A Visit to The Peeps Foundation

On a recent trip to Lexington, Kentucky, all of my childhood dreams came true when I was invited to visit The Peeps Foundation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this organization or its namesake, Peeps, it’s time for you to become familiar.

As I pulled onto the lovely Kentucky farm, I was immediately greeted by the Foundation’s fearless and talented leader, Josh Dolan; a free roaming dwarf miniature pony named Toasty; and a miniature fainting goat. Josh kindly let me step into his world and get a better understanding of the work that he and his team are doing to find safe and loving homes for these tiny equids and to put a stop to the abuse and neglect that has befallen so many of these adorable creatures.

The Peeps Foundation started in the spring of 2014 when Alex Granato of Mad Season LLC and Josh Dolan were on their way to a hunter/jumper show in Lexington, Kentucky.

Along their drive, they spotted a dwarf miniature pony out in a field. Josh was familiar with miniatures and with dwarfism, a rare genetic condition that causes deformation, weakness in the limbs, and many more long-term health issues. Feeling curious, they pulled over and found that the entrance to the property was locked and chained. Out of concern for the little guy in the paddock, they walked down a neighboring driveway. To their shock and distress, Josh and Alex discovered a field full of miniature ponies that appeared to be malnourished and in extremely poor health. Alex hopped the fence to find an additional mini starved in the barn aisle and many others in extremely dire conditions.

While working with the authorities to try to remedy this sad situation, Josh returned daily to find their condition worsening. Determined to do something, Josh left a note on the fence for the owner, who was nowhere to be found. To his surprise, the owner called that very night and offered to sell him the minis for a good price.

The Mad Season crew completely rearranged their nearly full show barn to accommodate the 35 miniature ponies that they rescued and nurtured back to health before finding them forever homes. One of the minis that they had rescued that day was the one they first saw in the field, Peeps. Peeps was diagnosed with Rhodococcus, a very serious and often deadly disease, but after four strenuous months of antibiotics, around-the-clock care, and a custom box stall to ship from Lexington to Wellington, Peeps was back to her spirited and sassy self.

Shortly after regaining her health, Peeps became an instant celebrity. She accompanied Josh on Chick-fil-A runs and regular visits to the WEF show grounds for Saturday Night Lights.

Since their initial rescue mission, Josh and Alex founded The Peeps Foundation to continue to help minis in need. Since its inception, The Peeps Foundation has helped hundreds of minis find loving homes. Notably, many of these adorable animals have found forever homes with some familiar faces, including actress Kaley Cuoco and riders Jessica Springsteen, Jennifer Gates, and Ben Maher, just to name a few.

During my visit (and while I fell in love and wanted to take every single one of the minis home with me), Josh spoke to me about some of the challenges he has in keeping paperwork in order for all of the minis coming in and out of their farm. They constantly have to dig through hundreds of file folders to locate various health documents, adoption records, and applications. He also has to spend a lot of time documenting all of the health treatments that they administer and instructions for new families to continue to care for their adopted minis.

Josh was hopeful that BarnManager could help him to simplify all of this work so that he could focus on the animals rather than the paperwork. Each time a new rescue comes to the farm, Josh can quickly snap photos of all of their documents and create a profile for them. As the new rescues are assessed and monitored, Josh and his team can keep records and store any reports from their vet or farrier in each pony’s profile. And when it is time for a mini to move to their new home, Josh can download and print or e-mail these records to their new family. He can also store copies of all adoption applications and contracts for his records and archive the adopted ponies so that their histories are saved, but they are no longer included in his active planning.

With the help of Josh, Peeps, and the rest of The Peeps Foundation team, we realized that we have a huge opportunity and a duty to support more organizations. That is why we have decided to offer Free Subscriptions for 501(c)(3) Organizations. All equine rescues and equine therapy centers with 501(c)(3) Charity Status are eligible to receive a FREE BarnManager subscription.

BarnManager was created to support managers and horse owners in providing the best care and management of their horses. And with Free for 501(c)(3), we want to further our mission to support all of the incredible organizations that work tirelessly to give horses a second chance, to improve the lives of others, and to bring happiness and well-being to people in need.

And there are so many other great equestrian companies who feel the same way!  After sharing our idea with Steven Bluman, CEO and Co-Founder of Equo, an instant collaboration was born.

Equo, the company that is redefining horse transportation, was founded with the mission of making the entire horse industry more reachable and accessible by connecting owners, trainers, and riders with shippers all around the country. With that in mind, being able to help those in need of a better home fits right in with their mission and core values. The Equo team is honored to help The Peeps Foundation to provide transportation for minis coming to the Foundation and then moving on to their forever homes.

If you own or operate a 501(c)(3) rescue or therapy organization and would like to sign up for a Free Subscription, click here for more information and to find out if you qualify.

For more information about the Peeps Foundation or how you can get involved, check out their website and follow them on Instagram (@mylittlepeepers) and Facebook.

And for all of your horse transport needs, head over to Equo to learn more about their services.

The Plaid Horse Blog: Nicole Lakin’s Barn Management Brain Child

“When it comes to horses, there’s nothing that can replace the feeling that you have whether you’re on the horse or on the ground with them,” Lakin said. “That’s irreplaceable and technology will never change that. What technology can do is to automate business side of things, and that’s what we’re doing with BarnManager. Nobody gets into the horse industry to be an accountant! Our mission that drives all of our design and development is to enable the incredibly hard working managers, grooms, riders, trainers, and all equestrians to spend more time getting to do the things that technology cannot.”

Check out The Plaid Horse Blog for more from a great interview with our founder, Nicole Lakin!

Nicole Lakin’s Barn Management Brain Child

a rider patting a horse

The Gift of Personality

quote about dreamers

I took a class in College called Personality in Politics. The class offered a wildly engaging analysis of the way that personality effects Politicians, policies and their ultimate success or failure. Think Time Magazine meets People Magazine. Needless to say, I loved it! This past week I found myself reflecting on those days while I observed some interactions between horse and rider, rider and trainer, rider and vet and so on. In the equestrian world, we are constantly surrounded by a huge variety of personalities, and I can’t help but take notice of how differently so many people seem to be working to achieve the same things.

In my past as a working student, and now as a happy horse loving amateur and a self-proclaimed student of the sport, I find myself spending lots of time in the schooling area. I am generally on foot more than in the saddle these days, which if you are in the right place at the right time can afford you some free lessons in riding, teaching, and patience (Let’s be frank, it is a busy schooling area).

three jumping trainers in the warmup ring

McLain Ward, Max Amaya, Jeffery Welles

There is no shortage of personalities in the schooling area at any busy show. Think about it the next time you are out there. There are timid riders, over-thinkers, under-thinkers, people in la-la land, aggressive riders, passive riders, angry riders and patient riders. I am really just scratching the surface here, and that doesn’t even take into account the various members of the ground crew that accompany each four legged creature. Look around, take a second to stop and listen. You will hear calm explanations, loud screaming, laughing, crying, fighting, joking.  And to each their own. It could be anybody’s day once they step into the ring.

a rider and horse in a barn

Meagan Nusz and Dynamo: No lack of Personality for Either of these two!

The additional complication to this meshing of personalities that happens  in any human interaction is that horses have personalities too. Part of working with horses is realizing that you are not just following a run of the mill recipe for success that works every time. Each horse requires a special understanding  in order to  best provide them with what they need.

In this vein, I thoroughly enjoyed a recent interview with the Incredible Eric Lamaze following his unprecedented winning streak in the Thursday WEF Grand Prix in Wellington, Florida this circuit. When asked by Equestrian Sport Blogger Extrordinaire Noelle Floyd what sets his sponsors Artisan Farm apart from other big time supporters of the sport, Eric answered very astutely:

“They are very, very understanding of our sport. They have a great understanding of our industry–what it takes to win, how easily you can lose. How easily you can be disappointed in a horse you purchased if {they’re} not a match with the rider or if you simply make a mistake. They really understand that this is not an exact science, and it’s impossible to get it right every single time.”

rider getting coached on a horse

Eric Lamaze, Artisan Farm’s Fine Lady, Tiffany Foster; Photo © Erin Gilmore

A rider such as Eric can hop on just about anything with four legs and 9 times out of 10,  he will make it better, or allow for him/her to be their best. This is not some magic voodoo that Eric, or other riders of his caliber have discovered and chosen not to share with the rest of us. There is no magic potion, bit or lucky socks. These people, and I include Managers, Grooms, Vets and Farriers in this category, have success because they take the time to understand each horse’s distinct personality. They put in the extra effort to find out what makes each horse tick, what makes them want to go out and give their all. And they find logical ways to meet the needs of each horse, each individual, each personality.

Similarly, the best teachers find a way to explain the same concept as many ways as it may take for each student to comprehend. They adapt their own personality to support and fill in the gaps of their pupils.

barn management team KPF

Team KPF

It is a beautiful thing to see a team like Mclain Ward’s or Kent Farrington’s work with one another, support one another, appreciate one another and succeed together.

a rider patting a horse

McLain and Rothchild aka Bongo

Personality is a gift. It makes us unique. It sets us apart and and makes us special. But the true gift is being able to identify and understand a personality, and work together to make something great. Sapphire and McLain, Hickstead and Eric, Rodrigo and Baloubet du Rouet, these are personalities who found each other, and made each other whole. And what horse and rider could not do for one another, grooms, managers, vets, exercise riders and more stepped up and did what needed to be done.

With modern politics in its current state, we could use more meshing of personalities to make each other great. In horses, in politics and in life, the dominant personality will always make itself known. But the success of that personality is all in how it works with others, and finds the right teammates to fill its gaps, make it stronger, make it better.

As horse people, it is on us to do the meshing, the hole filling, the supporting. Success with horses, no matter the arena, is finding the right fit, and working with your team to make it work. Personality impacts politics as it does equines. It is our responsibility to find the right team and adapt to one another’s personalities to support our equine counterparts (as I hope, however naively, politicians do to support their constituents).

horse in a paddock

Sapphire

As they say, teamwork makes the dream work. So the lessons that I have taken away from my observations of some of the best in the sport at the Winter Equestrian Festival through ups and downs, at their best moments, at their worst, and on the days that fall somewhere in between:

1. Surround yourself with a team that makes you your best self.

2. Respect and embrace the individuality of your horse, your team, your friends, and your peers.

3. Be willing to adapt to bring out the best in one another (Horse or human).

4. Stop and look around every once in a while. There are amazing people doing amazing things. And if you’re lucky, you may just get a front row seat.

Until Next Time…quote saying life is amazing

First Dates, First Impressions, The Joy of the Horse.

Jenny (the Director of Sales and Queen of Friendly at barnmanager.com) and I just returned from Denton, Texas where we visited with the AWESOME teams at Tom McCutcheon Reining Horses and McQuay Stables. We had an absolute blast, and have some exciting new features and programing coming your way!

Tom McCutcheon Reining Horses McQuay Stables

But more interestingly, Jenny and I had some very entertaining and somewhat enlightening conversation over dinner one night. As part of Jenny’s job at barnmanager.com, she finds herself meeting lots of new and interesting people on a daily basis. She is also the type of person who can walk up to anyone and have them laughing in a matter of seconds. She has this charismatic halo that follows her and envelops everyone in her presence. She is truly a ray of sunshine, and I am not exaggerating.

barn manager team member

Jenny is constantly reminded about the significance of first impressions. First impressions are her life. And lucky for her, she tends to leave a good one. But in our lives as both humans and equestrians, we find ourselves constantly struggling with how we hope to impress ourselves upon the universe. Obviously, everyone wants to leave a “good” impression. But what does that mean?

person in a store aisle

Our equestrian upbringing has made us who and what we are. We have learned that nothing worth getting comes without hard work, some ups and downs, and often sacrifice. While Jenny and I are wildly different people with wildly different personalities, we find that our work ethic and our overall attitude and approach towards “work” is the same. This comes in large part  from the way we were raised….and by raised, of course i must lend some credit to our parents, but mostly I mean how horses raised us. Nothing given. Respect earned day after day. Things changing in an instant. Adapting could sometimes mean scrapping months of hard work and starting anew. And the rewards were epically more gratifying.

person on a horse

If you came of age in a barn, you know what I mean. We take pride in everything that we do. In every accomplishment and in every failure we search for meaning and understanding.

We are proud of who we have become and how we arrived at this place. And yet, as Jenny discussed with me over a glass of Malbec, what does it mean for the non-horsey when we reveal ourselves as “people who ride horses?” What do our roles as “horse-girls,” equestrians or even people who work in the Equine Industry lend to their first impressions of us?

back view of a person on a horse

While on a first date with a Dealer of Rare Violins (I will never be able to understand how or where she meets these people), Jenny struggled with the choice of whether or not to tell her new acquaintance what exactly she does for a living. What will it mean to him? And how on earth can one explain that they sell Web-based software to horse farms? Jenny and I seem to have found a way to keep one foot firmly planted in the horse world while allowing the other to dangle to and fro, testing the waters and occasionally diving in thigh high. Is it more of a 3rd or 4th date kind of thing? (This is all assuming that we allow them the luxury).

I assume that for anyone with anchors in two universes this question arises sooner or later. We are who we are, for better or worse. We aim to be our best selves, and to put that out into the world for others to see. And my best self is the person that horses made me to be.

For Jenny, the answer became clear as she started describing her job, and ultimately her life to her new musical friend. She hesitated at first when he asked her what she does for a living. It is nearly impossible to qualify or quantify what we do to a non-horse person. Jenny struggles with the fact that many of her childhood friends are pursuing careers as doctors, lawyers and real estate developers and seemingly having a larger impact on the world. What she does tends to feel small and immaterial in comparison.

horse and rider going over a jump

As she described to him what barnmanger.com is,  how it came to be, and how she has helped to develop it from its weanling stages, his face grew harder and harder to read. So she kept talking and struggling to explain something that is always slightly inexplicable. When she stopped, the violin dealer reveled in her passion, which he said shone in her eyes as she spoke about horses and the role that they play in her life. He found himself floored by how much she loved what she was doing and jealous that he did not feel so strongly about his Violins. (I imagine they aren’t nearly as cuddly as a horse).

What Jenny discovered that night was that a passion for horses goes so far beyond a first impression. It reveals something much deeper. If the recipient of such information is paying close enough attention, they will feel that extra je ne sais quoi that makes Jenny who she is. They will see in the way her eyes light up that she knows some special secret that maybe one day she will share with them (if they are lucky). She may not be curing diseases or amassing a great fortune, but she is living a noble life by living with a joy that is contagious: the joy of the horse.

person on a horse

horse selfie

Alaska: A story of me…because of him

Before moving into the Washington International Horse Show for the week, I made a quick trip down to Gordonsville, Virginia to visit the beautiful rehab facility and farm that is Oak Hill. Oak Hill is owned and operated by Dr. Timothy Ober DVM (U.S.E.T. Show Jumping team vet) and his amazing team. But most importantly, Oak Hill is the home to my horse Alaska for his retirement years. Alaska turned 20 this year summer, and my visit included much celebrating and reflecting on our time together.

horse in a field

Anyone who loves an animal understands that there is a unique bond between human and animal. There is a silent language, often accompanied by looks of understanding, unsolicited displays of affection, and a certain loyalty that two humans are not capable of recreating between one another. Whether it is a dog who never leaves your side when you are home sick, or a horse that makes you question whether you are the one in charge, they make us feel whole.

kissing a horse on the nose

The joy that I felt in seeing how happy my horse is living out his retirement surrounded by breathtaking scenery, caring people, and an abundance of everything that a horse could ever dream of was all encompassing. I walked around the farm smiling from ear to ear, inhaling slowly and allowing the fresh country air to sweep me into a state of bliss.

On a quiet Sunday morning, I sat in the grass in the middle of his beautiful green paddock. I watched him move slowly and pleasantly around the field following the best grass. Every few minutes, he came over to where I sat and checked in, patted me down in search of treats, looked at me with is big warm eyes, and went back to munching. I think that anyone who passed by probably thought that I was crazy, but I never feel more at home than I do when I am near him.

horse in field with person

Alaska came into my life by accident. He came to me as a circumstance of coincidence and luck, and I never could have predicted just what luck he was bringing along with him. He was a kind and generous teacher. One that never held a mistake against me for even a nanosecond and who rewarded me generously for my growth and development. As a rider and horseperson, I was better for having him in my life.

horse going over a jumprider hugging a horse

 

He spurred my interest in horse care and management. Growing up a barn rat, I spent as much time with the horses and in the barn as I could. But with Alaska, my time in the barn became more focused. I wanted to learn to care for him in the best ways. I stalked vets, farriers, chiropractors and more, listening, trying to see what they were seeing. and feel what they felt. I became more in tune to the subtleties of communication between animal and human.

close up of a horse's eye

And in the meantime, Alaska did his thing. He taught, he was patient, and he brought happiness and purpose to my life. And so, it was only appropriate that he played a leading role in shining a light on what was to become the most trying time of my young life.

At 17 years old, thinking that I had life nearly figured out, my world came crashing down. Alaska was so gentle and kind that to fall off of him was an embarrassment in itself. At the time, I had never had the pleasure of falling from the 18.2 hand equine’s back. So when I lost my balance and struggled to come off as gently as possible, I found myself in a special kind of pain. Along with a bruised ego, I had fractured a couple of ribs. Broken ribs require x-ray.

From Alaska’s back to x-rays and CAT Scans and blood work and PET Scans. A tumor had been growing inside my chest. Did he know? My parents were convinced that his wisdom extended into the supernatural. To them, he saved my life. All that I know is that it happened. I fell off of him for the first time during our partnership, and I fell in such a way that a chest x-ray was required, and a chest x-ray got the ball rolling that led to a diagnoses of Stage 3 Lymphoma.

person kissing a horse on the nose

I don’t know if he was an agent of fate. I don’t know if he was brought to my life for this reason. But as I sat on the grassy hill, watching him make his way slowly across the field in my direction, I didn’t care. I am not here without him; I am not me without him.

Cancer is terrifying. Everything in your life turns backwards, upside down and inside out. We all go through challenges in life, and we all handle these challenges to the best of our ability. But Alaska made it easy. He remained a constant source of light, love and happiness. While some people looked at me with sadness or  fear and struggled to find things to say that did not need to be said, Alaska looked at me the same. If possible, he was maybe kinder and gentler than ever. He sustained me. He rescued me from dark places, he gave me consistency, hope and peace.

horse wearing a birthday hat

As I sit here today, 8 years of remission under my belt, I am so grateful to see him living the life that he deserves. We celebrated his 20th birthday with a birthday bag filled with 20 lbs of carrots. I think he is in the prime of his life. He spends his days surrounded by beauty, perhaps the same beauty that he brought to my life. The beauty of waking up each day and looking forward to what life has in store for you. The beauty of appreciating each day for what it brings and not wanting for more. The beauty of knowing that no matter where you go or how you get there, you are lucky enough to be here in the first place. And the beauty in knowing that we found each other, and the rest just is.

horse selfie

“We found each other, and the rest just is.”