Horses are at the heart of Steamboat Springs’ roots. Northwest Colorado’s Ute Indians first acquired horses in the mid 1600s, making them among the first North American Indians to do so. The Yampa Valley’s first white settlers used horses to get here, then work the land. Cowboys and cowgirls have ridden them for adventure and entertainment at the Steamboat Springs Rodeo for more than a century. And we have a protected herd of mustangs that still roams Sandwash Basin’s high desert sage west of Steamboat – wild horses which you can visit.
So, you want a genuine Steamboat experience? Giddy-up and get you seat in the saddle.
Slip some denim over your legs and a nice new hat on your head after you stop in at F.M Light and Sons, Steamboat’s oldest retail store. Now you’re prepared to play cowboy. Horseback riding is the bastion of local ranches and hunting outfitters, most of whom have permission to ride stunning public lands in addition to their own private acreage. You can head out for a two-hour ride or hunker in for a week of cattle wrangling. Either way, no prior horsemanship is required. Ranch hands are primed to teach new riders the basics and send you out on horseback (with a seasoned guide, of course). Atop your horse, you’ll feel the expanse of Steamboat’s endless sky and the whoosh of crisp mountain air.
A ride with the Heid family at Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch is a particularly iconic Steamboat experience. Six generations of Heids have ridden this range, from the Elk River to the peaks of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. The ranch is also one of Colorado’s original licensed outfitters. If you’re lucky enough to ride out with Ray, make sure he shares a story or two about horsing around with his cousin, the late great ski racer Buddy Werner (for whom Steamboat’s library and Mount Werner, a.k.a. the Steamboat Ski Area, are named).
If you have more time, a cattle drive offers a glimmer of what it’s like to work on a ranch. Each morning, you’ll ride out on horseback and see the intricacies of moving cattle transpire as you mosey across the meadows. It’s highly likely that you’ll encounter wildlife too.
Saddleback Ranch offers a daily cattle drive taster that lasts “three hours or until the job gets done.” The historic Focus Ranch puts city slickers to work all week long. And The Home Ranch can turn an elegant dude ranch vacation into nothing less than a week of awe-inspiring trail rides on 1.1 million acres of the Routt National Forest.
While you’re weary bum is recuperating from hours or days on horseback, make sure you visit the gorgeous, artifact and photo-filled exhibit, “The Horse,” at Tread of Pioneers Museum this summer.