The tree-lined white fence and big, airy yellow barn of Angel Smile Farm in Loxahatchee are as serene and welcoming as the horses that gather to greet you as you drive onto the property. The farm is peaceful by design, as it is often a second home to those who need peace the most.
Owner Maurette Hanson runs a nonprofit equine therapy program called Healing Horse Therapy Center from Angel Smile Farm. She offers a variety free programs to people with mental and physical issues. One of her specialties is providing equine-assisted therapy to combat veterans who return home with post-traumatic stress disorder and often have a hard time adjusting to life off the battlefield.
“It’s hard to get a veteran to make the commitment to come out here,” Hanson said. “It’s a big step for them to acknowledge and deal with the fact that they have PTSD. Suicide is a huge problem among combat veterans. I just partnered with Operation IV, or Iraq Veterans, which was started by a mother who lost her son to suicide. He did three tours. She made the commitment that she wasn’t going to let it continue.”
The Department of Defense reported in January that suicide deaths outpaced combat deaths in 2012. 177 active-duty soldiers took their own lives last year. Hanson wants to offer her farm and the horses as a source of peace and a method of therapy for soldiers returning home. She works with the Palm Beach Vet Center for referrals.
“Vets are referred to me because they’re dealing with PTSD,” Hanson said. “They do ground work and deal with communication skills, trust issues, empowerment and confidence. We focus on their post traumatic stress that they’re dealing with and how it is mirrored in the horse. They can have a trigger at any moment. They have to learn how to recognize it and not let it happen. The horse helps them with it.”
Hanson also offers equine therapy for mentally and physically challenged kids and adults. She works with Jeff Industries, a local vocational program that helps those with mental health issues get jobs and integrate into the community. The people involved in that program come out to the farm as volunteers and receive equine-assisted therapy.
Hanson’s background is special education. She is certified as a therapeutic riding instructor by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). She is also a lifelong horsewoman. Healing Horse Therapy Center combines her love for teaching with her passion for horses. Hanson’s devotion to what she does keeps her going amid the challenges of running a nonprofit. She is currently looking for another PATH-certified instructor and sponsors to help her build a wheelchair-accessible mounting block. Her dream is to build a wellness center and offer workshops in a peaceful, safe environment.
“I want to offer an environment that heals,” she said. “The farm is a vision of mine. I wanted to create a space that was safe, nurturing, and healing. I think we’re almost there.”