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 Christopher Dunlap
co-Founder, Board President
Square Peg Foundation


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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And you know what that means?  It’s time to start planning your outfit for the best Kentucky Derby Party in the West!  Plan your day  now for the first Saturday in May!

Printclick here to buy your tickets!

See photos of last year’s party. It was a feast for all the senses with polo, fashion and food!  Read some of the write ups:

Horse & Style Magazine

Sail Couture Blog

Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce Blog

It’s the spring party you don’t want to miss!  Click here to join us in our most important fundraiser of the year.



The New Year has us waxing nostalgic.  I’m famous for being a “non-holiday person” but I admit to using the short days and the long nights of December as a time to think and reflect and plan.What became clear as I thought about the amazing 2013 Square Peg had and the challenge and excitement 2014 will bring is that I, as Executive Director of Square Peg, need to answer the essential question  “What do I believe?”

A cup of tea at hand and a sleeping kitten on my feet, I pitched the reins at my heart and this is what appeared on the page.


I believe in the power of kindness.

I believe that caring for others is the only path to healing ourselves.


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

I believe that hearing laughter gives us strength.  I believe that laughter gives us strength.

I believe that if we can connect through laughter, we create a strong and tangible bond.

I believe that nature nurtures us all.

I believe that we are the best we can be when we trust each other.

Thank you to all who are joining us in our Revolution of Kindness. Happy 2014.

Jefferson Award Winner Rachel Bisaillon

One late night my tear stained cheeks and trembling body fled to the barn and poured my soul out to my favorite old thoroughbred. He quietly ate the saltine crackers I had brought him, and at that moment was when I realized that without him, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

Many places make me happy; beaches, my best friend’s house, and of course my favorite tea shop. But when someone asks where I am content, everyone knows my answer. It’s a place where I teach but also learn. I spend six days a week there, but it’s never enough. I don’t get paid, yet I spend over one hundred dollars a month to just be there. Square Peg Foundation is my home, and is the one true place where my heart aches to be. Square Peg is a barn that rescues horses from the race track and retrains them to use in a program which helps and teaches kids with special needs how to ride and care for an animal five times their size.

The reason it means so much to me was because four years ago I was a complete beginner, and over these past four years I have worked extremely hard to get to where I am today, and I am proud of that. Now, I am teaching lessons and retraining the horses, both of which I plan on doing full-time after college. The great thing about our barn is that no matter how much I teach the kids about riding or horse care, they manage to teach me more. These kids have so much depth to them and I often remind myself how lucky I am to be the one working beside these mini intellectuals. They really make me open my eyes, live in the present, and just enjoy this beautiful life I have created for myself. I love that now I am able to open doors for kids who were in my shoes four years ago, and hopefully help them find their passion in horses too. Although being 17 and knowing that this is exactly what I want to be doing for the rest of my life is a bit scary, I am grateful that I have found my passion so early on in life.

High school has been a roller-coaster, but the barn has kept me sane by providing a haven and an opportunity, and letting me be the one to choose my part in it. Being a part of this organization has taught me an abundance of lessons, through both riding and volunteering, and has made me who I am today. If there is ever a day that I am stressed, exhausted, or just not myself, spending a few hours with the kids will brighten up my entire upcoming week. The barn has opened opportunities for me, such as training jobs and grooming for a professional 3Day-Eventer, and has connected me with people who have now become mentors to me, and their passion for horses and kids has luckily been shared with me. It’s crazy to think that one place, just 15 minutes from my house, could change my entire life, but it’s true.

Click HERE to Watch the CBS News Interview of Rachel’s Jefferson Award

Without the kids, or the horses, or my close-knit barn family, I would not be the driven, accomplished, passionate, and sometimes completely silly 17 year-old I am today. So in all, this is the place I am content. A small barn nestled upon a hill, with amazing horses and amazing kids; a place that provides space for someone to find themselves and to save these unwanted but incredible wise animals. This place, Square Peg Foundation, is a place that I need in my life.

Please donate to Square Peg to support this work.

By August, we had built our own onsite campground next to the pond.  In the late summer, we hosted three campouts for 13 families and for a very IMG_3396special group of at risk girls. The experience was transformative.  Families enjoyed riding, hiking, kayaking on the pond, fireside music, and first class food.  Children had breakthroughs in sleep patterns, cognitive and social behavior and – most importantly – family fun in nature.   All of the camps were provided free of charge. Words cannot express how important  this is for families.

2013 was a pivotal year for Square Peg.  We exceeded everyone’s expectations.  We have shown national leadership in the areas of recreation for autism families, in horse rescue and in developing meaningful job experiences for young adults with developmental and learning disabilities.  Our new facility gives us the opportunity to grow and continue our simple but important mission to turn “I wish” into “I can” for kids and young adults who know what it’s like  to be a Square Peg.

Question: “If I donate to Square Peg, where does the money go? Answer – here