by Adam Ghassemi
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Friday was jammed with celebrations and fireworks, but this Independence Day there are many men and women who served our country, and are struggling to enjoy the events with their loved ones.
That’s what Hope and Healing at Hillenglade is trying to change.
At first it may just seem like a petting zoo, but when you look closer there's a purpose.
Jennifer O'Neill started the organization five-years-ago that today connects two things: veterans and horses.
"Being so gentle and large and powerful, there's something magical about the therapeutic wonder of horses,” she said.
O'Neill has seen veterans cope with war her whole life from her father who was in a German prison camp during World War II to her ex-husband who struggled with PTSD after Vietnam.
It's an issue Chas Shaffer had to overcome after returning from Iraq. The idea is to put veterans, like Shaffer and their families, close to horses that just seem to understand.
"When you're overseas and you're deployed you're on the go all the time and you come back and your mind is just racing,” Shaffer said. "I think animals have a great sense more than people do with healing they know what's wrong with you."
In just a few years, O'Neill said they've seen active duty and veterans work with their horses to overcome anxiety and fear.
"They seem to be refreshed and renewed and restored,” she said.
Shaffer said with his wife's support they dealt with PTSD and got past it. He hopes this program lets others do the same thing faster.
"I think if I had access to something like when I had gotten out I think it would have been a wonderful thing,” he said.
The organization is trying to raise money to build an indoor arena so future events can happen rain or shine. They also want to create a program for horse owners to help veterans across the country.