finish lines

Horses With Hope is a faith based organization that provides therapeutic riding and other equine-related activities. Lisa Wahl and her daughter Hannah, 6, Country Club Drive, are active participants. For more information, to donate or to volunteer:

Tell us about Hannah’s challenges and why Horses with Hope is good for  her.

Hannah was born with a genetic disorder known as Noonan Syndrome. At birth, she had respiratory difficulties and feeding challenges that required medical support. In addition, she had significant gross motor delays. Hannah responded well to therapy, but lagged behind in strength, particularly core body strength. At 4, Hannah could not yet jump and continued to favor her right side. One of her therapists suggested Horses With Hope.

Lisa Wahl and her daughter Hannah, age 6, at Horses with Hope in Bethel Park.
Lisa Wahl and her daughter Hannah, age 6, at Horses with Hope in Bethel Park.
Was Hannah nervous at first? How did the staff and volunteers make her comfortable?

Hannah took to the program immediately. The staff was there to greet her in the parking lot on the evening of our first session. They showed Hannah the barn where the horses were kept and escorted her out to the riding area where they fitted her with a helmet and introduced her to the horse she would be riding. With close guidance and supervision, Hannah was able to brush the horse and was very comfortable by the time they helped her saddle him. The first session flowed more seamlessly than I would have imagined thanks to well trained staff and personnel.

Have you seen specific changes in Hannah as a result of her riding?

We have seen amazing growth in Hannah since she started the riding program. She is now able to jump and hop. It brings me great joy to see her running around the playground. She may not be as strong as her peers, but she is out there keeping up.

Does Hannah have a favorite horse?

Hannah’s favorite horse when she began riding was Holly. She even has a sweatshirt with a brown horse on it that looks almost identical. When we arrived for our first session last year, Holly wasn’t available. I could see Hannah’s face fall and her eyes well up with tears. But, here too, staff knew just what to do. They lovingly introduced Hannah to the horse she would be riding and helped her on. Switching horses for Hannah was a valuable lesson in flexibility and adapting to change. And if you ask her now, Magic is her favorite horse.

—Photo by Martha Rial