January 9, 2010

USA: A cowboy hat, a saddle and a smile

. DENTON, Texas / Denton Record-Chronicle / Entertainment / January 9, 2010 Sanger rancher follows her dream of capturing horse buffs in the buff By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer SANGER — Anita Witt proves a person is never too old to bare it all, as long as she has a little help from Jose Cuervo and Whiskey — her horses. The 71-year-old posed semi-nude with her horses for her recent book, Lady Godiva’s Book of Horsemanship. “It’s modern,” Witt said with a laugh while sitting at her kitchen table. Sanger rancher Anita Witt, pictured with her 21-year-old American paint horse, Whiskey, realized a dream when she produced a picture book depicting horse aficionados in the nude. Her horses, Jose Cuervo and Whiskey, are models in the book. Witt, 71, also posed for the book. DRC/Rachel Mehlhaff The book is a collection of quotes from horse whisperers — horsemen and -women who break horses for riding without using force — to go along with the photos taken at her ranches in Sanger and Missouri Heights, Colo. Friends and strangers agreed to pose for the book, including a reporter for the Aspen Times; Witt’s blacksmith, who agreed only if he could sit behind his anvil; her niece; and a jazz pianist who works in Aspen. Witt said while she was out one night in Fort Worth she saw a group of people laughing and dancing and she decided she had to have them in her book. So she explained the project and they agreed. But not everyone she asked agreed. Some of her friends said no. The horse whisperers quoted in the book include Franklin Levinson, who posed for the book, Dave Kluge, Mark Mulligan, Heidi Alles and Susan Gibbs. All of them live in Colorado. Witt was convinced to pose for the book herself by a friend. And she figured, hey, if her friends could pose for the book, so could she. “I’m showing my one little boob,” she said, pointing to the picture of herself in the book. In it, Witt is shot from the chest up, wearing nothing but a wide grin and her cowboy hat. Back at the ranch Witt got the idea for a book that mixes artful nudity with horses when she was in her 20s. The idea came from the legend of Lady Godiva and her husband, Leofric. Leofric was going to impose a tax on the poor that Lady Godiva said they could not afford to pay, so he said he would take away the tax if she agreed to ride through the streets naked. “And she did, according to the legend,” Witt said. “She rode naked on a horse through the streets of Coventry.” And her husband didn’t tax the poor. The legend has caught the imagination of many. The British duo Peter and Gordon released their song “Lady Godiva” in 1966, and it still gets airplay today. Witt said she was sitting on her couch last summer and decided she was either going to make the book or get it out of her head. Saddling up Witt enlisted photographer Robert Royem to take the pictures. The two had met one day at a grocery store in Colorado. Witt said she was dressed in her normal cowgirl gear when Royem approached her. He asked if he could take a picture of her with her horse and she agreed. “She had a great cowgirl look about her and I had been trying to develop a little more of my portfolio,” Royem said. Shortly after, she asked him to help with her book. “That was quite the project,” Royem said. He said it is challenging to take pictures of animals — especially outdoors, because it is an uncontrolled environment. “You are having to adjust constantly to the animal,” said Royem, who photographs a variety of subjects, from weddings to railroads to architecture. And how comfortable were the subjects posing naked? “Usually it took everyone a little bit of time,” he said. “People were a little nervous going into it.” He said being open in front of a photographer is not easy to do, but once the process got going they were fine. Most were photographed nude on horseback or near a horse, and they often wore cowboy hats and boots. “The biggest gift to me doing the work was witnessing firsthand this connection people have with horses,” Royem said. The book of horsemanship wasn’t the first book Witt assembled. She has two others about ranchers in Colorado, They Came From Missouri: The History of Missouri Heights, Colorado and I Remember One Horse … The Last of the Cowboys in the Roaring Fork Valley and Beyond. Animal nature Witt has always been a horse lady. Her horses are like her children. When she was young her parents bought her a horse, Kim, and she began trick riding. She currently has two horses, Jose Cuervo and Whiskey. They travel with her between her Colorado ranch and her Texas ranch, where she spends winters. Colorado is where she really considers home. It is where she lived with her husband, who died in 1993. Jose Cuervo is an 11-year-old paso fino horse and Whiskey is a 21-year-old American paint horse. “They’re my best friends,” she said. Witt does tricks with her horses, and she said Jose and Whiskey make people smile. She and her horses entertain at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas and at nursing homes in Denton, Sanger and Colorado. She said the kids at the hospital are thrilled to see the horses. “It makes them happy and it makes me happy,” Witt said. Her horses can hold flags, nod, grin, cross their feet and take a handkerchief out of Witt’s pocket for her when she sneezes. Jose can also push a baby buggy with a stuffed horse in it. Witt’s dog Spanky also gets in on the act. She asks the dog: “Would you rather be married or dead?” Spanky plays dead. She has received a positive response from people who have seen her book. They “think its beautiful photography,” she said. “They think it is done well.” Finishing the book has been a dream come true for Witt. She said she doesn’t believe a person has to have the money to realize a dream. She believes a person just has to decide to go for it. [rc] ABOUT THE BOOK Lady Godiva’s Book of Horsemanship Anita McCune Witt Photography by Robert Royem 84 pages, $29.95 Web: www.ladygodivas.biz Rachel Mehlhaff E-mail: rmehlhaff@dentonrc.com © 2010 Denton Publishing Co.