Working at Rainbow
By Arden Foster on January 2nd, 2019
For my love of the West, I've written this blog:
There are so many opportunities out there to expand your horizons, jump off the deep end, and do something completely different. I personally found my leap of faith in Rainbow Trout Ranch, a dude ranch tucked away in the southern mountains of Colorado. It has opened so many doors for me, personally and professionally, and has taken me down roads and introduced dreams I never knew that I had.
I’m not here to tell you that the dude ranch industry is your future or to try to talk you into a job you won’t like. But I am trying to tell you that there is another path to adulthood after college than just jumping into a traditional job – and that is seasonal work. It is an opportunity to meet new people as coworkers and guests - and not just from the United States - and to get to know them beyond friendly greetings. These people become lifelong friends.
I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta and rode English, and was crazy about horses but wasn’t going to be able to do it for a living. Graduation from college was growing near and an office job was becoming more and more ominous. I knew that I wasn’t ready for the "9 to 5"stage of life. With a little luck, I met someone who knew of a ranch in Colorado where I could actually get paid to ride and meet new people – two of my favorite things. Not knowing what a dude ranch was, what a wrangler did, and barely the knowledge to throw a western saddle, I applied. I was fortunate that the Rainbow Trout Ranch was very understanding of my lack of knowledge and they were willing to teach me, and I went in with an open mind to learn as much as I could. This was in 2015, and I have been with this same ranch now for four seasons.
Since I have been out in the west, I have of course posted photos to social media. I, like most of my dude ranching friends, get asked all the time, “What do you DO out there?” or “How do I get to do that kind of work?” So, with dude ranching in my heart, and my desire to share it and invite people to join this lifestyle, I am doing my best to paint a picture of the amazing world that I have been lucky enough to become a part of since college.
There are many dude ranches out there, big to small, luxurious to rustic, and everything in between. I think there are three keys that are worth pointing out as you consider a position at ANY dude or guest ranch.
- Find the right program for you
- Go into the experience with an open mind. No matter your prior experience, respect the owners, managers, and return staff. Earn your spurs.
- This is a JOB. An incredible, potentially life changing, and eye-opening JOB. Your job is to provide the most amazing experience for the guests and you do work hard. If you like the idea of the vacation but not the work, maybe consider being a guest, not a staff member 😊.
What I’m going to cover in this entry is an overview of what working at Rainbow Tout Ranch looks like, and what it takes to be a part of this incredible team. It’s more than just liking the mountains, it’s more than just liking horses, fishing, or hiking: it’s about being a team player creating the greatest environment for wonderful guests from around the world to feel like a part of our ranch family.
What is a dude ranch or a guest ranch?
A vacation that includes horses and fishing to some degree, with variations on size, stay durations, and activities.
Our associations create standards to which ranches must hold themselves to in order to be a part of them. This means that RTR upholds high standards as a guest ranch, not just for the ranch but also for the staff members.
- Dude Ranch Association (DRA)
- Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association (CDGRA)
- Trip Advisor
- This is a great way to get to know the ranch. Read what the guests have to say – it’s not just about the scenery, not just about the fishing or the horses, but also about the staff. How wonderful it is to get to know the staff, and how the staff takes the time to get to know them personally.
- Kids’ & Teen Programs
- Adults Only (September!)
- This isn’t necessarily a program, but a time of the season for RTR. Our last four weeks are Adults Only, and it’s a fabulous time at the ranch. The leaves will often begin to change while we still have guests, and the feel of the ranch is wonderful. The family weeks of the summer are so much fun, but the last four adult weeks are a great way to top off an incredible summer (Jane always says summer is like a great meal, and September is dessert!)
- Horseback Riding
- White Water Rafting
- Trap-shooting & Archery
- We have two dance nights a week, (line dancing and square dancing) and we typically only have to go to one. However, many people go to both because they are so fun!
- We have a really fun singalong Saturday night, and it is typically the last time we will see guests before they leave the next morning. It’s always so bitter sweet, as we are so happy to have had a wonderful week with them, but sad to see them go.
- Lodge Lounging
- This is not a required activity, or even an activity at all. But often, we find ourselves catching up with guests in the lodge, getting to know them better, and creating a friendship. We also play games (lots of cards), do puzzles, or play guitar.
Understand that some of these jobs might be more broken down, or combined or varied depending on the size of the ranch, number of guests, longevity of stay, etc.. You will have to talk to each ranch separately to determine the full extent of each job and opportunity. This is YOUR job.
As fun as some of the jobs might sound - such as getting paid to hike or fish - keep in mind that you’re there to represent the ranch, and take care of your guests. You are on the ranch to keep them safe AND help them have the vacation of a lifetime.
No matter if you’re having a bad day (there are a few exceptions), you should always be “on.” The question “How are you doing today?” is rhetorical – strictly a common greeting. Leave your private life in your staff quarters - it’s important you don’t let your personal difficulties affect someone’s vacation.
- Our fly-fishing guides are so important. They aren’t just helping people catch fish, but they are showing them how to enjoy themselves in the great outdoors. In addition, they’re helping our guests to learn about how to take care of the river, not to overfish it, and to treat fish with respect.
- They also double as our maintenance crew, so when they aren’t guiding or doing their casting lessons, they help David and Doug around the ranch fixing fence, splitting wood, plumbing, doing carpentry, etc.
- Buckaroos (3-5 years old)
- The buckaroos always seem to be a crowd favorite. They are sweet and willing, and easy going. We typically have between 1-3 buckaroos at one time, but if there are more, we always jump in to help from wherever we can. Our buckaroos have a specific horse or two that is their horse to be led around on for the week, and they go on fun rides in the morning down to the picnic grounds, or around the pasture. In the afternoon, they often find themselves playing in the pool! A big part of their time with us is spent learning about the west through kids’ books, games, and singalong songs.
Kids’ & Teen Counselor/Wranglers
Our kids’ and teen programs are very hands on, very involved. There are slightly different structures and needs in terms of counselors for each group.
When it comes to our kids’ and teen programs, we are very dedicated to making sure that all these different ages have a great time. When kids and teens have a good time, parents have a good time!
- Cowpokes (6-11 years old)
- Our cowpoke program is always a blast! You can usually hear them singing as they come in from their rides! Each cowpoke gets their own horse for the week, and they go out on rides with their counselor. This means that their counselor should be comfortable around and on horses, and capable of helping them learn to ride better.
- Teens (12-17 years old)
- A wonderful, and sometimes challenging, group, the teens are often the most rewarding. They’ll come into the ranch on Sundays wondering why they have to go to middle of nowhere for a week, and with their parents at that, but the next Sunday, they are sad that the week went by so quickly. Their counselor, like the cowpoke counselor, goes on rides with them. This means they should be comfortable around and on horses, so that they are capable of helping their riders become better equestrians.
- Some of the most important people on the ranch. This crew alternates on a rotation schedule each week for housekeeping/waitstaff but they will also rotate for other tasks such as being the dishwasher, serving the kids’ cookouts and so on
- Whether serving food, or delivering towels, it’s always about having a smile and being kind. The people around you want to get to know you!
- It’s as much fun as you make it. Often, the housekeeping crews will leave fun notes and riddles when they clean, and the guests will play along! It gets really involved, and the kids always love it! The housekeeping/waitstaff have often come up with really fun introductions to get the guests engaged involving “The Cleaning Posse” and offering a special award at the end of the week. This is just one example of a fun way staff have come up with to get to know the guests.
- RTR has had a wonderful and delicious menu for years, served family style. It’s up to the chef and the assistant chef to do what they do best and make people happy through food! It’s all about timing, and making sure that everything is prepared properly.
- Similar to the Chef/Assistant Chef in that it is about making sure guests have delicious baked good s and desserts. We have a baked goods menu that we pull from for our morning breads, muffins, cookies, etc. The ranch serves a baked good with every meal, and many of our return guests have a favorite! The baker is responsible for choosing and preparing an extra special dessert for our Friday night adults only Candlelight Dinner in the lodge. And, as with all our staff, the baker must be capable of making adjustments for the altitude, working hard and having fun.
Hiking Guide (usually not a specific person but a variety of staff members in other positions who would like to also guide hikes with guests.)
- As a wrangler, it’s more than just a love of horses. It is also a desire to make people happy, and the capability to manage many different levels of riders and help them be the best riders they can be while they are with the ranch.
- The horse herd is brought in by wranglers every morning, and guest horses are saddled, usually before breakfast. That’s often the easy part. It’s all about the people, and your ability to take care of them and make them feel a part of the ranch family and fall in love with the west!
- We eat the same meals as the guests! Every day, the staff eats together at breakfast in the staff dining room. At lunch and dinner, it’s encouraged (and rewarding) to sit with the guests in the dining room. It’s a unique experience to have the ability to sit with them, and the guests always comment on how nice it is to be integrated.
- The housing at the ranch is a small fee per month, but this includes all three meals a day, as well as room and board. We also have use of the laundry service. The accommodations are usually 3-4 people a room, with a shared bathroom.
Days Off/Off Time
- Each staff member gets one day off a week. With the of- time, you’re welcome to stay on the ranch, but people often go on adventures or day trips. It’s a great time to see as much of Colorado and New Mexico while you can. We’ve even had groups of staff go as far as the Grand Canyon!
- While we don’t have cell reception at the ranch(don’t worry, service is only a 25 minute drive away), we do have WiFi. However, the WiFi isn’t always the fastest, it is intermittent, and it is subject to go out on occasion if there is inclement weather up the valley. But we have landlines you’re welcome to use if you need to get in touch with the outside world. And you might even begin to enjoy the lack of cell phone coverage…
- Usually the kinds of people who do this type of work are adventurous. Taking the time to befriend them and build a meaningful relationship could mean a travel buddy, someone to go visit, or a lifelong friend.
- Treat your employer well, and they might be able to help secure winter work through friends and connections that they have in the industry – and they might want you back for another season.
The guests and clients that go visit Rainbow Trout Ranch can be people from humble means, but they are usually people with high-paying jobs and important positions. However, when they are at the ranch, they just want to be “John” or “Jane,” not “Dr. Smith, doctor and lawyer.” Taking the time to get to know them and let them get to know you can lead to incredible job and travel, connection opportunities. The sky is the limit!
- Note: The people that go to these ranches are often just trying to live the western lifestyle, even if just for the week. They are DYING to be you, no matter the job. Just to be free of societal obligations, even just for a summer, sounds magical to them. They WANT to get to know you, and then often, they want to help you.
A job like this on your resume might do more for you than you realize. It will set you apart from the other applicants and teach you more than you could have predicted. Here’s a few things a job on a dude ranch can show your potential employer:
- “Team Player” attitude
- Ability to learn new skills and take initiative
- Goes on… This could get you past the “need” for “2 years of experience”
The Van Berkum family could now also be a great reference for you! They are a credible source given that they have worked, eaten, breathed, danced, and more with you, and could be an asset in landing a dream job.
In my four years in the dude ranching industry, I have obviously become a big proponent for this lifestyle. I have learned more about myself, and what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it than I ever could have imagined. This ranch has given me more opportunities than I can count, helped me in more ways than I can explain, and inspired me to create dreams I never even knew I would ever want.
I hope that this has helped anyone who is considering a seasonal job. Seasonal work isn’t for everyone, but I want to spread the word that it is more attainable than some might think. This kind of vacation is what many people dream of in the west, but the industry needs the vibrant people to fuel it.