The Economics of The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch
Frequently guests’ remark that Guest Ranching in general is a pricey vacation and they wonder where the money goes, how do we spend the revenue and what they are getting in return.
Guest Ranches Are an Interesting Breed
To answer this question one needs to understand a little more about guest ranching as an industry in general. We are a mix of a ranch, hospitality and entertainment, equestrian, outdoors, hotel, restaurant and farming business. We operate mostly seasonal and are usually located in challenging places in terms of logistics: access to population, staff, upkeep of assets like fences (wildlife damage), building maintenance (snow, summer, huge varieties in terms of temperature), the need to feed our life stock 4 months hay in the winter), etc.
At the same time in the eyes of the government we are not considered a ranch, and the guest ranch industry being a rather small business segment in the big economic picture, does not enjoy subsidies that ranches and farms do. If expenses go up, the weather goes bad, wildlife damage, competition from international & global markets, etc. there is no government institution, unions or a $288 Billion US Farm Bill to help or subsidize us. We are not part of a big hotel chain that can absorb losses nor do we have access to huge marketing and public relations programs.
We do not enjoy smaller taxes on the property we own the way operational ranches do.
The North American Dude Ranch Association to which some of us belong and the Wyoming Dude Ranch Association are non-profit organizations and do not subsidize us. We pay a fee and these organizations do an outstanding job maximizing the small contribution we pay. As you can imagine we do not have access to influential big lobby networks, industry unions or farm organizations.
We have to maintain and manage assets, people and horses year around for a season that provides income during 6 months of the year at best. Many guest ranches only operate 3 months a year.
This means we are real independent entrepreneurs juggling a lot of different skills to offer you a memorable vacation.
To keep things in perspective, we are talking about the guest ranch industry. The ranch & farm side (non hospitality) of a guest ranch does enjoy some of the above mentioned subsidies; however most guest ranches are separate entities operating on their own even when owned sometimes by the same owners or partners.
As a result of what we explained earlier, some guest ranches, are undercapitalized and run on a shoe-string to make ends meet. And like any other business in such situation could take shortcuts on such things like safety, quality, staff, maintenance, etc. which tend to effect your experience.
Look for your DRA logo when searching for a guest ranch.
Guest Ranching in North America – how are they organized?
There are over 1100 guest ranches in North America and Canada. Only 10 % of those are members of The North American Dude Ranch Association to whom we pay a membership fee and who enforces all over standards in terms of hospitality management, safety, education, marketing, advise, etc.
We are also a member of The Wyoming Dude Ranch Association. While the DRA (North American Dude Ranch Association) is one organization, most states have independent Dude Ranch Associations of which not necessarily all members are members of the DRA.
Equestrian Travel & Guest Ranching
Guest Ranching is well known as a concept in North America & Canada however not necessarily in Europe. While of course most guest ranches have horses and horseback riding is one of the main activities, few are really what we call “Riding Ranches”. Many European experienced riders looking for a Riding Experience or Equestrian Vacation Out West, in the Rocky Mountains, the wide open plains, etc. are disappointed when booking a riding vacation at just any guest ranch.
These riders should look for Riding Guest Ranches where the focus is on Riding & Equestrian, with well trained horses, experienced equestrian staff, on site trainers, diversity of rides, etc. Look for the combination of a Riding & Working Cattle Ranch and you will be sure that the riding is mostly up to par.
Check out the DRA Horse Safety Certified logo to make sure it is also safe and the staff has been trained to take you out.
What about The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch ?
The Hideout is an Upscale; Riding & Working Cattle Ranch riding and enjoying over 250,000 acres.
The Guest Ranch is limited to 25 people / riders and managed as a business entirely independent from the ranching and farming side of the outfit. However we do share the 250,000 acres, do cattle work for the ranch with our guests and are organized to offer a safe and unique experience. We take pride in always improving your experience. We are well capitalized to make sure we can constantly upgrade our assets, horses, hire the best equestrian seasonal people, keep key staff year around and have great horses.
The Hideout Horse Program – Authentic Horses
Having horses does not automatically mean you have a horse program that will satisfy people who know or would like to know about horses…
When it comes to horses we have a full time trainer on staff who has started over 1500 young, unbroken horses and who is also our head wrangler. He and the team works with all our horses to fine tune them even during the off season.
Important to realize is that most guest ranches, due to seasonality of the industry and the locations, the “off-season” is basically longer than the guest season. This means that if you do not work with your horses most of that time, there will surely be some issues when the season starts. And once the season is over we also check and ride all our horses to retrain and get the bad habits out that some of them picked up during the guest season.
We own most of our horses, where many places lease their horses for the season, which means that the horses you ride at The Hideout, are well fed, well shot and once or twice a year a specialized equine vet vaccinates them, flushes teeth and does a general check up. Sometimes we lease additional horses and prior to introducing them to the guest string, we ride each one of them and when they are delivered to The Hideout we put them in quarantine, feed them well, vaccinate and have the vet check them out completely.
Being a great technical rider and the ability to sit out a buck, does not necessarily mean one really understands horses and how they think. We adopt a Natural & Authentic Horsemanship culture, which means that we hire people meeting the principles of The Hideout 3 C’s to handle our horses, and refrain from applying high pressure unless it is really needed.
The Hideout Mustangs
Ramon Castro our trainer and head wrangler is also a BLM certified Mustang Trainer and we have a string of nice, smooth riding mustangs in our guest string of horses.
While we offer other activities like hiking, 4×4 tours, some excellent fishing & fly-fishing and own a very nice trapshooting range, The Hideout is a riding and working cattle guest ranch which means we can satisfy all levels of riders, including beginners who would like to learn the right way from start, as well as very accomplished riders.
Our best horses carry the AH brand (Authentic Horses) which we freeze brand and not burn with a hot iron as most places in the west do. The AH Brand is a registered brand with the Wyoming Brand Inspection. And unlike many cowboy outfits we bring in the vet to tranquilize our horses when we freeze brand them. During this process our vet also gives them a complete check up. You can distinguish a freeze brand from a hot iron brand by the white color of the brand. We freeze brand and bring the vet in when we brand horses, because doing it the old fashioned way and not tranquilizing the horses might ruin many months of training because it traumatizes most of the horses.
Trucks & Trailer Fleet
We need a sizable fleet of well maintained trucks and trailers to drive every day up the canyon to where the cows are in the mountains. We have never seen a 250,000 acre working cattle ranch where you ride out from the valley at 4200 feet to elevations of 10,000+ feet to go find the animals, work a full day and come down the mountains again. If we would do this, we would not have many guests enjoying cattle work, nor would our horses last long. This country is simply too remote and most importantly we rotate our herds every 3 to 4 days to prevent overgrazing. The roads we travel with our vehicles are very abrasive to tires and mechanics. All our vehicles are on a closely monitored safety and preventative maintenance program. All our trucks and trailers are also equipped with additional exhaust and trailer brakes.
As to the food we serve, we prepare most meals from scratch with fresh ingredients from the highest quality. We serve full, warm breakfast and our chefs are always culinary schooled.
We hire based on The Hideout Code of Conduct of The 3 C’s which are Character, Conduct and Competence. We know that one can train for Competence, not for the other 2 C’s. This means we do not hire just anybody and our selection and training process is extensive compared to most other guest ranches. All our staff are not necessarily cowboys, but they are well rounded horse people trained in our culture.
Private Property, Grounds and Buildings
As you will notice, our cabins, buildings and grounds are very clean and well maintained. We take pride in a clean and nice looking outfit. We own quite a bit of our land which means that there are taxes to be paid and maintenance to be done.
90 % of our expenses and what you pay goes to the above.
A Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch vacation could be compared to a rather customized & authentic equestrian boutique experience.
Where is the other 10 % going?
While most of the time during your stay at The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch you will ride on private property. However during the summer and autumn months we also ride on our public lands. Close to 50 % of the land in the State of Wyoming is owned by the government and we are privileged to operate on The National Forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands under our Recreational Leases. The grazing of life stock on public lands is regulated under the grazing leases of The Flitner Ranch.
Approx. 10% of your Total Guest Ranch Package Income to The Hideout during the months of July through October is generated on National Forest Service lands. This 10% is taken from the total hours you stay at The Hideout from the moment you arrive to the moment your leave. Our Recreational Lease fee, which is a tax to the government, is calculated as a %.
Other information that might be useful…
The US Departments that manage our Public Lands
The US Forest Service resides under the US Department of Agriculture.
The US National Parks like Yellowstone National Park reside under The US Department of Interior.
The National Wilderness Preservation System coordinates the wilderness activities of the four federal agencies: Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Services.
The US Farm bill
In the United States, the farm bill is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. Every 5 years or so the United States Congress deals with both agriculture and all other affairs under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture.
It usually amends some and suspends provisions of permanent law, reauthorizes, amends, or repeals provisions of preceding temporary agricultural acts, and puts forth new policy provisions for a limited time into the future. Beginning in 1973, farm bills have included titles on commodity programs, trade, rural development, farm credit, conservation, agricultural research, food and nutrition programs, marketing, etc.
The 2008 Farm bill was a $288 billion, five-year agricultural policy and it continues the United States’ long history of agricultural subsidy as well as pursuing areas such as energy, conservation, nutrition, and rural development.
The European Farm bill (for our European Friends)
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a system of European Union Agricultural subsidies and programs. It represents 48% (€49.8 billion in 2006) of the EU’s budget.