An adventurous spirit and a love for horses led this horsewoman to start her own business offering backcountry rides and cowboy camping experiences in West Texas.
Riding her horse along a riverbed on the Kokernot-o6 Ranch between Alpine and Fort Davis, Texas, Missy Cantrell rattles off the names of plants and birds she sees, and explains what makes this ranch special.
“It’s all about the stewardship,” she says. “Chris Lacy and his family have worked hard to maintain the integrity of this ranch. I just happen to be blessed to have access to the ranch for my rides.”
The owner of Texas Horseback Adventures, Cantrell takes small, exclusive groups of guests on guided horseback and camping experiences into remote parts of the Davis Mountains. Her rides aren’t typical nose-to-tail trail rides, however; instead, guests often start out at a jog on responsive ranch horses and cover more than 20 miles a day in some of the most scenic and toughest terrain in West Texas. When they arrive at camp in the evening, they enjoy gourmet meals prepared in Dutch ovens over the campfire by Cantrell, and sleep in range teepees and cowboy bedrolls.
It’s a career the 51-year-old single mom and horsewoman dreamed of while working as a court reporter in Dallas, Texas. Then, in the mid1990s, she moved to the Big Bend region, where she gained experience outfitting, and in 2006 started her own operation in Fort Davis. Her son, Case, is an integral part of the business and helps restock supplies, set up camp and do whatever else she needs. During the slow season, she cooks in hunting camps and for local cowboy crews.
I WAS BORN loving horses. By the time I was 3 years old, my pa [grandfather] had me on a Shetland pony. One time my pony jumped out from under me and I fell off and broke my collarbones. My pa put me right back on, and every time I’ve hit the ground since then I’ve been able to get back on. These days I try to ride the kind of horses that it doesn’t happen so often on.
WHEN I WAS 9, I got my first filly and I did everything wrong. I had no idea what I was doing, but I made up a plan in my mind and legged her up and trained her to run barrels in a little sand pasture. I took her to Martha Josey’s for a week, and we won a novice barrel racing class with more than 60 girls.
EVEN THOUGH I was raised in East Texas, the Big Bend region is where my heart and soul have been since I was a little girl and my family vacationed here. I guess it was imprinted in me.
I’M JUST AN ENTREPRENEUR at heart. I think I get that from my grandfather. It comes naturally to me to work for myself and create my life as opportunities open up.
I STARTED SIMPLIFYING my life when I was a court reporter in the city, and it took about a decade until I decided I’d had enough and packed up my entire life and moved to the Davis Mountains. I didn’t care about money as long as I could make enough to pay my bills. Before starting Texas Horseback Adventures, I guided for other outfits and took a lot of trips into Old Mexico.
I’M AN OUTGOING PERSON, but I also like quiet time. When we stop for lunch on my rides, I encourage everyone to listen to the wind, birds and everything going on around us.
IN MY BUSINESS, the quality of the horses is so important. I could have a string of plugs, but it would take away from the experience. My clients want to ride high-level cowboy-type horses.
I HAVE TWO MULES, Kit and Kate, and they’re fun to drive and ride. I’ve been guiding on Kit, and she’s like a Jeep; people are amazed at her climbing ability.
FOOD AND MEAL times were important to my family, and we loved to cook. My dad had a barbecue restaurant, and I worked there from the time I was 14.
MY SPECIALTY for hunters and cowboys is beef tenderloin. My guests typically like steak, but most are shocked with the [gourmet] lunches I pack in my saddlebags. They expect sandwiches, but I pull out cool, fresh pork loin and quinoa salad. It’s fun to be creative with my cooking.
I WASN’T BORN into this lifestyle, but I dreamed of it. It took all of my life experiences to get me to this magnificent place and be able to share it with others. I don’t take a day of my life for granted.
This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of Western Horseman.