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First off, hello! My name is Rachel and I work at the Square Peg Foundation, located in Half Moon Bay CA. I have been with the program since 2004 and Iliane asked me to put together a monthly blog post about what is going on at our ranch and students. We are accredited as a 4* Independent Horse Boy Tribe, and all staff is certified in the Horse Boy Method.

We work with ex-racehorses and kids with a wide variety of different diagnosis’, though we mainly serve students on the autism spectrum. In short, we have 22 horses, a kick-ass facility, an FIV+ barn cat, and coastal weather. Throw that together with a gaggle of volunteers, a few badly behaved barn critters, and a staff that loves what we do. Add a cup of acceptance, a “yes” environment, and love. In a nutshell, that is Square Peg. Welcome to our crazy, but awesome tribe! Our website is www.squarepegfoundation.org  if you are interested in visiting or being a part of our program. Enough about me though- here is our first Horse Boy blog entry!

- October was a crazy month for the Square Peg ranch. We are still adjusting to our advanced students going back to school and trying to manage both the barn and our community outreach/fundraising schedule has been a bit of a struggle. I stepped in and did my first volunteer event alone- not as scary as I thought. Then again, it wouldn't be Square Peg without some chaos, smiles, laughter, and new ideas. I firmly believe that every blog post must be accompanied by photos, so here we go :) October Recap!

First Photo: This is Ava, with Bonnie the bunny. I have always admired Horse Boy for their small animal activities and have both seen and heard how much it engages Rowan. We are not at the stage in our program where we can take on a small animal full time (our goats and kitty cat are already a handful!), so I was brainstorming about how to get the experience of a bunny playdate for a student, but without actually owning one. It turns out one of our best volunteers, Serena, is in the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and is in an agriculture class at her high school. She had recently rescued a bunny named Bonnie, and was sweet enough to bring Bonnie out for a playdate. Since then, Serena has leash trained Bonnie and we are planning more playdates once our weather is more stabilized. This was probably my proudest moment this month because I engaged a student, engaged a volunteer, and facilitated the playdate on my own. It was so great to see the response from the family and now Ava has requested bunny playdates more often!

Second photo: We have recently taken in not one, not two, but three new babies. Finn (7), Ace (5), and Owen (3). We call them our bay-bies; I was and still am pretty proud of that pun :) In the photo, Ace is being ridden by the founder of our program, Joell Dunlap. Ace and Owen have decided that they are the best of friends (I call them the bros), and Finn is settling in as a giant teddy bear. Fun Fact: Finn's race name was Autism Awakeness, and he earned about $14,000 on the track. We are so blessed to have these horses at our barn- love the bay-bies!

Third photo: This month, we have been hosting "Horse Courses" on Sunday afternoons as a horsemanship class for our advanced students, as well as an invitational session to thank our hard-working volunteers. We find that by spending the time to educate and train our core volunteers, our program is safer, smarter, and more productive. This was a Horse Course centered around trick training. We have a centralized area surrounded by stalls and turn outs to do ALL trick training in. Once the carrot bag is brought out, the surrounding horses start paying attention and wanting an "in" on the treat action. In this photo Stan is demonstrating his pedestal work and our newest trick, pick it up. Of course, Stanley was more than willing to show our other horses how it is done. Since we have started the Horse Course demonstrations, we have trained 4 new horses to do a variety of tricks. Smile is still the favorite of the kids though- who could blame them though, it IS pretty adorable.

Fourth photo: After a lesson, I somehow convinced one of my students, Karolyne, to ride bareback, backwards, AND take a picture- oh the life I live! Time and time again we have shown how important and special sensory work is and this was the perfect example. This student in particular was in need of a calming moment- which she got! She even took a little butt nap on Django.

Fifth photo. This is Ava again, riding Rickie, our resident pony. One of Ava's favorite things is dressing up, so why stop when she comes to the barn! Rickie is a saint and always lets us dress her up too, which Ava of course thinks is the bee’s knees. We are so blessed to have Rickie because its so nice for the kids to be able to hop off and on so easily, as well as the fact that she is so sturdy for our more adventurous lesson kids. Ava mainly enjoys feeding the horses, riding Rickie up to her castle (the swing set) and being photographed. Her smiles bring so much sunshine to my Sunday afternoons.