To say it got loud Wednesday in the John Justin Arena would be an understatement.
Throughout the day, riders raced around a course firing their .45-caliber revolvers at balloons stationed along the way, as part of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association’s daylong competition at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
“It’s strictly the horse and rider,” said Lou Ciferni, president of Texas Smokin’ Guns, a mounted shooting club based in Weatherford.
“It’s a timed event like barrel racing, Ciferni said. “It’s important to be fast but it’s also important to be clean.”
If they miss a balloon, they lose time.
It’s loud, but it’s also safe. All the guns use black powder. There are no live rounds. Earplugs are offered at the back of the arena just in case.
“It’s actually the burning ember that’s breaking the balloons,” Ciferni said. “You’ve probably got to be within 8-10 feet to get them to break.”
The sport has grown rapidly since starting in 1994.
Besides the Stock Show, the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association has events at other shows, including the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and its own world championship in Amarillo in October. The group has more than 14,000 members.
“The audience loves to watch people shooting,” said Annie Bianco, 46, of Cave Creek, Ariz.
Bianco was living in Southlake 17 years ago when she became one of the first women to take up the sport.
She has since become a five-time shooting association world champion and something of an ambassador for the sport.
“I saw it at a competition in California and I said, ‘This is me,’ ” Bianco said. “I’m from a shooting family. My brother is a command sergeant major in Afghanistan. I’ve taught a lot of people how to shoot and to compete.”
It took Bianco more than six years to progress to the top level of the sport, in which both men and women compete. But Bianco said there’s always room for improvement.
“You have to put a lot of time into it,” Bianco said. “It’s a very humbling sport. I compare it to golf. You know how in golf you want to go out and master it but you never really do? It’s a team sport. You and your horse have to be in sync.”
Besides competing and teaching classes, Bianco is going to be training Marines how to fire weapons on horseback.
Next month, instructors from the Marine Mounted Warfare Training Center will come to her ranch for a week of training. She’ll train the instructors, who will go back and train the Marines.
“You never know what you might face,” Bianco said. You get put in situations in places like the mountains of Afghanistan and the only means of transportation is that little skinny horse.”
Besides competing, Bianco was having a demonstration Wednesday to educate people about the sport. Events at livestock shows have helped attract more people to the sport.
“There are a lot of horse people out here,” Bianco said. “They might be showing at one of the other buildings. By coming to these events we definitely pick up more members.”