Square Peg Foundation Provides Place For Everyone In California: Charity Spotlight Presented By Avion Law - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Square Peg Foundation Provides Place For Everyone In California: Charity Spotlight Presented By Avion Law

In the world of retired racehorses, there are the sporty off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs), those contributing to the gene pool as breeders and then there are the ones that don't seem to have a place.

The misfits.

The square pegs trying to fit in a hole.

But every once in a while, that square peg fits into the perfect spot, and they can be found at the Square Peg Foundation, located in California. The riding program has become a home for riders who don't fit the mold of a traditional riding lesson program or the traditional therapeutic riding program and for horses that don't fit the mold of a successful OTTB show horse.

“We started out just as our name suggests in 2004,” says Joell Dunlap, Registered Behavioral Technician and founder of Square Peg. “We saw that there was a need for the horses that were leaving the track and weren't a fit for the hunter ring or weren't able to secure a spot at a sanctuary.”

Twenty-five retired horses reside between the two Square Peg Foundation locations—Half Boon Bay and Sonoma County, Calif. The horses that come to the farms may have some reason for not making on as a retrained OTTB—injuries, quirky personalities or conformational faults—but they still fit well within the program.

“Those horses may be precluded from thriving in a sport home but that doesn't mean that they don't have value,” says Dunlap. “These horses don't know they aren't as worthy as the others. They still have value, even though it looks like they may have a handicap.”

One such horse is the latest addition to the barn. The foundation works alongside the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA) for any new horses that might be of value to their program and recently offered a gelding to the farm from off the track sporting a parrot mouth that would make any dressage rider quiver to try to bridle. Upon evaluation, while the gelding wasn't the prettiest boy, he had a gregarious personality and an impeccable work ethic that made him the perfect fit for the program. After a few rounds of dental work, his mouth has balanced out and he's fitting into the program just fine.

The riders that come to Square Peg have a variety of diagnosis from autism, ADHD, anxiety or anger issues – issues that may preclude them from a therapeutic program because they do not have any physical limitations.

“In fact, most are boys who are quite physical, so a therapeutic riding facility isn't necessarily going to serve them very well,” says Dunlap. “But in a traditional program they aren't going to be the type to stay on the rail and hold the outside rein.”

The program and horses also work alongside county mental health organizations, offers group work with the horses (mounted and unmounted) and they also pair with an in-patient program for eating disorders. More than 100 families are on the waiting list for a spot to work with the foundation because of the need to find a place that fits.

“I love to debunk the idea that Thoroughbreds are too fragile and fidgety to be good, trusting saddle horses,” says Dunlap. “We work alongside classical riders who, at first, thought we were crazy to use Thoroughbreds in this manner, but after a visit to our farm, they realize that these horses are smart, and they have huge hearts. We spent a couple hundred years breeding heart into this breed, and we've done it. Thoroughbreds have the heart to try and it's so inspirational. They bring a lot of inspiration to the people we serve who feel like they wouldn't have a place.”

So the edges might be rounded a bit, but in California, a square peg can find its place.

To learn more about the Square Peg Foundation, visit their website http://squarepegfoundation.org

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