Competitive mounted shooting was the brainchild of Jim Rodgers of Arizona, who grew up in the cowboy lifestyle with horses, guns, and TV Westerns. In the early 1990s, after seeing a demonstration in which black-powder blanks were used to safely shoot balloons, Jim decided to combine his riding and shooting skills into a single competition, and the idea was born.
"It's a timed event, just like barrel racing or pole bending, except that we add one more thing to it: the gun sport," explains Dan PLaster, president of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.
Currently, two associations promote this sport: CMSA and Mounted Shooters of American. CMSA, founded in 1993, has 12,171 members internationally. MSA, founded in 2001, has about 1,000 with 300 to 400 currently active.
"For this coming year, we've added $125,000 to four big shoots," says Ann Pihl, executive vice president and vice president of marketing at MSA. "We're striving for bigger payouts for the competitor."
Riders: In both CMSA and MSA events, the classes and divisions are split by gender. CMSA has six levels each for me, women, seniors, and wranglers (13 and younger).
"The wranglers ride the course without shooting, then shoot from the ground with a guardian. We teach the kids gun safety," says Plaster.
MSA has three divisions, each split by gender: non-pro, semi-pro, and pro. "We've also added the platinum division for shooters 45 and older, and we have 'little bandits and 'outlaws' who ride the course but shoot only from the gourd, says Pihl.
Horses: Thought both organizations are open to all breeds, the majority of horses used for mounted shooting are of stock type. "About 90 percent are Quarter Horses or Paints," says Plaster. "A really good shooting horse has speed and athleticism, but it also has to be calm-and completely broke. For most classes, you're riding with one hand and shooting a revolver with the the other. If you're in the rifle class, you drop the reins completely and guide your horse with your legs while shooting."
Then there's the noise factor. Kenda Lenseigne, multiple mounted shooting world and national champion, puts it this way: "In mounted shooting, when we say horses need to be 'bombproof,' we really mean it."
Courses: CMSA has 60 different course patterns and MSA has 20, each with 10 targets to shoot. Many of the courses include a barrel to turn followed by a rundown; entrants shoot five of the targets in the first half of the course, then turn the barrel and gallop the straightaway, shooting the remaining five targets.
A rider's score is his or her elapsed time plus five-second penalties for such errors as missed targets, knocked over barrels, and dropped guns.
"I think that's why the sport has such a draw," says Lenseigne. "It is what it is-when you cross the line, you've either hit your targets or you haven't."
The Ammo: Safety is stressed at all shoots and matches, and both associations provide black-powder blanks that reach only 20 feet to use in the arena.
Benefits: Mounted shooting gets a horse very, very broke. It's also welcoming to newcomers and particularly family-friendly.
"Participants aren't like any other folks you could image," says Plaster. "If you have a problem with tack, somebody will load you a saddle. If your horse comes up lame, a competitor will offer you a horse. I don't find that in other sports."