CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB) -- Soldiers returning from war face many obstacles when trying to readjust to a civilian life. Now there's a program using special friends from the animal kingdom to help veterans recover both physically and emotionally.

Since 1998 the Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center has been using horses to help people of all ages regain sound bodies and minds.

"For clients that have either balance issues or can't walk or are confined to a wheelchair--they get to experience that when they're out on a horse," says Denise Wright, program coordinator since 2008.

Wright says riding horseback forces good posture, leading to natural pain relief. The students have so much fun they often don't realize they're being rehabilitated, making it more enjoyable than traditional physical therapy at home or a at a clinic. They take control of the 1000-pound beasts and even help care for them.

"You're growing in your independence," explains Wright. "It's so empowering."

This alternative therapy, through the "Horses4Heroes" program, will soon be available free of charge to active duty military personnel, veterans, and their families as a way to cope with post-traumatic stress and other problems.

Jerry Howard is an instructor at Tri-State and he's a Vietnam veteran. He wishes a program like this was around when he came back from the war.

"Oh, yeah. When we got out they weren't offering much of anything," recalls Howard.

He says horses offer a great outlet for physical and especially emotional healing of soldiers because the animals can't pre-judge their patients or develop pre-conceived notions about them.

"A lot of people just don't like talking to a counselor. They keep things inside,' says Howard. "With riding a horse they may talk to the horse. There's no {negative} feedback from the horse. They just listen."

It's a step in the right direction to get soldiers and Wounded Warriors back on track.

"Whatever we can do to make life easier and better for them," says Howard.

"They've done so much for our country. So they should be getting something free of cost," adds Wright.

The center operates entirely on grants and donations from area organizations, colleges, and individuals. The instructors are certified through PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) and volunteers help with lessons and maintenance of the facility.

For more information about the Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center visit