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Von Holtens with Matt Kahrs, FCS Financial loan officer

Saddled-Up for the Savoir-Faire

David and Brandy Von Holten offer unique equine experiences rooted in their family farm.

Article and photos by Joann Pipkin.

As the four lane leads us south from state fair town, our route takes us to the east down a winding country road. Barren crop fields line the path while livestock take in the warmth of this brisk late fall day. A turn from the narrow blacktop, and we follow the dusty byway to the bottom of a hill. The sun’s deceptive rays welcome us to a tucked away creekside ranch in rural Mora, Missouri, the gateway of the Ozarks, we’re told. Here, David and Brandy Von Holten embark on a trail all their own. 

Home to a horse trail riding facility, outdoor arena and wedding venue, Von Holten Ranch welcomes visitors from coast to coast and everywhere in between to take in the quiet countryside, ride along tranquil trails, and embark on an equine event or two. The venture is a dream come true for this husband-wife team and their telltale journey together.

Back to Roots

David Von Holten family owned their ranch since 1906.

Originally purchased in 1906 by David’s great-grandfather, the nearly 300-acre ranch was once a diversified crop and livestock operation. Prior to David and Brandy purchasing the land in 2013, David’s father and aunt owned the property, renting it to local farmers. 

“David has always loved the family farm,” Brandy explains. “He was raised here and has always considered this home. He’s also always wanted to own the family farm.”

Once David’s father agreed to sell the land, Brandy and David sold their small, part-time cattle operation in Higginsville and devised a plan for their new-found home. 

“We did go through some hardships whenever we purchased this because our property sold too fast, and we didn’t have a place to live,” Brandy recalls. “We had to live in our horse trailer that was not meant to be lived in.”

Brandy left her job as a science teacher at Truman High School in Independence while David resigned his position as manager of a tool rental company in Lee’s Summit. And from scratch, the duo went to work crafting many of the ranch’s current buildings with David’s handiwork and developed a business plan to sustain the operation. 

A former Olympic-level, heavyweight fighter originally from Texas, Brandy moved to Missouri to train. A true Jill of many trades, Brandy had horseback riding in her background but had not competed since childhood. Today, she is a leader in equine mounted archery and travels the country conducting workshops and training events in addition to helping David manage the day-to-day activities of the ranch. A savvy marketer and motivational speaker, Brandy has coined her own weekly podcast, Big Boss Mare, and is also author of six children’s books. 

On the Trail

With 25 miles of trail, Von Holten Ranch is both large and small in the trail riding world, according to Brandy. 

Von Holten Ranch Mountain Trail Course Map

“Some people will do more than 25 miles in a day,” Brandy explains. “We’re not meant for that customer. Our property has a perimeter fence which is super helpful because a lot of people don’t have to be a cowboy anymore in their normal life. Horses are a hobby.”

She goes on to say their facility helps meet the needs of the novice and aging trail rider because they can provide services geared toward that clientele. 

“We get a lot of older clients,” Brandy says. “They like the security of knowing that we live here and that we’re going to be able to help them.”

In addition to providing the trail facility, the Von Holtens invite professional trainers from all over the world to share their talents. 

“The biggest event we’ve ever hosted was the Great American Trail Horse Festival,” Brandy says. “We had people from 20 states and three countries here in 2015 before we even had the covered arena or mountain trail course.”

The venue has hosted a mounted police officer training. And the Von Holtens founded the Country Tough Trail Versatility. Brandy says that event has seen 200% growth in the last two years, even in 2020 amid the challenges of Covid-19. 

Considered the gateway to the Ozarks, Brandy says the trail course features both wooded terrain and a creek. “We’re rocky without being rocky,” she explains.

“We’re hilly without being really hilly. We are mild, and a lot of people need mild. They need mild, and they need a little bit of help.”

Cabins at Von Holten Ranch in Missouri

The ranch is home to 40 electric sites and four cabins as well as 94 covered horse stalls. A heated and cooled guest shower house is also open year around. A 125-foot by 200-foot covered arena sits on the property to house a variety of events. The mountain trail course, which Brandy calls Ninja Warrior for horses, is filled with outdoor obstacles. 

“It’s supposed to increase safety of trail riders because they’re able to practice things that they would encounter on the trail, but then they’re able to actually focus on the horsemanship side of the activity,” she explains. “so, it’s supposed to improve safety for all riders.”

An international mounted archery course is also in the works for the ranch. Brandy is hopeful the operation will become a global leader for the sport. 

Say, ‘I Do’

Overachiever isn’t a word that comes close to describing Brandy. When the zealous entrepreneur commits to a project, she’s 10 miles past what others would consider all-in.

That said, taking calculated risks has been the driving force behind the success of Von Holten Ranch. 

Von Holten Ranch bridge

Adding a wedding venue to the ranch’s resume´ wasn’t exactly in Brandy and David’s wheelhouse. Yet, the husband-wife team embraces the opportunity. 

“It’s a great job,” Brandy says simply. “I get to deal with people on the best day of their life. This is fun.”

Brandy is clear in that their responsibilities are merely to provide the venue and the rules that accompany it and not get involved in the wedding itself. 

“We come in and make sure everything is okay,” she notes. “We rent the venue, and then we respect their privacy.”

While being situated at the end of a long gravel road has been somewhat challenging, Brandy says their mission is not to book 60 or more weddings a year. The ranch hosted 20 in 2019, seven more than the previous year. 

The rustic barn structure, which accommodates up to 200 guests, also serves as a multipurpose facility, Brandy says, hosting meetings and other special events in addition to weddings. 

“We’re diversified for sure,” she says. “We’ve even had a celebration of life in there. People that book with us, love actually being on a farm.”

According to Brandy, the ranch housed eight buildings when they purchased it. Lumber from five of the eight structures helped construct the wedding venue. David built the barn in about 10 months with 80 hours of additional labor from an intern and some help from friends and family.

“Most weddings book one to two years in advance,” Brandy says. “We’re already booking for 2022.”

Make a Connection

“A lot of people just need an ounce of support, and then they can make the choice,” Brandy says. “And as soon as they make the choice, then they can make the change to whatever they’re trying to do.”

Barn at Von Holten Ranch

That simple philosophy serves as the foundation for Brandy’s vision of becoming a life coach. As a motivational speaker, author and podcaster, the keen promoter wants to help others turn goals into action to better themselves. 

Through character development, her book series aims to help children tackle life challenges. Aside from the written word, Brandy’s Big Boss Mare podcast can be heard weekly on 12 different hosts, including Spotify, Amazon and iHeart Radio.

The podcasts give listeners a more intimate interaction with a variety of information, she says. 

“I’ve actually interviewed some people that I’ve known,” Brandy explains. “I just feel so much more connected with them. I’m a people person. I love connections.”

Clear the Hurdles

While it might seem that the ducks just fell in a row for the Von Holtens, Brandy says building their operation from the ground up has actually had its share of challenges. 

“Every time we do something, it face-plants,” she says. “Like that creek. It flooded six times our first year that we were open. Then, the first wedding we were supposed to host was canceled.” 

So many hurdles have been placed in their path to success that the Von Holtens have learned to simply jump a little higher. 

“Game on,” Brandy says. “If I fail, it’s going to be okay. The worst thing that can happen is I go back to a career that I loved. I literally love teaching.”

Find a Lender

Von Holtens with Matt Kahrs, FCS Financial loan officer in Sedalia.

When it came time for the Von Holtens to find a lender for their new venture, FCS Financial topped the list. Having worked with the agricultural cooperative previously, it was a natural fit for them. 

“We like FCS Financial and what it stands for — the people,” Brandy explains. “They also give back to their customers. This job is feast or famine, so it helps with financial planning.”

Additionally, Brandy says they appreciate the belief FCS Financial has placed in their operation, and the lower interest rates offered also make the cooperative attractive for those needing financial assistance. 

The Von Holtens work with Matt Kahrs in the FCS Financial Sedalia office. Matt appreciates the diversity the operation brings to the table. “My hope is to be able to benefit their operation,” he says. “If there is a way to help save them some money, that’s my job. My job is to take care of them as our customer.”

For the Future

As the equine facilities and wedding venue at Von Holten Ranch continue to expand, Brandy and David look to the future and what that might mean for their operation.

“We would rather do a slow grow than a fast grow,” Brandy says. 

Their end goal for the operation includes a manager to run the daily activities as well as a trainer to run the boarding barn. They also envision a groundskeeper and a cleaning employee to help with facilities upkeep. Then David and Brandy could spend more time behind the scenes, while coordinating the business’ marketing activities, traveling and taking part in other activities they enjoy. 

Married 15 years, it’s a bright future for the visionaries. 

Brandy concludes, “It only takes one person from somewhere to make something go big. So…”

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