Dude Ranch Working Conditions
Without exception, dude ranch jobs are hard work. You're on your feet, working outside, handling any combination of petulant horses, messy bathrooms, excitable children, freshly cut vegetables and nervous first-time cowboys. We've covered the benefits of committing to a ranch, but what about the actual day-to-day operations?
The summer season, when most staff are employed, lasts from mid-May to September. During that time, almost every ranch asks for six-day weeks. Some spread 40 hours over those six days, but most admit right off the bat that this will not be your typical 9 to 5. Your hours loosely depend on your role. Everyone is usually up and ready by breakfast, after which you will keep yourself occupied until dinnertime. If you're not a wrangler, this may include a broad range of duties including housekeeping, waitressing, nannying, office work, and helping out with hikes, cattle round ups, trail rides, or other activities. It's definitely not boring, but it is tough. Additionally, the close interaction with guests assures that you're never entirely off duty. Meals are generally eaten with guests, and staff are expected to participate in the after-dinner entertainment.
This is where it becomes crucial that you honestly enjoy interacting with people and engaging in the activities - if hayrides and horseshoes sound like work, you'll burn out quickly. A previous ranch employee said it best: "Work is challenging mentally and physically with long hours, sometimes 70+ hours/week. Everyone pulls their own weight."
Dude ranches pride themselves on their Western flair, and that extends to the staff's presentation. The universal uniform consists of jeans (without holes!), a button-down western-style shirt (occasionally supplied), cowboy boots and, of course, a cowboy hat. Kitchen staff may wear chef's whites while on duty, but everyone is expected to dress appropriately at any time when they may encounter guests. Most ranches specifically ban tee shirts, baseball hats, open-toed shoes, and anything remotely baggy, grungy, or urban. No tattoos or piercings beyond the ear may be visible, jewelry and make-up is kept to a minimum, and only natural hairstyles and colors should apply. Dude ranches are serious about their image, and it's a pretty darn conservative one.
Oh yeah, one more little detail: money. Most ranch jobs are salaried. Some pay by the hour, but the majority offer a monthly or bi-weekly stipend that is supplemented by overtime pay and tips. Overtime rates vary, but usually kick in after 40 hours per week and pay time and a half. Tips obviously vary as well, but can add a surprising chunk to your monthly paycheck; sometimes dude ranch employees take more per month in tips than in actual salary. In terms of numbers, most advertised positions range from $500 to $1,500 per month depending on the position. End-of-season bonuses for those who complete their contracts are also common, so it's hard to predict exactly how much you'll take for the duration of your job. Regardless, dude ranches are excellent places to save money. While the wages aren't spectacular, the financial temptations are essentially non-existent and room and board provided. You'll be amazed how quickly it adds up.