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Cattle drives? Yes, you can! Here at Top50 we know the thought of venturing out to round up cattle might seem a little ambitious for beginner or inexperienced riders taking their first dude ranch vacation, so we’ve come up with some options to suit everyone – from novice riders who have never sat on a horse, to advanced riders ready to perfect their cowboy skills on authentic cattle drives.

Authentic cattle drives and branding at Chico Basin Ranch, Colorado

For the novice rider (requiring a massage or two...)

Echo Valley Ranch and Spa might be a luxury dude ranch, but its Canada ranch vacations do include cattle drives for guests on special request. “Most of our guests are not experienced riders, so we’ll sometimes move cattle between fields – like mini cattle drives,” explains Chris Tait from the Canada guest ranch. This gives novice or less confident riders a taste for cattle drives without the pressure of the real thing.0

Head to the Canada guest ranch during spring branding week and you’ll get to share the action of ‘Branding Day’. First you’ll head out with the wranglers to round up the cattle from the hills back to the Echo Valley corral. Then you can watch as the cowboys wrestle calves one by one for branding - an authentic ranch experience you won’t want to miss!

Cattle drives plus pampering

Experience real cattle drives at Vista Verde Ranch during September, at the Colorado dude ranch’s Fall Cattle Round-Up. As well as offering a luxury dude ranch vacations, Vista Verde invites guests to get down and dirty with the cowboys on their cattle drives. After a couple of days working in the arena to hone your horsemanship and cattle working skills, it’s time to head out for some serious all-day rides to round up the cows. Covering the 16,000 acres of the Colorado dude ranch, your sense adventure will be unleashed as you embark on real working cattle drives. If you’re looking for big cattle drives choose the first two weeks of September, when cows are easy to find. If you prefer the more strategic style of cattle drives, go in the last two weeks of September where it becomes a game of hide-and-seek with those elusive cows who don’t want to follow the herd!

Cattle drives and campdrafting - for competitive types!

New for 2013, Snowy River Horseback Adventure in New South Wales, Australia, will be offering three great options for cattle drive enthusiasts. Those looking for just a few days of cattle drives will love the ‘High Country Muster’ in spring, as well as the end-of-summer ‘Bringing ‘em Home’ package. Each horseback riding holiday includes three days in the saddle gathering cows and moving the herd between the ranch’s high-country lease and the ranch base. With comfortable lodgings each night at the Old Ingebirah homestead and chef-prepared meals included in your stay, this is ideal if you like your creature comforts but want to get a real taste of working ranch cattle drives.

Like the idea of cattle drives but want to focus more on your own horseback riding skills? experience the unique Australian horse sport of campdrafting. The Snowy River team will guide you in the skills required for this demanding sport, covering basic horsemanship, cattle working, and the rules and etiquette of the sport. Great if you’ve got a competitive edge!

Cattle work for all ages and abilities

White Stallion Ranch in Arizona, USA, might not offer cattle drives – "the cactus is a bit of challenge,” explains owner Russell True – but that doesn’t mean you can’t get to grips with working cattle on your Arizona ranch vacation. “Team penning is huge here and our guests love it,” says Russell, whose desert ranch offers arena cattle work three times a week. “It gives most of our guests an opportunity to ride fast, on their own, in the arena chasing cattle.” The White Stallion team will assess your skills and show you the ropes before you do any fast riding, but are adamant that every single guest – novice and advanced riders alike – should have a go at team penning. “Week after week we hear from our guests how amazed they are at how much they have been able to do!” says Russell.

Triple Creek Ranch also offers cattle drive experiences for less experienced riders. June through Mid-October on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only, The Montana family dude ranch offers guests of all ages and abilities the chance to enjoy a day on the range living the ultimate western dream, herding cattle the old-fashioned way. All guests are asked to go on at least one on-ranch trail ride and watch a short video on horsemanship safety prior to participating in the cattle drive, to ensure their safety and confidence. You'll meet your wranglers at 9:30am before taking a short drive to Sula Peak Cattle Ranch and the beautiful French Basin. There, you'll help move anywhere from 100 to 800 head of cattle! Triple Creek Ranch's chefs will even pack a lunch for you to take on your adventure. This is a great opportunity for novice and experienced riders alike to give cattle drives a go in a safe yet truly authentic environment.

Authentic branding for confident riders

Branding cattle at Chico Basin Ranch is an experience like no other. Encompassing cattle drives, roping and calf wrestling, the Colorado guest ranch’s branding days are the real thing! “At the moment we’re branding on the Chico almost weekly, as we have about 2,000 calves to brand,” says manager Duke Phillips. This is not for the faint-hearted. With branding days starting as early as 4am to saddle up and hitch the wagon, you’ll be trotting off to gather the herd at twilight. “We’ll usually gather to a watering, where we take turns on horseback holding the herd. The wagon is parked up-wind from the herd at its edge, where the fire is built from wood that we bring with us,” explains Duke. While a ground crew is organized to wrestle the calves and hold them to the ground for branding, ropers are assigned go into the herd with long ropes to catch the calves and pull them to the fire. “One of my favorite parts is the slow, easy trot home after all the work has been done, visiting about the day while watching the sun sink to the horizon.” This authentic cattle experience is ideal if you want to immerse yourself in real cowboy culture on a working ranch vacation.

True immersion cattle drives for keen riders

Ideal for intermediate riders looking to improve their skills and advanced riders wanting an intensive cattle drive experience, Bar W Guest Ranch’s spring and fall cattle drives offer true immersion into authentic cattle work. Montana ranch vacations don’t get better than a four-day trip on 50,000 acres, riding as far as you can see to gather cattle and drive them back to the corrals, before sorting, branding and inoculating the calves, and doctoring the young males. “We have created a cattle drive adventure that rounds out all of the experiences of a cattle round-up,” explains Heather Ready from the Montana guest ranch. “Having participated in traditional cattle drives, we wanted our guests to experience the best of what cattle drives offer.” You’ll begin your cattle drive vacation at the ranch with horsemanship lessons working with cattle, We’ll begin at the ranch with horsemanship lessons working with cattle, getting your seat and making sure you and your horse are a great match. Then it’s time to saddle up for the real adventure and head out to the Blackfoot reservation, base camp for the next four days of your vacation. “You’ll feel like a real cowhand riding out for different herds – longhorns one day, then cows – we’ll even go out for some bucking horses!” says Heather. Your cattle drive adventure is rounded off with a ride to the Canadian border, through beautiful country along Lake Koocanusa, to Stryker Peak or Krinklehorn territories. These are mountainous rides with steep climbs, so a great challenge for confident riders!

For more information on all these and more ranches with cattle drives, visit

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