Great American Horse Drive to kick up dust Sunday |

Great American Horse Drive to kick up dust Sunday

400 horses trot through Maybell each spring at famous event

Noelle Leavitt Riley

The Great American Horse Drive — in which 400 domesticated horses are driven 62 miles from a ranch near Browns Park to a ranch 12 miles west of Craig — takes place each spring. The goal is to safely transport horses by foot rather than by tractor-trailer. The annual drive is also a popular tourism event.
Noelle Leavitt Riley

The clicking of horseshoes trotting down the highway will once again ring through Maybell Sunday for those attending the Great American Horse Drive.

Rex Walker is the founder of Sombrero Ranches — the company that hosts the Great American Horse Drive each year. He poses with horses from the horse drive in Maybell last spring.Noelle Leavitt Riley

If you've never been, it's a sight to see — just ask those who religiously attend each year, lining the streets to anxiously await the endless herd of 400 domesticated horses that passes through the small Moffat County town.

The goal of the horse drive is twofold: first, it’s a way to conveniently transfer hundreds of horses by foot from one pasture to the next rather than transporting them via truck; second, it creates a unique tourist attraction, not just for spectators, but also for those from around the globe who pay $1,200 to act like real cowboys and cowgirls for a few days.

This is the 19th year Sombrero Ranches has opened the drive to paying clients.

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The whole shebang is organized by Sombrero Ranches, essentially a horse rental business based in Moffat County and owned by Rex Walker and his wife Queeda Mantle.

"Every year, it's a wonderful thing to see the people who come here from all over the world. This year, we've got some from Germany and France and even some from Texas," Walker said.

The couple runs several horse ranches throughout Colorado and one in Phoenix, Arizona, but their two Moffat County ranches have a historical meaning like no other.

The Mantle family homesteaded in Hells Canyon near the Yampa River in Moffat County in 1926. Queeda has penned two books — "The Mantle Ranch" and "Last Ranch in Hells Canyon" — about the harshness and beauty of growing up in an area that had no roads in nor out. Both books are available at the Moffat County Library in Craig or at the Museum of Northwest Colorado.

To date, the couple owns roughly 1,500 horses on all of their ranches, which is down from the 3,000 they used to own.

Now 82 years old, Walker relies on his six children to help with the ranches, as well as his long-time friend and business partner Donald Broom who runs the Western Slope division of Sombrero Ranches.

The two Moffat County ranches, one near Browns Park and the other 12 miles west of Craig, are 62 miles apart.

Each spring, tourists pay Sombrero Ranches to help drive the horses from the Browns Park ranch to the Craig ranch. They camp in bunkers at the ranch in Craig in the days leading up to the event. This year, 45 people paid to help drive the horses.

For those who just want to see the horse drive in action, there's no cost. All you have to do is show up in downtown Maybell around 10 a.m., park your car along U.S. Highway 40 and wait for the horses to trot through town by the hundreds.

Typically, the horses show up between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., but getting there early is essential to getting a good parking spot. Spectators can also enjoy the sight of cowboys and cowgirls decked out in ‘old West’ garb.

"Most people who are on the drive here are in Western clothes," Broom said.

Some confuse the horses with the wild horses from Sand Wash Basin, but Sombrero’s horses are domesticated, though their Browns Park ranch is just across the road from Sand Wash Basin.

To add to the festivities, vendors will set up in the Maybell Park between 8 and 9 a.m. on Sunday the west entrance. Here are a few of the activities for family and kids that are highlighted by Moffat County Tourism Association:

• Shopping, breakfast and wagon rides start at 9 a.m.

• Horses come through between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m.

• Old-fashion games begin at 11:30 a.m.

• Bingo (cash prizes) starts at 1 p.m.

"Check out the Maybell Women's Club Booth. The 100 Years Fair Committee will be collecting memorabilia for next years' 100 Year Moffat County Fair and doing sign-ups for the old-fashion games. Also, a Sombrero Horse Drive Jacket will be auctioned off," stated an email from the tourism association.