What to expect on a cattle drive
What is a cattle drive? A cattle drive is a herd of cattle that need to be moved from one area to another for their survival or simply for tourist amusement on a horseback riding holiday. There are two different types of cattle drives; one being the few cattle drives you will find that are held on real working ranches and the second being the many cattle drives you will find that cater to the amusement of tourists.
In a real working ranch, you will be expected to help the wranglers gather the cattle through trees, brush, open valleys and over steep hills. The days are hard and long and guests don’t go back to camp until the day is done. On these ranches you are expected to do as much work as you can since these cattle are not there simply for your amusement and will die if left in their current place. The days are long and usually begin at 8am and can end anywhere between 4pm and 7pm with a 1 hour break for lunch around noon.
In the cattle drives that are simply for guest amusement, you may participate as much or as little as you please since the cattle are only being driven from one place to another and back again with no real purpose to moving them other than guest pleasure. These cattle drives usually start around 9am or 10am and end around 4pm to 5pm and you can choose to stop at any time. They also have a 1 hour lunch break around noon.
Matching horse to rider
Each ranch will match you with a horse that fits your riding ability but since cattle drives are not like trail rides and require that your horse work independently, you should know the basics to riding before deciding to participate in a cattle drive. Being able to control your horse at a walk and at a trot for both cattle drives are a must, however, most of the time you will only be advancing at a slow walk. If it has been years since your last ride on a horse it is recommended to take a lesson or two at home before your cattle drive vacation.
There is no age limit but physical fitness to endure the long hours in the saddle is a must. Since western saddles are used and they can be a little harder on the “rear end” over the long hours, you may opt to bring along a pad specifically designed for western saddles. You can pick one up at a local tack shop for between $30-$60.
What to pack on a cattle drive
No matter where you decide to do your cattle drive, you should be prepared. If your cattle drive is in the mountains make sure you are ready for rain, snow and sunshine. Pack a rain slicker. The weather can change at any time and your slicker can be easily tied to the back of your saddle if you decide not to wear it when you leave camp for the day. If you will be riding through the trees and sage brush, chaps and riding gloves are important to protect your legs and hands from branches and prickly brush as high as your knees while sitting on a horse. A good hat on any cattle drive is a must. I prefer cowboy hats because they keep the sun out of my eyes, make the rain drip down the back of my slicker instead of down the back of my neck and help me to hear the missing cows as they cry out in the distance. Sun block is a must along with plenty of water. Most ranches will supply you with a saddle bag to carry your lunch and essential personal items but some don’t. It is important to ask the ranch when you book if they supply you with saddle bags. If not, you can pick one up at your local tack shop for about $50-$80. If you prefer to carry your personal objects in front of you while on your cattle drive for easy access (camera, sun block, water, medications, etc.), a pommel bag can be bought at a local tack shop or you can use a fanny pack. Good riding boots are also a requirement whether they are Western boots or English riding boots. If you do not have riding boots then any boot with a solid heel is needed. By the way, it’s better to break in your boots before you leave for your horseback riding vacation!
If You Go
Rockin’ R Ranch, Southern Utah http://www.rockinrranch.com/
La Ferme du Joual Vair, Quebec, Canada http://fermedujoualvair.com/en/index.html
This is a guest post by Sherry Bedard who lives in Montreal, Quebec. When she’s not working with animals, Sherry likes nothing better than riding horseback.