News Article Details

'He runs for a great cause.' Horse owner uses races to raise awareness for autism

The Fresno Bee - 10/13/2018

Oct. 12--Johnny Taboada recently updated the logo on the back of the silk riding shirts his jockeys wear during races.

It's four puzzles pieces -- red, yellow, blue and a lighter shade of the same -- and in the middle a galloping horse and rider. Above and below the the image are the words "Autism Awareness." The design reflects the puzzle ribbon, which was adopted in 1999 as the universal sign of autism awareness.

"It's a puzzle for all of us," says Taboada, whose 19-year-old son, Renzo, was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old, around the same time the Pleasanton mortgage consultant bought a yearling horse, which he got to name.

It became the original Autism Awareness.

Over the years, any time Taboada bought a young horse, he would include the word "autism" in the name. There is Autism Awesomeness, Autism Awakeness, Autism Day and now, Touched by Autism, who earned a spot in Sunday's Bulldog Stakes at The Big Fresno Fair and will be running as No. 8 at 6-1 odds. Post time is 5 p.m.

Taboada recently bought seven horses at an auction that should start racing in the next two or three years.

"I'm running out of names," Taboada says.

The naming process is a collaborative effort with his wife and son, who attends Las Positas College in Livermore, though he'll be in Fresno on Sunday to watch the race.

Touched by Autism's chances of winning are "very good," Taboada says, and not just because he's the owner. The horse has been running well all summer and has really come into his own, says track announcer Chris Griffin.

"He's one of those horses that catches the eye now. He's a happy horse and he runs for a great cause," Griffin says.

It might seem like a small thing, the naming of horses. But the little things help, Taboada says. He's also set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for his horses so he can stay connected with families like his.

Because his family is not alone.

When Renzo was diagnosed, the number of children who had autism was thought to be one in 120, he says. There were few services available and many didn't know enough to even talk about it.

The number of children diagnosed with autism has risen to one out of every 50 kids, Taboada says.

"The numbers are dramatic."

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

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(c)2018 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

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