Join our revolution of kindness.  Giant Steps Foundation has issued a $15,000 challenge grant through the end of September, 2014.  Every dollar you contribute will be matched by our friends at Giant Steps up to $15,000.  Please donate today.

One subject comes up time and again when professionals reach out to help us solve fundraising problems.  “The problem with Square Peg is that it’s just not scaleable.”  

Yup. It’s true.  100% true.  So, how can we have the impact that our donors deserve?  Are you ready?  Here it is: Square Peg is so much more important than scaleable- it’s inspirational. Can we show you how?

Ten years ago we set out to change the world – one horse and one child at a time.  It’s a slow, beautiful and positive road.  The ripples of acceptance and kindness emanate from the ranch every single day for the last 10+ years.

Here’s Seven Bridges.  He’s five years old and last year, he suffered a race career ending injury.  His owner/breeder is a thoughtful man and the folks at CARMA took him in and re-habilitated him for almost a year.  Then they paid for him to come all the way up from San Diego to live at Square Peg.  This is his first time under saddle at the ranch.  He’s kind, intelligent and sweet.  He’s going to be able to teach kids about second chances, about kindness and generosity.  He’s an example of responsible owners and breeders looking to place their horses safely after their race career is over.  He’s an inspiration.

Seven Bridges (KY) ( E Dubai – Take the Picture, by Doneraile Court) owned and bred by Bruce Chandler (photo by Hunter Flynn)

CARMA Placement program graduate Seven Bridges gets his first trip under saddle at Square Peg Ranch

the smile says it all. photo by Sarah Hitzeman

Here’s a montage of the smiles that our pony Rickie evokes.  It’s fall and most of our kids are going back to school.  Parents are suffering through brutal IEP’s.  Kids are doing their best to try to fit in and learn the ropes of a classroom that is a cacophony of flickering fluorescent lights, confusing tasks, and mind scrambling social rules.  At the ranch, they get to be the king, the princess, the warrior.  Ricky takes them places where they can explore, sing, squeal or just rest. Rickie is not scaleable – she’s a treasure.

This us Pickle – we laugh and say he’s the best therapy dog we’ve ever had.  He’s the best mouser we’ve ever known and he’s FIV+. Each day he goes without symptoms is a gift.

Let’s not forrget the surfers from the Half Moon Bay Surf Club.  Every year, Square Peg gives them the chance to share their surfing skills with kids who struggle.  Every year these uber cool teens come bounding to the beach eager to play and attend to and accept the kids we bring to them.  Want to be inspired?  Take a look at how these kids aren’t afraid to go wherever our Square Peg kids take them.  You don’t need to fear for the future when you see these kids in action.

We’re going to leave scaleability to the hamburger franchises and computer companies.  Here, at a little ranch by the sea, we are looking to our animals and our families to inspire us to continue to change the world – one horse and one child at a time.

Giant Steps Foundation has issued a $15,000 challenge grant through the end of September, 2014.  Every dollar you contribute will be matched by our friends at Giant Steps up to $15,000.  Please donate.

www.gapingvoid.com

Sand, Sun and Ocean

Sand, Sun and Ocean

...and friends; tons and tons of friends

…and friends; tons and tons of friends

play, excitement, acceptance

play, excitement, acceptance

oh yeah, and visiting humpback whales!

For the third year in a row, Square Peg teamed up with the Half Moon Bay Surf Club to bring Bay Area autism families to the beach for a two days of surfing, fun and respite – free of charge.

This isn’t about curing or treating autism.  It’s about love and laughter and friendship and caring for the family as a whole.  Siblings of the autistic children join in on the fun as well. The whales, however, that might have been magic.  In my 20 years of living on the Coastside, I’ve never witnessed humpbacks in so close to the beach.  I’m not prone to mysticism, but there was clearly something special happening.

“Catch a Wave and You’re Sitting on Top of the World”

Imagine your child’s perfect day – away from sensory triggers, in nature, with caring and silly friends.  He’s celebrated for his running in circles and singing to himself. He’s encouraged to explore and run and shout by capable and caring teens.  Then whales and dolphins come and visit.   You, the autism parent pour yourself another cup of tea and join the other parents on the beach squealing with pleasure or resting on the warm sand.

I have been meaning to write all week to say what an incredible morning that was. I know J never really got in the water, at least not past his waist, but getting in a wetsuit was huge and being in the ocean with such incredible, caring, young people was truly a gift.

“The day was magical and of course the things that no one could plan, the whales breeching, the dolphins and sea lions and all the birds, the perfect weather conditions were a awesome. But as a parent, who has been to many events, the things that you did plan, the wetsuits, the boards, the sand toys, all the food and the absolutely amazing team of adults and teens was beyond inspirational and touching. There were numerous time during and after that tears came to my eyes when thinking about the generous spirit you all brought to the day. I could not have asked for more and yet I wanted more. I wanted to stay forever and plan to bring J back down for riding if you can accommodate us.”

Dina Tarah, MFT

How it all happened

This day, with the exception of the whales, dolphins, pelicans and sea lions making a most welcomed guest appearance, is the brainchild of BenettonRupert Isaacson, founder of the Horse Boy Method™. The Method uses nature, humor, movement and horses to celebrate joy, wonder and communication between autistic children and their families. Isaacson has trained therapeutic riding centers all over the globe in the Method and works extensively with Half Moon Bay’s Square Peg Ranch in setting up a Flagship Center for HorseBoy work at the 10 year old non-profit. When Isaacson visited in the early spring of 2012 he was sitting in Peet’s Coffee with me, Square Peg’s Director and co-Founder.

“You know Joell, all these kids are so drawn to the water and the movement of the ocean is similar to the movement of the horse. Because its so big and rhythmic and powerful. I’ve always dreamed that what we are doing with horses, we can do with surfing.  Do you know any surfers?”

I already had my phone out  placing a call to Maverick’s Executive Director and Half Moon Bay Surf Club Head Coach Rocky Raynor.  Within minutes Rocky joined us at the coffee shop.  As he walked in I tried to hug him and introduce him to Rupert, but Rocky was busy dialing his phone.  “Talk to this guy.”  He hands the phone to Rupert, gives me a hug and says “This is going to be great!”

That phone call as it turns out was to former Coastside resident and teacher Jack Viorel of Wilmington North Carolina.  Jack’s Indo Jax Surf Charities has conducted adaptive surfing for kids with struggles such as sight and hearing impairment, homeless orphans and, as it turns out, autism.

Jack made plans to travel with his crew to Half Moon Bay and taught the local kids his secrets of how to keep the guest surfers safe and give them the thrilling rides that surfers call “the stoke.”

Since that first day, we’ve conducted a total of seven special surf days at Roosevelt Beach in Half Moon Bay for autism families.  We’ve racked up thousands of hours of volunteer time and service and served over 50 families.  Sitting on top of the World indeed!

Humpback Whales spy-hopping at Roosevelt Beach, Half Moon Bay

A Requiem for Bob

I believe in the power of kindness

I believe in the power of kindness

I wonder if you were aware of how much joy you brought to so many over your 32 years of life?  I wonder if you realized how much the people on your back needed what you generously gave them over and over, day after day, year after year?

SuperBobYour patience, the way you would stand still, so quiet for fidgeting children and doting women, baffled me. They braided flowers in your tail and painted pictures on your hips. Your placid acceptance of new people, young scared horses and confusing surroundings saved my bacon time and again.

Tiny Bob, with your world-class movement and steady gaits, you brought songs to the throats of kids, smiles to their exhausted parents, peace to unquiet souls.

And for what? For twice daily meals?

Did you ever think that there was something else for you? Did you look at the moon at night, swish your thick tail and think “unfair!”

How did you pull yourself together with such grace and poise to serve the suffering humans who needed to borrow your elegance, your strength, your power, time and again?

When you needed to roam, you simply let yourself out of your stall and wandered around the barn opening doors and eating weeds.  I’d get to the barn in the morning and you would snort at me unapologetically and if I could, I wouldn’t put you back in your stall until just before people started to arrive.  I’d go about my work and you would wander.  I loved those mornings.  I’d be doing my thing and you would be doing yours.  You were not the kind of horse to seek me out and follow me around.  You didn’t crave attention or praise.  I often thought it embarrassed you.

Our last moment was later than it should have been. By the time we’d found you, your eyes were swollen shut and all the hair was missing around your ears – from the thrashing. You’d had a nightmare of a night. Colic is the beast we dread.

When I got there, I knew it was bad.  Standing silently, eyes clouded with pain but ears alert your tail eerily still you submitted to my inspection of damage.  If I didn’t know that stoic look you got,  if I didn’t know that the extra wrinkles in your muzzle indicated pain,  I would have thought you were just tired. Despite all this, I  hoped for the best.  A walk, a nap, some pain drugs and day after tomorrow, you would be right as rain, ready as always to work shoulder to shoulder with me as we had for the last eight years.

DSC_0596I took your heart rate.  It should have been 40 beats per minute.  Your gallant heart was pounding away at 80.  I thought about taking it again, to see if I was wrong, but I couldn’t bear to hear your pulse banging in my ears at that frantic pain crazed pace. The fight had gone out of you. You were suffering.

I kissed the white star on your forehead. It was our last intimate moment.

Death is funny.  In the movies, the dying hero exhales and passes on.  In reality there’s an inhale and you wait for the exhale that never comes.  It stays inside and life simply leaves.

Horse girls are rough and tumble.  Horse girls are brave and tough.  They learn early to suck it up and kick on.  When working with an animal eight to 14 times your size, you’d better figure out quick if you have the moxie to stay the course.

I’ve seen little farm girls giggling while riding snorting broncs and I’ve seen trust fund daughters ride jumper courses with a broken wrist held together with vet wrap and two Advil.

A friend in her 60’s played polo her whole life.  The doctor told her that if she had another fall, her retinas would detach and she would be blind.  She played anyway and went down hard on the field breaking her neck.  After two months in the hospital she said “you know what?  My eyes are just fine!”

There’s a Spanish proverb that says “When I am on my horse, only God is taller than I.” Horse girls don’t fear what normal people fear.  They fear confinement, they fear boredom.  They crave the sun and wind on their face and strong muscles carrying them far and wide. They go to great lengths to feed their obsession.

Gabriela was a horse girl through and through.  We first met when she was 17 years old and 50lbs. She traveled in a wheelchair

“Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.” John Wayne

powered by an aid. She couldn’t talk without the help of a communicator and she couldn’t bring the communicator to the barn. I learned to ask yes or no questions and she would respond with eye movement when she wasn’t too tired.  Our first ride lasted five minutes before she fell asleep exhausted but happy. She’d been told by two different facilities that she was “too disabled to ride.”  But she knew she needed to ride.

I tried leading a trusty horse with two side walkers, but she couldn’t support herself and I realized that even with the strongest and the most attentive side walkers, it wasn’t safe and it didn’t give her the dignity of the ride she so richly deserved.  Gabriela wanted to ride.  I took a deep breath and a leap of faith and hopped up on the horse’s back, took Gabriela in my arms and away we went.

That was nine years ago.  In those intervening years, we had adventures.  Gabriela loved to go fast and I worked had to find and train horses that could deliver for her. We rode Feathers, Sugar, LeRoi, Cometa, Classica, Bob, Gigi and for the last couple of years – Django. If the arena was quiet and the horse steady, we would canter together.  Sometimes, she’d fall asleep in my arms and if I could, we just kept riding.  There were days I told her all kinds of things and days I relished the quiet ride.  She never complained unless we didn’t do enough trotting or cantering.  I’d get a Facebook message from her or a note from her mom or one of her aides telling me that rides were fine, but she really liked to

photo by Paul Van Allen

photo by Paul Van Allen

“go fast.”  There were scares, like the time the horse tripped and went to his knees with Gabriela in my arms. I was horrified! Gabriela’s aid looked at her face and her smile was as wide as Texas.  She loved it.

She loved Greg and when he could, he’d take her on a trail ride.  It took Herculean strength to balance her body coming down hills and iron thighs to not squish her while going up them.  Greg

Photo by Paul Van Allen

Photo by Paul Van Allen

alone could do it.

Gabriela died Friday losing her battle with a nasty flu.  I wonder what I would have done differently if I’d known that her ride a couple of weeks ago was our last together.

Tomorrow I’m saddling up my red pony and galloping up the biggest hill I can find. I will hold Gabriela in my heart with me.  It will have to do.

For nine years, Gabriela taught me about bravery.  She knew a fall would kill her frail body, and she rode anyway.  Toughest horse girl I’ll ever know.

PVA_2516 PVA_2547 PVA_2559

I was all of 22 years old when I hit a low point.

“Lad was the horse you told your troubles to. He patiently stood as a dozen or so girls cried tears of teenaged angst on his lanky shoulders. He had a soft spot for baby anything and treated chicks, kittens, foals and toddlers with a tenderness that belied his giant 17.2hh frame”

“Lad was the horse you told your troubles to. He had a soft spot for baby anything and treated chicks, kittens, foals and toddlers with a tenderness that belied his giant 17.2hh frame. http://www.squarepegfoundation.org/2014/03/looking-back-on-lad-a-love-story-2/

One minute I’m living my dream of working on a thoroughbred farm, the next minute I’m being chased across a parking lot by a 6’4” drunk ranch foreman hell bent on hurting someone. The ranch was bankrupt and all of our paychecks had just bounced. I was broke, I was scared and my brave move to live my dream was turning into a nightmare. I was too proud and too stubborn to call my folks or even my best girlfriends. There was only one place to go – to the side of my leggy horse Lad. He didn’t lecture or offer advice, he was simply present and he let me cry myself out. With his help, I was able to scrape up the dignity and strength to push on.

Fast forward ten years and it’s 2001. Now that I was fairly established in the horse business, I started pursuing my other ambition – to be a published author. I put my best foot forward and published a piece about my aging horse Lad. I led with the fact that a 24 year old horse had touched more lives than most people might. Not only had he served as my friend and leaning post these 12 years, but he was my constant companion in raising my impetuous and highly individual son. I poured my heart into the piece. Lad had been a racehorse, a show horse, a school horse, a racetrack pony and lastly a babysitter for weanlings. He’d spent his entire life serving everyone with everything he had.  It was the first piece of writing I’d ever gotten paid for. Lad had made another fantasy of mine come true; to be a professional writer.

Lad died on Joe Shelton’s ranch in 2002. I thought Lad’s story ended at that point and he was just a tender memory for me, my son and a few others.

Boy was I wrong. Hang on folks, this is where things turn mystical.

Just last month a Texas man found Lad’s story on our website and there is no telling how he did it. By admission, he’s not a horse person, but he Googled Lad’s racing name and there was my story (we had reposted it in 2008). He browsed the Square Peg Ranch website and picked up his phone. I was driving up the California coast on my way to the barn when his call came in.

“Is this Joel Brewster-Dunlap?”

“Um, this is Joell, can I help you?”

“My name is Terry and I’m calling from Dallas Texas. Do you remember a horse named Lite Lee Lad?”

Stop the truck.

I swallow hard. “Why yes Terry, he’s a horse I will never forget.”

“Do you have a minute to talk?”

“Sir, you have my undivided attention.”

“Well, I’m not a horse person, but my Dad was, and he bred and raced Lite Lee Lad.  My Dad’s name was Lee, you see.  Even though he had an artificial leg, he worked in car parts sales as a counter sales person most of, if not all, of his career and he loved the races.  When he retired, he bought a fifth-wheel trailer and had a few horses – he raised Lad himself.  He followed his horses around the California and Arizona racing circuit.”

Terry stops and I realize he’s crying “Sorry m’am, this is kind of hard.”

photo used with the permission of Terry Brantley

photo used with the permission of Terry Brantley

“Go ahead Terry, take your time.”

“One night the races were at the Solano County fair in Vallejo and my dad was found slumped in his trailer, he’d had a massive stroke. I flew in from Texas, and when the doctors convinced my sister and I that he was indeed brain dead, we agreed to take him off life support and some hours later he was gone. But Lite Lee Lad kept racing with my uncle. Within a month or two, he was claimed away and I never knew where he went. My dad’s horse you see, with his name and everything and then they were both just gone. I never forgot that horse. And then I found your article and found out that he was with you. I was so happy and I just wanted to talk to you, but I couldn’t find you. I held on to that article for years and I put it in Google the other day and I found you and Square Peg Ranch and you just don’t know how happy it makes me to know that Lite Lee Lad was part of what you do for kids and ex-racehorses.”

Both Terry and I have given up holding back tears. All I can do is thank him for his kindness, for his story and for finding me.

“I’m going to scan a couple of his win pictures and send them to you. Will that be okay?”

Of note; these photos are 34 years old – “Yes Terry, I would love to have them.”
Lite Lee Lad raced an astounding 46 times. For reference: Secretariat and Man O’ War both ran 21 times, Seattle Slew raced 17 times. He packed me and others over jumps for a decade, he was the key to me starting my first and second riding school and he spent his last days taking care of weanling foals. He was never famous and I never thought he meant much to anyone but me.

2014-04-19-0000 - Lite Lee Lad (3 of 3)

photo used by permission of Terry Brantley sidenote – this was Kentucky Derby Day 1981 – Pleasant Colony was winning the Derby as Lad won at the Big Fresno Fair

The day I received Terry’s call, I called my parents to tell them the story. My mother, also not a horse person said “I will always love Laddie because he kept my daughter from a nervous breakdown.”  All these years and I had no idea that my mother knew. Another gift from Lad.

Twelve years after his death, this hard-knocking gangly racehorse is still touching my life with grace and beauty. Now I know he’s also touching Terry’s life too. Terry told me he knows his father, Lee, would be overjoyed to know what his most beloved Lite Lee Lad had done.

Today I stand in awe of the power of a thoroughbred to unite us in our humanity and to build bridges. I honor your memory sweet Laddie and I am grateful for your service to all.


 

Joell Dunlap is the co-founder and executive director of Square Peg Ranch a non profit in Half Moon Bay that pairs horses who need a second chance with kids who know what it’s like to be a Square Peg (mainly, kids on the autism spectrum). Joell can be reached at joell@squarepegfoundation.org

“Clap along if you feel like Happiness is the Truth” Pharrell Williams – Happy

I’m pretty disconnected from the world of pop music. I learn about what’s popular from my students, their hip families and our teen and millennial volunteers.

I believe that kindness in children can and must be modeled, fostered and cultivated.

I believe that kindness in children can and must be modeled, fostered and cultivated.

I had however, fallen in love with Lorde’s “Royals.” So when a six year old student started belting out his own lyrics while cantering around the arena in my lap, I laughed and squealed with him as he sang “We can never be ROYALS, You can be a green bean!”

I lead a charmed life full of joy.

This week’s pop song might be my favorite of all time. One of our families visited and I won’t lie, this little guy can be a challenge.  Sometimes, he just needs to destroy things and the trick is finding a space and an activity where he can work through his struggles and keep himself, others, critters and equipment as safe as possible. He’s broken rocks, jumps, helmets, toys, our fire pit, earthworms and more.  We’ve had some ingenious ways to help him channel energy and anger and we’ve had to repair and replace some stuff. He’s also one of the brightest and neatest kids ever and a smile from him can make your entire week

When he and his sister visited we met him in the parking lot with Rickie, our feisty pony.  He wanted to head straight to the campsite, a 600 yard hike from his car so off we went, his dad and little sister in tow.  We’d had a week of rain and the campsite was soggy and our raft, which we’d forgotten to flip over, was pulled ashore and full of water.  He hopped from the pony and was in the raft, calling it his swimming pool before we could intervene.  It’s April and it’s the Coastside, so a warm day is about 62F.  In a few more moments, he was naked in his “swimming pool” and face down in the water blowing bubbles and licking the sides.  I gathered up his clothes and hung them to drip while he played.

Clap along if you feel like that’s what you want to do.”

Both his dad and I realized about 15 minutes in that he was getting chilled and we started thinking about

Lady Godiva – Josephine Wall Fantasy Paintings

strategies to get him back to some dry clothes and warmth.Nothing seemed to work, he was loving the feeling of the water on his face and on his body, even if his lips were turning a little bit blue. We both looked at his wet clothes dripping on the fence and knew that getting him back in them was going to be a sensory nightmare. I squatted next to him while the pony grazed and started talking about Lady Godiva, the 11th century noblewoman who rode her horse naked through the streets of the village to oppose the oppressive taxes her husband had waged against his tenants.  Our little swimmer was still lolling in the raft but I knew he heard me.  His little sister offered to be the mayor of our village if her brother, who we now called “Lord Godiva” would ride naked through our imaginary town and back to the barn.

Rickie our pony was wearing a wool square pad with a navajo blanket on top and I removed the navajo and told Lord Godiva that it was a warm and royal robe for his highness.  We lifted him like the nobleman he was onto his awaiting steed and covered his chilly shoulders with his royal robe and proceeded to ride back to the barn, with his sister the mayor telling everyone to “make way for the naked Lord Godiva.” We marched and pranced our way back to the barn.

I realized that Lord Godiva was singing quietly under his breath.  I leaned in and this is what he was singing “Because I’m happy. Because I’m happy.  Because I’m happeeeeeee.”

I really do lead a charmed and joyful life.  I’m so grateful for the trust and love of our families to trust us to follow their children and the beautiful and amazing places they take us. A simple reminder to stay present, stay joyful and “Clap along if you feel like Happiness is the Truth!”

For the last several days, email to squarepegfoundation.org has been down. Email coming in to our server was therefore delayed, and in some cases failed.

As of this morning, email to squarepegfoundation.org is restored and is working properly, but it may take some time for any delayed email to get delivered.

Any new email to a squarepegfoundation.org address will be delivered promptly.

It would help us if you would please do two things:

1. Resend any email that you have sent to us in the last week.
2. If you receive a mail delivery status notification of email you sent to squarepegfoundation.org, please forward it to darius@squarepegfoundation.org so that I can check the details and ensure that we don’t have any remaining problems.

Thank you, and I apologize for any trouble this has caused.

Anyone who would like to know more of the technical details can read on…

Our server developed a very strange problem with its RAID array, which we thought at first would be easily resolved, but it wasn’t. Ultimately, we had to get new hardware to replace the old, and then go through a laborious process of rebuilding the RAID. As of this morning, this server is still not up and running.

Other than email, our lesson scheduling database is also effected. As of this morning (April 2, 2014), that system is still not running.

We fixed our email by adding the squarepegfoundation.org domain to our Google Apps account, where everyonefits.org has been for several years.

Your email server may not re-try to contact our email server for many hours, so any delayed email may not be delivered to us right away, even though our new Google-powered email is in place and ready. It’s also possible that your email server has already given up, in which case you should receive a notification that delivery failed. Different email servers are configured differently in this regard, so you may see different notifications, including some saying that email delivery has been delayed.

This is all frustrating, of course, despite heroic efforts by our volunteer IT team. Thank you all for your patience!

Darius


Darius Christopher Dunlap
co-Founder, Board President
Square Peg Foundation
darius@squarepegfoundation.org

http://squarepegfoundation.org

We are reposting a story originally written in 2001 and then re-written in 2008.  Check back in 48 hours for the follow up story that will amaze and astound you.  

Looking Back on Lad – a love story

by JOELL on DECEMBER 24, 2008

ladLooking back on Lad’s 30 years of life, I realize that he acquired more friends and touched more lives with joy than a lot people.

At 17.2hh and 29 years old he looked his age. His lower lip hung open and he drooled. His huge withers and backbone stuck out as if he was emaciated. His perfect crescent moon on his forehead morphed into something of a long crooked lightening bolt. Advanced arthritis meant that we couldn’t keep him in a stall, so he would live out in pasture. His eyes held a wise, gentle gleam.

He lived out his last years in a pasture with some five or six weanlings on Joe Shelton’s rescue ranch. He was quick to reprimand a bold foal and even quicker to let the shy ones bask in the security of his huge frame.

At 25 he taught novice riders to jump and was still up for a good gallop on the trails when the opportunity presented itself. However, arthritis and size was a double-whammy. We turned him out for good after he got down in a stall late one night and couldn’t get up. Some friends owned a lay-up farm and I trailered him to their place for what I thought was the last time. Laddy limped out of the trailer; his one eye swollen almost shut from thrashing in the stall. His shaggy coat and enlarged ankles left no trace of the handsome show horse of days past. The owner of the farm patted Lad’s long neck and asked what the old horse’s name was. I managed to choke the word “Lad” as I handed him the lead rope. Suddenly the man’s eyes lit up and said “Not Lite Lee Lad?” Astounded, I nodded yes.

“Honey!” the man yelled as he handed me back the rope and went running to find his wife. “You’ll never guess who’s here! It’s Big Lad!” The wife appeared from the house, recognized her old friend and came running to him. It was obvious she know him as she immediately started scratching his favorite spot behind his left ear.

It turned out that this couple had taken care of Lad 20+ years and 1,000 miles ago during his race career in Arizona. Lad was nervous and difficult. Billy, his one time exercise rider and now retirement manager told us stories of how Lad used to pace a stall all night and rage around the track no matter what part of him hurt. He said that Lad never ran a good race until the trainer built an outdoor pen for him so that he could watch the racetrack day and night. When Lad came off the track from his morning gallop, reared, wheeled and tried to jump back onto the track, that meant that it was time for Lad to race. He was indeed a hard horse to forget. He had found a home that would love him like I did.

At 20 Lad began his career as a lesson horse. I ran a riding program through a Montessori school in Sacramento, California. We had a couple of acres fenced in the front of the school with big oak shade trees and a small riding area. I always kept Lad plus  Bert and Ernie, our lesson ponies in pasture year-round and gave lessons for as long as the weather would let us. In the 100+ degree summer, the kids would ride around the pasture while I turned on the sprinklers. Lad could always be counted on the carefully place the kids in the direct route of the water spray. He was spoiled with carrots and apples from the school kitchen and developed a taste for graham crackers. The children, age 5 to 12 were always enchanted to go from riding the ponies to enjoying the view from a 17.2hh Thoroughbred. He was my “Equalizer” who knew how to instill confidence and when to issue attitude adjustments. You could count on Laddy to walk gingerly with the scared kids or to be found lounging peacefully under a shade tree while a particularly bratty child tried to kick him into a trot. He received more Christmas cards from students than I did. I keep them in a box with his ribbons and photos.

When he was 15 we attempted our first dressage test. He kicked, bucked and whinnied throughout the entire test. The judge called us to her after our final salute and wanted to know how old the tall and slim promising prospect was. She assumed that he was a 4-year-old warmblood. “He’s 15 this year, Ma’am” I replied. She scowled. We placed 3rd.

At 10 Laddy was packing a very inexperienced me around jumper courses. There are times when I had no idea which fence to Ladat20 take next, but he always got me there. I didn’t know what a “spot” was; I just pointed and took ahold of his thick mane. He was honest and bold. He forgave me all my mistakes and taught me when to be a passenger and when to be a pilot. He was famous for dragging me along for a victory lap around the arena after a particularly good round. He taught me to live for the moment.

Along the years, I have many, many fond stories of Lad. Like when I tried to use him as a pony at the racetrack. Somewhere around the quarter pole, Lad would transform from steady pony to racehorse. He would incite the horse he was leading into an all out horse race with me somewhere in the middle. He was always letting himself out of his stall at the track in the wee hours of the morning and roaming the grounds just out of the reach of the security guards.

Or the time he got tired of packing around a scared student and so he decided to trot back to me in the middle of the arena. Unfortunately, there were two jumps between him and me, which he cleared neatly. When I looked up and saw what was coming I called out to the student “Hey, I thought you said you never jumped!”

“I CAN’T!” she wailed.

“Ya can now!” was my reply.

She went on to be a fairly accomplished rider.

Laddy ha dan empathy that drew people in distress. He was the horse you told your troubles to. He nursed me through sickJoellAndLaddie-1 children, a divorce and career changes. He patiently stood as a dozen or so girls cried tears of teenaged angst on his lanky shoulders. He had a soft spot for baby anything and treated chicks, kittens, foals and toddlers with a tenderness that belied his immense size. My dad said that if he were human he would be Uncle Remus; a rich storyteller who taught moral lessons in life through gentle, colorful stories.

Laddy died many winters ago on Joe Shelton’s rescue ranch. He laid down in his stall and just couldn’t get up. The I’d like to think the vet cried as she mercifully ended his long and wonderful life.

He will always be one of my truest friends.

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