I believe all things happen for a reason and the people we come in contact with have influence on our lives and us on theirs. Sometimes life circumstances change and with those changes come new friends and new experiences. Things you may never have thought of can suddenly become a reality. After all, I had no real idea of what direction my life would take after I retired from the military.
I retired in April 2014 after almost 25 years of dedicated service. While most folks have a pretty solid plan for life after military retirement, mine was still kind of a mystery to me. Just a mere few months before I was set to retire, I definitely had some avenues to explore since I have degrees in information technology and business combined with a robust resume of experience in operational software testing. The secure thing to do (and maybe the smartest) would have been to take a military contracting job in IT. But, as I wrote out my resumé, I felt my heart wasn’t in it. I knew then, after 13 years as a communications officer, IT wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. What I did know from all of my training and experience as an avid outdoorsman, was that there had to be something there for me. My interest was in the backcountry and trekking with pack animals. Surely I could combine this passion with a way to make a living. Couldn’t I?
In 2009 I had already started a small side business sewing outdoor gear for friends and family in my garage while on active duty and by the time I was set to retire, I had a small following of devoted customers. Running what would become Mountain Ridge Gear and making it into a profitable business had taken center stage in my life’s ambitions and was already taking up a lot of my free time. And I was enjoying it! The only problem: I had to find a way to make a living at it. Word of mouth was getting me some business but it wasn’t enough to get by. Then by a chance meeting, Patrick Smith, the founder of Mountain Smith and current president and owner of Kifaru, presented me with the opportunity that would make the decision to pursue my dream of running my own business a reality. What a break! To meet someone as enthusiastic as I was about making quality products for camping, equine riding, backcountry tripping, and other excursions. Here was a person being successful at what I was thinking of doing! After meeting him and getting such great feedback on my efforts, I had a resurgence in confidence that this could work. But what next?
In October of 2013 I was on a backcountry trip with Patrick, my burros, a slew of other friends, and someone I had recently been introduced to. His name was Ori Staub and little did I know then what a fortuitous experience meeting him would be. Ori is a successful, business-savvy entrepreneur and he immediately took an interest in my ambition to grow and establish Mountain Ridge Gear as a leader in outdoor gear, equine pommels, and panniers. Specifically, he thought my pannier design was a top of the line, well-constructed, unique item, ripe for the niche market I was shooting for. He encouraged me to perfect my designs and market my panniers for sale to the general public. He helped me along the way by encouraging me to hone my skills, teaching me about marketing, e-commerce, and all the basics I needed in order to move forward with my plan. He even made it possible for me to take part in my first large-scale equine expo in Denver in January 2014, which I am so grateful for because it turns out trade shows are what I do best.
Hal Walter, burro racing legend and someone I’m proud to call a friend, is a person I often seek advice from when it comes to burros and pack equipment. Hal has been in and around these animals and equipment for his entire life and he knows a thing or two about almost anything and everything you can think of. During one conversation Hal and I were having, he told me about a saddle maker and long-ears trainer named Steve Edwards. Hal had nothing but great great things to say about the Trail Lite saddle that Steve had designed. Naturally I wanted to pick Steve’s brain and maybe learn something new from this man who had received such rave reviews from Hal. So, one day, on a whim, in May 2015, I decided to give Steve a call and tell him about my line of panniers. Steve listened to my pitch, looked over my website and seemed not only intrigued but very interested in what I was doing. He asked if I would send him a set to evaluate. He came back with nothing but compliments on the design and construction, not to mention the praise for using all American made materials. Subsequently, and because of the mutual respect growing between us, Steve and I became business partners in June of 2015.
Not long after we became friends, Steve gave me a call and told me about a nice lady who had a mammoth jenny in Scottsdale, AZ. Unfortunately, she no longer had the time required to work with her and wanted to be sure “Darling” would go to a good home. With the large network of equine friends and acquaintances Steve has, I was flattered that he thought to call me. A few answering machine messages later, I finally spoke with Pristine and she seemed like a wonderful lady who really cared about the well being of her beloved donkey. We made arrangements and I drove down to Scottsdale, met her caring devoted owner and brought our new “Darling” home to Colorado. “DarLynn” quickly became one of the family with her quiet, gentle, sweet personality. I have taken her on several backcountry trips this fall and she’s quickly proving to be a solid trail companion. Without Hal knowing Steve and Steve knowing Pristine, I would never had been able to find this beautiful friend to include in my family. Plus, my 19-year-old son is thrilled because now he too has a donkey to ride.
These people and experiences I mention above represent just a few examples of how my interaction and engagement with the equine world and the people in it has proven to enrich my life and help me follow my passion. With everyone I meet, I learn something new: I meet a new animal, make a new friend, even get good business advice. I’m sure there will be many more positive people and experiences in the future, but there are real reasons we meet people. Good reasons, mostly. I am a blessed man to be surrounded by so many influential people who have shown a genuine interest in my success and wellbeing. For that I am very grateful. So remember, it’s important to pay attention to those around us and to whom we may come in contact with. It is equally important to choose wisely when it comes to the people we spend time with. So, pay attention. Things really do happen for a reason.