Carter Perry is a bubbly 8-year-old girl with a deep love of horses.

She bonded with horses at Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center when she was just 4 years-old. A medical diagnosis led her family to the center in McDonald.

“We started to wonder about our little girl. There were some developmental things and we just wanted to know what we were dealing with,” her mom Candie Perry told Channel 3.

Carter was diagnosed with autism and started occupational and speech therapy.

“We ended up hitting this plateau where we weren’t seeing as much progress as my husband and I would like to see. We’d gotten to a great point but we wanted to take her to the next level,” said Perry.

She began researching equine therapy and learned about Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center.

At the time, Perry says her family knew nothing about farms or horses.

“We thought, you know what, this is for our little girl so we’re going to try and do whatever it takes for her,” said Perry.

But Carter didn’t enjoy that first visit to the barn.

“She was terrified of the sights, smells, textures or everything. There was a lot going on as well so we left and thought oh no, did we make the right decision,” said Perry.

Her parents kept trying. They took her to the barn every week but the most she would ever do was touch a horse.

Six months later, that changed and Carter got the courage to get on one.

"The most amazing thing is that's all we needed. Those few steps were just kind of her wings and then she just flew from there,” said Perry.

Inside the barn, special bonds are formed between people and horses.

The center provides the opportunity for emotional and physical healing, equestrian education and fulfillment for physically, mentally or emotionally challenged individuals of all ages.

“This center has truly changed the whole trajectory of Carter’s life,” said Perry.

Director Ashley Hartz says the horse-human relationship can be healing. “It's the horse and the rider who are going on this journey. I'm just there to help facilitate it. I'm so happy to watch all of that,” said Hartz.

Hartz has been with Carter since day one.

“She’s given us a key to unlock Carter’s world and that’s literally the most amazing thing to me. The center has really created the safe space where she can learn and grow and experience texture, sights, smells, the things that scared her initially this place has become her safe spot to where the sky is the limit for her,” said Perry.

The mother and daughter’s love of horses has grown over the past four years.

Candie is now the barn manager at the Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center and owns two horses, one is hers and the other belongs to Carter. The horses stay at the barn for the other kids to enjoy too. "I hope that she's used throughout her life just to touch others, that's our biggest dream for her is that she'll be able to help others throughout her life,” said Perry.

Perry has a message to other parents who are dealing with that initial diagnosis of autism.

“Don’t be afraid to try things. You may fail but don’t ever be afraid to try because it may be the one thing that unlocks your child’s life,” Perry told Channel 3.

The center depends on donations and sponsorships to keep its doors open. No one is ever turned away regardless of their ability to pay.

Learn more by contacting (423) 339-2517 or click here to send an email.