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A Legend In Our Midst Dianne Olds Rossi
July 31, 2013
America’s romance with the horse invokes both its European classical foundations and a western mythology unique to this country. As heiress to both its ancient roots and that American mythology, Dianne Olds Rossi rides and performs in a spotlight reserved for few horsemen or horsewomen in today’s world. Her passion for this training and performance she calls The Magical World of Dancing Horses.(1)
From her introduction to horses as a child and through her formative years, Dianne’s development as an equestrienne came honestly with hard work and instruction from some of the best master teachers in the country. After a youth spent at a girls’ school in East Whittier, California, where horses were part of the daily program and weekends were spent competing on Arabians and Morgans, Dianne continued after graduation to learn from gifted European horsemen and women here in the United States. Additionally, Dianne’s future husband would introduce her to the behind the scenes horsemanship, training, and escapades inherent in the Hollywood westerns of the 1950s and 60s. Seeing this world from the inside looking out gave Dianne a unique perspective on how horses learned and performed.
Of her European teachers she says, “I learned from all of them, even though they were all quite different in their training methods. It became a progression from Albert Ostermaier to Arthur Konyot and then to his daughter, Dorita Konyot.”
Albert Ostermaier, a German rider, was schooled in the classic style of the European military. From Ostermaier, Dianne learned precision and discipline, the strengths of the classic German approach. He was a difficult task master, but he saw in Dianne the potential and the determination to improve in her skills. (2)
*Next was Arthur Konyot, an international legend in his time. The Konyot family was originally from Hungary and for many generations they had performed with horses for the European circus. Enduring terrible years both before and between the World Wars in eastern Europe, they emigrated to America where they found work with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. In addition to his circus performances, Konyot trained horses on the side, and eventually he opened his own training and riding instruction stable in Chicago, Illinois. That business led to a position training the Arabian horses owned by Arthur Godfrey at his Beacon Hill Farm in Virginia. Through all of this, Konyot’s horsemanship impressed everyone he met. His reputation spread, and Dianne Olds Rossi was fortunate to have spent time and learned from him.(3)
Dianne says this of Arthur Konyot, “Arthur was in his 70's when I worked with him. I learned to show classy and ride without obvious cues seen by the audience. His horses were quiet and elegant and he showed the same way. He personified a rider in one with his horse, an elegant White Rider. I rode my first single step lead changes on his white Lipizzan. “
Arthur’s daughter, Dorita, was an excellent horsewoman. Dianne explains an experience she never forgot: “Dorita was a small petite lady weighing no more than 80 lbs. During one lesson my young Andalusian bolted and I screwed his head off to stop him...her remark? "Do not pull on zee horse"! After which she put me on her 20 year old devil horse who grabbed the bit and took me right to Dorita for his sugar lump again and again... all the time Dorita saying..."do not pull on zee horse". That old devil did finally stop for me without my pulling the reins. A lesson well learned. She was small and light yet training big horses so I learned to "come in the back door" instead of confronting the horses up front, a most invaluable lesson indeed and well remembered through my training career. Yes it took longer to train the horses but they were lighter on their feet and my hands. These three people gave me the uniqueness and orginality never before done. I bow to their knowledge.”(4)
But even before those classical foundations, Dianne was an American girl, growing up on the visions of palomino American Saddlebred parade horses in the Pasadena Rose Parade and the television escapades of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Here, then, was the mythology unique to America: the limitless miles of western prairie, rounding up the cattle and the bad guys in the movies and television of the 1950s, the horse as the cowboy’s companion and partner in a struggle against loneliness and evil. (5)
It all came to life and became quite personal when she met Rex Rossi in 1980. Rossi was a World Champion trick rider and trick roper as well as a stunt man in Hollywood westerns. . He doubled for Roy Rogers and Tom Mix, and was a personal friend of Gene Autry (Rex’s white saddle still displays in the Gene Autry Museum). An incredible horseman, he taught Dianne how to train a liberty horse. They married and lived their dream, travelling the country with Dianne exhibiting Andalusians in Madison Square Garden and Rex doing his rope tricks. (6)
For Dianne, one thing never changed: it was always about the horse and not about Dianne. More than a case of celebrity for the rider, it was and is a case of partnership between horse and rider. That still holds true today for this woman who is truly unique in her approach to training and horsemanship. Dianne Olds Rossi personifies the American horsewoman. Her compassion knows no bounds and her horsemanship is grounded in the classical methods that have stood the test of time. She spices it up with all she learned from Rex Rossi, daredevil stunt man and Hollywood double, World Champion trick rider and roper.
Most recently, Dianne’s new project is named My Texas Gold or “Dallas” as she calls him. Dianne says this young golden American Saddlebred stallion brings her career full circle. As a child, her mother took Dianne to every parade and performance of the palomino Saddlebred called King Cortez, a parade horse in Southern California. (7) Now, after the training, competition, and exhibition of many breeds of horses: Andalusians, Arabians, Morgans, Lippizaners, and Friesians, Dianne has returned to her first dream: an American Saddlebred of exquisite beauty and palomino color. Her exhibition of this horse in venues from Freestyle performances in the new Cowboy Dressage to the Horse expositions around the country will give a new generation of young equestrians a vision of their own futures with horses. (8)
There is much for us to learn from those horsewomen and horsemen who carry the knowledge and wisdom of the American past through experiences rarely offered in today’s world of horses. This combination of classical training, show competition, performance exhibition, and her unique perspective on the mythology of the American West give to Dianne Olds Rossi a revered place in American equestrian history. She has done it all, but even after having done it all, her focus is always on the horse. For Dianne, the spotlight remains on the horse and that dream-like figure of the golden stallion, the horse of her dreams.