Like a growing number of Vermonters, Rosemary Root is passionate about all things equine. Riding horses western-style at a young age, Root eventually transformed her fondness for the genus equus into a profitable business-New Horizons Farm in Essex Junction, Vt. The farm was founded in 1986 and ranks among Vermont's top horse ranches.
Root's four-acre spread in the foothills of the Green Mountains provides healthy, professional boarding for up to 31 horses, a 63-feet by 160-feet indoor riding area, horseback-riding lessons, clinics, outdoor trails, and just about anything a horse owner-or future horse owner would like. Root's Vermont customers travel to the farm from as far away as Rutland.
Now the lady buckaroo is vying to become the next great American horsewoman through Project Cowboy, a unique reality T.V. show pilot project for cable television that would make her name, and her 19-year-old quarter horse, the Contortionist, household names. Both men and women will compete in the unique western event.
The Contortionist may sound like an odd name for a horse, but Root believes the name fits.
"Oftentimes people see the white 'A.L.' initial brand on Contortionist's hind; they ask what it means. I always say it means 'Awesome Legs'. Seriously, 'A.L.' is the breeder's brand, nothing more."
Reed points out that Contortionist's white-colored brand was made by using liquid nitrogen, a less painful method of horse branding compared to hot branding done in the old west.
According to Root, Project Cowboy will be held Oct. 8- 10 at the Will Rogers Equestrian Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
She first learned about the event when a friend and horse trainer Jack Brainerd, and a Project Cowboy judge, mentioned it to her.
What would happen if John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, Dale Evans and Annie Oakley all competed in a reality show format to be crowned the best cowboy? Brainerd told Root that organizers plan to cram a season of "American Idol" into three days, and that fans will be entertained and awed. Well, Brainerd thought, Root could be one of the candidates-however, he cautioned her that friends of judges will get treated a tad harsher than other competitors.
"Well, that's ok," Root said. "I am doing this because it will be fun. Project Cowboy is a competition open to all horsemen and women demonstrating exceptional horsemanship, communication skills, and that live by the western lifestyle. That's fun, but I will also be competing for $10,000 cash, a Martin trophy saddle and a Gist trophy buckle. If all goes well, it will also include an invitation to appear at the 2011 Road to the Horse Legends World Championship and Extreme Mustang Makeover Events, even other major equine events and expos."
Getting ready for the big Texas showdown has Root feeling just a tad anxious. On top of that, she is preparing for a live broadcast interview about Project Cowboy with radio station WOKO in Vermont.
"I have a lot to do to get ready before making the long drive to Texas with Contortionist in the trailer," she said. "I am not certain of what the panelists will ask me to do. So I have to be prepared to perform in whatever way the judges want me to."
But a few things Root can be certain of in Texas-riding a horse in the American western tradition means she will have to show expertise in riding, opening and closing corral gates, as well as razzle-dazzle when assembling her cowgirl riding attire. At home, Root's cute dog P.J. often runs alongside horse and rider like a true range pardoner. But in the professional arena, P.J. won't be permitted to play trail boss-yes, it's move along little doggie.
Project Cowboy features several rounds of competition that will challenge the horsemanship and communication skills of Root and the other competitors.
"All 175 competitors, riding their own horses, will be challenged to showcase their talents in a pen and on the screen," she said. "Elimination rounds will progress by offering us more diverse and challenging obstacles to prove who will receive the title of the Great American Horseman."
While Root has performed in front of audiences, she'll find a television camera at Project Cowboy something new and different.
"My idea is to have fun," Root said. "Many times equine competitors lose sight of the fun aspects. Yes, competition is serious business but it must first be fun. You have to enjoy what you do first."
Check It Out: If you're interested in following the Project Cowboy television pilot show and possible future episodes, visit www.projectcowboy.net. We'll talk with Rosemary Root again following the Oct. 8-10 event.