Special Spirit

"The activities (at Special Spirit) were creative and helped my children to be better aware of their emotions, actions and reactions, and the affect these have on other people."

- Gavin & Sandy's Mom



Paul Reynolds
Eva Lund
Kathy Alonzo
Sandy Cher.jpg
Sandy Cooper
Michael McLain
Bio Kim Lukasik.jpg
Kim J. Lukasik

PATH International Certified Therapeutic Riding Center.



Eva Lund

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. 

Valerie Stern, LCSW

Clinical Staff

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

Clinical Staff

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

Clinical Staff

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.

Cassie Hurlbut

Riding Instructor

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.


Algot is a 27 year old 16.2H registered Swedish Warmblood. He is a fun, flashy horse, an advanced rider can have fun on him but he is also very gentle with the beginners. He is super sweet and loves attention! Algot has previously competed in 3rd and 4th level dressage, but prefers being a hunter and is an excellent trail horse. Algot has lifetime membership with USHJA/USEF and USDF, and used to train and go to shows with the USC equestrian team. Algot is owned by Eva Lund.


Darby is an 19-year-old 14.1H gelding, imported from Connemara, Ireland. He is a super sweet, willing, and fun little horse who does everything. He was ridden in the 2012 Tournament of Roses parade, participated in a Buck Brannaman clinic, is good with kids, and loves the trails. He can jump, do dressage and loves trail rides. He is a favorite among riders because of his calmness, his willingness to please and his gentle spirit. Darby is also a great jumper. Darby has a lifetime membership with USHJA/USEF.


Giselle ​is a 19 year old 16.1 H Hanoverian mare. She has a history in para-dressage but today prefers working as a hunter. Giselle loves eating cookies and being the prettiest girl in the barn. She is available for lease. Giselle is sponsored by Nicole Walker and her daughter. 

Kona & Onyx 

In May 2018, we found a pony for sale on Craigslist and went to see him on a whim. When we arrived we were shown Kona, the little brown gelding, and Onyx, the little black mare, and we instantly knew we had to take them. The team went back that very afternoon and brought them back to their new home at Special Spirit.  After a couple of month with TLC they are now fully incorporated into our therapy program.


London ​is a 26 year old 14 hand bay gelding. London has experience in the show ring as a jumping pony, but today prefers helping riders reach their goals at Special Spirit and getting lots of attention!

Mini-Moon aka "Jasper"

Mini-Moon aka "Jasper" is a 17-year-old miniature horse donated by Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson. Mini Moon favorite buddy was Moon, who has now passed on; and the two were simply inseparable.  Mini-Moon is gentle, patient and very clever.


Pumpkin is a 24 year old 15.1H quarter horse gelding. Pumpkin is a former "pony-horse" from the racetrack. He loves having children and adults on his back. He is a very personable horse who is lovely to work with on the ground. He has been used in our therapeutic riding program and as a lesson horse for beginning and intermediate riders. He has even ridden in the 2011 Montrose Christmas Parade when his Special Spirit student and rider Gavin served as Junior Grand Marshal! Pumpkin is fun to ride both in the arena and out on the trails.


Clyde aka Pendleton Sly Fox

Clyde a 20+ year old 14.1 hand Welsh pony. Clyde spent his early days on the show circuit and came to Special Spirit in 2014, Clyde helped our students build confidence on the ground and in the saddle. Some of our volunteers also learned to jump. Clyde was reunited with his original owners in 2018, and is now retired up in Northern California, enjoying a life in well deserved leisure.  


Murphy is a 25 year-old Welsh Cob/Quarter Horse gelding. His owner Sammy and her mom Anne have had him since Sammy was very young, and generously let Special Spirit to use him in lessons since they first began. He was a jack of all trades the entire time he worked at the barn, being able o adapt to more advanced riding students or take it easy for younger riders. He never seemed to enjoy anything more than eating though, as he would munch on everything from hay to horse treats! 



Lucy ran across the Rainbow Bridge in August 2019. Lucy was a 24-year-old Dutch Warm Blood who was donated to Special Spirit after she retired from the show jumping circle. Lucy was a great trail horse, a smart vaulting horse and a fun therapeutic horse. She was a one of a kind mare, lovely, sassy and kind.

Lucy had a BIG HEART ♥️!


Calleo an 18H Hanoverian gelding, a gentle giant. He was imported from a German show barn, and had been a vaulting horse for many years. He became a teacher of beginning riders and helping intermediate riders to perfect their skills. Calleo was simple to ride and bombproof. During the last year of his life he was taught to play soccer with his buddy Kwei. Calleo left us in 2018 at the age of 24. Thank you for your service old man you will be missed.


Diamond aka "Jiggy Momma" was the Momma of all Mommas! Just look at that beautiful face, never mind the grey hair, she's was not old - she was mature, thank you very much! Diamond Jiggers Bar was 37 years old when she decided to leave us. She was the "go to" horse and taught many of our young riders to ride. She got her nick name "Jiggy Momma", because of her "jiggy" trot. She went into retirement but in 2014 and was  living a sweet relaxing life for the last 4 years. She was a flirty mare until the end.

Thank you Jiggy for being such a lovely horse. 


Kidlet, our gentle senior at Special Spirit: the Horse Father, if you will. He was 34 years old when he passed away in the summer of 2012. He was an Arabian gelding, known for his love of bananas - even the peel would do! He was always calm, safe and quiet, and enjoyed being a therapeutic horse. Because of his smooth, long fur, some people claim he was a bunny in disguise! Thank you Kidlet for all the love you gave to us!


Moon was around 26-years-old, 16 H paint quarter horse donated by Nancy and her 15-year-old austistic son Wyatt who still comes and rides Special Spirit horses regularly. Moon was a great trail and therapy horse who enjoyed hanging out with his buddy Mini-Moon. He was a very sweet and friendly horse who always enjoyed a cuddle or two. He passed in 2017. We will forever remember him in our hearts.


Reggie was a Thoroughbred gelding who had previously been a racehorse and had lived a hard life for many years until his owner Sara found him. He then spent a few years as a riding and trail horse before he moved to become a Special Spirit therapy horse- a job which he loved doing. Reggie was always grateful to receive brushings and cuddles, especially when his favorite treat was involved, bananas with the peel! He loved spending easy days at the barn walking around with his favorite student Andy and close friend Debbie from Special Spirit. He never fully lost his fire though, and was known for his love to gallop around the big arena when he didn't have lessons. He will always be remembered as the old horse with a young soul.




Sandy (Gavin and Sandy's Mom) 

January 2014

"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) 

January 2012

"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) 

February 2010

"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) 

May 2010

"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!"



"Spirit of Johny Carpenter" Award 2010 

The 8th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner/Korean BBQ,

Spirit Awards & Community Scholarships

Thank you to councilman of District 7, Filipe Fuentes for recognizing the amazing work that Special Spirit does with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.

Thanks to a fundraising effort from the Glendora High School, ASL students class, Special Spirit was able to deliver highly affordable classes to Deaf/Hard of Hearing/Blind Youth over the summer.

Thank you Glendora High School for all your support!