MEET OUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Kim J. Lukasik
PATH International Certified Therapeutic Riding Center.
MEET OUR TEAM
PATH International Certified Instructor/EAGALA certified Equine Specialist/Executive Director
In 2005, Eva opened Moonshadow Ranch, a small ranch in the heart of Shadow Hills. Moonshadow Ranch is committed to enriching the lives of both horses and people. Eva developed a passion for helping children at an early age. Growing up in her native Sweden, she lead special needs children around the arena at her riding school, as a way to earn lessons for herself. In Sweden, almost every riding school has a special needs riding program and Eva discovered that the effect riding had on these kids was tremendous. In 2007, Eva volunteered at the "Special Olympics" at Hansen Dam, and was reminded of her childhood encounter with special kids. Eva holds a Certificate for Therapeutic Riding from the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (PATH). Autism awareness is a subject close to her heart, as Eva is the godmother of Jake, who is autistic. Jake is a tremendously brave person, with a heart of gold and a pure soul.
Cassandra Hurlbut grew up riding horses in her home state of Hawaii. She learned the true value of riding by having to work off her lessons from a young age by grooming, cleaning stalls, feeding, and eventually working for a trainer. She competed competitively in dressage with her horse Hudson, taking a few national titles in the lower levels. After high school she moved to California to pursue her other love of film and writing. After graduating with a BFA in 2011 she started work in the film industry. After balancing owning a horse and working on a busy television show for 3 years, Cassandra found her true passion at Special Spirit, Inc. She started out volunteering and loved it so much that by April of 2015 she had acquired her PATH Intl Registered Instructor status and left the TV world behind to pursue teaching therapeutic riding. She loves spreading her love and knowledge of horses with children and adults of all abilities with a kind and patient teaching style. She still enjoys riding and training her same horse from high school, Hudson, in the discipline of dressage and going for long, relaxing trail rides.
Administrator – Office Manager
Laura worked in the banking industry for 17 years. She started volunteering for Special Spirit in 2018 knowing nothing about horses. She was trained to care for the horses and assist in the therapeutic riding lessons. She would also help in the office with administrative duties. She grew to love it so much that she would volunteer for up to 15 hours a week. Eva saw her love for the horses and her passion for helping with the riding lessons that she was asked to join the team after 9 months of volunteering. She does administrative work for Special Spirit and continues to help in therapeutic riding lessons.
Valerie Stern, LCSW
Valerie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS27078) and EAGALA certified Equine-Assisted Psychotherapist who has been in practice for over 10 years. She is the current lead clinician at Special Spirit and also maintains two private practices, in Culver City and Sunland. Valerie specializes in addiction, trauma, anxiety and depression. Her treatment approach includes mindfulness-based practices, gestalt and cognitive behavioral theories, as well as a variety of evidence-based practices such as Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Seeking Safety, Motivational Interviewing and the Positive Parenting Program©.
She is fluent in French and American Sign Language and has over five years' experience working with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing populations. Later in life, Valerie found that horses helped her discover much about herself, thanks to their uncanny ability to sense and mirror human emotions. Valerie is an avid rider and cannot imagine living without these magnificent animals.
Dina Taylor, LMFT
Dina was licensed as a Marriage, Family, Child Therapist (MFC28767) in 1991. Dina’s philosophy is that life should be much more than just “trying to get through each day". She holds the firm belief that every person has a right to have a life that is filled with meaning, hope, fulfillment, passion, and compassion. Dina specializes in therapy that is solution-focused and short-term, working alongside clients to assist them in finding ways to adapt and find meaning in life's challenges, and thereby shift to a more emotionally healthy state of mind. Dina has many years of experience working with special needs populations and is fluent in American Sign Language. Dina is a co-founder of Strides Wellness which provides EAP services to the High Desert areas. She has fallen in love with many horses over the years, and can’t imagine a life without them.
Katie Ryan, LMFT
Katie has had a private practice in Valencia, CA since 2006. She is EAGALA certified (Equine Specialist and Mental Health Practitioner) and recently published a book about horses and equine therapy entitled Horse Wisdom Alchemy. Katie holds the belief that depression, divorce and discord can be opportunities for growth. Feeling stuck in these places sometimes requires encouragement, a different perspective, and a gentle nudge. Most people have their answers within and are capable of coming up with solutions. However, they may need a therapist to guide the way. This work takes courage. The idea is to help make the unknown known by exploring thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It may be that family of origin patterns no longer serve us. Perhaps a simple awareness of what will serve us is all that is required. Katie is a co-founder of Strides Wellness which provides EAP services to the High Desert areas.
Sandy (Gavin and Sandy's Mom)
"The people at Special Spirit truly are special. I was amazed at their keen insight into the personalities and emotions of my children based on how the kids interacted with the horses during their EAP encounters. The activities were creative and helped my children to be better aware of their emotions, actions and reactions, and the affect these have on other people."
Jackie (Donovan's Mom)
"Donovan is an 8 year old boy, riding since November of 2011. He is our little trooper. Donovan suffers from type 1 diabetes and autism spectrum disorder. At first we were not sure if being around horses would be a good idea or if he would even enjoy it, but he proved us wrong. Since the first time he rode, he has had a smile of joy every time we come to the ranch. Donovan has trouble using his hands for some tasks, walking properly, and social skills. In just a few months he is learning how to finally tie his shoes, use his hands for more tasks, and is walking better. Donovan does not like making eye-contact or having conversations with people, but when he's riding he will look at you and answer when he is being asked too. Donovan loves caring for the horses but his favorite thing is trotting on the horses! He's the happiest little boy when he knows we're going to the ranch to ride, especially on Pumpkin. Thanks to Miss Eva and Special Spirit's time, patience, and support we have gone one step further in changing Donovan's life."
Petya Bankov (Boris' Mom)
"My son, Boris, who has Cerebral Palsy and I have been going to Special Spirit for a therapeutic ride for a few months already and I can say that it is not only an excellent physical exercise for muscle strengthening and balance improvement for my son, but also a wonderful experience for both of us. When we go there, he brushes his horse, gets acquainted with the other horses, after the ride he feeds them carrots, goes to see the rooster and the chicken, Eva even gave us a few fresh eggs once. There are also peacocks walking around and everybody is so nice and friendly. We LOVE going there!"
Weston & Catherine (Avery's Parents)
"Our daughter Avery is 5 years old and started riding at Moonshadow Ranch almost a year ago. She had a major abdominal surgery when she was 4, and we began riding lessons as a way to restore and strengthen her stomach muscles. Avery loves animals and is very at home in the stables. We strongly recommend Eva Lund and her riding program for children. Eva has a passion for her work and a natural ability to inspire and motivate our daughter. We feel that safety is a priority to Eva, which puts us at ease. Avery doesn't seem to mind being pushed to try new things in her lessons, which is a testament to Eva's ability to make riding fun. All of the positive reinforcement Avery has received from even her small achievements in riding has boosted her confidence. We also love the wonderful volunteers who help and encourage Avery. Special Spirit at Moonshadow Ranch is more than a place of learning, it is a place of mentorship!"