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AP PHOTOS: Italy's cowboys show off their skill

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PIANE VOMANO, Italy (AP) — Italy may be better-known for its soccer skills, but on ranches across the country, cowboys are honing their skills of horsemanship and cattle management, and dreaming of taking on the Americans at their own game.

Team penning and ranch sorting is believed to have started as a competitive sport in California in the early 1940s. Since then it has spread to countries with long traditions in cattle breeding throughout South America and Europe.

Some 1,200 people take part in team penning across Italy. Some are full-time farmers, others townies who take to the saddles in their spare time.

"Age doesn't really matter," says Carla Conversi, secretary of the Italian association. Children compete from age 10, and 60-year-old penners are not uncommon, she says.

Next month Italy is hoping to make its mark in the World Team Penning and Ranch Sorting Championship in Montarnaud, southern France.

"There's no doubt that the difference between us and other European teams is substantial," said Piero Coviello, a food industry entrepreneur and head of the Italian federation. "We will certainly do very well."

Because of the lack of common regulations between countries, U.S. cowboys don't take part in competitions abroad, but that doesn't stop the Italians dreaming of taking them on. In 2010 a squad of 10 Italian penners traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, to take part in the U.S Team Penning Association world championship. They came home with a silver in the under-16 individual ranch sorting competition and a bronze in the under-16 team penning.

"The dream of every one of us is to compete in the U.S. against the masters," said Marco Sterbini, who's on his horse when he isn't making a living in the automobile industry. "And who knows, there might be some surprises at the next USTPA World's in October."

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