HOLT — Since June, a country horse farm near the end of a quiet dirt lane has provided respite for returning military members, special-needs children and their families.
Operating Silent Hooves Horse Farm and its Hooves for Heroes program is a "dream come true," owner Lexi Peters said.
With her husband, newly promoted Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Jesse Peters, recently deployed to Afghanistan with the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Lexi understands returning service members' special needs.
Transitioning to home life after the stress of deployment can be difficult, she said.
Peters, a Special Olympics volunteer, said opening the farm's Hooves for Heroes programto children with special needs goes hand-in-hand with offering equine assistance therapies to military members and their families.
"I always wanted to help out kids," she said. "I really didn't even think about soldiers until my husband started deploying."
It's about families
The farm's trainers are certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, or PATH.
Humans aren't Silent Hoove's only beneficiaries. The farm's two ponies and three horses also come from troubled backgrounds.
"Each has overcome his own challenges, so soldiers say, 'OK, I can relate.' The horses come here to heal and they inspire adults and children to come here and heal," Peters said. "The horses understand. They can feed off that. Their energy feeds to the rider and they overcome challenges."
At the end, Peters said, it's all about soldiers, special-needs kids and their families.
"We want to keep families close together and let them know they have a really strong support back here at home," she said.
Peters' own family is an integral part of the program, which she cofounded with Jesse before he deployed. Their daughter, Isabella, 3, is already on her way to being an equestrienne, Lexi said, though their son, Christopher, 21 months, just likes watching the animals.
'A real simple program'
Life at Silent Hooves can be as structured or informal as participants want.
"It's a real simple program. We just try to bring families together. They just hang out and spend some quiet time with the horses," Peters said.
"It's very quiet out here. We try to help them cope with some of the combat stresses they have — whether it's loss of a buddy or family stresses when they get back — and find their place in the home again."
Local clergymen also sometimes stop by and visit with service members or families seeking spiritual counseling, Peters said.
Soldiers and their families sometimes pitch in with farm chores, repairing fences or feeding animals. Community volunteers donate money toward horse feed and veterinary care.
Students often volunteer with the special-needs children, which has led to withdrawn children coming out of their shells, socializing with other kids and even joining local scout troops, Peters said.
"I just love sitting back and just watching them. It's been a dream of mine," she said. "I'm literally living a dream and giving back to the community, which is a double bonus."
WANT TO GO?
Silent Hooves Horse Farm's nonprofit Hooves for Heroes program offers quiet, peaceful respite for military members, their families and special-needs children. Volunteer and sponsorship opportunities are available. Horse trainers are certified in equine assistance therapies through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. Contact owner Lexi Peters, 537-2457 or firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.