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Horse and human perform as one

Good Dirt

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Anna Rosati hopes to ride Outlaw toward a successful career. - TIM BERGSTEN
  • Tim Bergsten
  • Anna Rosati hopes to ride Outlaw toward a successful career.

The dance commenced on a warm autumn day at Clear Springs Ranch in Fountain.

Fifteen-year-old Anna Rosati and the elegant purebred Tennessee Walking Horse Cash's Pistol Annie — also known as Outlaw — waltzed gracefully among the cottonwood trees along Fountain Creek. Nearby, horse trainer Nicole Tolle watched with an approving eye.

They make a formidable trio. A winning team.

Setting her riding skills to the ultimate test, Anna captured the world equitation championship in her age group at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in August in Shelbyville, Tennessee. In other words, she rode Outlaw better than the other young equestrians in the competition. Which isn't easy to do.

A 5-year-old mare born in Kentucky and owned by Tolle, Outlaw is a superstar in the horse world. Anna is the home-schooled daughter of John and Kelly Rosati of Elbert. She has ridden horses for years, but she just recently learned the nuances of properly riding a Tennessee walker.

Tolle, who has trained horses and riders for well over two decades, beamed with pride for her star students.

"Outlaw is very challenging, really an upper-level horse to ride," Tolle says. "But in order to compete at the world championships you have to have the best horse you can throw your leg over. And then you have to be able to ride that horse better than everyone else can ride theirs. She was the only horse that I really had on hand that was good enough to go and compete with Anna."

Like a right-handed baseball batter switching to left, Anna had to essentially re-learn how to ride a horse. She moved her center of gravity back, repositioned her legs, and adjusted the way she held the reins.

"We challenged Anna with the job of learning to ride this mare, so as instructor trainer I had to pull out all the tricks and really work to make them a team," Tolle says. "And Anna was a true student of the game. She learned quickly. Because of the nature of this horse, her willingness to please, it [the world championship] was able to be done. And it is still a miracle."

Tennessee Walking Horses are famous for quickly covering ground. They can run, but they don't. Nor do they trot. They walk, with high steps and long, graceful strides. The movement is unique to the breed. They're the Cadillac of riding horses, easy on the body, and they're gentle.

Outlaw relaxed in the sun, as if meditating. The original walkers became their own breed about 100 years ago and were used by plantation owners who managed massive plots of land. And they were the horses regular folks would take to town, the same way you might pedal your cruiser bike to the coffee shop.

"They're laid-back, always eager to please, very trainable and very unwired when it comes to bucking," Tolle says. "Their instinct is not to buck. They're just not going to try to throw you off if they're well-bred walkers. It's not in their reflex and I love that. When I ride these horses they're smooth. There is just a lot of rhythm associated with them and they're fun to ride."

Anna and Outlaw have a special connection. She says Outlaw enjoys the spotlight.

"She likes attention," Anna says. "She's the type of horse that knows she's a show horse. She'll be on her best behavior. But sometimes get antsy. She's like a little diva. She's a piece of work, but she has a good mind. She's just strong-willed."

The energy at the world championship competition, which is judged, felt chaotic to Anna. Outlaw, however, kept her cool. "I was nervous, people were running around," Anna says. "She was just standing there getting her hooves done [cleaned and shined] and her mane done because she likes being a special horse," Anna says.

Dressed to the nines in a saddle seat riding suit — it looks like a tuxedo for women, including an awesome black top hat — Anna performed flawlessly while coaxing a graceful and punctilious performance from Outlaw. Anna could not believe it when the results for equitation were announced.

"Waiting for the results was the most nerve-wracking," Anna says. "When I heard my number [in the top position] I was shocked, then Miss Nicole came sprinting. It was crazy."

John Rosati is confident the riding and competition have been a positive experience for Anna.

"I think her career path is set," John says. "She wants to be Nicole. She has always wanted to work with animals, but she didn't know what that would be. Now she has this positive role model."

And she has a fine horse to ride. "It's like you have to work with another mind," Anna says.

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