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Horsin’ around Roxy Rose Ranch

Seven-year-old Ryder Freeman is all of 60 pounds and 4 feet tall. One of her “best friends” is an 11-year-old 1,100-pound mustang named Calypso — Cali for short.

Riding the outside rail of the covered arena, the two move like perfectly paired dance partners. Cali responds to Ryder’s delicate touch, subtle cues and soft-spoken commands.

A squeeze on Cali’s left flank, the pair move right; a squeeze on the right flank, they move left. She shifts her weight slightly, and the horse responds. Her small boots barely reach the stirrups, but she handles the horse with ease.

The look of love is in Ryder’s big blue eyes and pure joy in her ear-to-ear smile as she buries her face in Cali’s mane and strokes her neck.

Ryder is one of about 20 novice equestrians discovering “the incredible connection” between horses and humans at Roxy Rose Ranch in east Medford. Located in the foothills of Prescott Park and at the base of Roxy Ann Peak, the 5-acre boarding and riding facility is Roanna Rosewood’s passion project.

An Ashland restaurateur, best-selling author, firewalker and mother of three, Rosewood invested in the property at first to accommodate her youngest child’s budding romance with horses and a wish to learn to ride. In the process, she rekindled her own love affair with the four-legged creatures.

Making daughter Dalia’s wish come true reignited Rosewood’s passion for horses.

“A passion strong enough,” she adds, to “give up easy condo living and invest my nest egg” in her own equestrian facility a year ago.

After renovations, Roxy Rose Ranch now includes a gigantic covered arena, open-air paddock, small round pen, and four large, luscious pastures for 30 horses to munch their daily dose “of salad greens.”

The Roxy Rose Riding Club has a waiting list of “horse-crazy” boys and girls, like Ryder, wanting to learn the ropes and adults, primarily women, hoping to fulfill a bucket list yearning to saddle up and ride.

Rosewood is an American Riding Instructors Association certified instructor who apprenticed under well known horse trainer Julie Goodnight. Her niche became training “green” untrained horses and learning how to communicate with and, more importantly, “listen” to horses.

She taught riding in south Florida and briefly in the Rogue Valley before going on hiatus to raise her children and run her various business ventures.

Frustrated that she couldn’t find a suitable riding program for her then 11-year-old daughter, Rosewood decided to purchase the ranch and begin her own equestrian program.

The petite horsewoman is enjoying every minute of a “significant lifestyle change” that includes tending to horses approximately 8½ hours a day — “feed twice a day, muck the stalls twice a day.”

She particularly enjoys introducing new riders to horses — “shedding light,” she says, on horse behavior, personality and language.

Rosewood stresses that horses are “sensitive and intuitive,” and that both riders and horses “have the ability to be both vulnerable and powerful” in their relationship.

“I love introducing people to horses because, through the shine in their eyes and grins on their faces, I am reminded of just how incredible it is that these thousand-pound animals seek connection with us and willingly carry us on their backs.”

Seeing first-time riders overcome their fears is especially gratifying.

When they first climb aboard, “they may be shaking, but in no time they are grinning.”

“It is so magical” to witness, she says.

Jessica Pye, a former student who went on to become an Olympic-level event rider and a member of the United States equestrian team’s “high performance list,” recalls such a transformation.

“Roanna was my first riding instructor at age 6,” she writes. “I loved horses and riding, but I was a nervous kid and often afraid. It's a miracle I kept riding. I'm fairly sure without her I never would've made it past the first few lessons.”

Dalia, now a 12-year-old Ashland Middle School student, is a talented equestrian in her own right. She assists her mother with riding lessons and does around-the-barn duties, including grooming the horses and mucking out stalls.

She enjoys interacting with the different personalities of the horses and behaviors that range from “snuggly to bratty.”

Rosewood says the mutual affection for horses has made the typical “push and pull of the tween years” less of a tug-of-war.

During a recent lesson, Rosewood pointed out the rapport between Ryder and Dalia. Cali is Dalia’s horse, and both girls take turns showering the mustang with kisses and hugs in between mounted games of “Red Light, Green Light” and “Around the World.”

At the end of the lesson, Ryder is rewarded for “a job well done.” The prize is cantering bareback around the arena.

Ryder’s mother, Kate Choi, says horseback riding is her daughter’s passion.

The arena, she says, is “her gym.”

Ryder says she’s “worked hard, but had fun doing it.”

The youngster shadows Dalia as the two groom the horse, clean hooves, put away the tack, saddle and blanket and lead their favorite mount back to her stall.

Ryder says she “loves everything” about being “a cowgirl.”

In fact, she would love it if every day was “Cowgirl Boot Camp” — a six-week program in which aspiring equestrians have a chance to learn and bond over essentials like mucking out stalls, bathing and lunging horses, cleaning tack, and providing basic health care.

For Rosewood, it is a delight to share her first love, and see “a kid’s eyes lit up” during a lesson.

To her, the “intricate details” of communicating with a horse is “much more interesting than reaching a destination at the end of a trail ride.”

For more information about boarding or lessons, contact Roanna Rosewood at 541-301-3042.

— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

Ryder Freeman, 7, rides hands-free as she is guided by Roanna Rosewood at Roxy Rose equestrian ranch in Medford. [Photo by Andy Atkinson]