There is more to a horse than a long tail, silky mane and soft muzzle to snuggle. Horses are some of the world’s most gentle giants, and at Horse Play Inc. in Tullahoma, children are able to experience the careful nature of a horse firsthand.

Horse Play is a nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic riding services to children who have mental or physical disabilities. Horse Play has been providing children with these opportunities for the past 22 years.

The Horse Play program in Tullahoma began in 1996 and moved around from stable to stable with borrowed horses until the group was finally able to find property with the help of local sponsors. For the past 11 years, Horse Play has been able to provide services to children it serves without the insecurity of where they would end up next.

Over the years, Horse Play has been able to provide safe, friendly horses on a plot of land that offers plenty of pasture for its four-legged friends, adequate shelter and an indoor riding ring for lessons. In 2018, Horse Play has served 42 children, and more than 100 volunteers have dedicated their time to the nonprofit.

“Horse Play has been such a blessing for these children,” said founder Patsy Freeman. “It feels so great to see the good that we do for these kids. They get on the horses and they just have a smile on their face from ear to ear. Horses give us more than we give them. These kids aren’t able to do a lot of physical activities, but they are able to sit up on a horse and be so happy.”

On Monday, Nov. 5, Horse Play hosted a Halloween party that featured many of the therapy horses dressed in some silly costumes. However, these horses were nothing to be afraid of.

Throughout the night, parents, volunteers and children alike were able to enjoy the company of the horses and tell stories about their favorite riding memories.

“Horses have an incredible ability to heal people,” said riding instructor Katie Alderman. “Those of us who grew up around horses take for granted just how much other people need their healing. It’s incredible to see the way the horses just know what people need. Whether it’s physical or emotional needs, horses feel it and they’re able to accommodate it.”

Wendi Jones describes what Horse Play has done for her 4-year-old son Jaxx, who was born with Down syndrome.

“Horse Play has provided Jaxx with a three-dimensional therapy that cannot be created in a traditional therapy setting,” she said. “The gait and the stride of the horse, along with the animal’s warmth, all provide an experience that cannot be reproduced in a clinic. It has significantly helped increase his core strength and provided muscle tone improvement that is much needed. Most special needs kids spend a lot of time in therapy; the ability to enjoy therapy outside, on an animal as massive as a horse, has been incredible.”

The horses at Horse Play are patient, gentle and not easily spooked. This allows the children to gain confidence and trust with the horses.

The program is 100 percent free to any participating child, and the program runs completely on donations.

“The moment a child realizes the animal before them is large, but is also the most gentle animal they have ever encountered becomes the moment that the child cannot wait to climb on that saddle and ride,” Jones said.

Because Horse Play operates on donations, it’s important to understand that Horse Play directly benefits the children right here in Tullahoma. The organization’s horses are special in the way they interact with the kids; however their care and upkeep is expensive.

In an effort to help raise money, Horse Play is selling smoked turkey breasts for Thanksgiving. These boneless, skinless turkey breasts are smoked in Mr. Monty Hatcher’s special triple wood blend. The half turkey breasts will be 5-6 pounds and $50 per breast. Breasts will be ready for pick up at TOP Rehab in Tullahoma from 9 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 20.

For more information on Horse Play, or to make donations, visit www.horseplayinc.com. Donations can also be mailed to P.O. Box 393 Tullahoma, TN 37388.

For updates on the program, follow Horse Play Inc. on Facebook.

To purchase a smoked turkey breast or arrange alternate pickup, contact Loretta at 931-434-1291.

Faith Few can be reached at ffew@tullahomanews.com.