Looking for an authentic experience in the saddle that’s bound to get “a little western”? Check out Silver Spur Ranch’s horse drives — and learn the practical reasoning behind them.
After a few summers as a wrangler on a working guest ranch in Wyoming, I’d like to think I’ve seen my fair share of “western” — the kind of wild, don’t-think-just-act moments in the saddle that your friends back in the covered riding arena will never believe you actually survived. And then I saw what the folks at Silver Spur Ranch get up to on a weekly basis in the summer season, and I felt suddenly as though all the hours I’d spent in the saddle in the Rocky Mountains were barely scratching the surface of “getting western.”
Silver Spur Ranch, located in Dubois, Idaho in the “corner” of Montana and Wyoming, is home to what is proclaimed as the world’s only authentic horse drive: guests stay for a week, spending time both on the central Silver Spur Ranch and camping out on the range after driving the ranch’s herd of horses for up to 20 miles a day. The drive can be fast-paced at times, and guests should expect to spend six to eight hours in the saddle each day with long stretches at a trot or fast canter.
The Silver Spur is an all-inclusive experience: the central ranch includes rustic but comfortable cabins and a central lodge and dining hall while the backcountry camps include personal tents and chuck wagon meals. There’s no cell service out on the range, so guests receive the true western experience out of another era. When not driving horses, guests can learn how to throw a rope or hike and fish; when out at one of the camps, guests can socialize while soaking in a mountain stream or around a communal campfire.
There’s no denying that this looks like one heck of a western adventure — but I have to admit that I was a little confused by the “authentic western horse drive” aspect. Herding cattle? I can understand that — pastures need to be rotated and cattle eventually rounded up to go to market. But why herd the horses? Dax Tomlinson, whose family owns and operates the Silver Spur, kindly answered my questions about the ranch as a business.
The drive herd that’s pushed each week consists of two- to three-year-olds, purchased by the Silver Spur as prospect horses. Ranch staff rotates them in and out of the drive herd to train all summer long, with finished horses sold at the end of the season as ranch mounts, roping horses or pleasure riding animals. Some of the horses even stay in the ranch herd to be ridden by staff and guests.
The act of driving the horses cross-country not only keeps the herd legged up and fit for training, but also educates the young horses on how to maneuver in high country: before having to carry a rider through the rugged terrain, the horses learn how to cross creeks, navigate sagebrush and dodge other natural obstacles. “When we go to riding them, they already know how to travel — we can just worry about the training,” Dax added.
The Silver Spur Ranch was originally a cattle operation, running up to 400 pairs on the range. As cattle prices dropped over the years, the ranch became more of a horse operation. The horse drives were part of ranch life, until the Tomlinson family realized that perhaps guests might like to ride along for the experience as well. Now the Silver Spur is a working horse and cattle ranch as well as a guest operation, letting visitors from all over the world get a taste of authentic ranching life.