H.O.P.E. Enjoys New Home: Equine Therapy Organization Begins Lessons at New Facilities on Convent Road

Chelsea Sparks/CullmanSenese

CULLMAN – David Poynor had a vision in 2007 of a therapeutic program that would help individuals with disabilities have access to a unique form of therapy. Upon assembling a board of directors, Horses Offering People Encouragement (H.O.P.E) was approved as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The Benedictine Sisters of Cullman opened the gates for a permanent home to be built for H.O.P.E. in 2011. Fundraising and site preparations began for a new barn in 2012, and the program has been operating since that time at the farm of Jon and Dr. Glori Short until construction was finished.

The time finally came this year for the organization to move into their new forever home on Convent Road in February. Executive Director Rhonda Riley could barely contain her excitement for everyone involved.

“We have been so blessed with this facility,” Riley said. “From the incredible barn to the covered arena. It really is just an incredible place for us and this program.”

The new facilities have everything their four legged therapists need and more, including spacious stables, large pastures and arenas, and all the love in the world from the children who visit them weekly.  

“The covered arena allows us to now have lessons when it is raining and even when it is dark since it does have lights installed,” Riley said. “We also now have an area behind the arena with windows that allows family to sit and watch the sessions and, of course, the stables are top notch for our horses.”


Another feature of the new facility are the sensory stations that were built by the Cullman Civitan Club.

“The Cullman Civitan Club sponsored and built these stations,” Riley said.

“They built five sensory stations to integrate the five senses into the session which is so important. They can do them from horseback or from the ground and leading the horse. They were so incredibly creative when they made them. They used organic materials like cedar logs, and my favorite are the chimes. These stations are a huge part of the independence building part of the program.”

The center for H.O.P.E. houses four program horses, or horses that have went through special training, namely Sam, Wiser, Loula and CanCan. All of these horses have come from different trots of life but all have went through extensive training to bring joy to these individuals’ lives. And Riley states that the real heroes of the program are their staff and volunteers.

“Keli Anders is our program director and PATH certified instructor,” said Riley. “She is simply incredible with these horses and the kids. She has helped us to be the only PATH center in Northeast Alabama. Brandi Entrekin is our assistant program director and barn supervisor, and Terre Sutherland is our volunteer coordinator and they are absolutely wonderful as well.”

Riley also mentioned board member Missy Blaylock who uses her background in recreational therapy to help participants achieve their goals. It takes a village, according to Riley.

“It really is a team effort,” she said. “The staff, the board of directors, the volunteers and groups like Cullman Civitan and Benedictine Sisters all made this possible. We are so grateful to Jon and Glori Short for all of their help and letting us use their beautiful barn and arena. We are just glad though to be in our forever home to keep helping all of these individuals learn and grow.”

More information about the H.O.P.E. program can be found on their website at HopeHorses.org.