KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Jefferson County nonprofit is helping physically and mentally challenged people feel more confident in navigating life through therapeutic carriage driving.

Hoof and Harness in Strawberry Plains is a nonprofit that provides a different kind of therapeutic horse therapy for kids with special needs. They provide services free of charge and depend entirely on donations, making gifts — like a check for more than $2,500 from Drayer Physical Therapy — all the more important.

In this week’s Positively Tennessee, we take you to Jefferson County to see the program in action.

Piper Pelham, 4, may not be taking the reins just yet but she’s learning what it’s like to experience a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

“She was a little apprehensive at first, about the horses, and we’ve worked on that,” said Beth Nelson, a co-founder of Hoof and Harness with husband David.

Miniature horses like Silver are a lot less daunting than a regular sized horse for kids like Piper, who is one of the 40 special needs children and adults who benefit from weekly sessions at Hoof and Harness.

The sessions are more than just taking laps around a track, however.

“Sensory integration, a lot of social skills, and socialization. We’ve also been working on literacy with her,” Beth Nelson said.

Games help Piper and other kids develop find motor skills and learn colors.

“Piper has done amazingly well. She loves the word ‘easy,’ she loves the word ‘no,’ and so we’re working on the word ‘yes,’ ” Beth Nelson said, smiling.

Piper’s dad Jeremy Pelham started volunteering with the group a year ago, before Piper was even old enough to join. He said he enjoys working with kids and couldn’t wait to get Piper involved.

“It’s fantastic to be able to lend a hand to the community and have a vested interest by having a daughter with special needs, so it’s perfect,” he said.

Piper is slowly gaining confidence through small steps, taking some of the uncertainty that comes with caring for an animal that is bigger than her. A smile is often seen at the end of each session.

That’s what drives the founders of Hoof and Harness to keep going.

More Positively Tennessee

Learn more about Hoof and Harness and the work they do in East Tennessee.