Guests escape to the past at Von Holten Ranch
He wanted to get back to the family farm established by his great-grandfather, Heinrich Von Holten, in 1906. She wanted to return to her country roots. That’s what led David and Brandy Von Holten to leave their jobs, sell their home and move to a run-down farm near Mora in 2013.
Few people would have shared the vision the couple had. At the time David managed a tool rental business. Brandy was a high school science teacher. They owned a house in Higginsville.
It was a good life but something was missing.
“When we were able to purchase the family farm we gave up everything and moved here,” Brandy recalls.
It was a leap of faith. No one had lived on the farm in three decades. “We actually had to use a chainsaw to drive down the driveway and it was just the two paths where the tires went,” Brandy says. “There was no place to live.”
“It was grown up tremendously and you know how the old-timers were, they didn’t throw anything away,” David says. “So there was loads and loads of junk.”
Adds Brandy, “The first thing we did was start taking off junk. We got enough money from scrap metal to buy a dump trailer to be able to do gravel. It was like this huge chain of events for us to get started on this.”
Today the couple can look back on the determination that turned the Century Farm into the Von Holten Ranch, a place where trail riders can bring their horses, camp in comfort and learn new skills.
One frequent visitor is Melissa Jolley, who brings her daughter, Elle, and her horses to the ranch from their home in McLouth, Kansas. “This is more of a vacation for her,” Melissa says of her daughter, a competitive barrel racer. “Barrel racing can be stressful. Here she can relax. We have a living-quarters trailer so when she doesn’t have anything going on we can just hang out.”
Another draw is the remote, private location that makes it a destination where female riders feel welcome. “It’s so nice,” says Pam King from Holt, who visited the ranch in March with her horse, Bugsy, for a clinic. “It’s clean and it feels safe. The people are so much fun. You can sit down with anyone and strike up a conversation.”
The nearly 300-acre ranch, located southeast of Sedalia and served by Central Missouri Electric Co-op, features 25 miles of trails groomed for horseback riders. There’s a campground with 40 electric sites and four cabins. A huge covered arena is used for clinics and competitions. Horses can be stabled in a 10-stall boarding barn, while there are 94 covered stalls for guests. On top of all that is a one-of-a-kind mountain trail obstacle course that builds new skills in horses and their riders.
“It’s like ninja warrior but for trail-riding horses,” Brandy says of the obstacle course. “It’s got bridges so large you can walk a horse over it and another horse under it at the same time. The course is designed to increase safety for trail riders and their horses. It gives them an area to practice going up and down ravines, over rocks, bridges and logs that are different elevations. So when they go trail ride anywhere else their horses have been exposed to this stuff.”
And that’s just what is available for the equine crowd. David used lumber recycled from the farm’s many outbuildings to add a wedding and event barn to the mix, along with an outdoor wedding venue. There’s also an outdoor amphitheater that has hosted concerts, including some by their country music legend neighbor Leroy Van Dyke.
Coming soon is a mounted archery course, more stations on the obstacle course and another trail that will boost the miles to 28. “This is our completion year,” Brandy says. “We’ve got a lot of things started now and we are trying to finish up.”
That includes a series of books Brandy is authoring. The stories are told through the voice of the ranch’s resident horses, who use their adventures to teach moral lessons. The first one, for example, is about how one positive person can make a difference in the world.
Brandy also offers life lessons under the guise of “Big Boss Mare,” her copyrighted name for the online courses she teaches. These include horsemanship lessons, empowerment for women, mentoring on goals and planning and a lot more.
Coming soon, David will offer a subscription service for kids and adults who want to learn to build projects using basic tools. Subscribers will receive a pre-cut kit and can join David through an interactive video that steps them through the process.
If it seems like a lot for just two people, Brandy points out that it’s important for rural businesses to diversify in order to survive. “We have a small boarding barn that can hold up to 10 horses. If we just did that we could not survive. If we just did the camping it would not be enough. Our wedding barn, with our prices being low, we are the small dogs. The clinics and lessons, none of that makes enough on its own. A lot of these trail facilities are not making it because they are not diversifying.”
The couple also believes in giving back to the community. Brandy is a member of seven area chambers of commerce. The ranch hosts “Chicks in the Sticks” events where women go by limo to surrounding towns for local dining and private shopping at area boutiques. “We want people to have a gateway to the Ozarks experience,” Brandy says. “We are trying to give them a reason to stay a little longer and do a little more.”
In just five years the ranch has become a destination for people from all over the nation who share the desire to get back to the land, whether on horseback or just sitting around the campfire. They come to see the fireflies, to catch crawdads in Lake Creek, to hunt for morels and pick blackberries or just to escape the city like David and Brandy did.
The Von Holten Ranch is open daily March through November. Reservations are required. You can learn more at www.vonholtenranch.com or by calling 660-668-0880.