April 24, 2018
On Sunday, October 11, 2015, I had the privilege of visiting Hillenglade Farm, which is a privately funded, not for profit operated farm offering an Equine Assisted Healing Program for our service members, veterans, and their families (free of charge) suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I also had the privilege of meeting Jennifer O’Neill, who is the founder and operator of Hillenglade Farm and the Equine Assisted Healing Program. You may recognize Jennifer’s name because she is the former Hollywood actress and Cover Girl model. Jennifer is also a lifelong horse lover, who is now using her passion and love of horses to help our soldiers, veterans, and their families.
PTSD is the unseen enemy that follows all too many of our soldiers home from war. Every 65 minutes an active service member’s or a veteran’s life is ended by suicide due to PTSD. Military families are at great risk. The Equine Assisted Healing Program at Hillenglade offers our service members, veterans, and their families (free of charge) the opportunity to renew hearts, restore relationships, and rebuild lives. Our service men and women deserve no less for all of their sacrifices for our country.
By Nancy Brannon
“Hope and healing” is the theme of the equine assisted therapy programs at Hillenglade in Nashville, TN. The primary clients are military personnel, veterans, first responders, and their families. It was founded in 2010 by Jennifer O’Neill, for whom horses have been “a life-long commitment,” she said. “I was born a horse lover.” She started at age 16 riding hunter/jumpers and showed on the A circuit. She used her modeling career to support her horse habit. “I loved it!” she said of her riding career. She later turned to breeding horses, and did that for 40 years.
Now at age 67 she has turned her horse interests into helping others at Hillenglade, where she has lived for six years with her husband. “I started the Hope and Healing program because I saw difficulty in communication between moms and their teen daughters, and horses help facilitate that communication. I was asked by an organization to host Care Takers for Wounded Warriors. I hosted it for a weekend and it was an amazing experience! The participants wanted to come back and enjoy the experience again.” That was the impetus for starting her program and, “so far we have helped over 2,000 people, mainly veterans and their families,” she said. Hillenglade hosts three to seven group, family-oriented celebratory events a year to give clients “time away in the country to enjoy the therapeutic wonder of horses.” Recently, O’Neill was the recipient of 3 ½ donated acres next to her farm to expand the program. Her goal is to “go deeper into the needs military families with equine assisted therapy.”
Hillenglade uses horses and other animals to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, alienation from friends and family, difficulty integrating into society, and strain within marriages and families.
The program “staff” include two Palomino horses, a bay former show horse, Handsome, two mini donkeys, and others. The eldest is Dandy-Lion, a 22-year-old Quarter Horse, “who’s a great hit with the crowds. He’s our Trigger and is the perfect dude. He’s an easy guy to put people on and have no worries,” O’Neill explained. Handsome, a Dutch Holsteiner, is the last show horse O’Neill bred and is 13 years old. He separated his shoulder and now is uncomfortable jumping. “Now we just enjoy each other and he doesn’t have to jump,” O’Neill said. She’s considering starting him in Western Dressage, “but I just can’t get used to the western saddle,” she confessed. The newest member is Palomino Crème Brulee. Then there’s “Oats,” a grey Quarter Horse cross and a fancy mover. There’s Cloud Dancer, a Paint Horse that O’Neill got as a 3-year-old. “He’s such a clown!” She sold him to a new owner and “Now, he’s over at Brownland Farm winning classes. He’s a lovely mover,” she explained.
O’Neill also has some rescued animals. Every animal has a story, O’Neill said. A donkey, Sissy, had been living next door with a herd of cows. All the cows were moved out and she was left alone. One day O’Neill came home and found her standing in the driveway. So, she’s now a Hillenglade resident. Sister Sara, a Palomino, came from Craig’s list. She’s 22 years old, but “when I saw her she was so skinny! She had been worked to the bone. After she came here, she gained 300 pounds. She’s spectacular to show folks. Warriors can put their hands on Sara’s scars, lay their hands on her, and connect with her. It’s such a powerful, moving experience!” She also has two mini donkeys, Lucy and Ethel, whom the clients like to paint in the style that Native Americans painted their ponies.
All the services are free to military personnel, past and present, and their families. She’s had some celebrities come out to help with fund raising, like Kix Brooks, Amy Grant, and Vince Gill. She has goals to expand her programs, and she recently started a boarding barn for retired horses. Her first boarder came just two months ago – Fidelio, a Dutch Warmblood retired show jumper owned by Heidi Hahn. O’Neill would like to offer a foster care horse and dog program for military personnel when they deploy, so they have good homes for their animals while they’re gone. But all this takes a lot of fund raising. Hillenglade has 501(c)3 status. To learn more about Jennifer's efforts in helping our soldiers, veterans and their families suffering from PTSD, visit her website at www.Hillenglade.org
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