(KYTX) - Tucked away in a small pasture off of Highway 155 in Tyler, you'll find a group of horses with a unique touch.

CBS 19's Anthony Austin explains how a therapy program is improving the lives of East Texans with special needs.

Anna and her sidekick "Pepper" are almost inseparable. The 18-year-old has been riding horses since she was a young girl. But, Anna is different than most horseback riders. She was diagnosed with autism nearly 15 years ago.

"She seems independent to me when she's on the horse and very relaxed," said Barbara Haslett.

Barbara Haslett has taken her daughter to numerous speech and occupational therapist to treat her Autism. But she says there's something about "Pepper" that no doctor can match.

"She follows direction better, it helps her walking, her gait, her posture is better," said Haslett.

Anna is enrolled in the Spirit of St.Louis Therapeutic Riding Program. In this pasture, Anna can work on her communication skills, balance, and vocabulary.

Rebecca Mercer started the therapy program at the former St. Louis School in Tyler. When she retired, she took the program with her.

"I had the horses, equipment and toys...and we just opened up," said Mercer.

Students pay $50 a session. But, it's not a for-profit business. The money goes to keep the program running and Ms. Mercer's four-legged teaching assistants fed.

"Horses and special need students are a magical connection," said Mercer.

A magical connection proven to restore confidence, teach patience, and improve attention spans among those with mental disabilities.

"Oh it's golden, it's just wonderful," added Mercer.

A golden opportunity that Barbara couldn't pass up for her daughter.

"I just really like this with the animals. I think it's makes a big difference," said Haslett.

A difference that has improved Anna's life and the lives of many other special East Texans.

Therapists have found that interaction with horses releases a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that primarily acts as a neuromodulator in the brain.

There's something about the smooth rocking motion of riding on a horse that relieves anxiety.

Spirit of St. Louis Therapeutic Riding Center

Rebecca Mercer

600 Cambridge Road, Tyler, TX 75703-5266

903-534-0127

Email: rmhorses@aol.com