Meet the Board of Directors at Heaven’s Gait Ranch
Margaret Mary McClaren Founder, Executive Director
From a very young age, Margaret Mary learned the value of giving. Raised by a U.S. army veteran and a special education aide, she saw her parents devote their lives to causes much greater than themselves. As a result, Margaret Mary pursued a career in education after graduating from Marquette University as an Evans Scholar. Over the years, she worked for both private and public schools, teaching students in rural areas while also tutoring young women from inner cities.
Throughout her experience teaching, Margaret Mary was introduced to individuals and families who benefited from equine-assisted activities and therapeutic riding, and because of their positive testimonials, she began volunteering at a nearby PATH Member Center. Margaret Mary immediately fell in love with the program, its horses, and their efforts—so much so that she decided to make a life change and professionally commit to the nonprofit sector.
She says, “It’s amazing how one experience can change the trajectory of your life. Volunteering at a therapeutic riding facility absolutely changed mine.” As an active member of PATH International, she received her Executive Certificate in Nonprofit Fund Development from the University of Notre Dame, while earning her MBA through Aurora University. Fully dedicated to its programs and their growth, she now serves as the Executive Director of Heaven’s Gait Ranch, and the therapeutic riding center has undoubtedly become her home away from home.
Brian McClaren Founder, Vice Chair
Brian was born into a family with a long history of equine interests and activities; he was raised alongside his sister Elizabeth, who traveled the country as a competitive equestrian rider and was crowned the Youth World Grand Champion in 2002 and 2003. Although away at St John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Brian made efforts to travel to these shows and support her. Brian went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in finance and has worked in finance and commercial real estate since 2011. And despite his successful and award-winning experience as a broker in Madison, Brian left the brokerage community to open Heaven’s Gait Ranch while pursuing his MBA at Marquette University.
Fueling the move to Cedar Grove from Madison, WI, Heaven’s Gait Ranch has been more than a life-changing pursuit for Brian. “It has been eye opening and incredibly rewarding,” he says. As an active member of PATH International, Brian has worked diligently with other therapeutic riding facilities to get Heaven’s Gait Ranch off the ground. Through this experience, he has gained invaluable exposure to the industry. He states, “I’m so excited to share what we have learned and what we have been able to build.” He is very proud to bring this long-held family aspiration to fruition.
Mark Zirngibl Founder, Vice Chair
After serving 20 years in the military, Mark is excited to give back to those who have already given so much. As a two-tour, combat infantryman in The Republic of South Vietnam, Mark most notably enjoyed serving as a Scout Dog Platoon Commander because of the special bond that evolved between his men and their animals. Years later, Mark still recalls how this bond enabled people to develop empathy.
He says, “You start to pick up on nonverbal cues that are often overlooked because we’re always in such a hurry. And these cues help us build meaningful relationships.” He argues, like dogs, horses are extremely intelligent and sensitive animals. “If you learn to respect each other, you can have a friend for life.”
Aside from commanding his dog unit, Mark also served as a Ranger Advisor to the South Vietnamese Rangers, Special Forces “A” Team Commander to the Royal Thai Airborne, and Battalion Intelligence Officer in Berlin during the Cold War. However, after four tours overseas, Mark entered the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a Command Administrative Assistant and later as an Army Reserve Operations Officer. Despite his desire to remain in the military, service-connected wounds and injuries prompted separation from the Reserve, and Mark entered the civilian world for the first time at age 43, 60% disabled.
With the support of his family and neighbors, Mark worked diligently to acclimate into mainstream society. He went back to school to earn a M.S. degree in Health Services Administration and worked at the Walworth County Counseling Center, as well as the State of Wisconsin’s Job Service. Later, he finished his teaching certificate in broadfield social studies to teach at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy. Now, as a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans, Mark is also a proud member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The Americal Division Veterans Association, PATH International, and Heaven’s Gait Ranch.
Elizabeth Munao Social Chair
Bringing with her a long history of equestrian experience, Elizabeth Munao joined the Board of Directors at HGR in Spring 2017. She has shown American Saddlebreds competitively for over 20 years, with successes that include one World Grand Championship title, two World Championship titles, and multiple National and Regional Championship titles. Elizabeth was also a two-time member of the United States Equestrian Team and won gold and silver medals at international competitions in South Africa. Elizabeth continues to show horses competitively on a regional circuit.
She says, “Horses have been an integral part of my life for decades. Being with horses is so much more than a hobby and riding horses is not just about competing. Horses have such kind and gentle spirits, such grace, that their presence has the ability to evoke joy in others. They have strengthened me, both body and soul.”
After graduating from Beloit College with bachelor of arts degrees in Secondary Education and English, she taught multiple content areas, including special education, for four years before God called her into academic ministry. Elizabeth is now a Bible study teacher through her church while earning her Master’s of Theological Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
As Brian’s sister, she knows intimately of their mother’s wish for her beloved farm to serve others, and she is grateful to be a part of such a magnificent program. Elizabeth is eager to bring her equestrian experience and passion for Christian service to Heaven’s Gait Ranch.
“I have seen timid people become confident. I have seen sadness replaced with joy. I have seen physical strength transformed, and I have witnessed the deepest connections between animal and human, all through the beauty of horses.”
Devlin Gray Development Chair
Before his first birthday, Devlin Gray began a journey that not only changed his life but also the lives of those around him.
Devlin was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive cancer in his blood cells that left his immune system particularly susceptible to infection. The first few years of his life were spent in and out of the hospital as he underwent two bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy, and radiation.
In remission since, Devlin has never let his rough start slow him down, going on to earn the Evans Scholarship to Marquette University. With an unwavering spirit and positive attitude, he’s also become an ambassador in the fight against childhood cancer. Devlin spear-headed the first “St. Baldrick’s Day” ever at Marquette, which has since raised over $150,000 for childhood cancer research.
He says, “I really believe in giving back to those that have helped you become the person you are today. I believe in paying it forward.”
We are blessed to have Devlin on board, as he enjoys creative fundraising campaigns, and spreading the word about the mission of Heaven’s Gait Ranch.