Riding proud

Visitors, locals gallop in for Maybell's annual horse round-up

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By lunchtime, everyone's fresh cowboy clothes were dulled with dust.

On Saturday morning, cowboys and dudes gathered at corral 40 miles northwest of Sunbeam to begin driving 600 horses to Sombrero Ranch. Their clothes were nice and clean and everyone snapped photos. The horses were all corralled.

Then it was time to work.

"Opening the gate is the most important part of the job. When you open the gate, these guys just go," said Queeda Walker, owner of Sombrero Ranch.

Once cowboys opened the gate, the horses ran out one after another in a long line of brown and red and white.

The faster riders, mostly the cowboys who had spent the past several days rounding the horses up in a 62,000-acre area ranging from Browns Park to Sandwash Basin, rode in front, guiding the herd down the road and trying to slow them down.

Bringing up the rear were many of the Sombrero Ranch guests, each of whom had shelled out $2,050 to help with the horse drive. There were about 100 people and about 600 horses.

"I still have an adrenaline rush from that first hour," said Front Range resident John Rohde.

Sombrero Ranch bills the drive as the largest horse drive in the nation.

The riders were supported by drivers hauling wagons of fresh dude-ranch horses to rotate out for the guests. The cowboys simply roped a horse out of the herd if they wanted to switch rides.

Each fall, the horses are turned out for the winter.

In the spring, they're rounded up and driven 50 miles to Sombrero Ranch, east of Maybell.

There, they are re-shoed, wormed, deloused, and the cowboys get them accustomed to having someone on their backs again.

The horses are then shipped to corrals in Estes Park, Grand Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Steamboat Springs and other vacation destinations to provide rides for tourists.

For Walker, who was raised on a ranch that is now within the boundaries of Dinosaur National Monument, the drive is a family reunion of sorts.

Although she can no longer ride, most of her children and grandchildren come out to help with and run the drive.

On Friday, her 2-year old grandson rode for the entire day.

The horses are herded down County Road 10 to Route 318 through Sunbeam, and everyone camps for the night at an old trailer near that village. On Sunday morning they start up again and ride down U.S. Highway 40 through Maybell.

Joe Nerney, an eighth-grader from Steamboat Springs, won the opportunity to participate in the roundup from a drawing at school. Nerney is involved with the Steamboat Rodeo, so he's used to riding on a horse.

But he admitted to getting a little saddle sore.

"When you're not full sprinting it hurts some, but you get used to it," he said.

The Walker family has been mounting the horse drive for the past 40 years, Queeda said.

After Rex Walker married Queeda, he became friends and business partners with her brother, Pat Mantle.

They bought five horses to give rides at a church camp.

In 1959, the brothers-in-law built a stable in Estes Park.

They got into the rodeo business, got out of it, and kept buying horses until today, when Sombrero ranch claims 2,000 horses.

Pat Walker used to invite all his friends on the drive.

About twice as many people as this past weekend's drive showed up, and it was a true Wild West party, Queeda said.

Pat Walker passed away a few years ago, and then Sombrero opted to begin taking paying guests on the drive.

For Sue Elliott of Wisconsin, the drive was her fourth in as many years.

She was invited to help round up the horses for the second time.

"I love the horses, I love Colorado, and I love the people that come out to do this every year," Elliott said.

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