- Cullman, Alabama

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May 2, 2014

Giving H.O.P.E. to those with special needs

Evaluations beginning for therapeutic riding program

The Horses Offering People Encouragement (H.O.P.E.) organization welcomes those with special needs who are 5 years of age or older to get involved in their therapeutic riding program.

H.O.P.E. Director Rhonda Riley said 36,360 residents ages 5 years or older in Cullman, Marshall, and Winston counties have a disability. Riley said their mission with H.O.P.E. is to provide safe and effective therapeutic and recreational horsemanship riding programs to individuals with special physical, social, cognitive and emotional needs.

“We’re starting with evaluations for riders and participants and we will be using our certified instructors to get them ready for the therapeutic lessons,” Riley said. “It is such a great thing to experience because the horses have a sense of the need, just like a guide dog would. The animals allow the riders to get comfortable and the companionship that they build is so amazing.”

Riley said it’s the perfect time to get involved with the program because they are just starting the evaluations process.

Cullman County Special Education Coordinator Tiffany Mitchell said there are currently 1,778 students within the Cullman County Schools alone.

Cullman City Schools Special Education Department Secretary Debbie Howard said there are 242 students within the special education program in the Cullman City schools.

Recent fundraising events helped to complete the building of the H.O.P.E. barn, which is a 60x60-foot outdoor covered arena that will allow the rider to follow a path to stations that will interact with touch, movement, body awareness, sight, sound, and pull of gravity. The barn will be located on 1301 Convent Road. It is currently under construction and will be completed soon.

President over H.O.P.E. and Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper said they are extremely excited about the program and completing the barn venue.

“We’re in the evaluation stages of adding clients to the program and excited about moving into the new barn that they have been actively raising funds for the past two years,” Culpepper said. “I took over the position a few months ago. I started as a volunteer board member. I didn’t have any insurance or anything and was just flying by the seat of my pants. I just had some horses that were really good and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a very satisfying experience working with the clients and the horses and I wanted to be involved with it.”

The group holds two fundraising events each year since it is funded through individual and business contributions. They host a New Year’s Eve party at Top of the Town in January and a Derby Party, which will be held on May 3 at Short Farm.

“The festivities will begin at 4 p.m. and the social hour and auction will start,” Riley said. “At 5:25 p.m., Running of the Roses will start followed by dinner and music.”

A donation to attend the Derby Party is $150 per couple and $75 per individual. Anyone interested in attending can call 256-708-4068.

Lauren Estes can be reached at or 256-734-2131, ext. 137.

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