Horse-Breeding Bulls-Eye

Anne Bianco-Ellett hit the mark with her horse-breeding program geared toward cowboy mounted shooters.

Before horses were being bred specifically for cowboy mounted shooting, renowned shooter Annie Bianco-Ellett, or “Outlaw Annie,” helped revolutionize the fledging sport by stressing the importance of serious performance horses. And, it all began with her stallion and mount for much of her shooting career, El Costa Prom. “Costa’s” get, collectively known as Costa Colts, are recognized now as some of the winningest horses in the sport. In cowboy mounted shooting, participants ride one of 50 patterns against the clock while using two pistols to hit 10 balloons along the course. Marksmanship, of course, is an essential element, but Annie saw that mounted shooting is, at its heart, a timed equestrian event requiring agility and maneuverability.

When the sport was getting off the ground, competitors were mainly shooting enthusiasts and not equestrians, Annie says. Shooters mounted themselves on whatever horses they could find and acclimate to gunfire, often with less than spectacular results. It was about 17 years ago, very early in the sport’s organization, that Annie entered the mounted shooting arena. Annie has won multiple Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Champion Cowgirl titles, several SASS overall world championship titles and was the first to win an overall world championship (including both men and women) in cowboy mounted shooting on her stallion, Costa. Annie was inducted into the CMSA Hall of Fame in 2007 for her accomplishments both in and outside of the arena.

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From the beginning, the results when she showed up and competed on her pedigreed American Quarter Horse were immediate and lethal to the competition. From the equestrian angle, it seemed she’d brought artillery to a gun fight. After her first year on her Mr Conclusion horse, she knew she needed more horsepower. She found it in El Costa Prom. A Quarter Horse Breeder in Kimberly, Idaho, named Birchie Brown had a stallion that caught her eye. Costa was a futurity reined-cow horse who earned points with the National Reined Cow Horse Association. Birchie used Costa to work on the feedlot during the week. After he finished his reined-cow horse career he was then used to shoot on the weekends. Tony Jardin, a cowboy from Twin Falls, Idaho, kept competing at shooting horse events, and Annie fell in love with the dun colt that he rode. Birchie didn’t want to sell him because he was still breeding the stallion. He only live covered mares, so Annie leased him for events and then brought him home to breed. “Costa is so well-mannered and tough that he could get away with it and still perform,” Annie said. Annie saw the potential in Costa for greatness. She wanted him for a performance horse. “I borrowed him until [Birchie] broke down and sold him to me after a couple of years.” Annie saw a strong demand for horses that people could purchase and begin shooting off of immediately. If they were top-level performance horses, that was even better. “That’s where my breeding program came in,” she says. I thought, “I’ll keep it small, but I’m going to keep and train these colts, and I will not sell them until they’re 4-year-olds. And when I did sell some as youngsters, they were to people who had the means to grow them up and train them right.” “I started with three mares,” Annie says. “I was excited because once we did start breeding, CMSA agreed to do a stallion incentive fund program. We’d have our incentive fund futurities at the world every year. The Costa Colts won three years in a row. I take it really seriously. We’d start working those horses in January, and we’d show them in the fall.” “I was riding Costa the whole time, and that’s when he was just rocking the house. So people were in awe of him. When I started breeding him and taking outside mares, it was like I had a niche. You have to put a resume with a stud so that people want to breed, and that’s what I did. After winning a couple of world championships, a couple of national championships, a couple of the big-money pro shoots on him, he ended up becoming a celebrity in the shooting sport.” He was in such high-demand that Annie was often approached at shows for breeding. Knowing that her stallion had a special temperament and the grit to win in all circumstances, she agreed. Costa live covered mares at events as important as CMSA Nationals. “We would shoot during the day and breed in the evenings,” Annie said. “He is just that kind of horse.”

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“Costa Colts are kind of late bloomers, and I’ll be the first to say that,” Annie says. “They kind of blossom their 5-year-old years. Hickorys Dry Chex (out of Annies Pepper by Dry Spec A Pepper), was Tony Jardine’s colt, and he ended up winning a world (championship). He helped get the program going.” Costas Sweet Prince and owner Gloria Douglas of San Antonio, Texas, qualified for the 2013 world select show in mounted shooting. The horse also won a world championship in 2011 under Jessica Kuka of Maple Plain, Minnesota. Millies Prom Date, one of Costa’s first foals, is 21 years old and still winning. She is owned by Natalie Johnson of Phoenix. Little Costa Latte, owned by 16-year-old Zane Chunn of Fort Smith, Arkansas, just won the youth overall world championship for shooting for the second year in a row. She was the 2013 highpoint overall national horse for the year, has won multiple CMSA overall titles, and helped Zane earn highpoint overall champion for CMSA. Another up-and-coming shooting horse is owned by Annie Bianco-Ellett. Costa’s Peppy Pistol earned a top-10 finish in the AQHA shooting world championships this year. The AQHA life member also has produced charity events, including Shoot for the Troops, and she has been a regular participant in the Wrangler National Patriot Tour, which takes western lifestyle proponents to meet the troops overseas in Afghanistan and warzones. Annie and her family live on a ranch in Cave Creek, Arizona. CMSA began in the region, so she chose that as her home base to be close to the sport she loves. She loves the location, because it enables her to ride and train all winter long. The Costa breeding program is also located on the ranch. Annie serves as CMSA’s sponsorship director and national spokeswoman. She’s also a pretty good spokesperson for the American Quarter Horse. She has been working alongside the American Quarter Horse Association for years, putting on clinics and demos at events. Costa, now 26, will be used for clinics at the National Finals Rodeo this December. “I’ve seen horses from all different breeds do this sport,” Annie says, “and I really, truly feel that the Quarter Horse has the best mind to do this sport – their mind, their athleticism, their durability – they’re really the best horse suited for the job of mounted shooting.”