As a young child, Maggie Everson’s father often told her that horses make great listeners. Today, at age 27, Everson said that lesson is one that she continues to take to heart – and she is hopeful that she, too, will instill the belief in others.
“It’s awesome because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a bad day or something hasn’t gone right, and you can just go cry on your horse’s shoulder,” Everson said from the office of her family’s longtime business, Sunset Trails Stables. “It can just make you feel so much better, and it’s just awesome to have that and to really embrace that.”
At 2100 S.E. Ranson Road in Lee’s Summit, the 39-acre Sunset Trails Stables is just one mile from James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, or a mere eight-minute drive from downtown Lee’s Summit. Everson’s family has owned Sunset Trails for 17 years, and she described the property as “a unique little oasis, being close within the city limits of Lee’s Summit, but we have our own little farm here without being a hundred miles out.”
Born and raised in Lee’s Summit, Everson’s home sits adjacent to Sunset Trails Stables. She started riding horses at age 3, and Everson later advanced into competitive rodeo, barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, and breakaway roping, in addition to participating in 4-H from ages 8 through 18.
One of the horses at Sunset Trails, 25-year-old Cash, is among the last horses still alive from Everson’s competitive riding days in high school. While Cash is now retired from competition, he is still used at Sunset Trails in riding lessons.
“It’s definitely in my blood,” she said. “It’s something I’ve done my entire life and is something that I really enjoy.
“When most kiddos were watching TV during the summertime or something like that, I’d wake up and my friends and I would pack a lunch, and go across the street and ride horses all day, and then come back and trade out horses.”
The Relatable Bond Found Withing Horse Riding
Kara Cairnes can certainly relate to Everson’s experiences: Growing up about five minutes away from Sunset Trails, Cairnes began riding at age 3. Now 21, she works full-time at Sunset Trails, teaching several horse riding courses. On a rare day of sunshine and 56-degree weather on a Saturday in January, Cairnes responded to a mother’s request to take her daughter for a trail ride.
Cairnes described horse riding as an emotional outlet for life’s tougher days, as she can ride for several hours at a time and not worry about outside responsibilities. As she teaches Sunset Trails’ adult horsemanship class, Cairnes often hears from her students how they are fulfilling a childhood dream that they – at one time – thought had passed.
As others get to know Cairnes, she said, she enjoys explaining to them why she rides horses and why she wants to ride for the rest of her life. She describes the history of horses and how it has evolved, saying that horses are still very useful and still serve a purpose in the 21st century, “at least in my life.”
“Sometimes, I think it’s a bit of a dying sport,” Cairnes said, “but every now and then, people surprise me in wanting to know more about the animals.”
A Lifelong Dedication: The Next Generation at Sunset Trails
After graduating from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Marketing in 2013, Everson returned home to run Sunset Trails, where today she is responsible for the daily operations and management, including the leadership of a team of horse riding instructors from ages 16 through mid-twenties.
While studying at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Everson would be away from home and Sunset Trails for several weeks at a time, but upon returning home, she immediately felt at ease because of the nostalgic and peaceful sights and smells. She described the comforting process, especially in the fall, of taking a step back and turning off her phone to go for a trail ride.
“It really is something that can feed your soul,” Everson said. “You’d be surprised how many moms bring their kiddos out here during the day, just to feed carrots to the horses and see the animals. It’s something fun that is not an expensive outing – you can come have a picnic out here and just enjoy some fresh air.”
Everson dedicates her life – “24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” she said – to ensure that Sunset Trails Stables runs successfully. Her father, Glen, has entrusted a great deal of autonomy in allowing her to run the business, as she handles everything from website management to payroll to replacing light fixtures and fixing plumbing issues.
“Working at Sunset Trails, you learn so much more. It’s not just teaching horse riding lessons or supervising camp,” Everson said. “You’re learning about problem solving, customer service, public speaking. You’ve got to think on your toes, and you’ve got to be friendly when you’re in the nature of dealing with livestock.”
But, Everson also emphasized, she has a dedicated team comprised largely of staff members who started in riding lessons as young children at Sunset Trails before advancing into employees, including 18-year-old Kate Davis.
Davis, who also grew up in Lee’s Summit, started beginning horsemanship lessons at age 5, with Everson as her teacher. By age 13, Davis was volunteering with smaller events at Sunset Trails, and at age 15, she was hired on as a horseback riding instructor.
“It’s always been like my go-to place. Whenever I am having a bad day, I just want to go to Sunset (Trails) and see my horse,” Davis said. “When I was a kid, I always dreamed of being like Maggie and teaching horseback lessons, and now I am getting to do that.”
While most of the supporting staff at Sunset Trails Stables started out as riders, riding instructor Gabby Beckham’s story is a bit different: She grew up riding horses from a young age in the Kingsville, Missouri, area, and as her first non-family-affiliated job, she decided to call Sunset Trails to see if the business was hiring. Beckham now teaches in the beginning horsemanship program at Sunset Trails, and she said she enjoys seeing the progress that children make as they begin horse riding and then advance through their programs.
Beckham, 19, has now worked at Sunset Trails for three years. She agreed with Everson’s sentiment about the shared culture and interests that are abound at Sunset Trails – and Beckham tries to teach children the importance of taking in the nature that surrounds them as they are horseback riding.
“When you’re out here, to me, it feels like time slows down,” Beckham said. “When you’re in town, or if you’re at school, it just seems like you’re always busy. Here, I just get on my horse, and it’s just a way to really focus your mind. It’s a time when you can just sit there, think about it, and be in nature.”
For those who are interested in learning more about agriculture life and its many facets, including horseback riding, Everson said her advice is simple: Keep an open mind.
“There’s so much to learn, and there’s so much that we have to offer out here,” she said. “I know horseback riding can kind of be intimidating to some people. We are so blessed to have an incredible equine team, and everyone here is really friendly and really willing to be supportive and teach people about everything.
“If maybe horses aren’t your thing, it’s still great to come out here and learn about goats, sheep, pigs, or chickens. We’ve got little brothers of lesson kids who like to collect chicken eggs or some people like to just sit in the grass and play with the barn kitty. That can really brighten your day.”
Riding and caring for horses requires a great deal of responsibility and mindfulness, but learning those skills also then transfers to broader aspects of life, Everson said.
“You can think about horses and agriculture,” she said, “and there are so many things in that you can pull from that and in broader aspects of what it teaches you about life in general.”
Words: Adrianne DeWeese | Photos: Patti Klinge