A Quarter Century of Change: Reins of Life holds 25th annual Kelsey Marie Meekhof Memorial Dinner and Auction

Reins of Life has helped thousands of people living with disabilities since it opened in 1978.
Published: Jan. 29, 2023 at 12:30 AM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Local nonprofit Reins of Life held its 25th annual Kelsey Marie Meekhof Memorial Dinner & Auction at The Armory Kitchen in South Bend.

Reins of Life started in 1978 to improve the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities through equine-assisted therapy.

“We utilize horses, ponies, donkeys, and miniature horses to fulfill those dreams,” Executive Director for Reins of Life Dorota Janik said.

During its first year, Reins of Life had a total of 16 riders. But today, that number is over 400, ranging from kids two years old to adults 82 years young.

Among those who greatly benefited from Reins of Life’s equine-assisted therapy was Kelsey Meekhof, for whom the event is named in honor.

“It helped her relax, it helped her speak, and it helped with her muscle control and all sorts of things,” Kelsey’s father, Dr. Mark Meekhof, said.

Kelsey lived with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects one’s muscles and balance, but as her parents recalled the first time they visited Reins of Life, her disability didn’t stop her from riding her first horse, Duke.

“The first time we brought her, her horse was so huge, and she was little, and I was like, she’s not going to get up on that horse,” Kelsey’s mother, Carla Meekhof, said. “There’s no way she’s getting up there because she’s scared of dogs. She got right up on the horse, immediately started smiling, and from there on, that’s all she wrote. All she wanted to do was ride her horse.”

According to the National Library of Medicine, animal therapy has been around for centuries, with the first recorded uses dating back to 1792.

However, equine-assisted therapy differs from other service and emotional animal therapy because it helps the rider use muscles they usually couldn’t.

“There is a physical influence on your body,” Janik added. “So, for people with physical disabilities, our horses’ movement causes your pelvis to move the same as you would be walking, so those muscles are strengthened.”

There is also emotional and psychological benefit from equine-assisted therapy.

“Many volunteers tell us that this is my therapy,” Janik explained. “You frequently hear that around because they come and have that time, one-on-one with somebody who listens and doesn’t give you a bad look, cuss, or (make a) judgmental comment. It’s a time to yourself, time to reflect.”

Kelsey passed away in 2004, but her memory continues to help hundreds of people each year, as since its inception, this event has raised over $2 million for Reins of Life.

“This is a great organization that serves a lot of people, and it touches a lot of lives in this area,” Dr. Meekhof concluded.

Reins of Life tells 16 News Now that 90% of its funds come from fundraisers and events.

They also noted that the community support has been incredible, but they are always looking for more volunteers.

South Bend location: 55200 Quince Road, South Bend, IN 46619. Phone: 574-232-0853

Michigan City location: 9375 W. 300 N., Michigan City, IN 46360. Phone: 219-874-7519.

Email: staff@reinsoflife.org

Scott Caviness and Mike Cello provided the evening’s entertainment.

Caricatures were available for purchase from local artist Kevin Coffee.