Rachel Ralph Founder Biography
My childhood was spent on a small beef stud farm just west of Hamilton with 8 siblings, a pet sheep, pet goat, cats, dogs, a mule, and there were always horses! My early experiences included stock work, Pony Club and local competitions, followed by jobs on thoroughbred stud farms & racing stables. In 1982, a life-threatening accident put an end to my riding days and set me on a path to discover my God given purpose. A two-year stint in UK working as a nanny and a trip around Europe followed, and then onto Melbourne intending to stay for 3 months but met my husband, Andy and stayed for 20 years!
There I worked as a casual Riding Coach working with beginners, teaching in a Riding School, Pony Clubs, Adult Riding Clubs and private pupils, and again when I returned to my homeland NZ, there were many opportunities where students learnt ‘life lessons’ and ‘life skills’ from our times together with the horses. Personal responsibility, compassion, requesting -not bullying, patience, resilience, teamwork, communication, focus and creativity for example.
While living in Melbourne and working in conjunction with our local church for about 5 years, Andy and I opened our home to teenagers and young adults who needed it, providing a stable home for up to 9 months. We also provided short-term accommodation to the homeless or for people getting into one of our church’s four halfway houses for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. I journeyed with women who have left abusive relationships and addictions and been part of a team supporting people on the “edge of society”, mostly those on the streets, but also people re-entering society coming out of prison.
As they stayed with us, I noticed the powerful impact that our dogs, cats, and even chickens had on ‘hardened’ criminals, often seeing the ‘real’ side of these people rather than who they had become.
Rachel and Benji, the first pony that started it all
In 2004, we left Melbourne, returning to my hometown of Hamilton, NZ. We became foster parents with Open Home Foundation for about 3 years which had a profound impact on the way Hope Rising Farm was formed. These experiences over the years shaped my thinking and raised the question. “What could we do to make a difference to the vulnerable in our society using the land and my love of horses?” My parents John & Bunny Mortimer (QSM and Hamilton Kirikiriroa Medal) had always been pioneers in the community and they gave the vision an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Even though I have been involved in church leadership and running a small business, I prefer to be out with the horses, donkeys, students, and women, along with our passionate and talented team. I enjoy people and have a powerful desire to see them grow and to become all they can be. I love seeing a change in their thinking about what is possible and seeing “the lights go on” in an area of their lives.
I live about 20 mins north of Hamilton with Andy, my incredibly supportive husband, and Fidget, my fun-loving jack russell terrier, and we are part of The Village Church community in Ngaruawahia. I enjoy walks on some of the fabulous walkways we have in the Waikato and drawing and the great outdoors in my spare time.
Our 10-year History
What an extraordinary ten years we’ve had! Extreme highs, and lows, and everything in between. When we registered as a Charitable Trust in March 2013, I started to gather a small team and developed a plan which continues to unroll and unfold. It started with nothing but an awareness of a huge need and a way to do something about that need. In faith and with no physical or financial resources, I bought a miniature pony for $50 called Benji, and started actively sharing the vision with other like-minded people.Our first real home-base, just out of Ngaruawahia, helped us establish and trial many ideas and concepts and was the perfect place to refine our programmes and the use of the farmland. We bought an old house to live in that gave us instant access to the farm we leased. Vulnerable children, youth and women from all walks of life came through our programmes and many had life changing experiences. Some of the volunteers that joined us as school students trained as Mentors, then mentored our HRF students, and then went on to study or pursue a career. Most of them stay in touch, which we love and some of our ex-volunteers now play important roles on our staff team!
In April 2022 we entered Stage 2 having moved into a new bigger farm for our activities and enabling us to work with more students, expand our staff team and start the journey towards a working farm that will help sustain us. Ten years ago, I dreamed of a large arena that would serve as a space to work with multiple students and their horses at once, and also for small groups to use simultaneously. I also dreamed of an indoor workspace for working with our students through winter allowing interactions with the horses and donkeys to continue, despite the cold and wet. Both these are now very near completion!
Every horse and donkey has been gifted to us except our very first pony and he is the star on our logo. These equines are the lifeline for so many of our students. Currently our team of nine equines teach, reflect and empower our students in a way only they can.
Our six part-time paid staff, and our Board of Trustees are passionate about the difference that we make in the lives of our students.
Our vision of equipping and empowering participants to believe in themselves is surely our highest earthly calling. For our students to know they are valuable, and that their life has purpose and meaning is the best gift we can give them.
I am extremely grateful to you our readers, our incredible faithful supporters who have encouraged us over the last 10 years with hands-on working bees, financial donations, your prayers, discounted services and equipment, encouraging words (when there was nothing to see!) and by spreading the word about us. A vision may be cast by one person, but it is always a team that brings that dream to fulfillment.
Lastly a huge thanks to my husband Andy, who is the co-founder of Hope Rising Farm. He believed in the vision with me but has mostly been a behind the scenes contributor. His ongoing support and encouragement has meant that Hope Rising Farm is well and truly on its way to impact many more lives.
From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.
We are looking forward to making an impact over the next ten years, one life at a time.
Will you join us?