2020 VETERAN & SUPPORT RIDERS
Brenda Lee A.
Brenda-Lee retired after 21 years in the Air Force. While going through a difficult time in her life, she learned about the healing power of horses and equine therapy. Brenda-Lee started her journey with equine therapy in Yelm, WA in 2014. In 2015, she was chosen for the Mustang Workshop hosted at BraveHearts, which taught her how to gentle wild mustang. Brenda-Lee has said the time spent with the mustangs was life-altering and continues to have an impact on her life. Brenda-Lee reconnected with BraveHearts through the virtual programs started during COVID-19. She is passionate about horses and aspires to become a therapeutic riding instructor. She is dedicated to helping to spread the mission of Trail to Zero to her brothers and sisters.This will be Brenda Lee’s first Trail to Zero.
Poplar Grove, IL
Amanda joined the Navy after graduating high school. She always knew she wanted to help people and being a Corpsman gave her that opportunity. While working in the medical field, almost 14 years later Amanda and her family were introduced to BraveHearts in 2017. She is forever grateful for the introduction to such a life-changing organization. Amanda is continuing to learn how to manage her stress and anxiety more and more each and every day with the guidance of the amazing therapy horses, BraveHearts team and her fellow brother and sisters. Amanda is truly honored to be a part of Trail to Zero and believes that if we can make a difference in just one person’s life we are doing something right. Trail to Zero 2020 will be Amanda’s second Trail to Zero.
William Boelcke holds a bachelors degree in mathematics, a masters degree in educational research and has worked in higher education for a number of years. He has been riding with BraveHearts for almost 2 years and this is him first time riding in Trail to Zero. Will has struggled with his mental health and substance use for a number of years after serving in the military. While in treatment, he was introduced to BraveHearts and has stayed connected with the farm since. The relationship he has built with the horses, the staff, and fellow veterans at BraveHearts has had a significant impact on his recovery and continued success.
Melrose Park, IL
Traumatic experiences during her service as a Security Policeman began a decades-long struggle with PTSD, isolation, and depression. In 2017, the VA referred her to BraveHearts, where she began to feel a sense of confidence and energy and found that working with the horses was the therapy that worked best for her.
Angie now rides on the all-veteran drill team and volunteers at BraveHearts as well. She feels part of a close-knit community and wants to give something back to the program that gives her so much. Angie’s connection with the horses and the camaraderie she shares with her Veteran brothers and sisters helps her as she continues to
Vincent DiRe, 16 year service veteran, active duty Air Force in the Vietnam era as a medical service specialist. Came to BraveHearts in 2019 and became involved as a veteran participant in lessons and on the Drill Team, volunteer, and this will be his first year riding on Trail to Zero. Last year, Vince was a part of the Trail to Zero ground support in Chicago – passing out flyers, spreading the word, and informing the public about veteran suicide awareness and prevention. Vince does all he can to support the BraveHearts Trail to Zero mission with putting in many volunteer hours at the farm, continuing to advocate in the community, and using his positive energy to welcome veterans in to the program for the first time. His passion for service exudes from him. He has created special connections with the BraveHearts herd, taken every opportunity presented to advance his horsemanship, and is grateful for the family he has at BraveHearts. This will be Vince’s first Trail to Zero ride.
Kyle Farbman, US Army, served from 2006 -2016 as a musician. Kyle was recruited out of college for his musicianship and went on to play in hundreds of funerals while serving in the military. Kyle sought out BraveHearts after a friend encouraged him that equine assisted services may help his symptoms from PTSD, which was an onset from his experiences playing taps in funerals and MST. Kyle has participated in weekly lessons since starting in 2017. BraveHearts is one of the two places in the world for Kyle that bring him tranquility. He is a very adaptable rider and eager to learn, as he has begun the journey to becoming a PATH International certified therapeutic riding instructor. Working with horses has helped Kyle to be more in-tune with himself and has given him tools that translate into his life and healing into each day. Trail to Zero 2020 is Kyle’s second year riding on Trail to Zero.
Brandon Horning, US Air Force, served two tours in Iraq at the Al Asad Air Force Base from 2007-2009. He was a Crew Chief for the U2 Spy Plane and was stationed in Texas and California. Brandon was on the flight line where combat followed him. When ISIS breeched the airfield, Brandon called MP and when they failed to get the help to him in time, he engaged. When Isis tried to crash a jeep to blow up a C130, Brandon hit the jeep with fire. The jeep then hit the loading ladder, which fell on Brandon hitting the side of his face and causing him vertebrae fractures in three separate places. Brandon was medevaced on a 30-hour flight to Texas, which he does not remember. He was medically discharged in Jan 2010 and continues to have back and jaw pain but states that depression and PTSD are the worst of the injuries he endured. Brandon was first introduced to BraveHearts in 2015 during a working cattle workshop. He continues to participate in BraveHearts services and believes strongly in the healing power of the horse. Horses have helped Brandon to reduce anxiety, learn to trust and begin to heal. Trail to Zero 2020 will be Brandon’s first Trail to Zero ride.
Clarence, US Marine, served from 1970-2000, began participating at BraveHearts in 2015. Clarence relates to the horse and enjoys seeing the change occur between mustang and veteran. He feels that the two really understand one another and work towards the same goals. Clarence appreciates the comradery he has with his fellow veterans at BraveHearts sharing stories and supporting each other during lessons and through life. Most importantly, Clarence enjoys being with the mustangs as they help him to ease his mind and reassure him that everything is ok. Trail to Zero 2020 is Clarence’s second year riding on Trail to Zero.
Machesney Park, IL
Paul Martinez, SSG(RET) U.S. born and raised in Denver Colorado. Paul was an Airborne Ranger Sniper and deployed 6 times to Afghanistan with 3rd Ranger Battalion. Paul is the author of his combat memoir “When the Killer Man Comes” and is featured in “World of Firearms; Sniper Journal” and is featured in the poetry anthology “In Love &…War” from Dead Reckoning Co., he has appeared on Fox’s hit show American Grit, with John Cena. Paul was introduced to horses while visiting an injured Ranger buddy. As his own injuries began to add up, Paul committed himself to introducing veterans to the healing opportunity of horsemanship nationwide. Currently lives in NY where he advocates for veteran causes and is a co-host of popular Mentors4Military podcast. Trail to Zero 2020 will be Paul’s second Trail to Zero ride.
Bill Mercurio, was drafted in 1966 for the Vietnam War. He served with the 20th Engineers Battalion in Pleiku, RVN. Bill first started at BraveHearts in 2016 with his wife, Nancy, whom an avid horse lover was looking to get back to working with horses. Bill and Nancy began volunteering and quickly became immersed in the veteran program, riding together once a week. Bill tragically lost his son in 2017 and has stated that if it were not for BraveHearts, the horses, and his faith, he does not know how he would have been able to get through such a difficult time. Bill is a PATH Intl. instructor and recently became the Veteran Relations Coordinator at BraveHearts. Bill was part of the 5 veterans who rode in the Trail to Zero pilot ride in 2017.
Larry served in the Marine Corps from 1956-1959. Larry is very involved with BraveHearts as a volunteer and member of the all-veteran Drill Team. Larry has stated that being on the Drill Team gives him the commraderie that he felt in the military and has been a great social outlet for him to stay connected. Larry is involved in the community and is an advocate for equine-assisted services and helping to reach more veterans. 2020 is Larry’s first Trail to Zero ride.
Carolyn served in the US. Marine Corps. She was first introduced to BraveHearts in 2019 at the 2019 New York Trail to Zero when she volunteered during the ride. From that moment Carolyn knew she wanted to be on the Trail to Zero team. She is extremely dedicated to helping to bring awareness to equine assisted services to fellow military veterans and it is her goal to become a PATH Intl. Instructor. Trail to Zero 2020 is Carolyn’s first time riding on Trail to Zero.
Maura is a US. Navy veteran. Maura is very dedicated to learning as she continues to advance in her horsemanship and her confidence around the horses. She is always willing to help around the farm and is not afraid to ask questions and go the extra mile. Maura is extremely gentle with the horses and has a very special bond with the horse she will be riding on Trail to Zero, Dry. Maura has participated on our drill team, in horse shows and has even assisted with the care of the horses. Maura is kind, compassionate a great participant and is a team player. 2020 will be Maura’s first Trail to Zero.
Alex first started with BraveHearts in 2019 after hearing a segment on WGN. Alex had recently moved to IL from California on the quest for a new life after his father had passed. Alex stated that giving BraveHearts a chance was one of the best decisions of his life. From day one, he felt welcomed by the BraveHearts team and felt that he mattered. For the first time in a long time, he felt comfortable and happy. BraveHearts has given Alex a path to doing something he is passionate about and Alex has stated, without BraveHearts he does not know where he would be today. Alex has gained so much from his time at BraveHearts not just about caring for horses but being able to process through his emotions through equine assisted therapy. BraveHearts has given Alex the brotherhood-like feeling he had in the military and he calls BraveHearts his second family. This will be Alex’s first year riding in Trail to Zero.
Jeff T is an US Army Veteran. He is extremely dedicated to volunteering at BraveHearts dedicating over 700 hours already this year to support the cause. Jeff has stated that BraveHearts is a place where there is always something for him to do and where he is always welcome. Jeff attributes BraveHearts to helping to keep him engaged in the community and has given him a healthy recreational skill. Trail to Zero 2020 is Jeff’s first Trail to Zero ride.
After traveling to Washington DC as a 4-H Ambassador in the 70’s, Judy decided to serve our great Country, joining the US Navy as an Intelligence Analyst. Judy grew up with ponies & horses from the age of 4, on her family’s Dairy Farm in Northern Illinois. Her horsemanship career quickly expanded into Regional and National competitions. Judy’s Professional Career included being an Algebra & Geometry Teacher, along with Coaching Varsity Softball, Volleyball and Basketball in the Upstate 8 Conference. Teaching, coaching, being a 4-H Leader, and enjoying her Horses, kept her happily busy in life! She expanded her horse experience into the Driving World. After retirement, Judy was introduced to BraveHearts thru the Rockford VA, where she found a group of caring veterans and a great therapeutic program where she can ride horses, as a Drill Team Member, and a Trail to Zero Ambassador.
Glendale Heights, IL
Watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11 as a child solidified a desire to join the Air Force. After a chance meeting with a BraveHearts instructor in 2017, she become hooked on the camaraderie and dedication shown by the BraveHearts horses, veterans, volunteers, and staff. Grateful and humbled by the opportunities afforded at BraveHearts she can often be found in the barn, emptying water buckets or cleaning horse stalls. As one of the youngest veterans and growing horsewomen she enjoys her time off the horse, leading in lessons or watching riders and instructors, almost as much as riding. Experiencing so many veterans who are open and honest about their mental health struggles and herself having a very stressful career in security with the federal government led her to get serious about her own anxiety. Still very much learning about horses and her own struggles with mental health she hopes to destigmatize mental health services for veterans and non-veterans alike. This will be Nichelle’s second year riding inTrail to Zero.
Christy, an US Navy veteran, is dedicated to the mission of Trail to Zero and BraveHearts. She has seen first-hand how a horse can profoundly impact a veteran’s life. Christy is a member of the all-veteran drill-team. She is a dedicated horsemen and is constantly striving to learn more to grown in her horsemanship. Christy is honored to be on the Trail to Zero ride in hopes of reaching more veterans.
Eileen, an Air Force veteran served from 1976-1982. Eileen was first introduced to BraveHearts as a volunteer. Although she is a veteran, she did not begin riding until a few years in as she enjoyed volunteering. Once she began riding, she found the instruction not only helped her physical condition of scoliosis, but also assisted with her overall emotional and physical health. The comraderie she found felt as if she was back in her military unit and as if she had found her new military family. Eileen has observed the immensity of what the mustangs give to veterans and is grateful to be involved with assisting her brothers and sisters at BraveHearts. This will be Eileen’s first Trail to Zero ride.
Marshall, US Marine, served from 1981-1989. Marshall became interested in BraveHearts when looking for an organization for his motorcycle club to donate funds for veterans. After visiting BraveHearts, he soon became a volunteer helping other veterans and people in need in sessions. Shortly thereafter, Marshall started receiving lessons at BraveHearts through their Veterans Program. Marshall believes that there is a camaraderie that happens when working with the mustangs that is similar to the camaraderie found in the military. He feels that the mustangs are the spirit of survival. They represent freedom. The bond that happens from working with the mustang is the same profound bond that experienced in the military. Working with mustangs brings his mind at ease and a sense of nirvana overcomes him, which he is then able to share with everyone he encounters. Marshall became a PATH Intl. certified instructor in 2017 and has been teaching at BraveHearts ever since helping veterans and children with various diagnoses. Marshall is BraveHearts Peer-to-Peer Coordinator. 2020 will be Marshall’s third year participating in Trail to Zero
Gold Star Father & Board Chair
Ken is a Gold-Star Father. His son, US Marine, Cpl. CJ Boyd was KIA in Afghanistan in 2010. After C.J.’s death Patty attended, the first Gold Star Mother’s retreat held at BraveHearts, which she states, “saved her life.” Ken and his wife Patty have supported BraveHearts veterans since CJ’s death to honor CJ. Ken has become extremely active with BraveHearts riding, helping with special events, and currently sitting on the Board of Directors. Ken and Patty purchased a horse in 2016, fortuitously named Brother, who now holds the name “CJ’s” Brother. Ken has been riding weekly, ever since Brother has come into his life and attributes his healing to this remarkable horse and to the service; he has given to BraveHearts to help CJ’s brothers and sisters. 2020 is Ken’s third year participating in Trail to Zero.
President/COO & Master Level Instructor
Meggan Hill-McQueeney is a lifelong equestrian. Nationally, she has competed in both English and western events since childhood and, later, she competed at the Mustang Million. Meggan spent much of her time in the cutting horse and thoroughbred performance horse worlds, learning the art of breeding, raising and competing at the highest levels. Meggan is self-taught, relying on her experiences and her natural understanding of both horses and humans. She developed her own therapeutic riding program in 1996 and began a second in 1999. Meggan is a PATH International Master Level Instructor, a Special Olympics coach, a trainer for Illinois SO coaches, and a PATH evaluator. In 2010 Meggan stepped into the role of BraveHearts President/COO. She is the 2015 recipient of the PATH Intl. James Brady Professional Achievement Award, honoring her great dedication, proven leadership and high ethical standards as well as her ability to develop and implement innovative, creative and effective ideas for the industry. Meggan’s theories have resulted in the ability of BraveHearts to expand its veteran services nationally, helping BraveHearts PATH Premier Accredited Center retain its status as the largest veteran program in the nation, using innovative equine-assisted services. Meggan’s desire to provide quality programing through higher-degree horsemanship with veterans is achieved through advanced concepts including gentling wild mustangs; mentoring veterans to become PATH certified instructors, and working cattle. Under her leadership, BraveHearts has developed a top-notch team of staff and extraordinary horses providing 13,107 sessions to 726 veterans in 2017 – all at no cost to any veteran. Meggan is a firm believer, as heard in her 2015 TED Talk that all veterans deserve to be given limitless opportunities – and that belief is demonstrated daily through the veterans who organically begin to explore a world of possibilities because of the experiences with BraveHearts horses and staff. 2020 is Meggan’s fourth year participating in Trail to Zero.