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Cattle Drive Vacations

Authentic cattle drives offer a new and exciting dimension in horseback riding vacations and demand good teamwork between horse and rider. The work of finding, rounding up, driving and sorting cows is challenging for horse and rider alike. There is the constant mooing and movement of the cows and the mystique of participating in a time honored rite of vital importance to ranchers. A good cow horse loves to work cows and often knows better than the rider what needs to be done. The team work between horse and rider is a big part of the fun. It is one thing to drive cows along a good road at a slow pace and entirely another thing to round up rogue cows galloping through thick timber. The terrain is often steep and the pace fast when wild cows make a break for cover which makes genuine cattle drives an exciting, satisfying experience.

In much of the United States today cattle work no longer needs to be done by horseback. In places like Iowa and Florida most of the work can be done from pickup trucks or ATVs and anyhow in places like that the cows don’t have to be moved between summer and winter pastures. In most of the Rocky Mountain West you need to be on horseback to handle the job. In some places like our own Wyoming ranch the cattle graze often in wilderness areas where all motors are prohibited and horseback riding is the only option. Mountains, thick forests, steep slopes, rivers and deep gorges make wheeled vehicles impractical anyhow. When it comes to sorting cows in open country you can’t beat a horse. They can turn, leap forward or stop with incredible speed and, unlike machines, they can think for themselves.

An appealing aspect of grazing cows in wild, mountainous areas is that they thrive on nutritious grass which would otherwise be wasted. In the old days millions of buffalo used to eat this grass, much of it too coarse for deer and elk. The tender shoots coming up after the buffalo had passed provide the kind of food these animals prefer. The cattle fill the niche of the vanished buffalo and a symbiotic relationship continues. It is a win, win situation for all when handled properly. The same is not true of the sheep which graze closer to the ground and tend more to fill the same niche as the wild game.

In the early days of opening the West grazing rights were often terribly abused and severe environmental damage was done by allowing half starving animals to remain too long in an area. Where that happens, it can take many years for the land to recover in dry country, but today government agencies like the US Forest Service monitor grazing practices carefully. Ranchers are also more alerted to the long term health of the environment and usually avoid abusive practices which are eventually counterproductive. I can imagine that herds of tens of thousands of buffalo which took days to pass must have done quite a job on the environment also.

In a state like Arizona, horseback riding can be a slow ride in a nose to tail line at a resort type dude ranch or it can provide some exciting and challenging activity going through rugged country at a varied pace. There are some “cattle drives” staged for city slickers and there are still some authentic ones. Both kinds have their supporters. Be sure you get the kind you want.

For more information see Equitours Worldwide Riding Vacations.

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