Herd of Hope: Helping People Live Healthier, More Satisfying Lives
This month, Zionsville Monthly is pleased to feature Matthew “Matt” and Emma Meeks representing Herd of Hope Equine Assisted Therapies on the cover. This dynamic duo is working to reimagine the not-for-profit Herd of Hope, formerly known as Morning Dove Therapeutic Riding, Inc., and to help people live healthier and more satisfying lives by connecting them with the matchless healing power of horses.
Morning Dove Therapeutic Riding began operating in 1998. The current organization Herd of Hope Equine Assisted Therapies is located in the same location off 96th Street in Zionsville.
The mission at Herd of Hope is: “to help the people of our community who are in need live healthier, more satisfying lives by connecting them with the matchless healing power of the horse through equine-assisted therapies and activities in a safe, restorative, compassionate, and inclusive environment.”
Herd of Hope offers therapeutic riding programs Monday through Friday and also offers a broad array of equine-facilitated learning programs, including workshops, field trips, camps and corporate programs.
Meet The Servant Leaders
Matt Meeks is the Executive Director and Emma’s husband. The two married in 2019 and have one child with one on the way. Matt is from Carmel, is a Carmel High School graduate, and is an IU Bloomington Alumni. He grew up on a hobby horse farm between Carmel and Zionsville. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from IU and received a Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology from the University of Indianapolis. After a successful career in medical device sales, he felt called to pursue a path that was service-focused.
Emma Meeks is the Director of Equine Programs and Operations. Emma is a graduate of Zionsville Community High School and an accomplished equestrian. She began riding at age 3 and competed on the hunter/jumper circuit through college. Emma graduated with a bachelor’s in liberal studies and sociology from Indiana University and a Master of Science in gerontology from the University of Indianapolis. Emma is passionate about recruiting and training therapy horses as well as serving the community through equine-assisted therapies.
“This industry is fairly young,” Matt shared. “Humans have been working with horses for four or five millennia, but using horses for therapy is fairly young, as in the last three or four decades at most.”
The Meekses shared that Emma’s experience with her previous employer, located in a neighboring county, is not only invaluable to the mission and goals the couple has instituted at Herd of Hope, but it has also allowed her to grow the equine retirement program that she began under her previous role and has implemented as part of their current practices. The purpose of Emma’s retirement program is when a therapy horse is no longer willing/able to work, the Meekses rehome the horse to live out its life comfortably and happily out of appreciation for the service that the horse has provided throughout its therapy career.
Matt proudly shared, “Emma started building this massive network — we’re talking cold calling everyone that has a farm or horses. When it comes to the point that a horse is done ‘working,’ Emma hits the phones!”
The Meekses have literally overhauled the entire organization and have given the facilities a fresh makeover since stepping into their respective directorships this past January. The Meekses want to introduce or reintroduce their facilities and their programs to the community and anyone in need of their programs.
“An old pastor of mine would say, ‘Live life lights on, windows open,’ and so this is where we’re at and what we’re doing. This is the real authentic ‘us,’ and we want that for this organization. We rewrote the mission, vision and value statements, and for all intents and purposes, this is a re-founding of an organization that is now Herd of Hope. The name is different, the logo’s different, and we wanted something new where the vibe and culture is a place of healing for everyone involved.”
Emma added, “My passion is utilizing horses to serve others, and I believe in serving through the lifespan. Our youngest client is 2, and our oldest is 80. Being around horses my whole life and from researching and networking, I have found that horses are able to serve everyone in some capacity, no matter what their story or struggle is. So that’s really my passion and why I’m here. Both of us have a huge heart for the geriatric population, and people get stuck on not having a diagnosis and think they can’t get services without one. That is not the case with Herd of Hope! You do not have to have a diagnosis to be provided with resources or to join our programming. Our experience with individuals with unique and varying needs allows us to utilize the horse safely and effectively for therapies that work on activities of daily living, recall and socialization … all of the things that improve quality of life.”
Matt shared, “Working with horses is a way that we can change healthcare in the U.S., and Emma and I bonded and latched on to this [concept] early on while we were dating. This is what we want to do and what we believe God is calling us to do.”
Calls to Action
The Meekses are eager to grow their staff in the wake of their growing clientele. Their goals also include growing their herd from 8 working therapy horses to 10 by 2024.
“One of our biggest needs right now is growing our staff,” Emma emphasized. “Matt and I are wearing every hat you can imagine. We do have fantastic hourly employees, but we are large enough now that we have a need to hire additional staff members who can not only take a load off of us but also help us move the needle forward for the organization and as we grow, make sure it is sustainable.”
The Meekses’ strategic plan includes positions for hire, increasing revenue via fundraising and increasing their programming. The two are actively working on grants and building their donor base. Additionally, the Meekses are looking to find donors to sponsor the horses or the entire herd if one should feel compelled to assist at that level.
“Faithful stewardship is our first core value,” Matt said. “We will be proper stewards of your investment that is an investment into the future of this industry, which our ultimate vision is to see this industry become a critical part of the mainstream healthcare continuum in the U.S.”
For more information about Herd of Hope’s services and upcoming fundraising events or to make direct donations, visit herdofhopetherapy.org. And be sure to follow Herd of Hope Therapies on Instagram and Facebook!