Ranch Rider offers an extensive collection of ranches where guests can participate in cattle work, but the latest addition to the riding holiday specialist’s portfolio comes with a fresh twist on the more usual cowboy fare

Based in Colorado and owned by the Nature Conservancy, the 103,000-acre Zapata Ranch has 400 head of domestic bison, guests often joining the wranglers to gather the herd. A holistic activity which is usually available every fortnight, groups can ride through the herd at any time to check the grass and water tanks, and play a part in health checks. Once numbering around 50 million in North America, these mammals were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, but conservation programmes like those at Zapata have helped to stem their demise with roughly 500,000 in existence today. The ranch also manages 2,500 head of wild bison, the opportunity to get close to the gang on horseback an even more thrilling experience.

Tony Daly, Managing Director of Ranch Rider, told Eco Travel Guide: “While moving cattle is still very much part of the holiday at this working ranch, riding with the bison is a unique adventure and every guest will be contributing to the ongoing conservation effort. May is a particularly exciting time to travel as cattle branding weeks are available, and over this period the bison will be giving birth and gathering together in large groups. Summer is also a great time to go, as the entire herd will often materialise out of nowhere, having travelled from all corners of the pasture to arrive in a fresh meadow to graze. Technology may change, but nature remains the same and this is a wonderful opportunity to see the American west as it was before modern man appeared. A year-round wildlife haunt, coyotes, elk, deer and hundreds of different bird species are found on the ranch throughout the season.

Standing apart from other ranches in terms of its location, the ecologically diverse landscape ensures there are no shortage of horseback adventures, with desert grasslands, alpine forests, wetlands, sand dunes, creeks and high meadows surrounding the property. Guests even have the opportunity to ride across the back of the Great Sand Dunes National Park on an amazing 22-mile ride to Crestone. Alternatively, there is an annual overnight pack trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in July. The mountains bear testament to a historic rebellion led by the Native Americans, who were enslaved by the Spaniards for almost a century. Mortally wounded in the uprising, Francisco Torres, a Catholic missionary, let out his final words “Sangre de Cristo!” (Blood of Christ), his last vision that of the mountain peaks tinged blood red by the setting sun.

Guided nature hikes, fly-fishing, yoga classes and massage services are also on offer at the ranch, and in keeping with the conservation theme, there is a special week dedicated to the spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes. Over 27,000 Sandhill Cranes migrate through the San Luis Valley every year, and from 8-13 March conservation photographers Mike Forsberg and Dave Showalter, and naturalist John Rawinski will come together so guests can learn more about this natural phenomenon and build on their skills behind the lens.

Six nights with Ranch Rider costs from £1,495pp (two sharing) including accommodation, meals, most ranch activities (including riding), use of ranch facilities, taxes and gratuities. Excludes transfers and return flight from £895pp.

Ranch Rider will release its 2015 brochure in November. To request a copy visit www.ranchrider.com/brochure-request/

Images courtesy Ranch Rider