Dude Ranch Operator  What They Do

Just the Facts

Lodging Managers Career Video

Insider Info

dotDude 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.

dotDude 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 activities.

dotWhile 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

dotMargie 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."

dotThe 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.

dotRanch 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.

dotMany 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."

dotBecause 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.

At a Glance

Manage the day-to-day operations of a dude ranch

  • This job requires excellent people skills
  • Much of the work is outdoors
  • Extended physical activities are often a part of the job