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A suffering child can often find comfort in an animal.

Cathy Calvin knows all about the concept and uses her love of horses to help disabled children and adults for therapeutic reasons. She recently opened the Rosie's Journey of Hope therapeutic riding program at the Diamond Bar Arena south of Ceres, to give others a unique opportunity to rise above their disabilities or illnesses.

"Just think of a child in a wheelchair," said Calvin. "Once they are on top of the horse they are no longer confined to a wheelchair. It is such a sense of freedom."

Horses have helped Cathy heal from her own health problems. Suffering many years with back pain, insufficient blood flow in both legs along with chronic pain, the licensed vocational nurse has used horses as her own therapy.

Therapeutic riding has many benefits for disabled riders, she said. They include increased balance and mobility, increased coordination, improved self-confidence, motivation, a sense of achievement and independence, improved strength and muscle tone, improved concentration and learning skills and fun.

Therapeutic riding services are offered to anyone who suffer from depression, stress or any physical issues.

"We're not going to turn anyone away," said Calvin.

Services are offered in six-week sessions with one riding session per week at a total cost of $240.

A session can range from 20 minutes to an hour depending on the physical limitations of the rider. Calvin said the riding is "a very controlled session" with a person leading the horse, two side walkers and an instructor leading the reader into different activities, such as games.

"It's not just a pony ride. Like we'll have them put their arms over their head or have them reach down to put a circle thing over a cone."

Part of the goal is to stimulate muscle development.

"The bond with the horse is unbelievable," said Calvin. She said a 14-year-old autistic boy named Michael is an example. "He's got a smile from ear to ear when he's up there."

She also saw horses work miracles on a four-year-old cerebral palsy victim Billy who could hardly walk before getting on her horse. Eventually riding helped stimulate his muscles to the point that he could walk with the use of a walker.

Calvin uses four horses for her program after they are determined to be "real gentle" after 60 days of training and testing.

"They have to pretty much be bomb proof. We put them a trial. We subject them to all kinds of things. They basically have to not be afraid of anything. Once we put a kid on them we don't want them spooking."

Calvin got involved in therapeutic riding in 1997 in Manteca when she purchased a quarter-horse named Rosie that she owned for 18 years. She operated her program at a Manteca's Diamond C Ranch. The program closed for financial reasons.

Initially Cathy's doctor tried to dissuade her from riding horses.

"My doctor did not want me to ride because I was on a medication that made your blood thin," she said. "One fall and that could be it for me. I also had a lot of pain and numbness in both legs due to blood clots that I had in the past. But I told him that horses were the only thing that kept me from getting depressed. He knew he could not convince me not to ride so he said 'Cathy, go ahead and ride, but try to find a gentle horse for yourself.'"

Rosie was the answer to her prayers.

"I knew the minute I seen her I just had to have her. We made an instant connection. Apparently another man had bought her the week before and she bucked him off so he brought her back to the owner. Sometimes God works in mysterious ways."

The horse gave her joy for 18 years and was "more human like than any horse I have ever had." When Rosie died two years ago at the age of 29, Cathy's heart was deeply broken that she didn't think she could start the program up again.

"But I knew if Rosie was here she would be giving to all those children and adults the needed therapy that they need emotionally and physically. So I decided to dedicate this program in memory of Rosie."

Calvin also offers her program at her ranch on Albers Road in Modesto.

She's planning to extend therapeutic riding services to veterans in a "Horses for Heroes" program.

She also welcomes volunteers and the non-profit organization has made use of high school students seeking to get community service hours as part of graduation requirements.

For more information, visit the website at