Proud to be from Pittsburgh: Horses With Hope

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PITTSBURGH - Niko Nyapas, 6, is spending another day in physical therapy to improve his speech and muscle strength.

And he’s doing it on top of a horse.

“It’s not tough to get him on a horse, whereas getting him to go to therapy, he doesn’t always want to do that,” said his mother, Heather Nyapas. “He loves this.”

Anne Davis is the founder of Horses with Hope, a nonprofit in South Park.

Its mission is to improve the lives of individuals with special needs with equine therapy.

Davis is a firm believer in its benefits, which she uses as a way to help her own daughter, Jamie Lynn, who has Down syndrome.

“It makes the rider sit up tall, which open up their airways.  When their airways open up, it allows them to speak better.  It works on their digestion.  It works on their core muscles; it works on their leg muscles. It works on balance,” Davis said.

Danielle List, 13, is new to the riding therapy program.

She has a metabolic disorder affecting her coordination.

“Watching her out there and having fun but getting the benefit of the therapy, it's amazing,” said her dad, Jeff List.

About 50 riders come here every week from March to November, and Davis said the magic happens when the rider interacts with the horse. 

“It's not a ball. It's not a stick. It's not a computer in front of them. It's a living, breathing, social  animal,” she said. “And they love the kids. Many times, the horse will actually turn his head and nuzzle the child when they get off."

Niko’s mother has seen a difference.

“It’s definitely been a big change in physical and social and even his speech,” she said.

Horses with Hope has big plans for the future, hoping to grow into a premiere Accredited Therapeutic Riding and Learning center and partner with local universities to study the benefits of equine therapy.

To learn more, CLICK HERE.