Thoroughbred Champions

By Joell Dunlap, Square Peg Foundation

Thoroughbred Champions

Square Peg Foundation helps children and adults find success, strength and inspiration within themselves through their interaction with rescue horses. In this article, we get a behind-the-scenes peek at what goes into making an Abilities Expo event like the Horse Boy Demonstration amazing.

We get some funny requests from time to time. They might be, “Can I send you my nine-year-old daughter to live with you for the summer as a volunteer? She really loves horses and she needs to learn how to work.”

Or something simpler, such as, “I have this lovely two-year-old stud colt at the track. He’s broke his withers flipping over in the starting gate, but I’m sure he would be wonderful for your kids.”

I do my best to smile and thank people for asking but, ahem, NO!

So, when Rupert Isaacson, creator of The HorseBoy Method asked if we could bring our horses into the San Jose Convention Center to demonstrate HorseBoy Method for kids with autism at the Abilities Expo (I need to explain that this meant riding horses on the concrete floor of the San Jose Convention Center in and amongst vendors demonstrating things like wheelchairs and hydraulic lifts for people with physical mobility issues; there would be hundreds of spectators, microphones, flash cameras and all sorts of service animals), I couldn’t believe it when I heard myself say, “Sure, we can help you out.”

Horse Boy

“Fantastic!” replied Rupert, “I’ll send you an email with some tips and I’d like for the horses to be able to do some tricks like smile on cue, bow and, if you can get them to stand on a pedestal, that would be great.”

Again, some alien must have invaded my voice box as I heard myself say, “Sounds like fun! How much time do we have to train them?”

“Next week is the show and it’s three days in a row, by the way. I’ll fly in on Friday and we will go from there. Did I mention that we will have to bring them into the convention center via the loading docks, will that be okay with your horses? You’re a champion—thanks so much.”

Now, I’ll admit, I think my ego had taken over at this point and there was no turning back. You see, my ego is absolutely sure that there are no better, kinder or smarter horses on the planet than Square Peg horses. “No problem,” I smiled brightly.

We started the trick training in earnest. I was amazed with which horses took to it immediately and which horses ignored our entreaties. It was clear that our beautiful, albeit large and young and very athletic son of “Broken Vow,” “My Cheatin’ Heart” aka “Hank” was a star at the tricks and loved to perform. We also trained up “Cometa,” a 19-year-old thoroughbred whose beauty is only surpassed by his kindness.

Horse Boy

Friday loomed ahead of me. Things got busy and the days were short. My plans to exercise and trick train the horses twice daily were thwarted by pressing matters time and again.

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Our thoroughbreds not only performed, but they exceeded all expectations with their kindness and generosity. They were often surrounded by wheelchairs festooned with motors, ventilators, balloons and more. They watched scissor lifts raise machinery into the air around them, they smiled on cue, bowed for the crowd and let numerous children with many types of disabilities including vision loss, cerebral palsy, limb deformities and developmental disabilities pet and massage them.

They trusted us and they trusted the pesky rubber boots we put on their flinty hooves to minimize the slipping that would occur on the sleek show room floor. The crowd loved them and they basked in the adoration even when the clapping of hands scared them. They were ambassadors of freedom and strength and power to people to whom life has dealt a different hand.

Horse Method

The Square Peg Thoroughbreds were champions in the truest sense of the word and I am so very, very proud.

Kudos to the Abilities Expo staff who made us feel so welcome and who put on a brave face when a flat truck tire nearly ruined our plans.

And hats off to Rupert Isaacson who not only talked us into this adventure, he held the crowds spellbound with his honest and from-the-heart discussion of the healing nature of horses for folks with neuro-psychological challenges.

For more information on the Square Pegs Foundation, visit

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