Damien Cedotal, 16, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and deals with anger problems.

After being diagnosed, Cedotal said, he talked with a therapist but said, “She mostly talked to my mom instead of me, and it felt like I was invisible.”

Everything changed for Cedotal when he started going to therapy sessions at Horses of Hope in Denham Springs.

“I love it here; my anger issues I had, it’s helping a lot,” Cedotal said. “It helps control the stress and it’s a stress reliever.”

Cedotal’s mother, Rachel Araque, said she will be forever grateful to the program and what it has done for her son.

“Watching him and the horses, it’s magic, how they connect and they sense his feelings,” Araque said. “It’s really helped.”

Rebecca Bombet is an advanced practice registered nurse who specializes in child and adolescent psychology and is a co-founder of the program.

Bombet feels this particular form of therapy is incredibly effective. “When they (those in therapy) can’t identify what they’re feeling or won’t tell me, the horse tells me very quickly because they read us better than we read ourselves sometimes,” she said.

“When a new child comes, I do a complete psychosocial (evaluation) before I ever bring them to the barn,” Bombet said. “I evaluate them and I evaluate the family. Once I decide the child is appropriate for the program, we take them around and introduce them to all the horses. Almost 95 percent or more of the time the horse will give me a cue that he’s ‘picking’ the kid.”

Cedotal and the mare named Blue he works with have developed a special connection.

“This was the first time in 25 years that Blue has ever ‘picked’ someone,” Bombet said.

Bombet’s partner, Carrie Parascandolo, said that in therapy, “They don’t always ride; a lot of what we do happens on the ground. A huge part of it is brushing the horse, feeding it and creating a connection between the horse and the client. Just the process of brushing is a very relaxing process, and it helps the kids open up when they’re physically doing something else.”

Bombet was inspired to begin practicing equine therapy because “all I ever wanted to do was work with kids with behavioral problems. After church one day, we were having coffee and a lady told me about her therapy riding program. A light went off and I became driven to figure out how I could do that and do it as a nurse.”

Although Bombet has been doing equine therapy for nearly 15 years, she met her partner, Parascandolo, about two years ago at a seminar for equine therapy at LSU, and together they incorporated Horses of Hope shortly after meeting.

“It’s just been a beautiful connection that God has put us together,” Parascandolo said. “We haven’t had the finances to do a lot, so we kind of had to take it slow.”

“This is my dad’s property and he’s donating the lease to us,” Parascandolo said. “It’s not fancy and we don’t have the money to buy a really expensive barn, but that’s not what it’s about. God works through the horses regardless of how pretty the barn is.”

Cedotal spent part of his session in the round pen training his horse to create what Parascandolo calls a “heart connection.”

Cedotal did a series of activities in the round pen, which served to create this connection and allowed him to place an “invisible halter” on Blue and lead her around the pen.

“We tried other therapy but this is the one that worked,” Araque said. “We started coming here and it’s been a lifesaver.”

For Bombet, the horses have been a symbol of hope that have gotten her through some rough times.

“The name Horses of Hope really came because of the hope I never lost; because I was always able to keep my horses even during hard financial times,” Bombet said.

Bombet believes the horses were not just meant for her to enjoy, though.

“We believe that God works through the horse to help the child or the family heal,” she said.

Horses of Hope works with youths with behavioral problems and families in crisis.

For information on its services, visit horsesofhope-eat.com or call (225) 588-7008.