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Sombrero Ranches of Colorado

Tony Bruguiere, Ft. Collins, Colo. Wranglers move the 700 head of horses through Maybell, Colorado on their way to the Sombrero Ranch.

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Colorado can boast of having the largest stable horse operation in the country. Sombrero Ranches is headquartered in Longmont, Colorado and provides horses not only for its own stables in Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Meeker, Steamboat Springs, Granby, Snow Mountain Ranch and Allenspark, but also for stables throughout the West.

What has grown to become Sombrero Ranches started rather humbly in 1958 when Rex Walker decided he wanted to get into the horse business. Rex, who was living in Boulder at the time, says of the Sombrero beginning, “The first year we rented 16 horses and had an old broken down Chevy truck that I bought from Roy Barnes. We rented some horses to some people in Breckenridge as well as some people outside of Estes Park, and that’s how we got started.”

From that inauspicious beginning, Sombrero Ranches and the extended Walker family has grown to be the largest provider of stable horses in the United States. Besides the operations in Colorado, family members have operations in Montana and Wyoming. Walker estimates that the family owns over 5,000 horses. Rex went on to say, “We now rent horses in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California, Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico. We rent them any where people want them.”

Think about the logistics of an operation that large for a moment. Consider the number of saddles, blankets, and tack required. Horses have to be fed, doctored, and shod. Trucks have to transport horses to stables. There have to be managers, wranglers, sales staff, and clerical personnel. It is no wonder that Sombrero Ranches in Colorado has a staff of over 100, including its own saddle makers and farriers.

All of this is coordinated out of Niwot, Colorado, where 400 head of horses are wintered. Rex Walker says, “Niwot is the headquarters for the horse operation. It’s 280 acres and we’ve had it 20 something years now. We raise our hay there and it’s the distribution point for the horses.”

Mark and Freda Bishop manage the horse operation at Sombrero Ranches. They were in control of this year’s very successful horse drive. Rex Walker says of his daughter Freda, her husband Mark, and the rest of the family members, “They are the heart of the business going forward. (My wife) Queeda and I are 75 now and our race is about run. It’s time for the youngsters to take over.”

Driving their horses from wintering in Brown’s Park in far northwestern Colorado along back roads and Highway 40 to Craig, Colorado had long been a practice of the Sombrero Ranches. Twenty five years ago Rex Walker, decided to share with others the western experience of gathering and moving a large herd of horses over 62 miles. Rex opened his horse drive up to a limited number of guest riders, and the Great American Horse Drive was born.

The tradition continues, and in 2009 Sombrero wranglers, guest wranglers, and guest riders drove 700 head from the gather pens, located 30 miles North West of Maybell, Colorado to the Sombrero Ranch 10 miles west of Craig, Colorado.

Because this year was the 50th anniversary of the horse drive, only 20 guest riders were accepted because of the large number of guest wranglers that volunteered to help out on the drive.

The Sombrero wranglers gather and move the herd from Brown’s Park to the pens. There, the horses are sorted and inspected to cull out those that have gone lame over the winter, are injured, or judged by Mark Bishop, coordinator of the horse drive, to not be able to make the 32 miles that are on asphalt.

While all of this is going on, the less experienced guest riders have been back at Sombrero Ranch learning the skills required to move a large herd of horses. Even though the guest riders pay to be included in the Great American Horse Drive, they are expected to be participating members of the drive. Experienced wranglers teach them the skills required, and the guest riders have many miles of practice in the saddle before the drive starts.

The guest riders work hard getting ready for the drive, and they are not coddled. There are fun events, but most of their time is spent in the saddle, which can be a shock to some of the riders. Debora Pearson of Arvada, Colorado, spoke of her experience as a guest rider, “We’ve spent a lot of time going out and driving small groups of horses back. Today is the day before the drive and we are concentrating on surrounding a pod of horses and controlling their movement. I guess we have spent over 60 miles in the saddle so far.”

Experience is not required, although having some will definitely make the time as a guest rider more enjoyable. Guest riders that complete the drive receive a Gate to Gate trophy buckle. This year the 14 guest riders that completed the drive and 13 guest wranglers received a special 25th Anniversary edition of the Gate to Gate trophy buckle.

Sombrero Ranches is keeping the heritage of the West alive with its annual Horse Drive. The Great American Horse Drive is a real and vanishing western experience. If you would like to participate in the 2010 Drive, please contact Sombrero Ranches at (303) 442-0258 ” space is limited, and it fills up fast.

If the Horse Drive sounds like a little too much, take a trip up to Estes Park for a ride at the best known of the Sombrero stables. For a High Country riding experience, try the two stables that are located in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Colorado can boast of having the largest stable horse operation in the country. Sombrero Ranches is headquartered in Longmont, Colorado and provides horses not only for its own stables in Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Meeker, Steamboat Springs, Granby, Snow Mountain Ranch and Allenspark, but also for stables throughout the West.

What has grown to become Sombrero Ranches started rather humbly in 1958 when Rex Walker decided he wanted to get into the horse business. Rex, who was living in Boulder at the time, says of the Sombrero beginning, “The first year we rented 16 horses and had an old broken down Chevy truck that I bought from Roy Barnes. We rented some horses to some people in Breckenridge as well as some people outside of Estes Park, and that’s how we got started.”

From that inauspicious beginning, Sombrero Ranches and the extended Walker family has grown to be the largest provider of stable horses in the United States. Besides the operations in Colorado, family members have operations in Montana and Wyoming. Walker estimates that the family owns over 5,000 horses. Rex went on to say, “We now rent horses in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California, Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico. We rent them any where people want them.”

Think about the logistics of an operation that large for a moment. Consider the number of saddles, blankets, and tack required. Horses have to be fed, doctored, and shod. Trucks have to transport horses to stables. There have to be managers, wranglers, sales staff, and clerical personnel. It is no wonder that Sombrero Ranches in Colorado has a staff of over 100, including its own saddle makers and farriers.

All of this is coordinated out of Niwot, Colorado, where 400 head of horses are wintered. Rex Walker says, “Niwot is the headquarters for the horse operation. It’s 280 acres and we’ve had it 20 something years now. We raise our hay there and it’s the distribution point for the horses.”

Mark and Freda Bishop manage the horse operation at Sombrero Ranches. They were in control of this year’s very successful horse drive. Rex Walker says of his daughter Freda, her husband Mark, and the rest of the family members, “They are the heart of the business going forward. (My wife) Queeda and I are 75 now and our race is about run. It’s time for the youngsters to take over.”

Driving their horses from wintering in Brown’s Park in far northwestern Colorado along back roads and Highway 40 to Craig, Colorado had long been a practice of the Sombrero Ranches. Twenty five years ago Rex Walker, decided to share with others the western experience of gathering and moving a large herd of horses over 62 miles. Rex opened his horse drive up to a limited number of guest riders, and the Great American Horse Drive was born.

The tradition continues, and in 2009 Sombrero wranglers, guest wranglers, and guest riders drove 700 head from the gather pens, located 30 miles North West of Maybell, Colorado to the Sombrero Ranch 10 miles west of Craig, Colorado.

Because this year was the 50th anniversary of the horse drive, only 20 guest riders were accepted because of the large number of guest wranglers that volunteered to help out on the drive.

The Sombrero wranglers gather and move the herd from Brown’s Park to the pens. There, the horses are sorted and inspected to cull out those that have gone lame over the winter, are injured, or judged by Mark Bishop, coordinator of the horse drive, to not be able to make the 32 miles that are on asphalt.

While all of this is going on, the less experienced guest riders have been back at Sombrero Ranch learning the skills required to move a large herd of horses. Even though the guest riders pay to be included in the Great American Horse Drive, they are expected to be participating members of the drive. Experienced wranglers teach them the skills required, and the guest riders have many miles of practice in the saddle before the drive starts.

The guest riders work hard getting ready for the drive, and they are not coddled. There are fun events, but most of their time is spent in the saddle, which can be a shock to some of the riders. Debora Pearson of Arvada, Colorado, spoke of her experience as a guest rider, “We’ve spent a lot of time going out and driving small groups of horses back. Today is the day before the drive and we are concentrating on surrounding a pod of horses and controlling their movement. I guess we have spent over 60 miles in the saddle so far.”

Experience is not required, although having some will definitely make the time as a guest rider more enjoyable. Guest riders that complete the drive receive a Gate to Gate trophy buckle. This year the 14 guest riders that completed the drive and 13 guest wranglers received a special 25th Anniversary edition of the Gate to Gate trophy buckle.

Sombrero Ranches is keeping the heritage of the West alive with its annual Horse Drive. The Great American Horse Drive is a real and vanishing western experience. If you would like to participate in the 2010 Drive, please contact Sombrero Ranches at (303) 442-0258 ” space is limited, and it fills up fast.

If the Horse Drive sounds like a little too much, take a trip up to Estes Park for a ride at the best known of the Sombrero stables. For a High Country riding experience, try the two stables that are located in Rocky Mountain National Park.


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