Ladies of the Valley
By Robbie Kaye
I go for walks early in the morning to photograph trees at sunrise, and lots of times I end up at The Longhorn in Santa Ynez. I don’t go inside the restaurant because I have my dog, Luna, with me.
Usually I’m the only one sitting on the porch enjoying coffee, looking out into our beautiful valley. Sometimes it is very cold but waitress Charlene Rossoll never hesitates to bring me a cup of hot coffee, even though I offer to come inside and get it myself.
If you’re a regular at the Longhorn, you know Charlene, always happy, vivacious and just “on it.” Maybe it’s because I’m from New York that I appreciate her quick wit and banter more than some, but she makes me smile every time I’m there.
I’ve overheard Charlene speaking about her horses with such passion that I was intrigued to learn more. It was a fantastic new experience for me when I went to photograph her at the equestrian center in Santa Ynez. Charlene has lived in the valley for 20 years after moving from Santa Barbara and has worked at the Longhorn for four years.
What drew you to living in the valley?
I moved “over the hill” because of my love for horses. I was just learning how to ride a cutting horse and my new trainer, Tom Shelly, was here in Santa Ynez.
When did you get involved with horses?
I got involved with horses as a child. First it was a small local group, than it was about 15 years later when I had the opportunity to jump on a cutting horse. And then I was hooked. I’ve been riding most of my life.
Can you please describe cutting?
Cutting is a timed competition, where there is a herd of cattle. You have two herd helpers in the corner and two turn-back helpers in the front. You have 2.5 minutes to work at least three cows, showing the judge you have control. It’s one cow at a time. The score starts at a 70 and it can go up or go down. There is always “luck of the draw,” and having a great horse always helps. So marking a 74 or higher is a plus!
Can you share something about competing with horses?
My cutting career started in 2000. I had my first cutting horse, Golds Bossa Nova. She taught me everything. But shortly after I started showing I met my husband, Rex Rossoll, who was judging a cutting for Tom Shelly. So I’ve been competing on cutting horses for more than 20 years now. I’m considered a “non pro,” which means you have earned too much money to show as an amateur and/or you are married to a trainer.
Can you share something about your connection with horses?
My connection with horses, well … once it’s in your blood, it never leaves you! I’ve had plenty of good horses. And very thankful for my husband who has made me a Pacific Coast Champion in 2011, and a top 5 in the world, with the National Cutting Horse Association. Super fun every time you walk into the herd!
How do you balance all the elements in your life?
I’ve always had a “real job.” I was a truck broker in Santa Barbara for over 28 years, and having your own business makes it a little bit easier for me to jump in the truck and go!
What is your favorite thing to do in the valley?
First, always cutting, plus you know we have such great wines here.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Well, my favorite place is the Greek Islands. Santorini. I left my twin sister’s ashes there. It’s the most magical place in the world to me.
What is your favorite season?
I love the fall, here in Santa Ynez, the days are still warm and the nights you can feel a little chill.
What do you do for fun with your friends?
When I’m home my favorite thing to do is meet my girlfriends on Fridays. That’s our day to catch up and drink some wine and have dinner.
If someone wanted to get into showing horses, what would you recommend as a starting point?
Anyone who wants to ride a cutting horse really needs to know how to ride and have had some experience. I would say to them, come on over. Rex Rossoll is a great teacher. He gives lessons on all levels and even has a lesson horse for people who just want to learn how to cut. Also he starts young horses and trains them for cutting competitions. He can be reached at Doublercutting@aol.com or 805-331-5978
Robbie Kaye is a photographer, artist and author of “Beauty and Wisdom.” She is working on a “Ladies of the Valley” documentary and several photo books. Follow her on Instagram, @ladiesofthevalley or @robbiekaye, or at www.robbiekaye.com