Work on a Dude Ranch
The Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association offers 30 certified Colorado dude and guest ranches for tourists. Fun activities such as horseback riding, hiking, rafting, sitting around campfires, fishing and touring are all part of a day in the life of a tourist at a Colorado Dude Ranch.
These ranches provide lodging and meals as well as activities unique to each dude ranch, such as rock climbing, hot air ballooning, or guided fishing.
“We really get to know each and every guest, their likes and dislikes, and often become extended family by the time they leave,” said Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association Marketing Director Selina Heinz. “It’s truly an experience that brings many of our guests back year after year and one you really can’t put a price on.”
Guest ranches also offer everything from riding, river rafting, fishing, hiking, tennis and mountain biking to crafts photo workshops, swimming, hayrides, skiing, snowshoeing and much more. Related: Rafting Guide Jobs. These many activities and services mean there are opportunities and needs for many different types of workers at a dude ranch.
Courtney Frazier, Association Coordinator for the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association, talked about how to find and succeed at a job at one of the many Colorado dude and guest ranches.
“The dude and guest ranch members of our association collectively hire 800 to 1,000 employees each summer,” says Frazier. “Our staff members are an important part of the guest ranch experience. Ranch staff members provide exceptional guest services and Western hospitality that make our ranches some of the best in the West.”
What jobs are available?
Here is a list of typical summer jobs at a dude ranch (May-Aug/Sep):
Cooking and kitchen staff, wait staff, housekeeping and maintenance, horse care and wrangling, babysitters, kids counselors, teen counselors, office and marketing positions.
“Our ranches typically do most of their hiring for summer employment December-March,” says Frazier. “Many ranches do hire year round staff as well. But the positions are not as numerous as the seasonal positions.”
If someone is interested in applying for a ranch position, they need to apply directly with the ranch that interests them, says Frazier. There is no ‘general application’ that can be sent to all ranches in Colorado.
While Frazier says the hot jobs and those in most demand are those listed above, there are also potential opportunities in marketing, customer relations and office staff. While there are people needed to provide the services dude ranches offer, many people forget about opportunities on the business side of a dude ranch.
“Most ranches include room and board as well as meals in their compensation packages,” says Frazier. “This typically applies to all positions, however some folks might not have considered exercising their business degree while taking in the beautiful mountains that our Colorado ranches are located in.”
Wondering what type of experience or skill set is needed to work at a Colorado dude ranch? Frazier offers these scenarios to consider:
- Cook/Chef: Some ranches hire executive chefs/sous chefs from around the country to put together and create a fine dining experience for ranch guests. Some ranches take on culinary interns who continue to master their skills. Some ranches hire people who simply have a passion for cooking and want to expand their knowledge in working with a great team for a summer. It can also be a big boost to your future.
“This is a great position for someone interning as a chef or going through culinary school,” says Frazier. “Several big restaurant chains look seriously at those who have ranch kitchen experience.”
- Wait Staff/Cleaning Staff: It’s all about having the personal drive to offer exceptional customer service and attention to detail in these positions. The wait staff and cleaning crews are offered a unique experience at a ranch.
“Where else can you make some great money serving guests and getting to know them while, in your free time, have an abundance of outdoor options at your fingertips to occupy your free time?” says Frazier. “While working as a team and having fun, people who are in these positions tend to find that there’s a lot more to it than just serving coffee at a Colorado ranch. Experience is typically not necessary in these positions – however it certainly helps – but many ranches are willing to train. It comes down to having the right attitude, work ethic, and willingness and ability to learn to fill these positions.”
- Maintenance: This might be another hidden opportunity. Have experience as a car mechanic or simply have a knack for fixing/building? Would you rather be stuck in an auto garage all day in a foggy city or putting your hands to work keeping up the grounds of the ranch, fixing machinery, building new structures under the blue skies of Colorado? Experience and ability to complete tasks on your own is typically a pre-requisite, says Frazier, but some ranches will hire people with little to no experience to assist the maintenance team in keeping the ranch running.
“Again it comes down to having the right attitude and work ethic to get things done,” says Frazier.
- Kids/Teen Counselors: For this, it’s simple – your must love kids. Typically, ranches will look to folks pursuing a degree or with a completed degree in child education or development to fill these positions. A great kid’s counselor can make or break a family’s experience at a ranch, so ranches are very particular in who they choose to fill these shoes. Most ranches require that kids/teen counselors are CPR/First Aid certified.
- Wranglers: Horse experience is a must. However, even if you are a grand champion rider, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have what it takes to be a wrangler. Each wrangler must be able to asses riding abilities of the riders in their group and make sure their ride fits the guests experience level. Most wranglers are very outgoing and love to chat with guests. On top of the riding, wranglers are responsible for maintaining a heard of horses that can range from 25 to 100+ horses. Feeding, mucking up, moving, grooming, basic equine First aid and saddling are all typical tasks you are likely to find yourself doing on a daily basis as a wrangler. Most ranches require their wranglers to be CPR/First Aid certified. Some require additional certification provided from the ranch itself.
- Office/Marketing: Typically folks looking to these positions have a customer service and business background, says Frazier.
What are some misconceptions about working at a dude ranch?
Frazier added these thoughts about some things job seekers need to understand/realize before applying or seeking employment at a dude ranch:
- Many people who are looking for a career at a dude ranch start off being hired as a seasonal employee. So don’t be discouraged if you are looking for that full time job, and all that is available is seasonal work to start. You might be surprised to find what opportunities open up for you at a ranch through seasonal employment. Make sure your employer knows your wishes and they will surely keep you mind when starting to think about narrowing down their year round staff.
“My advice, make a name for yourself as a dedicated and valuable employee in the summer season,” says Frazier. “This is the bread and butter for all of our ranches and if you’re looking for that year round dream job, there’s no better time to prove yourself than in their busiest season.”
- It’s not all about the experience. Although most ranches do require experience for certain positions (listed above), someone looking for dude ranch work is typically pegged as a true ‘people person.’ Whether you are in the kitchen, cleaning cabins, or taking out rides, the staff is encouraged to interact with the guests on a regular basis.
- A common misconception might be that it’s a ‘piece of cake’ job. “Man, I get to ride horses all day and get paid for this? Awesome!” (Is something you might typically hear from someone
- looking to be a wrangler for example.) Regardless of what position you are looking to do at a ranch, you should expect to work hard, be tired at the end of the day, and pull your weight when it comes to the less glamorous sides of ranching (such as scooping manure). But hopefully in return you will be satisfied knowing that you were a big part in ‘running a ranch’ for a summer.
Five Keys to Success Working at a Dude Ranch
People person wanted: I’ve said it several times, but the ability to provide exceptional customer service and being a true ‘people person’ is key,” says Frazier.
Consider your location: Especially people looking for a long term career on a ranch. You may not think of it at first, but you are likely to be living several miles away from anything even close to resembling a city. Is that what you had in mind for your career? During the winter time many ranches go down to a ‘skeleton crew’ of just a few people. Can you picture yourself having the flexibility of working with many other staff members in the summer down to just few in the winter?
Consider the living arrangements/perks: Most ranches have ‘dorm like’ accommodations for their seasonal and year round employees. Are you comfortable sharing rooms/space with several other people? Obviously the housing is separated for female and male staff members, but common community living etiquette is a must. Some ranches do have accommodations set up for families and/or married couples working on the ranch as well.
But on that note – it’s important to consider that if you like to hike, bike, ride horses, raft, fish, you’ll be happy to know that as an employee those options are at your finger tips for your time off.
It’s an outdoorsman’s paradise. Meals and lodging are typically included in your compensation package – and it’s good food, the same top of the line meals offered to guests.
“Many times you will find that you are invited (and encouraged) to eat with the guests,” says Frazier. “You certainly won’t go hungry while working at a Colorado Dude Ranch. Many ranches also offer a staff room for games and to relax in down time.”
Show off your skills: Don’t be afraid to bring your other skills to the forefront when applying to a ranch. Do you have musical/acting experience? A professional photographer want-to-be? Were you a ‘trick rider’ back at home?
“You never know what a ranch will find helpful so make sure you highlight the skills you feel are unique regardless of how disconnected you may feel they would be from ranch work,” says Frazier.
Be open and honest in your interview. It may go without saying, but it is as much for your benefit as it is for the ranches. You don’t want to show up on the ranch and find that it might not be the best match for you or the ranch.
“Be prepared to work a 6 days per week during the summer season,” says Frazier. “Most ranches have a 6-7 night stay offered in the summer and you will likely find yourself with a 6 day work week with one day off. This changes a bit in the off-season.”
While pay for the various jobs vary greatly – and each ranch has a different compensation plan, Frazier said most ranches offer salaried and hourly pay, that includes tips, room and board and 3 meals a day, as well as free us of all facilities during free time.
Searching for a Job
When searching for a job at a dude ranch, Frazier offers these tips:
- Apply early. With the recent abundance of extremely qualified applicants, many ranches are able to completely fill their staff by mid to late March. Apply early and apply to a few of your favorite ranches.
- Make a great impression on the phone. Many ranches hold phone interviews for folks applying out of state. Don’t take this interview lightly. Keep in mind there is a lot of competition out there right now, so your time on the phone with your interviewer is critical.
- Ask your school about using your time at the ranch toward internship credits. Especially those in the culinary, equine science and business fields. You might be surprised.
- Make sure you have done your research for the ranch you are applying to. Each ranch has its own unique features and personalities. Make sure you find the one that is a good match for you to apply to. It also helps to know a bit about the ranch before your interview.
- Do you want to be a leader and make a career out of dude ranching? Make sure your interviewer/ employer knows about your leadership experience. Each ‘crew’ typically has a ‘crew leader’ (head chef, head wrangler). Ranches are always looking for solid leadership.
- Don’t discount the volunteers. Many of our ranches have members of their staff who volunteer their time. If you have the burning desire to work on a ranch and the ability to volunteer your time, you’re in luck. Most ranches will be happy to talk with you about various volunteer opportunities on the ranch.