Two hometown friends. Two different paths. One common passion.
by HANNAH WREN
(Left) Greg Milhorn, (Right) Lawson Barker, photos by: ALAMOND PHOTOGRAPHY
There are hundreds of circumstances that can cause old friends to cross paths once again. In the case of two high school friends, four paws and a common love for the great outdoors brought them together.
Texarkana natives Lawson Barker and Greg Milhorn moved back to their hometown and turned a hobby into a business venture. They created their business plan around training Labrador Retrievers; little did they know the passion they both shared would rekindle their friendship and bring them success.
Lawson and Greg both had a love for all things outdoors early in life through the influence of their fathers who taught them how to hunt. Their common love for hunting also brought a love for retrievers even training them to hunt. Both retriever trainers recall memories of their first experiences in the outdoors hunting and how they came to love the sport. “I remember when I was around 6 years old, I asked Santa Claus to get me a 20-gauge shotgun so I could go hunting with my dad,” Greg explained. “The next duck season, my dad took me along with a few of his friends, and a buddy of his had a hunting dog he would take each hunt, so that made me want a dog to go hunting with ever since.”
Lawson recalls hunting with a family friend, Mr. Berry Gafford, who had a black lab named Boon. “I think that’s when I really got a desire to work with dogs after watching Boon work and pick up the ducks,” he explained.
Once in middle school, Greg and Lawson attended different schools in Texarkana but remained friends. “On weekends, Lawson’s dad would take us to the ‘swimming hole’ at the Red River; that’s where our childhood memories were made,” says Greg.
After graduating from Texas High School, 27-year-old Lawson pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management at Texas A&M University–Texarkana, then transferred to the University of Central Arkansas his sophomore year. During this time at UCA he realized his passion was in training Labrador Retrievers.
Lawson first encountered training Labrador Retrievers through a UCA friend, Taylor Sweetin. “Sweetin had a job working alongside a dog trainer, and I asked if they needed any help with the kennels,” recalled Lawson. So he left college to pursue his dreams.
For Greg, the journey that brought him to train labs was different. He followed his college baseball career after graduating from Arkansas High School in 2011. However, he learned that his talent was not solely in pitching fastballs, but in hunting as well. “I would always hunt even when I was off at school,” Greg said.
In May of 2014, Greg’s love for hunting led him to make the decision to invest in his first hunting partner, Lady, a black Labrador Retriever. Little did Greg know that Lady would bring them to cross paths with Lawson once more.
When baseball season picked up Greg could not find the time to properly train Lady. Therefore, he sent her off into the central Arkansas area to Lawson. “I decided to send her to Lawson because we grew up together, and I knew he was training Labs,” said Greg.
As Greg would visit Lady throughout her training, Lawson’s skills training dogs and the way he trained them was the spark that led Greg to follow the same path. “I was training Lady to be a duck dog,” Lawson said. “It wasn’t until my boss and
I were running water blinds with the older dogs that Greg got to see the technical work behind it all. I remember Greg saying, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ I think that’s the moment he considered going into dog training. I’ll never forget that day.”
After Lady’s four-month training ended, the friends stayed in touch. Greg pitched his final baseball game for the Ragin’ Cajuns in June of 2015 while Lawson traveled to Grenada, Mississippi, to work under another trainer and gain more experience.
Later, Greg moved back to his hometown of Texarkana and finished his degree online. After coming home, he had the opportunity to work as a ranch hand, and enjoy the outdoors. During this time, Lawson remained in Mississippi learning new dog training skills.
Although these two high school friends found themselves hundreds of miles apart, Greg made the trip to visit Lawson in Mississippi, where they went turkey hunting and trained dogs together. It was during these visits that the idea was born to go into business together training dogs.
When Greg got back to Texarkana, he spoke to Steve Wren regarding a business venture because he’s someone Greg has always looked up to and respected. They discussed the idea of starting a dog training service and possibly turning his barn into kennels. After hearing Greg’s idea, Steve became immensely interested in helping the two friends.
After hearing the good news, Lawson put in his two-week notice, and Greg made the drive once again to Mississippi to help Lawson pack his belongings and embark on their new journey.
During their journey back to Texarkana, the two tossed names back and forth on what would become the official name of their business. The two eventually drove over the Red River, a place that was full of memories for both Lawson and Greg.
The river practically baptized Lawson for his enthusiastic outdoor spirit at an early age. He learned to swim in the river. “My dad constantly had to buy me new boxers because all of them were ruined from being in the Red River so much,” Lawson said. “The Red River runs through my veins.”
At this moment, the two realized the obvious name for their new business and passion project was simply Red River Retrievers.
The journey of two young boys with a love for hunting began by following their father’s footsteps. However, as time passed, they grew into men who would turn a hobby into a fruitful business and even rekindled an old friendship through the common love for the great outdoors.
Three-and-a-half years later, Lawson and Greg are still training dogs full-time in Texarkana. “We’re currently training for the upcoming United Kennel Club and American Kennel Club hunt test dates,” Lawson said. Red River Retrievers, LLC is thriving, and these two friends continue to do what they love.
“What can I say? We’re living the dream,” Greg said with a grin.