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Cowboy Mounted Shooters Clinic

Published: 4/25/2011
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By Julie Kenney

There’s nothing that speaks of the Wild West more than shooting a gun off your horse.  It conjures up images of old black and white Westerns I would watch on TV as a kid.  The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza come to mind.

I first heard of Cowboy Mounted Shooting when I saw a demonstration a couple years back at the Equine Affaire, held in Springfield, MA, every November.  It showed riders dressed in 1800s period dress riding their horses at top speeds through a predetermined obstacle course firing their handguns at balloons. 
It was thrilling to watch.  I was amazed at the skills of the riders and at how well the horses took to having the guns shot off of them.

My friend, Lorraine, wanted to try out this relatively unknown sport an d signed up for a clinic.  I just had to go see what this was all about.

The clinic was held at Brian and Amy Gordon’s Steel Dust Stables in West Gardiner, Maine.  Cowboy Mounted Shooting (CMS) competition has been around the northeast U.S. about eight years now and here in Maine for only the past four years.  But it seems that more and more folks are checking this new sport out.

After introductions, newcomers to the sport had to demonstrate to the clinic leaders, Bill Ledoux and Brian Gordon, how well they handled a revolver.  Checking the gun over, loading in five blanks, and spinning the cylinder to rest at the empty slot were all watched very closely. 
Even though they are not using real bullets, blanks can still hurt and proper handling of a gun is always paramount, even when it is unloaded.  Five blanks, not six, is important to note.
In early days, revolvers were not always well made and the jostling of riding could accidentally set the gun off.  Cowboys quickly learned that only loading five bullets could save themselves a leg and also keep their horse from being shot.  Sounded reasonable to me.

Participants then had to walk the course on foot and practice shooting at five balloons attached to the top of PVC pipe set into stands at various spots in the indoor arena.  After everyone had a turn, participants had to then jog through the course, again trying to hit each balloon while they held their arm straight out, cocking the hammer after each blank was fired.

Just after lunch, the horses were brought into the arena with their halters and leads on.  It was our job as the handlers to keep the horses moving and allow space between each other so the horse could move their feet as each shot was fired off.  We basically had to work on desensitizing the horses to the gunshots. 
Once the horses showed a relative calmness with the noise, it was time to saddle up and ride as each participant felt comfortable with their horse’s reaction.  I was truly surprised that it didn’t take very long to acclimate the horses to the loud and startling gunshots.

After more desensitizing, riders were encouraged to try shooting the revolver while on horseback, no balloons necessary at this point.  Just shooting into the sandy arena footing was all that was needed, all the while the other participants are riding around the perimeter of the arena. 
The last part of the clinic each rider took a turn at hitting the balloons while they rode their horses at a walk.  I was so very impressed with how far the participants, human and equine, had come in just a few hours.

I suggest that everyone take the time to go watch this thrilling sport.  Click here to check out their site. Maybe you’ll even want to try it out!

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4/26/2011 Debi
I can't wait to try this sport out! It sounds like a lot of fun and something new to introduce my horse to.
4/26/2011 Patty
Thank you Julie... well done article. Glad you were able to make it... Our next clinic is May 21 at the Hollis Equestrian Park....
4/27/2011 Julie Kenney
I had a fabulous time at the clinic, mainly because all of you were so nice, helpful, and welcoming! I've decided to get myself a cap gun to work with around my horses. One of my ACTHA rides last year, we were judged on how our horse reacted to a cap gun being horse didn't even flinch. Who knows, after trying out some new sports that I've already signed up with my horses this year, I may just try out CMS next year :) I also look forward to catching up with all of you at the MESS in July.

"Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses" - Elizabeth Taylor