Working Vacation
The Trail Rider|April 2017

For your next getaway, don your gloves, coil your rope, and become a vital part of a working cattle ranch. Here’s a roundup of nine authentic working ranches to get you started.

You’re in the saddle at daybreak. You hear only the creak of your saddle and the plodding of your horse’s hooves. You breathe in clean, crisp air as you ride over open ter-rain. You check fences or round up wander-ing cattle. Perhaps you move the herd to a new grazing spot.

If this sounds like your idea of bliss, don your gloves, coil your rope, and become a vital part of an authentic working cattle ranch. You’ll have a genuine Western experience. You’ll enjoy the cattle work, the wideopen spaces, the wildlife, the local lore, and being close to nature. You’ll learn a lot about this slice of American life and maybe even a little about yourself.

To get you started, we researched some of the best ranch vacations available. We personally visited several of the ranches, interviewed the owners, and learned a little about the challenging work involved in raising cattle.

One thing we learned is that if you use your own horse on a cattle drive, be prepared for surprises.

We once set out with our Oregon friends to gather about 300 head of cattle. We’ve ridden our geldings, Cowboy and Nate, past hundreds of cows over the years. Even black cows lurking in the shadows are of no concern to our steady steeds. However, there’s something different about a huge mass of moving cattle.

As we started out, Charlene’s horse, Nate, froze with fear. Kent’s horse, Cowboy, started hopping. Kent and Cowboy hopped their way back to help Nate get moving. Once Nate moved out and walked with the cattle, Nate’s fear dissolved. Cowboy kept hopping. To him, it was so exciting!

Before You Book

When choosing a working ranch vacation, first decide whether you’d like to bring your own horse. If you do, this will narrow the field considerably.

Then find out all you can about the ranch and the experience it offers. Ask about the ranch’s main focus, such as ranch work, riding, or a cattle drive. How long can you expect to be in the saddle each day?

Ask also how many guests the ranch usually books at a time. You might wish to find a ranch that offers a smaller group experience. Are there evening gatherings, such as campfires?

Then ask not only about the cost, but also what’s included in the cost. Find out about the ranch’s accommodations. Will you stay in a cabin or lodge, or travel with a cattle drive and stay in a tent?

After you book your reservations, ask for a packing list of what to bring, and what kind of weather you can expect.

Here’s a list of nine working ranches available to the general public. These ranches focus on working with cattle and cattle drives. The experience ranges from rustic to deluxe. You may stay in a tent as you travel with the cattle, or stay in a lodge and ride out each day to do ranch chores and work cattle.

Bar W Guest Ranch, Whitefish, Montana

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