The positive impact of a new equine therapy organization founded by a UofL staff member is helping children and families throughout the Louisville area.
Cope’s Hope Equine Assisted Services was established in 2021 by College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) Student Success Coach Eric Wright and his wife, Debbie. The inspiration came from their daughters, 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 neuro-genetic disorder that is often misdiagnosed as autism or cerebral palsy, the benefits of horses as a therapeutic modality were clear.
Wright, who has been a UofL employee for nearly 30 years, began contemplating the idea of opening his own equine assisted services organization 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 and Health and Learning from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH).
Cope’s Hope was born shortly thereafter. Its name came from Wright’s grandfather, Arthur Coaplen, himself a graduate of the University of Louisville’s School of Law. In addition to equine assisted services, the farm offers a respite home for parents and families of children with disabilities – a place of peace and healing.
“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 their services in the future, 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.”
Learn more about the Cope’s Hope mission on Facebook.
Eric Wright shares more about Cope’s Hope in this video: