Meet The Team

Rachel Ralph

Programme Manager and Buddy


Rachel founded Hope Rising Farm in 2012 and since then has supported students, as well as managing the Trust, programme creation, Buddy training, animal care, marketing, communications and everything in between! Rachel is a connector, and is always engaging with people around her, supporting others and making new friends. Rachel has an un-ending passion for helping young people and women. You can find her out on the farm with students, developing programmes or very occasionally she gets time for a ride on the farm!

Jeanie van Zweeden

Operations Manager and Buddy

Jean started working as a buddy for Hope Rising Farm in February 2020, after returning from working in the UK for 11 years. We now welcome Jean as our Operations Manager from 2021. Jean has had an involvement with horses and riding since she was a child.  However, while in the UK she became aware of how impactful handling horses and being around horses can be to people, especially those who are vulnerable. She is excited about seeing how the work of the Trust will impact children in the community that are struggling with difficult life situations.

Maria Cleland

Office Manager, Buddy and

Event Co-ordinator


Maria was born in England, and came to New Zealand in 1987. For 22 years she lived on a 3500-acre sheep and beef farm but recently downsized to a lifestyle block. She is an experienced Administrator, and has many years of working with the public, and organising public sporting events. She competed on her own horses for many years and worked extensively as a groom for a top 3 Day Event competitor while in the UK.She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of the vulnerable children and women that are struggling in our communities and looking forward to seeing many more lives changed at Hope Rising Farm.

Our Buddies

Eve Cunnane

Buddy and Arts Therapist

Eve joined us initially in 2014 as a general volunteer, then left to study and later returned to us with a Master's in Arts Therapy and became a Buddy. Eve is a buddy and also does arts therapy sessions with our students. She loves the way the farm provides a unique mix of creativity, animal experience and time in the outdoors. Eve's enthusiasm is infectious and her ready smile and can-do belief in her students encourages them to try new things.  


Pete Simmons


Pete joined us in 2020 and is a wonderful addition to the team with his farm experience and his skill at gently building connections with young people. He has had a varied career, ranging from teaching to farming to engineering. For 14 years Pete was responsible for organising and cooking a charity meal for about 200 people in Hamilton and also worked closely with the attendees. Pete is passionate about helping people realise their potential through little steps.

Heidi Silsbee

Buddy and Horse Care Manager


Heidi has a wealth of experience in riding, working with young people and caring for horses. Heidi has been working with horses for 9+ years, schooling young horses and teaching lessons. Heidi owns 4 horses of her own, rides in both English and Western styles, and was Assistant Centre Coordinator for Waikato Equitherapy for 4 years. Heidi's knowledge and lovely way with young people means her students at HRF gain confidence with animals as well as confidence in themselves. Heidi also does photography on the side and recently published a book!


Rosie Cleland

Buddy and Helping Hands


Rosie joined our Buddy team when she was still at high school. In 2018, she started grazing her new horse at Hope Rising Farm and we soon discovered her talents with our students and couldn’t let her go! Rosie has extensive experience around horses of all types, both recreationally and competitively.  She has been involved as a leader in youth groups for most of her teenage life and has a gift in teaching and is a great encourager. Her students gain confidence in themselves fast and relate to her well as a young person.