Motivated by his daughters and propelled by the pandemic, Eric Wright ’94,’01 found a way to help them and others by starting with a true Kentucky ingredient – horses.

Wright, a student success coach with the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), and his wife, Debbie, established Cope’s Hope Equine Assisted Services last year. The therapy organization aids children and families throughout the Louisville area.

Their inspiration came from the Wrights’ children, Ella and Elsie.

“Ella was adopted from Ukraine when she was 17 months old, and she had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy,” Wright said. “We didn’t know if she would be able to walk, so we immediately started looking into alternative therapies for her and stumbled upon equine assisted therapy, also called hippotherapy. We embraced it. She started when she was three, and she is now 19 years old.”

When the Wright family’s second daughter, Elsie, was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome, a rare neurogenetic disorder that is often misdiagnosed as autism or cerebral palsy, the benefits of horses as a therapeutic modality were already clear.

Wright, who has been a UofL employee for nearly 30 years, contemplated opening his own equine assisted services operation following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when he could no longer take his daughters to their weekly lessons.

“We purchased my uncle’s farm, and from there things started to naturally fall into place,” Wright said. “We had been doing this for a long time – we had been involved in Special Olympics and other therapeutic organizations – so I decided to become a licensed counselor.”

Wright completed the necessary coursework through the CEHD’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. He went on to receive his certification as an equine specialist in mental health and learning from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH).

Cope’s Hope was born shortly thereafter. Its name is derived from Wright’s grandfather, Arthur Coaplen ’49, a UofL law graduate. In addition to equine assisted services such as psychotherapy and therapeutic riding, the farm offers a place of peace and healing as a respite home for parents and families of children with disabilities.

“We’ve just had a flurry of people wrap themselves around this project and this vision,” Wright said. “To be able to offer even a small percentage of people the opportunity to work with horses, whether it be for mental health or for therapeutic services, is so rewarding.”

Cope’s Hope has received its own certification as a member of the PATH organization, allowing the organization to operate formally as an equine assisted services center.

The Wright family hopes to expand its services and recently hired a part-time certified therapeutic riding instructor in training, who lives on-site.

“If I wasn’t an employee of the University of Louisville, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now,” Wright said. “My work in counseling and my work as a student success coach overlap every day, and they both ultimately allow me to help people – to realize where they are, where they can be and how they can make their lives better.”