It’s a sport that makes riders feel like outlaws from the Wild West.
Cowboy mounted shooting comes complete with revolvers, horses and gunpowder. However, the guns are loaded with blanks and the bandits are in the form of balloons.
“Every kid wanted to be Wyatt Earp or Billy the Kid and in some small way, this gives you a taste of what that might have been like,” said Cain Quam, a member of the Saskatchewan Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (SCMSA).
Cowboy mounted shooting combines the sports of barrel racing and revolver shooting as riders race through a course at high speed, shooting at 10 mounted balloons. Black powder blanks are shot from single-action .45 long Colt guns, with five seconds being deducted from a rider’s time if a balloon target is missed.
While the sport has been popular in the United States for many years, a Saskatchewan chapter wasn’t formed until 2009. A small group of enthusiasts, led by Dean Dahlstrom, formed the SCMSA at that time. The association, led by Frank Bullin, now has 58 members and three district clubs (Regina, Saskatoon and Paradise Hill).
“A lot of it is getting your horse really broke because if you can’t get that horse exactly where you want him, it’s going to be hard to hit your target,” said Quam.
In Canada it is illegal to shoot a gun from the back of a horse. However, cowboy mounted shooting is an exception to that rule because blanks are used.
“The horse will definitely jump the first few times you shoot off of it, but if you’ve prepared the horse well and it has a good amount of confidence, it’ll handle it quickly,” said Quam.
Gary Charnock, a recreational horse enthusiast, recently took up the sport.
“It’s instant gratification because even if you miss the balloon, you’ve still just shot a gun off your horse and that alone is exhilarating,” said Charnock.
Charnock and Quam said more competitions and a provincial championship are expected in the future as the sport is gaining popularity. While Quam is a professional horse trainer, he said those looking to join the sport certainly don’t have to be career riders.
“You need to be able to ride a horse, but you don’t need to be a professional horse rider.”
Safety is paramount in the sport, with all participants requiring a Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licence (RPAL). Anyone participating in the sport also has to be over 18, must be a member of the SCMSA for insurance purposes and must ride at an accredited arena.
With six approved facilities in Saskatchewan, Charnock said more people are being exposed to the sport.
“I think awareness is growing and the other thing that is going to help is if a few trainers get involved.”
Quam embarked on the sport both for the fun of it and in order to teach others. The horse trainer has offered a cowboy mounted shooting clinic at his Kendal, Sask. arena and hopes to do more in the future.
While the technical aspects of the sport, like the 65 different courses, are of interest to Quam, he said mounted shooting is also about riding like the cowboys did in the movies.
“When you get on that horse, you have visions of being the wildest cowboys around. I think even Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid would have had to look out for us.”
For more information on the SCMSA and cowboy mounted shooting in Saskatchewan, contact president Frank Bullin at 306-978-0550. †