Top Tips for Going on Cattle Drives

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When, Where and How to Ride Like a Real Cowboy 

Courtesy of Top50 Ranches


Cattle drives are about as real as it gets on a ranch vacation. To make the transition from City Slicker to real-life cowboy, follow Top50 Ranches’ advice on where to find the best cattle drives and working ranch vacations. Experience driving the herd on real cattle round-ups as you move sheep, cows or bison across the open range to fresh pastures. Not only does a cattle drive make you feel like a real cowboy, it gives people from all walks of life the chance to make a real contribution to a working ranch operation.

What to expect

Lynn Pinkey drives cattle on a working ranch in Montana. Photo credit John Pinkey

The first rule of a cattle drive is to expect the unexpected. Whether the aim is to move small groups of cattle to an adjacent pasture or drive large herds across several miles of ranch country, the duration of a cattle drive can be somewhat unpredictable. On large ranches especially, finding the herd in the first place can take longer than the cattle drive itself should the herd decide to play hide-and-seek. The pace can vary greatly on cattle drives, so consider your confidence and ability when choosing your ranch vacation. Although all of Top50’s ranches will of course match you with a suitable horse, some working ranches require a certain level of riding ability.

Best ranches for cattle drives: Top50 Recommendations

While some guest ranches run small herds of cattle and don’t need to venture out every day, many larger, working ranches with herds of up to 3,000 head of cattle allow you to spend the majority of your ranch vacation riding the range. Working ranches generally offer the best cattle drive opportunities, aimed at advanced riders and those looking to get stuck into real western riding. If you’re looking for a unique or exciting cattle drive experience, Top50 showcases the best selection of working ranch vacations. Head to Zapata Ranch in Colorado for the rare opportunity to ride alongside bison or to Burnt Well Guest Ranch in New Mexico for its abundance of cattle work. Lazy E-L Guest Ranch in Montana specializes in cattle drive vacations and The Hideout Guest Ranch in Wyoming is considered the “Gold Standard” of ranch vacations with its inclusion of fine food and spa services. For a chance to try your hand at sheep mustering, head to Beaumont High Country Experience in Southland, New Zealand. This working cattle and sheep station runs a herd of 9,000 sheep across 18,000 acres of backcountry. And it’s not just the working ranches that offer cattle drives – many guest ranches and dude ranches run herds across their land, with some giving guests the opportunity to work cattle in the safety of the arena – ideal for kids. For the ultimate combination of experience, authenticity, and luxury check out Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming.

Preparing for a cattle drive

For those not used to spending a long time in the saddle, it can be worth wearing a pair of padded pants or underwear underneath those jeans. Comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing is a must and layers are ideal as weather can turn quickly. And before you set off, make sure you’re totally happy with your stirrup length, no stopping to adjust the length in the middle of a fast-paced cattle drive! Capture those cattle drive memories on a camera small enough to fit in your pocket or saddle bag, no big, clunky cameras. Also bring a canteen of water, as cattle drives can be all-day affairs. Check with your chosen ranch before you go about what they provide.

Top tips for your first cattle drive

The ranch’s wranglers will be sure to give you ‘Cattle Drive 101’ before you set out on your first roundup, but here are some main points to remember when working cattle: when ‘riding up’ on a cow to get it to move, always ride toward its hip, treat each cow as an individual as well as part of the herd, yelling/shouting at cattle is discouraged for low stress handling, let the herd travel at its own pace, and ask a wrangler if you aren’t sure what to do. founder and CEO, Jody Dahl is on a personal mission to promote the spectacular ranching lifestyle to the travel community. Jody grew up on a ranch and currently owns a Montana guest ranch. To find your ideal ranch experience or further information visit www.Top50Ranches.


Published May 2012 Issue

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