KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Holston Medical Group team members are everywhere in our community. One of those places is Small Miracles, an equine therapy program in Kingsport.

It’s helping people with physical, mental, and social challenges. Sometimes it’s even more effective than traditional therapy.

Pediatrician Dr. Joseph Ley sees small patients every day in a clinical setting.

But he is equally rewarded when he’s in the horse ring.

Dr. Ley is also a certified instructor for Small Miracles, an equine-assisted program that serves those with special needs and disabilities.

“It helps kids connect in better ways,” Dr. Ley said. “It also helps them with motion and motor function, so a lot of kids with cerebral palsy and things that they’re not able to control their body well, it actually helps them coordinate and learn to do that better.”

Sheri Russell, Executive and Program Director at Small Miracles, says horses have a unique way of helping those with physical challenges and those dealing with trauma. She is one of them.

“I love horses, and when I was growing up, my dad would take me for pony rides, and I didn’t realize how the horses helped me go through and endure the trauma that I had,” Russell said.

That is why Russell says military veterans have also benefited from their equine therapy program.

Throughout the pandemic, Small Miracles has grown, with more clients in need of this special form of therapy. With that growth comes the need for more volunteers, like Dr. Ley.

“We have seen a huge influx of students that have suffered the harmful effects of isolation from COVID. That’s also with our military veterans that we work with,” Russell said.

Their programs require a certain number of volunteers to keep participants safe.

“For each lesson with our therapeutic horsemanship program, we need a minimum of three volunteers,” Russell said.

Both Ley and Russell feel there is something special about the healing connection between horses and humans.

“Somehow, the horses can sense a lot of people, how they relate. And being in that physical one-to-one contact can be a real positive for the kids in helping them learn how to relate, but also in other children that have motor problems, helping them move better,” Dr. Ley said.

“We love people unconditionally, horses accept you unconditionally, and we meet you where you are out here,” Russell said.

If you cannot volunteer your time, Sherri Russell says you can sponsor a horse to help with its care in a monthly or one-time donation.