Rough & Ready

Roughout Ranch Foundation…

When Kathleen O’Donnell left her home in Amador County, she headed north to Redding in search of a more purposeful life. She wanted to combine her love of horses with her experience as an Old West reenactor and performer. And she wanted to help others.

After “a lot of networking” and patience, O’Donnell met Jim Cooke, owner of Roughout Ranch, where she started working as a ranch hand in 2017. The ranch’s many resources inspired O’Donnell to develop an equine-assisted social recreation and life skills enrichment event for youth and adults with special needs.

By the following year, she and Cooke were planning and preparing for the Rough Rider Round Up, a process that took a year. The two constructed buildings for the Old West Town (“I have ‘man’ skills,” says O’Donnell). They built barrel and wooden bulls and broncs for riding and roping, stick ponies and bouncy bulls for riding, and a goat for tying activities. They would also offer pony and “cow train” rides.

They made games for the carnival (corn hole, archery, darts), designed an obstacle course and a maze, created a half-dozen contests (like hay baling and cow milking) with prizes, and developed more than a dozen interactive Old West activities that would engage participants and their families in panning for gold, making butter and ice cream, learning to shell and grind corn and – that Old West favorite – making slime.

They would create a Critter Pet’n Zoo, Old West Town and Encampment and even bring in a singing cowboy with his horse for “A Special Western Day” aimed at “Building Confidence for Special Minds.”

The Rough Rider Round Up hosted its first annual event in 2019 when it welcomed adult members of the special needs community, including residents of a working ranch near Fall River Mills called Mountain Jewels that serves developmentally disabled men.

“We had around 100,” says O’Donnell, “and another 75 to 100 staff and volunteers. The participants loved it so much, no one wanted to go home.” The annual daylong program is free and open to youth and adults who have a physical disability or developmental delay and is now also open to adopted youth and those in the foster care system.

As a result of the event’s success, O’Donnell and Cooke formed the Roughout Ranch Foundation and began expanding the ranch’s programs and services, all revolving around ranch- and equine- assisted activities, learning and life skills.

This year’s Round Up is scheduled for October 8 and requires pre- registration. Space is limited. To register call (209) 256-9640 or visit •

Article By:

Claudia Mosby is a Redding-based freelance writer. She is the founder and director of The Expressive Spirit, a wellness company in Mt. Shasta offering spiritual direction, arts and nature-based activities and consultancy for grief and loss.

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