Most years, the annual Convention of the Dude Ranchers’ Association (DRA) is held on a ranch, says Colleen Hodson, the executive director of the 88-year-old association, which is headquartered in Cody, Wyo. But every so often, the group craves sunshine and heads to a resort destination. This year they got that at a beachfront hotel in San Diego, where “there were a lot of cowboys, but no horses.”
One of the best things about the DRA is that its members are so willing to share information, Hodson said — even when they're in direct competition with one another. Some operators are third- and fourth-generation ranchers, while some newer owners came into the business to flee the office rat race. Owners who grew up with a ranching background share their knowledge of Western heritage and traditions; newbies bring business savvy from the corporate world.
Who isn't invited
Only owners and operators of ranches west of the Mississippi River or in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia can join the DRA. “We really do focus on the true Western experience,” Hodson said. Opening up membership to ranchers east of the Mississippi is something that is discussed at every meeting — and was rejected the last time it came up for a vote.