Kevin and Derina Pyles train and sell performance-level luxury trail horses with one overarching goal: to preserve family horsemanship by providing an amazing riding experience.
Horse lovers will certainly agree with the sentiment of the famous Winston Churchill quote that declares “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” And they’ll affirm that the sentiment is best borne out when that saddle is on the back of a really good horse.
Kevin and Derina Pyles know all about the difference between time spent on a really good horse, versus a less-than-ideal mount. As owners of Rawhide Ranch Luxury Trail Horses, they built their business with the goal of ensuring a successful human and equine partnership that strengthens the horse-human connection and furthers the horseback lifestyle for future generations.
“My wife and I both have always had a passion for nature and horses,” says Kevin Pyles. “We kind of saw the writing on the wall. Every year it seemed like horsemanship was going down because people would buy a trail horse, have a bad experience, and then they wouldn’t ride. So their children wouldn’t start riding. It was like a trickle-down effect. We really had a passion to play our part to change that.”
Kevin and Derina looked at the horse industry they had grown up in. “We realized that people can buy performance horses in reining. People can buy barrel [racing] horses, but you have generally an advanced rider using a horse for a smaller period of time in a controlled environment, and those were the horses that were getting all of the focus. Then in the trail-horse world everybody seemed to be trading their problems,” he says. “You took what most likely is a less-experienced rider and put them on a horse that they got for a bargain and put them in an uncontrolled environment with all types of variables and hazards, and it just didn’t make sense to us. It seemed to us that that horse should be a better horse than the performance reiner, because it’s got so much more to deal with. So we started our focus on that.”
Horse lovers will certainly agree with the sentiment of the famous Winston Churchill quote that declares “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”
The business, based in North Carolina, began about 10 years ago when the Pyles family decided to transform their property, dubbed Rawhide Ranch, into the ultimate trail-horse boot camp in order to foster the experience an above-average horse would need to have to take care of its rider out on the trails. Kevin and Derina went to work installing a 3.5-acre obstacle course with water features and anything else they could think of to mimic a variety of trail environments. Then they started carefully selecting their equine students and training them the way they trained their own horses.
“People were always wanting to buy our personal horses,” Derina says. “They would see us out and say, ‘Oh, that’s a really nice horse. If you ever sell it let me know.’ That’s why we thought, Well, people are really needing these safe horses.”
The husband-and-wife team soon realized it was a full-time job training these horses to the level they needed to be, and they plunged into the business wholeheartedly. “We take the horses through a very specific six-day-a-week program with very specific goals. The horses have to pass every single level until they move to the next level,” Kevin says. Through the selective winnowing process, they will go through 10 horses to get one or two solid trail horses that graduate from their 12- to 14-week program.
While he explains that they primarily deal with quarter horses, the two have recently added gaited horses to the program at customers’ request. Ultimately, the breed doesn’t matter so much as the disposition.
Practicing groundwork exercises with the horses helps build respect and trust that transfer to a willing partnership.
“Horses are like people, and they all have different personalities — sometimes that’s overlooked,” Kevin says. “People look at papers and athleticism and confirmation, but you can’t ride any of that. What you can ride is disposition. We really spend a lot of our time finding the right disposition horse, one that’s very forgiving, likes to take care of their rider, and loves being outside, because that’s so important for what we do.”
Equally important is the way each individual horse matches with each individual rider. “I think the main thing that really sets us apart is our ability to listen to our customers and then match the horse to the rider. We put a lot of time into truly finding that perfect match,” Kevin says.
Derina echoes that thought: “When [customers] first call us and tell us what they’re looking for and what their ability is, we don’t take a horse and try to mold the horse into what they’re needing. We try to match them with the horse that we have, and if we don’t have the right horse, we’ll tell them.” That reputation for matchmaking so well assures Rawhide customers that it will be worth the wait if Derina and Kevin need some time to seek out and train a particular horse for them.
Beyond the pairing of horse and rider, cultivating a positive relationship with customers guides every situation. “We always go back to our overarching premise, which is preserving horsemanship through amazing customer experiences, and that always drives us,” Kevin says. “Making a sale means nothing if you don’t have someone who’s going to become a lifelong horseman and maybe get their family involved. That keeps us focused on what’s important.”
Traveler gets some well-deserved friendly time with Derina after his training session.
The price for a Luxury Trail Horse mimics that of other highly trained performance horses — in the range of $35,000 and up — but with that comes white-glove delivery from the business’ own personal staff, a lesson to sync up horse and rider, and a 45-day exchange policy.
Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “We knew that there was a need, but we didn’t realize just how desperate people were in trying to find these quality trail horses,” Kevin says. “They’re just so glad someone is focused on a high level of quality and performance in a trail horse.”
Customer Kathy Langley can attest to that. At 62, she was searching for a steadfast horse she could rely on for mountain trail rides. Through Rawhide Ranch Luxury Trail Horses, she found her equine match, Kodak. “I was looking for a younger, well-trained horse with a fun-loving personality and a stable disposition,” she says. “I have found these traits to be remarkably true with Kodak. The Pyleses were a pleasure to work with during the sales process and have been most helpful in transitioning Kodak to me. I can’t say enough good things about my experience with Kevin, Derina, and the entire staff at Rawhide Ranch.”
After the trials and tribulations that came with 2020, Kevin’s excited about seeing the happy faces of new customers who want to get outside on horseback and have a great experience.
“To us, a horse is just a truly majestic animal,” he says. “We always feel closer to God in the mountains with our horses. Horses are amazing creatures that were put on earth for man, and there’s just something surreal about it. They can be your therapist, your personal trainer. You just get so much emotional and physical benefit from owning horses.”
And Rawhide Ranch Luxury Trail Horses is out to ensure that you find that perfect equine partner, no matter your needs.
For more information about Rawhide Ranch Luxury Trail Horses, visit them online at luxurytrailhorses.com.
From our July 2021 issue