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The basic duties of a ranch hand—or wrangler—on a working ranch are tending livestock and repairing and cleaning fences, ranch buildings, and equipment. Tending livestock usually includes feeding, birthing, branding, shearing, roping, sorting, pasturing, herding, grooming, and doctoring the ranch's horses, cattle, poultry, pigs, and/or sheep. Having raised healthy animals through this attentive care, ranch hands must also haul the livestock to market or to a shipping terminal.

Horses are particularly crucial to the operation of a successful ranch, regardless of whether it is a working or a dude ranch. It falls to the wranglers to care for the horses on the ranch. At a working ranch, horses are used to herd cattle. At a dude ranch, the horses are usually younger and are used for taking guests riding. Because of this, their health and well-being are very important. Horse-related duties include daily brushing and grooming, tack and equipment upkeep and repair, basic veterinarian skills, fence building and repair, trail maintenance, and the maintenance and cleaning of corrals.

Wrangler jobs on dude ranches require not only considerable skill in horsemanship and stable operation but also good people skills, as you must be able to interact with adult guests and their children. Many ranches have access to private water sources, offering fishing opportunities as well. A good ranch guide may also be expected to take guests on overnight hiking and fishing trips or cattle drives, teach basic riding skills, lead horseback riding and river rafting expeditions, and perhaps get behind the wheel for some off-road, four-wheel drive adventures. Jobs on dude ranches generally involve lots of hard work, long hours (usually dawn to dusk), and participation in evening activities for guests, such as line dances, cookouts, hayrides, and staff talent shows. Most northern dude ranches hire their hands during the period between November and April. Southern dude ranches hire in the August to October season. While pay is usually low, compensation often includes room and board, a share of tips, and use of the facilities and horses when off duty.

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