Cowboy up for the latest Wild West sport

Aug 23, 2016 By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

What's the fastest growing equine sport?

Dressage? Rodeo? Chariot racing?

Try cowboy mounted shooting.

That is how the promoters of the state's largest-ever mounted shooting competition in Afton over the weekend were talking about their sport.

They say it's barrel racing -- with attitude.

They may be onto something.

Men and women, old and young, are classed into six divisions based on experience.

Then, just a few minutes before their rounds begin, riders learn the course layout (it changes after each round from an array of 70 possible courses), mount their horses, adjust their holsters and two .45 caliber single-action revolvers loaded with five rounds each and wait for their names to be called.

Then, off they go.

As the riders race through the course with a running start, each tries to shoot five yellow balloons through the first part of the course, then attempt to shoot five purple balloons -- all the while, galloping at breakneck speed.

Horses turn left and right, in and out of the balloon-topped pylons and barrels which outline the course. Depending on layout, it takes 12-30 seconds to complete a run.

For each balloon missed, or pylon knocked over, riders are assessed a five-second penalty.

It's loud. It's western. It's American. And it was a blast to watch.

Are there clothing requirements?

Yes. Participants dress western, in traditional style or in the old-time style of the late 1800s. Traditional style includes a long-sleeve western shirt, five-pocket blue jeans covered by chinks or chaps, western boots and a cowboy hat. If riders want to turn back the clock to the late 1800s, they wear shirts without collars, high-waist pants with buttons, not zippers, and an old-style cowboy hat.

We saw both styles of cowboy dress in Star Valley.

What about the horse? Any horse or mule will do. The faster, the better.

And what are they really shooting? The cartridges fired are called .45 caliber Long Colts. The brass cartridge is loaded with black powder (like that used in the 1800s) which will break a balloon up to about 15 feet in perfect weather conditions. Live rounds are strictly prohibited at competitions.

The noise? Often the horses wear earplugs. It is loud. Some horses respond better than others.

Riders are aiming for the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Finals held annually each fall in Amarillo, Texas.

The surprise in the sport? Women compete against and sometimes beat the men.

Organizers are working to give their sport more television play which, in turn, would ramp up popularity.

Don't be surprised if you see cowboy mounted shooting at a rodeo or arena near you.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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