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Rusty Spurr Ranch offers authentic cowherding experience

ROBERT ALLEN
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
ALL |

KREMMLING – Star’s hooves galloped over the rocky, open range Thursday morning as we moved to corral a horned bovine back to the herd.

“Get, you. Get!” I shouted with the authentic articulation of an American cowboy perched stoically on his horse.

The lost cow, white with black spots, returned a vacant stare until we were about an arm’s length away. It turned and lumbered off down the hill, back to the herd of about 150 head.

I pulled my mare’s reins and we moved farther up to find more strays.

Moments earlier, Rusty Spurr Ranch owner Han Smith had instructed our group of about 10 cowherders on the importance of keeping the livestock in a group for the drive. Our journey stretched over hills and along a ravine, with a brief stop at a pond before moving to a different pasture.

“We need to be thinking of ourselves as one group moving together, and we need to treat all the cows like one group moving together,” Smith said.

Our fellow cowpokes ranged from ages 11 to gray-haired; several came from Minnesota in search of a western adventure.

Joe Koshiol and his family came from Luxemburg, Minn.

“It was really, truly cattle herding,” he said. “It wasn’t just some commercialized thing.”

As most of the group pushed the cattle herd through the center of the valley Thursday morning, a small group of us rode up the side of a hill with Smith. We found more cattle standing in aspen groves.

Pasture rotation was our objective.

“Left to their own devices, cows graze closest to water,” Smith said, adding that over time, this harms the vegetation.

The 10,000 acres of private and Bureau of Land Management land south of Kremmling offer a variety of areas with foliage and water.

“We’ve seen the grass stay pretty solid all the way around,” Smith said.

Before we could herd the animals, we had to find them. We waded our horses through a forest of aspen, making our own paths through fallen trees and foliage.

It was a great opportunity to get familiar with one’s horse. Mine struggled against the reins for the first 20 or so minutes to snag bites of flowers and grasses.

But it didn’t take Star long to figure out who was in charge.

The forest opened to a small hill where we began spotting the scattered cattle. Many were hanging around an old homestead, while others were getting shade under trees.

The cattle we herded included beef and bucking stock.

Some of the latter bulls are destined to kick up their hooves in Professional Bull Riders arenas.

“It’s a breeding program for bucking bulls,” Smith said, adding that one named Scarface had retired from the professionals to join the herd and breed.

During our ride, a couple of bulls began locking horns, and Smith rushed his horse, Hooligan, into the thick of it – effectively breaking up what could have been an ugly scuffle.

Generally, the livestock responded well to our shouting. They were quick to move along any time a horse’s snout neared their backsides.

Once the herd was grouped, we spread out and moved them along from behind, giving stragglers strong encouragement and avoiding running cows into fences or off ravines.

It was important not to get inside the herd.

“Moving right into the cattle is like pushing your finger in a water balloon,” Smith said, emphasizing how cattle move away from cowpoke.

The stragglers were often calves who would get curious and wander. Smith compared them with teenagers.

“Mothers usually pick this game up quicker than anyone else,” he said.

There were ample opportunities to spread out the horses. I enjoyed breaking Star into trots and gallops over the terrain.

It was certainly not the nose-to-tail type of trail ride several of the riders may have expected.

“I’m glad this one was my first ride because it was really easy to move the reins around,” C.J. Koshiol, 13, said.

Deborah Schiessl, of Brooklyn Center, Minn., said the experience was “wonderful.”

“I like to see what me and the horse can do together,” she said.

Smith’s wife, Connie, was one of the group’s guides. About halfway through the cattle drive, she took our group to retrieve some bulls that had separated themselves far from the group. We trotted out to find that the situation was a bit dangerous: The bulls had taken to a cow in heat – a mean cow that was ready to charge.

We turned tail and bolted back to the herd just in time for me to get a calf moving at the bottom of a ravine. By this time, my horse and I moved as one. The smallest movements in the reins were understood and acted out just as I intended.

The experience ended with beef hamburgers for all – a sign of a truly successful cattle drive.

The Rusty Spurr started in 2001; Smith took it over in 2004 after working as one of the guides.

The business also offers trail rides, a high-tempo Outlaw ride and a combination of rafting and horse riding with KODI Rafting.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.


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