Dude ranches are one option for people who want to escape their modern
lives and dive into some adventure for a while. Horses, private fishing lakes,
cattle drives and line dancing are what dude ranches are all about. And the
person in charge of all that scenery and horse-sense is a dude ranch operator.
Dude ranch operators know all about the life of a cowboy from personal
experience. They are the people who oversee guest ranches. They manage the
ranch crew, run the day-to-day operations of the ranch and supervise other
While knowledge of ranching activities is important for this job, a business
education is equally important. Ranch operators need to be knowledgeable in
areas such as:
- Finances: business plans and loans
- Marketing: public relations and brochures
- Staff: training and motivating
- Insurance and horse liability
- Kitchen, pantry, dining room, meals and menus
- General information, gift shops
- Emergency preparedness and conflict resolution
- Horses: purchasing, leasing or obtaining permits
- Programs: children's, evening activities
Margie and Bob Howe own and operate a dude ranch in Wyoming. They agree
that operating a dude ranch requires skills from across the board.
"There are days when I think that if I put on paper everything we did,
no one would believe us. Just as a woman in the family is often the one who
maintains the spirit and the overall feel of the family, so it is for me on
a daily basis for the ranch family," says Margie Howe.
"In a week, I may be a mom, nurse, counselor, friend, manager, hike leader,
trail guide, cook, politician and hopefully, myself."
The Dude Ranchers' Association has some tips for those wanting to start
their own dude ranch. The dude ranches on the market today seem to be selling
for about $1.5 million and up. In addition, it takes most people from five
to seven years from the time they purchase or start a dude ranch operation
for it to begin to break even.
Ranch size can vary from 50 acres to many thousands of acres. What is most
important is access to large amounts of land for a riding program. Most ranches
adjoin large tracts of public land on which they have obtained special use
permits. Starting a ranch from raw land seems to cost even more than purchasing
an existing ranch.
Many dude ranches are only open seasonally. When guests arrive, ranch operators
have to work long and hard to both entertain the guests and operate the ranch.
"Our ranch is open from May through October, and during that time, you're
basically working from six a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m.," says dude ranch operator
Shannon Langly. "It's physically demanding, in terms of the upkeep of outdoor
activities and having to look after several hundred acres. You have to be
very alert and always aware of what everyone is doing at all times."
Because physical labor plays an important role in this job, people with
a physical disability may face serious problems. Entry-level positions usually
involve physical labor, like brushing horses and throwing out bales of hay
for the animals.
However, there are some sedentary tasks, like bookkeeping, that have to
be done on a dude ranch. These positions may accommodate physical disabilities.