Mounted Shooting: Horsemanship is King

Mounted Shooting Competition Texas

Arizona — ( — While I was in Texas this past December, I attended a mounted shooting competition about 50 miles from Fort Worth. The competition was organized by Texas Smoking Guns. The event was held at Salt Creek Arena and Stables, on FM 51, just south of Boyd, Texas . . .

Several things are different about Mounted Shooting compared to more conventional shooting competitions. The most obvious is that they do not use conventional ammunition. They use blanks. Special blanks, that are not provided by the shooters, issued to them by the organization holding the meet.

This makes a lot of sense, given the restrictions of the competition. They use real guns.All that I saw were Ruger stainless single action revolvers. The rules require single action guns, and Rugers have proven to be the most durable and reliable, according to contestants that I talked to. Because the blanks are black powder, the guns selected are stainless steel, to make cleaning less of a chore.

Mounted Shooting Blanks

The blanks are made for visual effects; they project burning sparks and voluminous white smoke 20 feet, in about a 20 degree cone. The shooting is point shooting, and does not involve precise aiming. It does a good job of simulating the requirements for armed mounted combat with repeating pistols. This was a form of combat common from 1850 through 1900. Winston Churchill used a broom handle Mauser during a cavalry charge in the River War in 1898.

If you want to see an example of this kind of combat on the screen, look to the final combat scene in The Outlaw Jose Wales.

Watching the competition, where individual competitors run through a complicated course, firing at 10 balloons on sticks, makes it clear why the pistol armed cavalry man was so effective. Shooting is fast, and good gun control is necessary, but the winning skill is horsemanship. The horse is every bit as much of a competitor as the rider. You are allowed two revolvers, with five shots each. There are ten targets, so there is little room for error. A missed target or a knocked over barrel on a turn costs you five seconds. The fastest time wins.

Mounted Shooting Action 2015 Tx

Much of the cavalry combat from 1850 to 1900 was against savage warriors armed with bows, swords, spears, or muzzleloading muskets. Against those opponents, the pistol armed cavalryman is effective and dangerous. Against repeating rifles and machine guns, horses are simply too vulnerable. Cavalry today rides in armored vehicles.

This competition is a good spectator sport. The combination of horsemanship and shooting skills is exciting to witness. The safety afforded by using blanks allows spectators to be close. The balloon popping, smoke, tight turns and fast horses are dramatic. I suggest hearing protection. Those blanks are loud!

I was fascinated by the display of horsemanship, and the skill of the horses. I grew up with horses, but generally considered them more of a chore than an asset. Others disagree.

If you are going to participate in this sport, you need a horse, so you can train together. This makes the sport moderately expensive, unless you already regularly work with horses. My suspicion is that a large number of real cowboys, outfitters, and working ranchers number among the competitors.

I was told by people who had participated in many equestrian sports, that this sport is the most demanding. As I watched the action, I thought of Churchill, of the Civil War, of cavalry charges on Afghanistan’s plains. If you get a chance to attend one of these competitions, I recommend it.

c2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch


  1. avatar Geoff PR says:

    “The balloon popping, smoke, tight turns and fast horses are dramatic. I suggest hearing protection. Those blanks are loud!”

    I grew up around horses, my sisters (rather successfully) competed them, Western and English.

    What kind of ear pro do the horses get?

    1. avatar Chuck in IL says:

      I just used foam. It takes awhile to get them acclimated to having stuff crammed into their ears, but the eventually do. Here are some for sale.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        Ah! Much better than what I was imagining.

        I was visualizing horse ear-muffs…

        1. avatar tsbhoA.P.jr says:

          that occurred to me as well.

    2. avatar Dale Smith says:

      Tampons are use quite often too. Not kidding.

  2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    I recently watched high school students ride in various equestrian competitions … adding pistol craft would make it that much harder.

    How often do riders fall off of their horses?

    1. avatar Anonymoose says:

      Only once. After that they never get compared to a bird or a plane again.

    2. avatar Indiana Tom says:

      Oldest Daughter is a dedicated equestrian and she has fallen off horses many times as both a child and an adult. A Haflinger ran off and threw her so hard that her helmet split open. Her riding instructor had her ride horses in many different positions and without a saddle when she was a child. Most of the school horses were ex-barrel racing horses so as to make things more interesting.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        Barrel-racing on Saturday night with their Appaloosa and Quarter Horse was how my sisters got into competing when we were in southwest Oklahoma in the mid-70’s.

        And every stereotype applied. Gun racks (with guns! The Horror!!!) in nearly every pickup truck at the high school parking lot, some of them with a big bottle of propane.

        And nobody got shot. Occasionally a kid got suspended for fighting. Weird…

  3. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Every time I watch a western where they shoot from horseback, I’ve always wondered how the horses took that kind of noise abuse. Ear plugs for horses. Very cool.

    1. avatar Anonymoose says:

      Fortunately we can lever-actions now.

  4. avatar James69 says:

    Shooting from a moving vehicle is hard, I can’t imagine the skill required shooting from a horse. Looks like fun though.

    1. avatar Indiana Tom says:

      Shooting is pretty much a near point blank affair and the blast of the blanks is sort of like a shotgun. It still is harder to do than what you think.

  5. avatar DE_Dom says:

    Very fun sport, I was doing it for a bit right before and after my son was born. I had really good teachers. It does get expensive, especially when you don’t live in a state where it’s common. Driving to and from events, practices, having to buy two pistols, the holster rigs, and if you’re really just starting, you need a horse and lots and lots of patience. Depending on if you’re competing at a higher level, you also have to dress in period correct clothing. It really is great if you can get a horse that cooperates. Would definitely get back into it if I could find the time.

  6. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    What is even more fun than the more refined equestrian sports is the basic retraining or training Thoroughbred Race Horses and Rescue Horses that have had little human contact.

  7. avatar Col potter says:

    Savage warriors?

    1. avatar Josh says:

      I hope he was using the vernacular of the time and not actually calling the noble plains people savages. After all they were smart enough to trade for lever actions and use them effectively before the army did.

      1. avatar Clark45 says:

        Not certain of the author’s intent with the phrase, but when defending myself of my family I am a most savage warrior, without question.

      2. avatar Clark45 says:

        Not certain of the author’s intent with the phrase, but when defending myself or my family I am a most savage warrior, without question.

  8. avatar Nedd Ludd says:

    Here’s how they do it in Japan – No guns of course.
    Yabusame: Japanese Horseback Archery
    Japanese Horseback Archery at Kamigamo Shrine
    Actual shooting starts at about the 45 second mark:

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      Thanks for that link, I’m forwarding it to one of my sisters who’s kids are also into horses.

      I think they will really like the ‘Katniss Everdeen’ angle…

  9. avatar CHLChris says:

    I think it’s hilarious how many people had the exact same thought…a worry for the horses’ hearing. With rifles, the muzzle would be right near their heads, too.

  10. avatar Backyardsniper says:

    If you’re a spectator or helper that is close to the action though, eye pro is a must, I’ve set balloons at shoots before and gotten sparks in the eye.

  11. avatar Montesa_VR says:

    If you decide to experiment with your own or a borrowed horse, please be aware that even restricting yourself to a single action revolver, it is common, sooner or later, to accidentally shoot your horse. Depending on how much mane is in the way or how indirect the hit might be, the result is usually a very startled horse at best or a nasty powder burn at worst. But imagine the potential disaster if you were using live ammo.

    The best firearm for initial training is a cap gun.

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