If any event expresses the mystique of the Old West at the Fort Worth Stock Show, it’s mounted shooting, a whiz-bang equestrian event combining riding and shooting skills with a bit of swagger.
“We go out and play cowboys,” joked Donna Waldrup of Mineral Wells as she completed a run in Justin Arena on Wednesday morning. “It’s so exciting. And my heart’s really pumping when I’m out there.”
Her 17-second time was “fabulous,” Waldrup said as she sat astride her brown stallion. Waldrup’s fitted jacket and long lavender satin skirt were pure Victorian chic.
Anyone age 12 or more, man or woman, teen or senior, can participate in mounted shooting for prize money and bragging rights.
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Each gender and age group contains novices and experts, competing in six graduated levels of skill. This year, 85 contestants are entered in the Stock Show’s competition.
The riders race their horses through straight and winding courses marked with balloon targets, shooting single-action .45-caliber pistols armed with black-powder rounds. Rifles and shotguns can also be used in the “rundown,” or the last five rapid straight shots of the 10-shot course. It’s loud, but proud.
Contestants and their horses can wear earplugs to cut the sound, though the arena-mix powder is only half as loud as the outdoor kind, officials said. Some simply ride and shoot while listening to their favorite Jimmy Buffett and Motley Crue tunes on earbuds.
Many younger contestants have taken to wearing safety helmets instead of Western hats, said Shannon Males, who produces the show with her husband, Mike.
The Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association is the competition’s sanctioning body. They sponsor over 500 events a year, have 102 chapters and 14,000 members.
Though the competition is affiliated with the American Quarter Horse and American Paint Horse associations, they’re not exclusive to those breeds.
“You can ride anything, even a mule, though I’ve only seen two people ride mules,” said Males. “We’ve got a lot of new shooters this year, which is great, because it means the sport is growing.”
Horses are trained to accept the sound of the pistols, Males said, by first shooting on the ground around them without a rider, she said. “Then when you get on, you’re shooting behind them, then you bring it around to the front.”
Injuries unique to the competition can include powder burns on both horse and rider. Points can be lost by missing a balloon, missing a gate upon entrance, or worse, dropping a gun.
“It’s just real exciting,” said Males, who began mounted shooting in 2006 with her husband. “I was never competitive in anything like sports, but this gives you a chance to travel and do something together.
“You could go to at least one competition a month, and in Arizona, one a week,” Males said.
Arizona is where the sport first developed. Diana Olson, from “near Tombstone,” began mounted shooting during the early 1990s and participated in her first competition in 2004. She is range master of this year’s Fort Worth Stock Show competition, charged with keeping the arena safe.
“I’ve had a horse since I was 12,” Olson said, pushing her rhinestone-studded black hat back on her hair. “I used to shoot milk pods from horseback. I knew this [sport] was out there for me, I just had to find it.
“And there’s no judges,” she said, “just you, your horse and your gun.”
Tucker Buss, 18, of Hunter, Oklahoma, has been competing in mounted shooting on his horse Catt for about three years.
“It’s an adrenaline rush, and it’s fun changing guns and shooting,” he said after finishing a run that didn’t go quite as well as he had planned.
Buss runs cattle with his brother and does pasture roping.
“A couple of years ago I was on the road a lot doing this,” he said. “We went to five or six real big ones, we had a big run in Arizona.”
It was easy getting into mounted shooting, Buss said, because of Catt’s open range experience with hearing shots fired at coyotes, snakes and the like. “She was gun-broke before I ever started shooting. With my dad’s horse, it took 2,000 rounds to break,” he said.