Blast from the Past

Cowboy Mounted Shooting brings a new dimension to America’s horse sports.
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Cowboy Mounted Shooting brings a new dimension to America’s horse sports.
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Tearing a page from the book of great American cowboys, mounted shooting is as close to the Old West as you can get short of a time machine. This adrenaline-pumping arena sport has cowboys and cowgirls nationwide slapping on six guns and tuning up for the rides of their life.

Akin to barrel racing on steroids, mounted shooting combines quick horses and tuned horsemanship skills as competitors run a series of patterns. The object is to negotiate an arena course using two single action cowboy revolvers, each loaded with black powder blanks, to take out balloon targets mounted on poles. The powder granules burst the balloons up to a range of nearly 20 feet. Typically the first gun is drawn as the rider, at a gallop, attempts to burst as many balloons as possible while running a varied pattern that calls for rollbacks, lead changes, and swift barrel turns. The second part of the course is called the rundown, for it is here that riders turn on the afterburners as they eliminate targets on the second half of the course. The winner is the fastest rider with the least amount of misses.

The sport is governed by the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA), whose 20,000 members compete in clubs and events nationwide. Mounted shooting attracts both the young and old because of its competition structure—a system that starts with a beginners level one and goes up the ladder the expert level six. It is also a family sport in which parents and their children compete, usually hauling a trailer full of top-notch horses.

The CMSA publishes a newspaper called the Rundown and promotes nine national championships as well as its world championships.

Cowboy Mounted Shooting is open to all grades of horses. Membership in the CMSA is required for those who wish to earn points needed to advance toward the world championship, held in October at the Amarillo National Center.

How do you jump in? Join the CMSA and get a competition card, then locate a local club near you. The CMSA has more than 150 affiliated clubs nationwide that conduct regular matches, clinics, and practices. All are listed on their website. Next, check out the Shooting Horse Network, an online community at where you can post a question, find competition videos and articles, as well as links to product manufacturers, equipment retailers, and trainers.

Tools of the Trade

  • Six ShootersYou will need a pair of .45 caliber single action cowboy pistols. Check out the Colt Single Action Army or Ruger Vaquero Montado.
  • Gun LeatherYou will need a double holster rig made just for this sport. The competitive type is usually cross-draw, smaller in size, and worn close together front and center.
  • Shooting HorseYou can purchase a trained shooting horse from a number of reputable trainers or train your own. Getting your horse used to gunfire is the easy part.
  • Chaps, Chinks, and a HatCowboy hats and chinks (or chaps) are required by rule in this sport. What good is playing cowboy gunslinger if you don’t dress the part?
  • Saddle and TackBecome familiar with the sport before you go buy saddle and tack. Find out from experienced riders what might be best for you.