LEMOORE — Twice a week Wanna Castaneda’s 5-year-old son, Sebastian, straps on a shiny gold helmet.
Daisy or Mister are always waiting for him, tacked up with a small English saddle and blanket.
Sebastian has been coming to Path to Hope Therapeutic Riding Center near Lemoore for a few months, Castaneda said.
The riding lesson facility has been a place for equine-assisted therapy to Sebastian, who has Asperger syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum, Castaneda said.
Gabby Godinho started the therapy program in March, she said. She has been riding at the ranch since she was 8 years old. The owner of the facility prompted her to start equine-assisted therapy, a dream of hers for years.
“I’ve always been very passionate about it,” Godinho said. “I was going to wait until I was done teaching, but I know there’s a big need for (equine-assisted therapy) in the south valley.”
Godinho is a registered behavioral technician, she said. She teaches equine-assisted therapy lessons in the morning and evening while going out on client calls for a different company in the afternoon.
She is also a single mom and in school to finish her Bachelor’s in early childhood education, she said. But she finds time to teach people of all ages riding and equine-assisted therapy lessons.
Sebastian has improved on several skills since starting the therapy lessons, Castaneda said.
“He loves being here,” Castaneda said. “He is better at balancing. He has been talking better and following more orders since he started. I’ve actually been thinking of increasing to three lessons a week.”
Godinho’s therapeutic riding center accepts clients with any type of social or psychological disorder, she said. She has worked with people with behavioral issues, developmental delays, autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and more.
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Equine-assisted therapy is used to develop skills like communication, awareness, social responsibility and more, according to CRC Health.
Technicians like Godinho are able to observe and interact with clients in order to identify behavior patterns and process thoughts and emotions.
Godinho’s treatment is play-based, she said. When a client mounts one of her two therapy horses, the pair go through activities like ring toss, painting and using sensory items.
Some clients focus on just grooming or being in the presence of horses, she said. She discusses with parents on what goals they would like to accomplish and works at the pace of the client.
“Horses react to your body language, they are easy to work with and that’s what makes them great teachers,” Godinho said. “It’s amazing to see a child that has never said a word before say something. They connect and communicate with the horse.”
The program is working on becoming a nonprofit, Godinho said. Eventually she would like the center to be able to give out scholarships to clients who can’t afford therapy.
There is also always a need for volunteers or donation of horses to the program, she said.
A single session costs $60 and the price reduces the more lessons are purchased, Godinho said. One lesson a week costs $220 a month and three lessons a week cost $600 a month. There is also a group price of $200 for a two hour session, up to 10 people.
Castaneda said she recommends any parent who has a child that is developmentally behind to look into Path to Hope.
“There are usually instant results,” Godinho said. “One child who came out had never made eye contact or said hello before. But after coming out here, he went up to another child and said hi.”