A handful of boarders have gathered at Tamarack Ranch in Fountain on a December afternoon. It’s a clear and unseasonably warm day, and the mountains — still capped with a light white dusting from the previous week’s snow — are a striking sight.
Morena, a 12-year-old Quarter Horse, stands patient and unblinking as her owner, Febi Feutz, gently brushes out her mane. Recent rains have left Morena’s chestnut coat streaked with mud, so Feutz came with curry comb in hand, ready to work until the equine’s coat is gleaming once more.
The ranch’s owner, Dwayne Simmons, has never had much of an affinity for horses, but he knew his property could be a blessing for people who did.
“I had a horse when I was a kid, but I was not real interested in horses,” Simmons said, sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of the Fountain home he shares with his wife Gretchen. “[The property] seemed to be a good location for horse boarding.”
Simmons has called the 38 acres near Fountain Creek home since 1950, when he moved there with his parents from Kansas at age 4. In 1998, he and Gretchen opened their property to local equine lovers, offering them a safe, spacious place to house and train their horses.
Simmons named the business Tamarack Ranch, after the misnomer he and his family had given the tamarisk bushes growing in the nearby woods. More than 20 years later, roughly 50 horses of every size, shade and breed roam the lush green fields where Simmons’ parents once raised cattle and grew alfalfa and corn.
“It filled a niche. … There’s a lot of people with horses in the Fountain Valley area,” Simmons said. “There are five or six [boarding] facilities in the area, and we’re probably all mostly filled.”
Tamarack Ranch is a self-care and recreational facility, meaning horse owners are responsible for the full spectrum of care such as feeding, cleaning and providing them water, Simmons said.
Each horse has access to its own regularly maintained shelter and corral, which boarders rent on a month-to-month basis. Twice a year, a vet visits the ranch, offering care to horses with reduced facility fees, according to Tamarack Ranch’s website.
Simmons built the ranch’s sheds, fences, roads and electric and water lines himself, along with a 60-foot round pen where owners can train their horses before moving up to the larger 100-foot-by-200-foot arena for other equine activities. New arrivals spend 10 days in an “isolation pen” before they are integrated with the other horses.
Simmons is a woodworker by trade — in 1990, he built “the world’s oldest giant rocking chair,” which stands 21 feet tall, 14 feet wide, and is now on display in Penrose. However, after 24 years in the business, “cranking out log furniture day after day was hard on my body,” Simmons said.
Setting his sights on a career change, he realized Tamarack Ranch’s vast expanse of land — along with its proximity to the more than 20 miles of county-maintained trails — made it ideal for a horse boarding facility.
“The property was just sitting here not being used. It was growing up in weeds,” Simmons said. “It wasn’t big enough to raise crops; it wasn’t big enough to raise cattle profitably, even.”
Many of the current boarders are long-time clients, Simmons said. One boarder has housed his horse at Tamarack Ranch for 19 of the 22 years it has been in operation, with other horses staying 15 or 16 years. In fact, Simmons said, it is rare for boarders to leave Tamarack Ranch for another facility — he loses the most customers when people buy their own property or move out of state.
Having such a well-established customer base is “very rewarding,” Simmons said.
“It feels good to offer people a space for their horses because so many people don’t take good care of their animals, whether it’s horses or dogs,” he said. “And compared to other facilities, we have a lot of room.”
Operating a boarding facility hasn’t changed Simmons’ mind regarding horse ownership, he said. Still, his face softens when Hercules, one of the ranch’s largest residents, ambles over to the fence to have his nose stroked.
“I enjoy the work and seeing the beautiful horses,” Simmons said. “I see the trainer working with them, the farriers working with them, the owners and boarders working with their horses. … I learn every day.”