Work­ing Vacation

Trail Rider - - WORKING VACATION -

YYou’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 ter­rain. You check fences or round up wan­der­ing 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 ex­peri-

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. STORY AND PHO­TOS BY KENT & CHAR­LENE KRONE

ence. 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

The seed for the Bar W Ranch was planted when Dave Leish­man, an East­ern busi­ness­man, and his two young daugh­ters va­ca­tioned at a north­west Mon­tana dude ranch. Ac­cord­ing to Leish­man, it turned out to be “a vacation for the ages.” He dis­cov­ered that not only did he love rid­ing, but also he was good at it. “We went up and down ridges where I never imag­ined a horse could go,” Leish­man says.

So, when Leish­man had an op­por­tu­nity to buy a dude ranch, he did. And that’s the Bar W. We spent sev­eral days at the Bar W, rid­ing and en­joy­ing the scenery and recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties. Leish­man and his fam­ily were su­perla­tive hosts.

You may choose to stay at the lux­u­ri­ous ranch or head out on the range for one of the ranch’s spe­cialty cat­tle drives that gen­er­ally take place twice per year. Con­tact: Bar W Guest Ranch, (866) 828-2900; www.the­

Bear Creek Ranch, East Glacier, Mon­tana

Lo­ca­tion! Lo­ca­tion! Lo­ca­tion! Bear Creek Ranch has that, with the ma­jes­tic Glacier Na­tional Park to the west, the Bob Mar­shall Wilder­ness to the south, and the Black­foot In­dian Reser­va­tion to the east.

Bear Creek Ranch has an ex­cit­ing col­lec­tion of horse­back va­ca­tions, cat­tle drives, and horse­man­ship clin­ics all de­vel­oped by the ranch crew. For an au­then­tic Western ex­pe­ri­ence, try the ranch’s Off the Beaten Path Week, when the ranch of­fers the best of the best. You’ll ride in some of the most beau­ti­ful coun­try to be found, from Heart Butte to nearly the Cana­dian bor­der. Con­tact: Bear Creek Ranch, (406) 2264489; www.bearcreekgues­

Dou­ble Rafter Cat­tle Drive, Ranch­ester, Wy­oming

This is the real deal. The Dou­ble Rafter holds a num­ber of cat­tle drives through­out the year. Gen­er­ally, guests stay out on the range in tents and fol­low the cat­tle. Gear is car­ried in horse-drawn wag­ons, then on pack horses when the go­ing gets too rough for wag­ons.

We’ve rid­den in this area, and it’s beau­ti­ful coun­try. If you want to move cat­tle miles from the road in a gor­geous re­gion, this is it! In ad­di­tion to ad­ven­tur­ous rid­ing, this out­fit has one of the best cooks we’ve ever met. All meals are pre­pared in cast-iron skil­lets, a Dutch oven, or a pit bar­be­cue. Af­ter a sump­tu­ous din­ner, set­tle into your tent un­der the bril­liant Wy­oming stars. Con­tact: Dou­ble Rafter Cat­tle Drive, (800) 704-9268; www.dou­bler­

Dry­head Ranch, Lovell, Wy­oming

At the end of pave­ment in the Bighorn Canyon Na­tional Re­cre­ation Area, drive an­other 14 miles on a dirt road to the Dry­head Ranch. This ranch is re­mote: There’s no elec­tric­ity, no cell­phone ser­vice, and no nearby neigh­bors.

This isn’t a ranch for lightweights or pool­side lounge lizards. How­ever, if you want to get away from it all, do needed cow­boy work on horse­back, and be a tem­po­rary mem­ber of a ranch­ing fam­ily, then look no fur­ther than the Dry­head Ranch.

We vis­ited with one of the ranch own­ers and found that the ranch con­sists of 33,000 acres, 1,000 cows, and 150 horses. Open from April 15 to Novem­ber 10, guests have an op­por­tu­nity to do the full spec­trum of cat­tle work: gath­er­ing; vac­ci­nat­ing; tag­ging; brand­ing; herd­ing cat­tle; and even as­sist­ing in doc­tor­ing.

Al­most half of the ranch’s

clien­tele comes from Europe; 40 per­cent are re­turn cus­tomers. Most guests are hors­esavvy and ea­ger to em­brace the cow­boy way of life, which may mean long hours in the sad­dle in in­clement weather. Con­tact: Dry­head Ranch, (307) 548-6688;­tledri­va­ca­

Laramie River Ranch, Glen­de­vey, Colorado

This ranch of­fers walk, trot, and can­ter rides across tens of thou­sands of acres of Colorado’s beau­ti­ful Rocky Moun­tains. An ex­pe­ri­enced wran­gler ac­com­pa­nies each small group to make sure your ride is safe and en­joy­able.

Twice weekly, guests have a chance to work cat­tle. You’ll ride out and bring cat­tle back to the ranch from Bull Moun­tain Pas­ture. Once in the cor­rals, you’ll try your hand at team pen­ning. This can be quite a chal­lenge.

Round out your stay at Laramie River Ranch with cook­out rides, nat­u­ral-horse­man­ship in­struc­tion, and a kids’ pro­gram. There’s an ac­tiv­ity for ev­ery mem­ber of the fam­ily. Con­tact: Laramie River Ranch, (800) 5515731;­

Lu­ca­sia Ranch Va­ca­tions, Claresholm, Al­berta

Here’s one of the best gen­uine work­ing cat­tle ranches in Al­berta. This is a fam­i­ly­owned and -op­er­ated ranch. The Lu­cas fam­ily en­joys meet­ing folks from all over the world and in­tro­duc­ing them to the Western life­style.

At this his­toric ranch, you can step back in time and join cow­boys as they herd cat­tle through the pic­turesque Por­cu­pine Hills of south­west­ern Al­berta. Ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude cat­tle drives, brand­ing, sea­sonal roundups, and reg­u­lar checks on cat­tle and horses.

Spe­cific cat­tle-drive weeks are of­fered for rid­ers who re­ally want to im­merse them­selves in a driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. You’ll spend 6 to 10 hours a day in the sad­dle, giv­ing you a chance to re­ally bond with your horse, as well as ex­pe­ri­ence the cat­tle and the sur­round­ing coun­try. Con­tact: Lu­ca­sia Ranch Va­ca­tions, (403) 625-2295;­

McGinnes Mead­ows Cat­tle and Guest Ranch, Libby, Mon­tana

At this ranch, cat­tle are avail­able all sea­son for guests to work with. Steers are al­ways avail­able for you and your horse to learn to track, cut, and ul­ti­mately pen. In May, cat­tle are turned out on their graz­ing al­lot­ment. In June, the longer cat­tle drives be­gin. And, from mid-Septem­ber to midOc­to­ber the fall gather oc­curs among a riot of blaz­ing col­ors.

An added fea­ture of this ranch is the horse­man­ship in­struc­tion. The ranch owner has at­tended more than 300 Buck Bran­na­man clin­ics and con­stantly brings back knowl­edge he has learned to the ranch. Con­tact: McGinnes Mead­ows Cat­tle and Guest Ranch, (406) 293-5000;­

Mon­tana Horse Coun­try Ad­ven­tures, Townsend, Mon­tana

Your hosts for these ad­ven­tures are Monte and Mary Ellen Schur, who’ve spent more than 30 years shar­ing Mon­tana moun­tain and ranch ex­pe­ri­ences with guests from all over the world. Pro­fes­sional horse­men, ranch­ers, and out­fit­ters, they en­joy shar­ing their love of horses with oth­ers.

You can par­tic­i­pate in cat­tle drives or horse drives. Gen­er­ally, you’ll stay in tents, so bring your own sleep­ing bag. Some­times, you’ll stay in cab­ins at host ranches. En­joy a pleas­ant pace of mov­ing cat­tle ev­ery day in gor­geous scenery.

Horse roundups are much faster paced. This is for you if you’re in good phys­i­cal con­di­tion, know how to ride, and en­joy the out­doors. Con­tact: Mon­tana Horse Coun­try Ad­ven­tures, (877) 569-3267; www.mon­tana­horsec­oun­

Moore Ranch, Buck­lin, Kansas

The Moore Ranch is a work­ing ranch about 45 miles south­east of the his­toric town of Dodge City, Kansas. The ranch usu­ally has about 300 head of Texas Longhorn Cat­tle and 50 head of horses. The op­er­a­tion cov­ers about 6,000 acres of hills, creeks, trees, and rocky hill­sides.

Here, you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence the true life of a work­ing cow­boy. Awaken to the sound of roost­ers crow­ing and be­gin sad­dling your horse af­ter a hearty break­fast. The rest of the day may in­clude rid­ing through the Longhorn herd, herd­ing Longhorns to a new pas­ture, rid­ing over the prairie while moni- tor­ing wildlife, learn­ing to rope a calf, and even brand­ing. In the evening, you’ll en­joy a de­li­cious meal, re­lax around the fire, and watch stars come out over the prairie. Con­tact: Moore Ranch, (620) 826-3649; www.moore­longhorn­ TTR

Kent and Char­lene Krone com­bine their in­ter­est in pho­to­jour­nal­ism with a pas­sion for horses. They’ve sold pho­tographs to mag­a­zines, books, cal­en­dars, post­cards, and video pro­duc­ers for more than 20 years. (For a sam­pling, visit www. su­per­, and type “sup­plier:1314” in the search box.) They en­joy shar­ing their horse­back ad­ven­tures in the United States and Western Canada. Reach them at ken­tand­char­lene@

On a work­ing ranch, you’ll learn such skills as cut­ting, rop­ing, driv­ing, and herd­ing. Shown are work­ing cow­boys cut­ting cat­tle for a sale.

At the Bar W Guest Ranch in White­fish, Mon­tana, you may choose to stay at the lux­u­ri­ous ranch or head out on the range for one of the ranch’s spe­cialty cat­tle drives that gen­er­ally take place twice per year.

The invit­ing en­trance to the Bar W Guest Ranch, lo­cated in Flat­head Val­ley on Spencer Lake in White­fish, Mon­tana.

If you re­ally want to get away from it all, look no fur­ther than the re­mote Dry­head Ranch on the Wy­oming/Mon­tana Bor­der, where you’ll have an op­por­tu­nity to do a full spec­trum of cat­tle work.

Some work­ing ranches al­low you to ride your own horse. Shown is Char­lene Krone on a cat­tle drive in western Mon­tana aboard her Mis­souri Fox Trot­ter geld­ing, Nate.

Be­fore you book your work­ing ranch vacation, 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. Shown is a cat­tle drive in western Mon­tana.

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