Mounted shooting is a sport of accuracy and speed. Like many equestrian events, it’s a timed event where the fastest time wins. But unlike many other timed events, mounted shooting patterns consist of 10 targets, multiple barrels and two single-action .45 firearms. So to rephrase: the fastest, most accurate time without penalties wins!
I have been coaching and trying to better myself in this humbling sport for more than 15 years. Over and over again, it comes down to the basics; no matter what level you shoot, accuracy wins the events. Every time you miss a target or knock a barrel down, it’s a five-second penalty—and those seconds can add up fast!
To be accurate, you need to be in control of your equine partner. With 10 targets out in the arena and more than 50 different patterns to draw from, the mounted shooting horse needs a great handle and be in the rider’s total control.
Very rarely do I see an out-of-control contestant hit all of his targets, and if he does, odds are it won’t happen in his next run. It’s comparable to a kamikaze barrel or jumping run where the horse and rider somehow manage to get through without hitting anything; those out-of-control runs will catch up with you and lead to penalties.
Mounted shooting events require a minimum of three runs, and final results are based on riders’ cumulative average times. One run of being greedy, pushing too fast, missing targets, getting sloppy and hitting a barrel can cost you a win. The magic formula for being a world-class mounted shooting competitor is accuracy combined with efficient horsemanship at high-end speed, and training to get to this level takes patience.
Go for Broke
When I start coaching mounted shooters, we work on a lot of horsemanship because control is so important in our sport. If you can’t get your horse through a pattern smoothly when you aren’t also trying to shoot a gun, how can you expect to get through when you are shooting? When students first ask me what to look for in a mounted shooting prospect, I always tell them to look for a broke, athletic horse with a good mind. They usually say, “Mounted shooting is a timed event. Don’t I need a fast horse?” I’ll always reply,“How fast can you shoot while riding and still be accurate?”
A fast horse that blows by targets is no good at any level. We have to combine controlling our horse with being accurate—even if it means slowing down to hit all 10 targets.
I always tell my students who are starting out that they will make me more proud if they hit all 10 targets while staying in control of their mount than if they exit the arena bragging about getting the fastest “raw” time. The fastest raw time means just that—they had the fastest time before all the missed-target penalties got tacked on. Not impressive. What is impressive is seeing students focus on their target accuracy, ride their horses efficiently through the pattern and gradually build speed as they improve.
Patience is a virtue, and it always pays off in the fast-paced sport of mounted shooting and anything else we do with our equine athlete partners.
Annie Bianco is a lifetime APHA member, world and national champion cowgirl and a CMSA Hall of Fame inductee and national spokesperson. A coach and trainer of world champion mounted shooting horses and riders, Annie also hosts shooting clinics and charity competitions. Follow her online via Facebook.