Mounted shooting combines the skills of horseback riding and gunplay. Submitted photo

By Misty Newman

Have you dreamed of riding a horse while firing a revolver at the same time like Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody or Wyatt Earp? If so, make that dream happen with the Mounted Shooters in Maricopa.

Mounted shooting is one of the fastest growing equestrian sports so it didn’t take long to catch on in Maricopa. Although Maricopa has been “home” to several mounted shooters over the years, it was in November 2012 when the numbers really grew. Gary ‘Baddog’ Bennett hosted a “new shooter” clinic at Thunderbird Farms TACC Arena.

According to Wendy Schaefer, an attendee of this clinic and now a director for the Arizona Cowboy Mounted Shooters Association, there were approximately 20 attendees. Nearly all of the 20 fell in love with the sport and have continued to shoot, bringing the active shooting population in Maricopa to roughly 40.

In mounted shooting, the competitors are set up in three or four stages where they must race against the clock through a gymkhana-type of course while firing at balloon targets. On horseback, the rider starts with two Colt 45 single-action guns and must shoot five balloon targets (all one color) with one gun and then five balloon targets (a different color) with the other gun.

According to Schaefer, if a balloon is missed there is a five-second penalty. After three or four rounds, the one with the fastest cumulative time through the last stage, typically whoever has the least number of penalties wins the class.

One of the great features of mounted shooting is there are six classes (levels) altogether. A rider can move up depending on the number of wins. The competition is more even due to the levels, giving new riders the ability to compete at a slower pace much like the progressive formats used in barrel racing and gymkhana.

Level 1 is the Rookie/Beginner. Level 2 requires three wins with at least three people. Level 3 requires four or more wins with four or more competitors and continues in this manner up to Level 6. There is also a gender split and a senior split. The time frames vary and all the patterns are different. For example, some top shooters run an average pattern in 15 seconds, and a Level 1 competitor may take between 20-40 seconds on that same pattern.

The rider “must go around the targets, navigate the horse around barrels per instruction for each stage and concentrate on shooting the balloon targets at the same time,” Schaefer says. “There is a lot to think about when you are trying to ride, control the horse, and holster and pull your second gun out; it can be very technical and it often is a very humbling experience for even the most experienced riders.”

Safety is a top concern at the events and affects the type of material that is used in the guns. The guns fire black powder blanks, which, Schaefer states, “fall within the noise ordinance and does not pose a threat to attendees or the competitors. All matches have a range master and a match director, who is responsible for setting up the courses per the CMSA safety rules.”

Getting the horses used to the gunfire can take time and patience. Like other competitors, Wendy has had to train her horse, a palomino mustang named Colonel Mustard, to get past the gunfire. Her horse was used to running gymkhana and barrel patterns; however he did not like gun fire.

“I had to work with him quite a bit to keep him from being nervous,” she says.

Schaefer says it seems the horses that most easily transitioned to mounted shooting are the older, seasoned gymkhana and roping horses. Your trusty, retired-from-roping partner might just have a new shooting career ahead of him.

Competitions in Arizona would not happen without local clubs such as Arizona Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (ACMSA) and the Tombstone Ghostriders, which are affiliates of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA). To compete, you do not need to be a club member but you do need to be a member of CMSA.

Many competitions are held every year in various parts of the state, including Horseshoe Park in Queen Creek, the Tombstone Livery in Tombstone and various other locations. The most recent competition at Ben Avery was an ACMSA-sponsored benefit event, “Horses Help.” Entry fees can vary from $60 for a local match to $200 for a championship main match.

“Competing at first can be kind of scary, but it is very exciting,” Schaefer says. “You have the adrenaline going through you. It is great because you can start out competing at you own level and grow as you go. We are a fun-loving bunch who love excitement and celebrating each other’s wins.”

Schaefer’s whole family is now shooting, and her eldest daughter Tucker “broke, trained and is now shooting off her 4-year-old filly and they are doing great.”

Entering these competitions is a great way to get involved in the equestrian community of mounted shooters.

“We are a close-knit group of people,” Schaefer says. “Everyone is rooting for everyone else and people will help you out anyway they can. If you are in a pinch they will lend you their guns, holsters, you name it. We are there to have fun and to have a good time.”

To see upcoming events or learn more about Cowboy Mounted Shooting, visit: http://www.cmsaevents.com


Misty Newman grew up in Idaho and was raised in the outdoors. She loves to go camping, hiking, fishing, & rafting. In her past life, two of her favorite recreational activities included bungee jumping and rock climbing. She was a ranger for a state park, a Recreation Coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club, and the photo editor at the College of Southern Idaho. She moved from Idaho in 2007 and has lived in Maricopa since. She now enjoys exploring AZ with her two beautiful children. Visit http://www.maricopaoutdooradventures.com/

See her previous InMaricopa Outdoors stories:

Residents grow with Master Gardener course

Gun-safety tips from Maricopa Shooting Service

Avid adventurer changes life, now helping others

Hang gliding over Maricopa

Pacana Park remains in the heart of Maricopa

Introduction to InMaricopa Outdoors

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