It's no wonder dressage is sometimes referred to as a horse ballet.
Just watch on any given day as Rosemary Julian-Simoes and partner Proteus enter the practice arena at the Flying Dutchman Farm in Barrington Hills.
Rosie Julian-SimoesAge: 17
School: Barrington High School
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Rosie and Pro, as the duo is known, seem totally in tune with each other as they work to perfect intricate steps and skills they've developed over the past six years.
The Barrington High School senior ever so subtly uses her back, leg and seat to give Proteus his next cue. The magnificent six-foot animal responds by bending to the side, trotting diagonally, shifting his balance, extending his neck, increasing his gait and in countless other ways.
Some of the pair's dance moves are flashy, such as the "volte" circles and "tempi changes" that resemble skipping; others are so nuanced they go unnoticed by the novice eye.
What's always evident, though, is the unmistakable bond and trust they share.
"I just think it's amazing that these huge, 1,200-pound horses can respond to us and be so willing to open up and learn things," Rosie said. "We're taking the horse and training it to do things they wouldn't naturally do on their own."
While many people are unfamiliar with dressage (rhymes with garage), considered to be the highest expression of horse training and the most artistic of the equestrian sports, Rosie doesn't know a life without it.
She's coached by her mother, Julie Julian, a renowned trainer with more than 30 years experience. They live on the same property as the farm and Rosie, Julian said, has been riding since "she was in my belly."
Today, the 17-year-old and Proteus, a 9-year-old Danish Warmblood, are getting noticed on dressage's upper-level competition scene.
Rosie ranks third nationally in her division of the United States Equestrian Federation standings and fourth in the United States Dressage Federation standings.
In the past year, she and Proteus won their division at the Region 2 finals, which encompasses seven Midwestern states, and had a strong showing at the North American Young Riders Championship.
She also was among just a handful of riders from across the U.S. invited to attend clinics led by several Olympians past and present.
Up next is the Great American USDF Region 2 Dressage Championship Sept. 19-22 at the Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne. The event is open to the public.
Roz Kinstler, Region 2 FEI Junior Rider coordinator and USDF National Youth Programs chair, said Rosie faces a challenge living in Illinois because the bulk of dressage activity is on the coasts. But she's definitely on the everyone's radar.
"Rosie is absolutely in the top tier of Young Rider competitors," Kinstler said. "I think she has unlimited potential."
Kinstler said Rosie is still relatively young for dressage, and her next big step would be to compete at the Brentina Cup level. That's just one level below Grand Prix, which is the same as the Olympics.
The training within the arena is just one piece, though.
Getting to those clinics and competitions -- Rosie and Proteus have been to Florida, Kentucky and Maryland -- and tending to her partner take a tremendous commitment.
The horse needs clothing, sheets, blankets, fly sprays, grooming products and all sorts of equipment. And he's a finicky eater, so it took Rosie and her mom years to figure out the best combination for his feed was beet pulp, rice bran and alfalfa cubes. But he won't touch the mixture if it sits too long.
"It smells weird, and he won't eat it," Rosie said. "It took a lot of experimenting to figure it all out."
Rosie does fundraising for Region 2 to offset some expenses. Her efforts helped pay for entry fees and stalls at the North American Championships.
The Julians also rely on other young riders to help out at the farm, along with an equine veterinarian, a blacksmith and a silent partner. Rosie's own medical team played a role last year after she was thrown from a horse and suffered a compression fracture in her back.
"It really takes a village to do all this," Julian said. "I'm a single mom, and we don't have a big checkbook behind us."
Proper training, of course, is paramount. Horses need to go through basic training, gradually build muscle and move up the ladder with their education.
"We work to keep them mentally and physically as sound as they can be so they can reach full potential," Rosie said.
At Barrington High School, Rosie is taking three Advanced Placement classes this year. She's also a member of the National Honor Society and maintains a GPA above 4.0.
After graduation, she'll likely attend Harper College in Palatine to be close to home, calling it a "critical time" with Proteus.
"If you don't grab the opportunity while it's there, it may not be there again," Julian said. "In order for these two to advance, she needs to stay on track here."
If their progress continues, Rosie very well could join the international riding circuit. And then there's the Olympics.
But that's not her focus.
"I do want to do that stuff, but that's more of a bonus because it doesn't happen for most people," Rosie said. "I want to have a business like my mom does and help with the development of youth in dressage. I just think the bond horses are able to create with us is pretty amazing. I say that this is my addiction."
Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.