If you are of a certain age, like me, you’ll remember the movie City Slickers starring Billy Crystal & Jack Palance. This comedy is about an unhappy Manhattan yuppie who is about to turn forty years old. His friends rope him into joining them for a cattle drive on a dude ranch in the southwest. While this 1991 movie is a far cry from an authentic horseback riding vacation, there’s something that attracts people to the cowboy way of life. That is, as long as they don’t have to get up too early, catch & feed the horses or cook dinner. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly riding holiday or a girlfriend getaway, you’ll find something here to get you back in the saddle and home on the range in no time.
Arizona Cowboy College
I had the opportunity to join in on a cattle drive during a horseback riding vacation in Scottsdale, Arizona. There are several ways to experience Arizona Cowboy College; cowboy up in the bunk house with other guests looking for a rustic southwest experience or you may opt for the upscale riding holiday, staying off property at a nearby hotel or resort. Either way, you’ll be on an authentic working ranch in Arizona’s Sonoran desert, surrounded by giant Saguaro cactus. I loved my time on horseback with the friendly and knowledgeable wranglers at Lorill Equestrian, but I confess, at the end of a long day in the saddle, I was looking forward to returning to Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North for a little r&r.
If You Go:
Arizona Cowboy College http://www.cowboycollege.com (480) 250-8758
30208 N. 152nd Street, Scottsdale, Arizona 85262
Carey Ranch in California
I learned about Peter & Carolyn Carey and Carey Ranch during a horseback riding vacation at Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, California. Pete and Carolyn Carey are co-founders of the Wild Horse Sanctuary (WHS) and it was at their ranch where the original 80 horses lived while the property in Shingletown was identified and purchased. It was in the Shasta Cascade region of northern California that I was able to ride and sleep amongst wild horses. The sanctuary is home to multiple herds of wild Mustang horses and burros in rugged terrain that reminds me of cowboys straight off the set of Ponderosa Ranch. I joined in on an overnight ride at WHS. To be clear, WHS does not offer cattle drives, but they do offer day and overnight horseback rides. For the Cattle Drive, you’ll need to contact Carolyn Carey directly to inquire about their yearly 4 to 6 day Cattle Roundup and Cattle Drive in the fall.
If You Go:
Wild Horse Sanctuary http://www.wildhorsesanctuary.org/trail.html (530) 474-5770
5796 Wilson Hill Road, Shingletown, California 96088
Carey Ranch is near Alturas, California (530) 233-2517
High Lonesome Ranch
My first time to Colorado found me at The High Lonesome Ranch, surrounded by spring-fed creeks and mountain forests. A dude ranch, fly fishing lodge and big game hunting destination, the De Beque, Colorado ranch is many things to different outdoor adventure enthusiasts. I came to this western ranch, tucked in the Colorado Rockies, for horseback riding. While the ranch wants nothing more for you than to connect with your inner cowgirl, this is not a working cattle ranch. Guests will ride in the arena to test their skills before heading out on scenic trails. At the end of our visit, after we felt confident in our riding abilities, we were offered the opportunity to join in on a small scale cattle drive. We were assisting a neighbor in moving their cattle from one pasture to another. Our ride had novice cowboys and cowgirls, as well as experienced equestrians. We all had a wonderful time on horseback, but I also fondly remember the food and poetry around the campfire.
If You Go:
The High Lonesome Ranch http://www.thehighlonesomeranch.com (970) 283-9420
0275 County Road 222, De Beque, Colorado 81630
The Resort at Paws Up
I have not yet had a chance to visit The Resort at Paws Up, but when I do make it there, I’d like to experience the Cowgirl Spring Roundup. Held once a year in the spring, this is described as the ultimate immersion into Montana cowgirl culture. The three day weekend includes workshops, trail rides, campfires, fine Montana dining with master grillers and luxury accommodations at the resort outside of Missoula, Montana. Space is limited to the first 50 women who sign up – cowgirls 12 years and over – and yes, I’m told there is a cattle drive included in the equestrian activities.
If You Go
The Resort at Paws Up http://www.pawsup.com (877) 588-6764
40060 Paws Up Road
Greenough, Montana 59823
Triple Creek Ranch a Montana Hideaway
Another horseback riding holiday that is not to be missed is the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous at Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana. Held annually in May, this all-women western riding adventure is hosted by cowgirl extraordinaire and ranch co-owner Barbara Barrett. An accomplished equestrian, Barrett leads guests through breathtakingly beautiful terrain in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountain Range. An intimate group of adventurous travelers will enjoy fantastic riding opportunities in southwestern Montana, hikes on property or perhaps to hidden hot springs, panning for sapphires, birding and world-class fly-fishing at the Orvis-endorsed lodge. After a long (or short) day in the saddle – you decide your participation level – you’ll return to the luxury of your cozy log cabin and enjoy a soak in the hot tub, or relax in front of the fire, followed with fine wine and gourmet meals prepared by a wonderful chef at the Relais Chateaux lodge.
The Spring Round Up and Cowboy School is offered in April and is open to cowboys and cowgirls. This four day equestrian vacation features horseback riding, roping lessons, cattle round up and sorting, followed by an old-fashioned hoedown Triple Creek style!
If You Go
Triple Creek Ranch http://www.triplecreekranch.com (406) 821-4600
5551 West Fork Road
Darby, Montana 59829
Article by Travel Writer and Cowgirl Nancy D. Brown. All photography is my own accept cattle drive photos from High Lonesome Ranch and The Resort at Paws Up.