Amy Stefanko started taking horse riding lessons from Doreen Burton, owner of Ride with Pride Horsemanship School in Southlake, when she was 5 years old. Amy’s mother, Tricia Stefanko, said it was odd that Amy requested the lessons because no one in their family were horse people.

Soon after Amy started riding, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Complications from the disease rendered Amy unable to walk or talk.

The backstory

Bruton moved from New Jersey to a house on Highland Street in Southlake with her family when she was 4 years old. As a preschooler, she was fully committed to her preconceived notions that if someone lives in Texas they must have horses. Spurred to action by her daughter’s continuous pestering, Doreen’s dad bought her a pony.

“My dad bought a horse for $25 from somebody at work,” Bruton said. “That pony was mean. It stepped on me and ran me under trees. It didn’t matter, I had a pony.”

From that moment on, Bruton was enamored with horses. She started teaching horse riding lessons to neighborhood kids for $5 a lesson. In 1980, when she was a junior at Carroll High School, she opened Ride With Pride Horsemanship School on her family’s property on Highland Street.

The inspiration

Although Amy rode at an equine therapy center she kept requesting to go back and ride with Bruton.

“Amy kept coming up to me at the grocery store or in town, and she always asked, ‘When can I come ride with you again?’” Bruton said. “I started thinking about it. Finally her dad called me and said, ‘She really wants to ride with you again, is there any way?’”

The specifics

Bruton earned certifications in therapeutic horsemanship but it wasn’t until she got her Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship certification did she feel adequately prepared to be an instructor.

In 2011, Bruton founded Amy’s Wish With Wings, an equestrian therapy nonprofit organization.

When Amy was 23 years old, Bruton welcomed her back to her barn as a rider.

“Amy’s wish was to come back to me. The wings part of the name is because we gave her wings,” Bruton said. “When she started here, she had two side walkers and a horse leader and within a couple months we had her riding independently.”

The impact

What started out with one rider and one instructor has turned into 45 students taking lessons weekly, four instructors, one volunteer coordinator and a bevy of volunteers.

The nonprofit organization teaches riders as young as 3 years old. Riders currently taking lessons represent a variety of special needs, including those who are blind, deaf, have cerebral palsy, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Down's syndrome and others.

Notable quote

While running Ride with Pride and Amy’s Wish With Wings on the 6 acres she grew up on, Bruton is cognizant of the challenges involved but she has found assurances she is on the right path.

“I always say if I need something, God provides it for me,” Bruton said. “If I need a new employee, it comes. If I need a new volunteer, it comes, If I need money, it comes. I’m doing the right thing.”