Want to experience a cattle drive on your vacation? Two experts weigh in on how to choose an authentic experience, what to pack and how best to enjoy this diverse adventure.
by Darley Newman
You may have seen us driving cattle on the Equitrekking TV show. We've worked cattle in destinations as close to home as Virginia and Colorado and as far away as Uruguay. Perhaps you've been inspired to try one after watching us, a Western classic, the funny "City Slickers" with Billy Crystal or after hearing about one from a friend.
After experiencing a variety of cattle drives, we know they definitely range from the real deal cattle drives where you are truly there to lend a hand for a purpose to cattle drives put on for the benefit of travelers. We like the former, but to participate in these types of adventures, you need to be flexible, relatively fit, interested in roughing it a bit and up for anything. On true cattle drives, you never know what to expect, but that's part of the fun, and you'll definitely learn new skills.
According to Double Rafter's Dana Kerns, "We don't schedule phony stampedes, cloudbursts, blizzards, rodeos, wagon wrecks, or brush fires. They happen all on their own!"
We talked with two cattle drive vacation experts, Nancy Moore of Moore Ranch and Dana Kerns of Double Rafter Cattle Drives, to get advice for travelers who may want to ride the range and participate in a genuine adventure. A longtime resident of rural Kansas, Nancy grew up in the Northwest corner of the state, where she drove tractors for her father, baled hay, herded sheep and worked cattle. Today, she and her husband run the Moore Ranch, 9 miles south of Bucklin, Kansas, which invites travelers to experience a real working ranch.
Dana Kerns operates a working cattle ranch that his family homesteaded back in 1887 and lets guests join for various cattle drives through Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains. For those seeking authenticity, the Kerns go as far as preparing meals in Dutch ovens and just as their ancestors did, staying in 1800s-style canvas wall tents and tepee tents.
Cattle Drive Vacation Tips from Nancy Moore of Moore Ranch, a working Longhorn cattle ranch in Kansas
Just 45 miles from historic Dodge City, Kansas, Moore Ranch is a real deal working ranch. This isn't a place where they put a cattle drive on for tourists. Rather, up to five tourists show up for an unstaged look at life on a working ranch. Spring, summer and fall cattle drives, brandings, checking cattle, moving cattle, fixing fence or monitoring the range are all things you can try, depending on the time of year.
With Moore Ranch, you're driving cattle in an area where longhorns were driven up the historic Western Trail to Dodge City, one of the best known cattle towns of that era.
We asked Nancy to share advice for travelers interested in participating in a genuine cattle drive. Here are Nancy's tips:
How to Choose a Cattle Drive Holiday
There can be some differences in cattle drives. All types of cattle drives can be fun, but research them and make sure you find the one that suits your fancy the best. Some are very authentic and achieve the purpose of moving cattle to new pasture. Some cattle drives are created only to give the guest the experience of driving cattle around the ranch. Some ranches allow guests to get involved in every aspect of the cattle drive such as riding up front, turning cattle, and going after a stray. Other ranches will ask that you ride at the back of the herd and push the cattle along.
Ask how many guests are allowed on the cattle drive. Do they limit participants to a small number? Small numbers enable you to interact more with the cowboys, horses and cattle. The larger number of participants, the less involvement you will have.
Do your research and enjoy the drive the fits your desires!
Nancy's Packing Tips
- Pack lightly for the drive.
- Dress in layers.
- Bring some comfy shoes for the evening around the campfire. Your feet may be ready for a break from wearing boots if you don’t wear them daily.
- Don't forget to bring along a small flashlight.
Cattle Drive Tips from Dana Kerns of Double Rafter Cattle Drives
Doublerafter Cattle Drives welcomes guest to participate in their real 40-50 mile week long cattle drive every summer. Guests trail the herd to the top of the Big Horn Mountains in the summer and in the fall gather cattle from the high country and move the herd back to the ranch.
We asked Dana to share tips on how travelers can find a cattle drive to fit their goals and dreams and how to prepare for the adventure.
Double rainbow by the sleeping tents with Doublerafter Cattle Drives. This cattle drive replicates an 1880's cattle drive adventure.
How to Pick a Cattle Drive Vacation
The first thing would be to research the cattle drive thoroughly to make sure the experience is actually what you are looking for. There are lots of cattle drives–– from those that are put together purely for a way to advertise and get additional bookings for a dude ranch and then of course there are the complete real ones like ours.
Of the real ones, again there are many different ones. On ours, we move camp as needed, but you will be sleeping in a tent every night on the ground. Some cattle drives move people back everyday to cabins and then transport them back the next day to continue with the trip. This sometimes can mean just as many hours being transported as to actual time in the saddle. However, those that transport you back to a cabin in all likelihood will have showers and a real bed to sleep in. So your decision will be based on just how authentic do you want it and how many hours a day are you willing or wanting to ride.
My other suggestions for questions to ask or think about would be:
- How do they choose a horse for you? If you are looking for more of a nose-to-tail trail ride, then the process of choosing is irrelevant.
- Do they spend anytime teaching you the fundamentals of horsemanship and, if so, how do they do it?
We actually have a clinician come in and do ours on the Double Rafter. This allows us to match an individuals' skill level with a specific horse that will fit their skill level. This, of course, allows them to get the most enjoyment out of the week with their horse.
Prepping for your Cattle Drive Experience
One other quick point, and I am sure every one promotes this. Try and get as much saddle time as possible before the trip starts. Understand, you will probably have some saddle soreness for a few days but it won't kill you. If you can't ride before the trip, in my opinion the second best thing to do would be bicycling. Understand, that if you don't ride a lot, riding is a very strenuous exercise and the better shape you are in, the quicker the soreness will leave.
If you ask the question, "How long is each day" and they give you a definitive answer, I can promise, it is not a real cattle drive. Between Mother Nature and a cows thought process there is no possible way to give a definitive answer.
Topics: Cattle Drive Holidays, Cattle Drive Vacations, Double Rafter Cattle Drives, Kansas Cattle Drives, Kansas Working Ranch Vacations, Montana Cattle Drives, Moore Ranch, Working Cattle Ranches, Wyoming Cattle Drives
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