A wooden plaque on the wall of the gathering room at J&P Ranch in Eagle Point sums up the mission of the place: “A pony is a childhood dream; a horse is an adulthood treasure.”
At J&P, they help people fulfill dreams and find the emotional treasures of a relationship with a horse.
Sue Hutchinson can tell you about it. The 80-year-old lives in a Medford retirement home but comes to the ranch almost every day to ride. Hutchinson grew up on a small, country place in Sonoma, Calif., and she rode for years, but when her last horse died, she didn't replace it.
“I thought I'd be out of horses forever, but it's an addiction,” Hutchinson says. “I didn't want to think of horses. I'm too old.”
After moving to Jackson County three years ago, she found herself back up on a horse. And then she found J&P Ranch. And she bought another horse. She likes that the 124-acre spread has miles of trails to ride, and that there is almost always someone else to ride with. She's not the type to spend her days playing bingo.
“I'm having fun out here,” she says.
Heidi Martens was looking for something other than fun when she discovered the ranch after her husband died.
"I was moping around, and I needed to get a life," she says. "But I needed to do something we hadn't done together.
"When I was growing up, I visited my grandparents in Sacramento summers and took riding lessons. I asked my younger daughter if she wanted to visit the ranch with me. I saw it on the Internet. They were so welcoming and helpful. I ended up buying a horse, then one for my daughter. It felt like that was where I wanted to be."
J&P Ranch is owned by John and Patty Puccini, but they spend only their summers there. They hired Randy Ewalt to manage the ranch three years ago, and his wife, Kim, is the horse trainer. Both of them have spent their lives around horses.
Kim Ewalt's specialty is making people comfortable around horses and their horses comfortable around people.
"Most people who are not raised around horses see the horse as unpredictable," Ewalt says. "They're not. They give a million signs of what they are going to do. You have to learn how to read them."
Although only 31, Ewalt brings a lifetime of intense study of horses. Growing up as the child of horse traders, she has literally known thousands of horses. And she has learned that all kinds and ages of people can enjoy riding.
"We get people afraid of horses who have never ridden, or people who have had bad accidents and are fearful of getting back up. We start them out on groundwork with no pressure to get on a horse unless they want to — just to get comfortable being around the horse."
Ewalt estimates 80 percent of people who come to the ranch are new to riding. They can take lessons on the ranch horses, and if they want their own, Kim and her husband help them find one.
"It's important to match the personality to the horse," Ewalt says. "A meek and mild person with a meek and mild horse will never get anything done. People buying horses for the first time should always take someone with them who knows more about horses. And they should always get the horse checked out by a vet before buying."
Although the ranch has indoor and outdoor arenas for training, Ewalt likes to get riders out on the trails as soon as possible.
"They learn better balance riding uneven ground, and they learn more about the horses. A bird flying up out of a bush can spook a horse, and you need to learn how to handle that. You don't learn much riding around in circles."
"Kim is so calming and helps you dig down to have the courage to meet your goals," Martens says. "Everyone is so friendly and helpful. It's really like a big family."
A. Paradiso is a freelance writer living in the Applegate. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.