Hidden treasure of Costillia County

Story & Photos by Tony Bruguiere
Ft. Collins, Colo.

In 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to protect and manage wild horses on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages four wild horse herd management areas on the western Slope of Colorado: Piceance/East Douglas, Little Book Cliffs, Sandwash Basin, and Spring Creek Basin.

The Sandwash Basin near Craig, Colo., is the largest management area and covers 160,000 acres. There are approximately 200 wild horses in the Sandwash area. There are plenty of good quality gravel roads and a lot of traffic to view and photograph the horses. The Sandwash is managed by the BLM which means that the BLM does population control. The small bands are gathered up and horses are culled from the population and put into the adoption program. About 150 wild horses are adopted each year in Colorado. There is no shortage of opinion, both pro and con, on they way that the BLM carries out its mandate.

So much is written about the BLM and its management areas, that many people believe that these are the only wild horses in Colorado. There are unpublicized herds of wild horses in areas of Colorado that are not managed by the BLM. At the far southern end of the San Luis Valley in Postillion County is the hidden treasure of a thriving herd of mustangs.

These horses are not pure mustangs but are more closely related than the wild horses of the managed areas of Colorado. In the period of western migration and settlement, the US Calvary would turn out draft horses with the mustangs in order to produce a larger horse more suitable for use as remounts. Without question, the horses in the BLM managed areas are wild, but their physiology has been changed after generations of cross breeding.

The bands of horses in Costillia County date back 400 years and are not protected by the Bureau of Land Management, so they are not subjected to culling and rescue operations. These horses still roam on original Spanish land grants dating back to the 1600s and not on BLM land. The open range bordering the Rio Grande River and the vast plains and mesas of the San Luis Valley provide 60,000 acres of natural habitat for wild mustangs to move freely in and to thrive.

Roads into the home range of the mustangs are scarce to non-existent and most are on private property. The solution, and perhaps the best way to have a chance to view these magnificent animals is to travel by horseback to where they live. But, before you saddle up and go charging out to find the wild horses of Costillia County, keep in mind that this is privately owned land. And there are no maps or signs put out by the government that say “turn here for wild horses.”

Fortunately, there is a solution – the Spotted Fever Ranch located near San Acacia, Colo. The Spotted Fever Ranch is owned by Rick and Pat Binger and they take guests of their ranch out on horseback to view the wild horses and the awe inspiring scenery of the lower San Luis Valley.

It is hard to give a descriptive name to the Spotted Fever Ranch operation. It is a Guest Ranch but it is certainly not your stereotypical dude ranch. The ranch is the culmination and realization of the Binger’s personal dreams of living in a relativity unspoiled area. When they discovered the wild mustangs that roam freely in the area, they wanted to share this extraordinary experience with others. There is no “nose to tail” riding or other structured amenities. Rather, the Bingers and the Spotted Fever Ranch offer riding on 60,000 acres of open range, the opportunity to see herds of wild horses, and, when day is done, lots of great food cooked to perfection by Pat Binger and plenty of western hospitality.

The Spotted Fever Ranch in Costillia County was established in 1999 and Rick and Pat raised registered Paint horses and purebred Texas Longhorns. When they discovered the mustangs, Rick and Pat started taking friends out to see them. “It was an easy and natural progression to start taking others to view these wild and spectacular creatures. Now, along with our horse and cattle operation, we have opened up a small guest ranch to share these spectacular icons of the American West with others.” said Rick Binger, “We limit visits to no more than six guests at a time so we can provide a quiet and unique experience, and only one party is booked at a time. We tailor the mustang viewing to suit how you want to observe these beautiful animals.”

Currently, the Bingers invite guests into their home only on weekends, but in September of 2012, they plan to begin operation of the Spotted Fever Guest Ranch on a full time basis. If you are interested in wild horses, to be able to view them in the San Luis Valley with its towering mountains is an exceptional opportunity. Horseback is the only way to see the wild horses of Costillia County and the gentle Paint horses of Spotted Fever Ranch are the perfect means of transportation.

For more information about Spotted Fever Ranch, the mustangs and the great hospitality of Rick and Pat Binger check out their website at or call (970) 222-3656. As Rick Binger says, “You will only be a stranger until you drive through the front gate! We look forward to seeing you at Spotted Fever Ranch.”