By: Tracy Gantz

Published: Sunday, January 22, 2023
Photo Credit: Square Peg Foundation/RC Peters

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A giant sinkhole and other damage from California’s recent storms have severely impacted the Square Peg Foundation, which provides second careers for Thoroughbreds as part of beneficial therapy for people with autism. The damage is so extensive that the foundation must immediately move horses to a new location, using critical operating funds.

Following the rains, the sinkhole developed Jan. 12 on Highway 92 between Half Moon Bay and the San Francisco Bay Area, initially closing the road in both directions. The property that Square Peg leases for most of its horses and programs in Half Moon Bay sits on that highway, which is currently open for directional one-way traffic only.

Joell Dunlap, Square Peg’s director and co-founder with her husband, Christopher, said that access to the property has been severely limited for everyone from the organization’s interns, employees, and volunteers to the families depending on the therapy Square Peg provides, and even feed trucks. In addition, driveways to the ranch suffered extensive water damage and downed trees.

Square Peg has the opportunity to move its operation to a more accessible facility at Ocean View Farms in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

“Our lease was going to expire in March,” Dunlap said. “We had found this other property, but we were going to have to do some buildup. Our plan was to ask for a six-month extension and do this really thoughtful project. And then the rains came and we just have to go now before the next storms come in.”

gofundme page has been set up to help offset the immediate infrastructure needs and program fee losses.

“My goal is to do this so well and so thoughtfully,” Dunlap said, “that we’re going to be able to create a template for doing projects either for more satellites of Square Peg or mentor other organizations to do projects similar to us in national parks throughout the country. The goal was to do it slowly, and now I don’t have that luxury.”

Square Peg, which began 19 years ago and currently also has a satellite site in Sonoma, serves about 75 families weekly and employs several people with autism. It also has an intern job-training program for adults with autism. Seventeen of Square Peg’s 25 horses are Thoroughbreds, most coming from its affiliation with CARMA, the California Retirement Management Account. Square Peg is accredited through the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and is a member of the California Horse Power Coalition.

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