Neal family roots run deep in Red River, Eagle Nest

Red River Stables Owner Dirk Neal (Photo by Eric Heinz)

Editor’s Note: The following originally appeared in the Chronicle’s 2012 Spring Land & Home magazine.

Dirk Neal said he can tell the difference between a good horse and a better horse.

He’s been doing it for most his life, beginning when he was a boy in Eagle Nest.

(Photo by Eric Heinz)

“Mountain horses, the ones that were born and bred here … the best horses are the ones that were raised in the area,” Neal said. “To make a horse good, you have to run them hard. But they get to graze for months out of the year when we’re not running them.” 

Neal said he is the fifth generation of his family to live in the Moreno Valley area, but he has a daughter and a son and two grandchildren, making the Neal legacy seven generations deep.

“My grandfather helped start the village of Eagle Nest, and his wife’s mother was named Elizabeth, from the area of Elizabethtown,” Neal said.    

What has kept his family here so long?

“Just the love of Northern New Mexico, and it’s where we’ve made our home,” Neal said, adding his trade complements the area. “The business that we’re in is a tourist trade, and that’s what I love to do. I felt like there was no better place than at home.

“I’ve just been in the stables and outfitting business my whole life,” Neal said.

In 1972, after high school, Neal headed with some friends to northern British Columbia, and when he graduated in high school. The 50 horses Neal and his friends had to look after were trailed from a camp to the closest place to the highway. The trips would take 15 days to trail the horses, he said.

Neal said he stayed with the outfitter for some time, and after that he spent about a year and half in Idaho. He then moved back to New Mexico and started his outfitting service in 1975.

A close friend of the Neals, Opal Hazel Gallagher Gwinn was a staple in the horse tour industry in Red River. She began giving horse tours in the 1930s as a way to make money for her family. 

She ran the business for decades until she was forced to retire in 1997. Neal didn’t open the stable portion of his business, operating as an outfitter through that time, until 1999. She passed away at the age of 1992 in March.

“She used to keep her horses (at the stable), and I’d like to make a little tribute to her,” Neal said. “She was definitely an icon of the stable business. She raised her own horses.”

Between being an outfitter and raising a family, Neal said it all goes back to his roots and the longevity of family that has been in the area.

“It’s just part of my growing up, and it’s been the only business, and I’ve always liked being outdoors and with the people,” Neal said. “The technology has changed quite a bit, but the horseback riding and hunting hasn’t changed too much, but it’s the same as when I first started.”

At his hometown of Eagle Nest, Neal said he and his friends first caught a Mountain Lion when they were teenagers.

“When I was growing up in Eagle Nest, I had a few friends who Christmas Day 1972 when we caught our first mountain lion,” Neal said.

But it’s more than just being in the area for so long, Neal said, it’s also about the quality of people he has met over the years.

“I’ve met a lot of really fine people, most of the customers I get like the outdoors and I’ve just met a lot of fine people over the years, it’s the type of business that does the tourism areas, it’s a benefit because it gives them something to do with some adventure in it.”

The business is a family-run business and Neal said he just enjoys seeing young kids who experience horseback riding for the first time.

Some of the activities the stables offer are outfitting tours and rides for families. The rides can last as long as eight hours long to the top of Wheeler Peak.

Neal’s horses are bridled and ready to go (Photo by Eric Heinz)

Moreno Valley winters were no big deal for Jeannine Neal