2020 VETERAN & SUPPORT RIDERS

Mitchell H.

Poplar Grove, IL

Mitchell, US Army, served from 2011-2012 where he was deployed to Afghanistan. It was his experience in Afghanistan that helped Mitchell find his true passion for helping fellow veterans to rebuild their lives through counseling and recreational sports, like horseback riding. While in Afghanistan, he obtained a physical injury to his back that brought him to spend some time using a wheelchair and cane to help him move around. During this time, he was also going through a divorce, which made him realize that he needed to find a better way to control his PTSD. While on this journey, he found BraveHearts, where he learned how to become an instructor through BraveHearts training and certification program. Mitchell became an instructor in 2017 and has taught not only veterans but also children, with various diagnoses, how to ride horses. In 2019, Mitchell received the PATH Intl. Equine Services for Heroes Veteran of the Year Award.  He uses the horse to help his fellow veterans to experience relief  from their PTSD symptoms. In return, Mitchell has been able to heal through working with horses and training wild mustangs at BraveHearts. 2020 is Mitchell’s third year participating in Trail to Zero. 

Scott M

S. Beloit

Scott was deployed with the United States Navy and served with United States Marine Corps from 1985 through 1990, where he worked as a Religious Program Specialist and 0311 Rifleman. During Scott’s tenure with the military he was violently sexually assaulted by a senior non-commissioned officer. This sexual assault caused Scott to question his place in this world and his self-worth as a human being.  Because of the military sexual assault and consequential post-traumatic stress Scott has had suicidal ideations. His PTSD has caused him to use drugs and alcohol for self-medication. Recently Scott has undergone Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for his PTSD symptoms in combination with therapies offered at BraveHearts.  Scott is now an advocate for those who suffer Military Sexual Assault in combination with advocacy to combat veteran suicide. Scott continues to improve and has recently finished a Master of Science degree from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee where his focus was on advocacy with studies in Cultural Foundations of Community Engagement and Education. “For me horses just helped all the pieces align.  I found wellness and a family through the farms and the free programming at BraveHearts.  Winston, my roan gelding I frequently spend time with every week, has carried me forward to a new future filled with hope and happiness.” 2020 is Scott’s second year participating in Trail to Zero. 

Mitchell R.

North Richland Hills, Texas

Mitchell, US Army Infantry, OIF/OEF veteran served from 2000-2004. Mitchell was introduced to BraveHearts through an Illinois VA program he was enrolled in. When he saw the mustangs, it was love at first sight. After his program ended, he came back from Texas to participate specifically with the mustangs at BraveHearts.  He can relate to the mustang’s hesitations and difficulty with trusting their new normal and relates what the mustang is going through to his own experience with reintegrating into civilian life.   Mitchell describes working with the mustangs as a tidal wave of emotions.  He loves the challenge the mustang brings him and knowing that every inch the mustang gives him has been earned. He enjoys the rush of adrenaline he gets when first stepping into the round pen and explains the feeling that overcomes him when working the mustang as the most calming feeling he has ever experienced. He relates the soothing feeling that he is overcome with similar to the way it feels when holding and rocking his sons. After years of struggling with substance abuse and PTSD attacks, Mitchell has, for the first time since the military, been able to see a future for him and has the feeling that everything is going to be ok. He has obtained his PATH certification and has become very involved in BraveHearts teaching veterans and becoming a Special Olympics coach to teach children and adults to prepare for the equestrian games. After 1.5 years at BraveHearts, Mitchell returned home to Texas to be with his wife and children. He is still very involved at BraveHearts and was the 2018 PATH Intl. Keynote Speaker.  His dream is to develop or work for a program in Texas to help more veterans. 2020 is Reno’s forth year riding in Trail to Zero. 

Rebecca S.

Oak Brook, IL

Rebecca served in the Army from 2003-2007 after being commissioned as an officer by the University of South Dakota, and deployed to Iraq for 16 months with the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.  After returning, she continued to serve as a civilian contractor by teaching ROTC students in New York.  She earned her Masters Degree in Healthcare Administration and Leadership from Rochester Institute of Technology and married her Army sweetheart, LTC Andrew Spring.  Andrew continues to serve on active duty as an Infantry officer and Rebecca supports and serves as a military spouse.  They have two children together, age 9 and 7.   After 4 years on active duty and 12 years as an Army spouse, she believes that service to others is how she earns her place on this Earth, always volunteering with various organizations and serving on boards.  Because of her own chronic pain, due to an injury sustained while in Iraq, Rebecca became a Pilates instructor and owns her own business primarily helping others through their pain.  While her family was stationed in Texas, she attended veteran horsemanship classes and learned through her own experience that horses help heal a pain, physically and mentally, that is unparalleled to any medical intervention.  On a horse, she learned to control her anxiety and be present, and most importantly, take that skill to her everyday life. In 2018 her family was relocated to Chicago, where she sought out BraveHearts to continue her journey with horses. Through BraveHearts, she is working towards her PATH Therapeutic Riding Instructor Certification. Her dream is to help veterans heal physically, by correcting muscular and skeletal imbalances with Pilates, and mentally with horses. 2020 will be Rebecca’s first year participating on Trail to Zero. 

Marshall W.

Belvidere, IL

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 with fellow veteran, Cowboy. 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 is the Peer to Peer Specialist for veterans at BraveHearts. 2020 is Marshall’s third year riding in Trail to Zero. 

Nichelle W

Glendale Heights, IL

Watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11 as a child solidified a desire to join the Air Force, serving from 2008 until 2013. 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. 2020 is Nichelle’s second year riding in Trail to Zero. 

Ken Boyd

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 second year participating in Trail to Zero.

Meggan Hill-McQueeney

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 third year participating in Trail to Zero.