No one alive in the 70s can forget Jennifer O'Neill. She was far more than just the “It” girl of the moment. Jennifer O'Neill had an ease and poise for the camera that made anyone want to know her. The Brazilian-American beauty was perfect for her decade-plus career for Cover Girl cosmetics. Her role as the sweet, caring, yet hopelessly tempted young wife in the film “Summer of ‘42” made her a fixture on big and small screens across three decades. Jennifer O'Neill is still a beauty at 69 now, but service draws her heart much more than any hunt for roles.

Her Hillenglade Ranch just outside of Nashville is a haven for military service veterans and families, providing core emotional connections that remain long after a horseback ride.

Retreat and renewed life

The official title of the mission begun by Jennifer O'Neill is Hope and Healing at Hillenglade, and Kathie Lee Gifford of “Today” paid a visit to see the difference that time with several steeds, big and small, made in the lives of veterans, their wives, and children. The gentle pace of the ranch life extends to everyone.

Ray Nockles served in both the Army and the Air Force and has been diagnosed with PTSD. Ray’s wife relates how her husband mostly shies away from trips outside their neighborhood, but the ranch offers solace that he never wants to leave. “There's no triggers, no pressure, no expectations—it’s just a place to be,” Ray describes.

His family feels refreshed by their experiences at the retreat as well.

Miniature horses and donkeys don’t mind either being petted or painted, and it’s all about getting emotions out in a safe place. Jennifer O'Neill grew up as part of a military family, and her father served years in a prison camp, so she feels these connections deeply. She knows what just a touch or a nuzzle with such a loving and sensitive animal can mean. A licensed family therapist also is there to guide and to offer counseling.

Trauma turned to hope

Jennifer O'Neill herself was traumatized as a teenager by the prospect of moving to New York City with her family and leaving behind her beloved dog, Mandy and her horse, Monty, so much that she attempted suicide. She turned that passion for animals into a lifelong pursuit as an acclaimed equestrienne, and she has never wavered, despite a throw at a horse show that left her back broken in three places. The natural skills of Jennifer O'Neill on horseback had a big part in getting her big screen co-starring role with John Wayne in “Rio Lobo.”

Away from deadlines and duty pressures, veterans and their families find fun and time together at the ranch, whether dealing with autism or active duty.

Jennifer O'Neill literally opens the door to her home as wide as her heart. The actress chokes up as she says “This is the greatest pleasure of my life-- to serve these veterans and their families. “

She closes the conversation with an easy laugh, reminding that “God was in a good mood the day he made horses.”

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