On the Mark

Channel the Wild West with cowboy mounted shooting!
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Channel the Wild West with cowboy mounted shooting!
photo by Doug Smith WYSIWYG Photography

Cowboys shooting revolvers and rifles off the backs of galloping horses sounds like something straight out of a Spaghetti Western, but it’s a common scene around the country, as cowboy mounted shooting—safe, fun, and family-friendly—gains in popularity.

“Cowboy mounted shooting is the most exciting equestrian sport in America,” says mounted shooting horse trainer and clinician, Denny Chapman. “It is an equestrian timed-event sport that combines horsemanship and marksmanship.”

Participants engage in courses where they shoot a predetermined pattern of 10 elevated balloon targets, designated by various color combinations. Riders who are the quickest and most accurate win. With classes for riders of any age and skill level, mounted shooting is truly a family event.

Targets are shot using .45 caliber single-action revolvers (and sometimes pistols and revolvers) similar to those used in the Old West. Safety is paramount; ammunition is made from black powder encased in blank rounds, live rounds are strictly prohibited, and guns are unloaded as each rider leaves the arena.

Western clothing is mandatory, and many mounted shooters choose to dress in period cowboy attire. At an event, you’re likely to see everything from 1880s garb to 1950s retro wear to contemporary styles.

To get started, Chapman recommends attending a professional mounted shooting clinic to become familiar with the sport. He says, “Beginners learn the basics of shooting and gun safety, along with how to negotiate horses around obstacles and patterns.”

Next, get involved in a local mounted shooting club. You’ll be able to hone your skills at club practices and get involved in the mounted shooting community. If you don’t have your own horse, you might be able to find a mount through the network. Club members should also be able to point you in the direction of a coach.

“Seek out a good mounted shooting coach who will walk you through the steps to be safe and successful,” says Chapman. “This should be a seasoned competitor with solid horsemanship skills and someone who is able to explain things in a way you will be able to understand.”

As with any sport, mounted shooting takes time to master.

“Go slow,” advises Chapman. “Develop good muscle memory, horsemanship, and marksmanship.”

Mounted shooting offers a Wild West adrenaline rush in a safe and fun environment sure to interest any lover of cowboy culture. It’s as close to the Old West as you can get short of a time machine, so slap on some six guns and enjoy the ride!

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Three excellent organizations exist to promote the sport of cowboy mounted shooting: Mounted Shooters of America (480-243-2270, www.newmsa.com), the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (888-960-0003, www.cmsaevents.com), and the Cowboy Sports Association (603-491-8285, www.cowboysportsassociation.com).

Mounted shooting competitors and enthusiasts can stay up to date on events, training, gear, and personalities with Western Shooting Horse Magazine, a bi-monthly national publication. 877-333-9742, www.westernshootinghorse.com

Learn how to prepare your horse, equipment, and yourself for competition in a video series sponsored by Colt Firearms, Gun Handling & Course Management for the Mounted Shooter, featuring World Champions Jim Hanson and Andra Olson of AJ Horses. 888-960-0003, www.cmsagear.com