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It is hard work to move 200 head of cattle across a river and up a valley but, for most people anyway, the wide-open spaces, the smell of leather and the sounds of the cattle and horses are about as far removed from everyday life as you can get. Though cattle drives were once a common occurrence in the Canadian and American West, today there are few opportunities to experience this iconic activity that has been depicted so frequently in movies that it has come to define what it means to be a cowboy.
For casual riders who dream of indulging their inner cowboy or cowgirl, experiencing a cattle drive on a working ranch is the ultimate dream.
“It’s a thousand times better than a beach vacation,” said Bobbi Lambright, a busy business executive who recently took part in a Sierra West cattle drive. “It’s like stepping back in time and joining a scene straight out of the Old West.”
Lambright had been on plenty of trail rides, but she always dreamt of participating in an authentic Western experience that would take her riding to a whole new level.
“It was exciting,” she said. “I was out on the open prairie, in the most beautiful scenery you can imagine, and I had a real job to do. It may have been work, but it didn’t feel that way to me.”
Besides the riding and cattle work, the cattle drive included campfire experiences and cowpoke entertainment, as well as the opportunity to meet interesting people.
“One of the best parts of the experience for guests and for us as hosts is the opportunity to meet people from around the world,” said Randy Donohue, co-owner of Alberta’s Lone Pine Ranch and an operator of Sierra West Cabins and Ranch Vacations. “Everybody is brought together by the same dream, and it’s really satisfying to help make those dreams come true.”
A working ranch vacation may not be for everyone, but for busy executives like Lambright who want to completely vacate her city life and live a lifelong dream, the experience can’t be topped.
“This was so different from anything I had done before, but I loved every minute of it,” she said. “I have already booked my spot on the next Sierra West cattle drive.”
There are several working ranches in Alberta that can offer your clients the opportunity to experience an authentic cattle drive. At Sierra West, a two-day cattle roundup costs $550 per person and includes meals and campfire entertainment. Overnight accommodations in self-contained cabins or bunkhouse-style accommodations are available at the ranch starting at $110 per night. Other riding experiences, fly-fishing and more activities are nearby. Discounted rates are available to guests who bring their own horses.
It has been said that sometimes a change is as good as a rest but, when it comes to working ranch vacations, the statement doesn’t quite hold true. Lambright and others would argue that a change can be better than a rest — if that change finds you herding cattle on horseback on the wide-open prairies in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies.
RodeosAlberta has some of the best rodeo action in the world and, every July, the top cowboys in North America test their abilities against the toughest rodeo stock at the Calgary Stampede (www.calgarystampede.com). There are also plenty of small-town rodeos that provide great action in a more intimate setting. The Ponoka Stampede (www.ponokastampede.com) is one of the best small-town rodeos, but visitors can find a full listing at the Rodeo Canada website (www.rodeocanada.com).
GearDressing the part is half the fun of a foray into cowboy culture, and clients can find everything they need in Calgary. Get custom-made hats at Smithbilt Hats (www.smithbilthats.com), custom boots at Alberta Boot (www.albertaboot.com) and everything else at either Lammle’s Western Wear (www.lammles.com) or Riley & McCormick (www.realcowboys.com).
Guest RanchesAlberta guest ranches can be found on the website of the Alberta Country Vacations Association (www.albertacountryvacation.com).
Attractions and EventsOther great sites in which to experience cowboy culture include Bar U Ranch National Historic Site (www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/baru/index.aspx), Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (www.history.alberta.ca/headsmashedin), Remington Carriage Museum (www.history.alberta.ca/remington), Spruce Meadows Show Jumping Facility (www.sprucemeadows.com) and The Great Canadian Barn Dance (www.gcbd.ca). A listing of cowboy poetry and festival events can be found online as well (www.albertacowboypoetry.com/cowboy-gatherings.html).