Trail travel

Sitting on a raised deck overlooking the Texas Hill Country, Travis Cuffey surveys the land before him as far as the eye can see.

Below are the paddocks that house 13 horses of various breeds and colors that loiter around, sipping water from a nearby trough or nibbling on hay, patiently waiting their turn to be released into the wild on the 1,300-acre playground they call home.

“There is nothing I would rather do,” Cuffey said. “I have a passion – I want to work with horses for the rest of my life.”

The cafe owns Thunder Horse Outfitters, located at Burnet’s Reveille Peak Ranch, a professional horse riding company that the Austin native founded in 2019 with a very specific mission.

“I wanted to save as many horses as possible,” he said. “They are an important part of American history.”

All of Cafe’s horses have been rescued from the thousands that are slaughtered each year due to their undesirable status, to be rehabilitated and used for the tours his business offers.

However, getting a horse back from the precipice can be a long and arduous process involving many steps, both physical and emotional, he said.

“You have to fix their legs and fatten them up again,” Caffey said. “Sometimes they’ve been traumatized by beatings, so you need to develop their ability to trust again.”

Café said that when it came time to save a horse, there were certain signs to look out for to make sure he got one that could bounce back from what it might have been through in the past.

“I’m always looking for something called ‘kind look,'” he said. “When you look into a horse’s eyes, you are really looking into his soul. Sometimes, if a horse has been through too much, it will have such a crazy look, as if it is scared. In addition, you are looking for lameness from a physical standpoint and horses that are young enough to be healthy again.”

However, a rescued horse can be a tough nut to crack on the road to recovery.

Such is the case with Riya, a former full-blooded coffee maker who is 5.5 years old with no results despite his best efforts.

“These horses are made for racing,” he said. “They’re filled with all kinds of steroids and stuff.”

On the other hand, Caffee has already made significant progress with Caspian, which he has only had for six months.

“This is an English prancing horse that I got for just $3,000 in a rescue,” he said. “That’s the point where I can ride him, but he’s not ready for guests yet.”

Cafe said he would like to eventually start saving wild horses, but that presents a completely different challenge.

“With mustangs, you won’t have rescue-related injuries,” Caffee said. “But you have to get the wildness out of them.”

Endless Adventure

Thunder Horse Outfitters offers nearly endless adventure opportunities for those who return time and time again to the ranch with many different trail options located within a 30-mile loop that Caffee can choose from within an area that includes 100 kilometers of trails and 15 miles of hand-paved single-track trails.

“Someone can visit here and never walk the same trail twice,” he said. “There are always four or five different ways and I can mix and match. On some of our longer trips, you get to see the entire ranch.”

Native influence

How Thunder Horse Outfitters got its name is an interesting story that reflects the respect Cafe has always had for Native American culture and how he used that to help shape the person he is, he said.

“I used to go to Bastrop at Thunder Ranch, which was owned by a woman named Mary Thunder,” Cuffey said. “I grew up visiting steam rooms and doing vision quests – my life has always been heavily influenced by the natives. When Mary passed away a few years ago, I decided to name our business after her.”

In fact, one of Caffee’s most trusted associates is Kee Elsisi, a Native American horseman who was instrumental in his early introduction to what would become a way of life.

“When I was with the National Park Service in Colorado, Key was my mentor,” he said. “As his student, he taught me almost everything I know.”

Cafe began his training as a mule packer, a person who transports supplies and equipment to places that vehicles can’t reach.

“We were transporting things for tracking teams, rangers and explorers,” he said. “You have to be able to know what horses can and can’t do, and you have to recognize weather conditions.”

Call answer

Coffee first got into the saddle at the age of five while spending time in Colorado, where his grandmother lived, where he quickly fell in love with the outdoors and eventually decided he wanted to share that passion with others.

As a result, he and his business split their time between the Lone Star and the Rocky Mountains, spending October through May in Texas and June through September in Colorado, as the weather is more conducive to riding at the appropriate time of year in each location.

“It really is the best of both worlds,” Cuffey said. For both horses and riders.

The cafe packs up all its work and heads to Grand Lake, Colorado in June, and there have been times when it has encountered opposite ends of Mother Nature’s spectrum on the same trip.

“I left Texas at 103,” he said. “Then I get to Colorado, it’s 18 degrees and 22 inches of snow on the ground. Usually it is about 24 hours and I will have to make more than one trip.”

Finding Solace

Horseback riding gives the average person the opportunity to connect with one of these animals and leave the world behind, according to Caffey.

“Horses are really good at keeping you in the moment,” Caffey said. “There is no future, no past – the whole process is to find a connection with nature in order to save it.”

Caffee horses are properly trained, so anyone, regardless of riding experience, can fully immerse themselves in the world around them while sitting in the saddle.

“All you really need is a good balance,” he said. “Our horses will follow the one ahead.”

Tours range from 90 minutes to 2.5 hours, all the way to half-day or full-day trips, and even two-day, one-day hikes and riding lessons are also available for those who want to learn how to ride.

“People come to us from all over the world — from places like Australia, Uzbekistan and Israel,” Caffee said. “But small children are best – sometimes they are afraid of the horse at first and cry when they are put on. But in the end, they cry again when it’s time to finish because they love it so much.”

For Caffee, what he does is not just a calling or a way to make a living, but a way of life.

“It takes all of me, all the time,” he said. “But I plan to keep doing it – I want to be able to pass on those skills.”

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