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Working Ranch Vacations - Feelin’ at home on the range Here at Top 50, nearly half of our ranches are working ranches. This means that although you can enjoy the peace and tranquillity of being surrounded by thousands of acres of mountains and ranges, there is always work to be done should you want to get involved!

Roaming the ranges and becoming part of an authentic cattle drive is a mind-blowing experience and you’ll experience riding like never before: gathering and herding sheep and cattle, traversing diverse, hilly and sometimes difficult terrain, and you never know, you may even learn how to lasso!

Most of all, here at Top50, we want you to come away from your working ranch holiday with bags of stockmanship knowledge and understanding, whether you want the truly authentic ranching experience or just a taste of cowboy life. Stockmanship skills At our working ranches, whether you’re just having a go or are all for authenticity, you are sure to learn effective stockmanship skills. Employing calm tactics to move large animals around is a skill, and stockmanship is the ‘knowledgeable and skillful handling of livestock in a safe, efficient, effective, and low-stress manner.’ This includes low-stress livestock handling (LSLH), natural horsemanship, ranch roping, dog handling and facilities design – all four of these together are the essential tools for a working ranch.

LSLH is crucial for the animals and ranchers’ welfare – scared cattle are dangerous and will often hurt themselves or anything in their way to get out of the situation. For decades, traditional roundups were labor-intensive, stressful, ineffective and dangerous, and often subjected livestock to unethical treatment. Being more efficient requires fewer riders and horses, making stockmanship a much more cost- effective alternative to traditional ranching.

Nowadays, livestock is treated gently, humanely and ethically. All animals willingly load into trailers and riders barely need to take their horses out of a walk - there’s nothing quite like seeing a huge herd of cattle respond to the slightest of movement from the horse and rider!

Generally we ask that, due to the nature of these activities and the sometimes wild environment around us, you have previous riding experience, especially if you would like to get involved in day-, or even week-long pack-trips and rounding up, doctoring, and sorting sheep and cattle. However, if you just want to have a go here and there, we have plenty of ranches that will cater for the cowboy inside you’s needs! Experienced and enthusiastic! If you want to really let loose and experience a truly authentic ranching vacation there are plenty of ranches who will let you get involved with the day-to-day work.

Hideout Guest Ranch, Wyoming considers the experienced riders’ lust for authenticity and you can take part in cattle drives, some of which can last long into the night until the work is done! Lazy Bonanza Creek Ranch, Montana has a herd of 1800+ cattle and has created an Advanced Rider Program for those cowboys and cowgirls who want to truly share in the way of life at the ranch.

If it’s long days in the saddle you’re after, then look no further than Rowse’s 1+1 Ranch, Nebraska. Not for the faint-hearted, you can expect up to six hours a day in the saddle and depending on the time of year you visit, you can get hands-on with cattle drives, roundups, brandings, team penning and roping. Riding thru over 2,000 bison across 50,000 acres of pasture is the order of the day at the Zapata Ranch, Colorado. Experienced riders will enjoy incredibly diverse terrains – you can expect high desert grasslands, alpine forests, wetlands, sand dunes, creeks and lush meadows all in a day’s ride!

Just startin’ out If you aren’t an experienced or confident rider, but are looking to be a part of the working ranch’s team while you are on vacation, then Texas Ranch Life, Texas welcomes guests who want to immerse themselves in all aspects of ranch life: observe the ranch’s resident cowboys ride and train the horses, feed the livestock, treat the animals for injuries and disease, and manage the working ranch operation.

At the McGinnis Meadows Cattle and Guest Ranch riders are sure to leave with bags of knowledge about horses, horsemanship, and cattle and enjoy a focus on Buck Brannaman style horsemanship. You’re treated as an individual and each day is tailor-made for you; the horses are fine-tuned to leg pressure, trained to work cattle and can carry beginners on a basic trail – ideal if you want a stress-free ranching experience!

Perhaps you’re keen to get involved with ranch life, but want your holiday to be varied and activity-fuelled? Look no further than Sweet Grass Ranch, Montana which, as well as the usual ranch work, offers a multitude of activities. You can go hiking, fishing, boating, take photography seminars – all in a day’s work!

Finally, if you want a truly educational experience and hands-on vacation, then Chico Basin Ranch, Colorado is the spot for you. With learning opportunities galore about large-scale cattle ranching, horsemanship and holistic management, you’ll be completely immersed in a cowboy's true day to day lifestyle - sometimes with being on the trail by 4am! Chico Basin Ranch is truly as real as it gets.

Learn about more of Top50's Working Ranch Vacations Thanks to Whit Hibbard at - follow Whit as he keeps you updated on Low Stress Stockmanship and how best to successfully handle cattle.

By Katherine Hammaren

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