things differently.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,

disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you cannot do is ignore them.

Because they change things.

They invent.  They imagine.  They heal.

They explore.  They create.  They inspire.

They push the human race forward. / Maybe they have to be crazy…

“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they

can change the world are the ones who do.”

Thank you.

Tessa Biggs – volunteer extraordinaire!