Can you guide your galloping horse through a pattern using only one hand? Can you shoot a gun well enough to hit a balloon at that speed? If the very idea sounds overwhelming, you’ll want to clap and cheer for those competing at Farmfair’s Mounted Shooting Competition.
Mounted shooting features various patterns, each with ten balloons. Competitors must gallop through the pattern as fast as possible while shooting balloons. A missed balloon incurs a five second penalty so speed isn’t enough; control and good horsemanship are essential.
Competitor’s guns use a crimped shell filled with black powder. The powder and the heat generated break the balloons, but they must be within a 20 foot range.
Duncan MacMillan from Vermilion has been competing in mounted shooting for two years after watching a demonstration on the sport.
“I’m 64 years old, so I’m not as fast as the younger guys,” MacMillan says. “But I am steady and consistent, and that takes me a long ways.”
“You need a really good horse for mounted shooting,” MacMillan says. “And it’s essential your horse is properly prepared before you compete.”
The couple’s horses are ranch raised and trained, and carefully desensitized to gunfire.
“Each horse is different,” MacMillan says. “Jean’s horse is 17, and had a lot of experience working cattle, travelling to rodeos, and carrying flags before we started mounted shooting. He’s doing great now, but at first he was really bothered by the loud noise. We thought Silver would be worse since you can’t carry a loose coat on him without a reaction, yet he was hardly bothered by gunfire.”
Mounted shooting classes are divided by gender, age and levels. MacMillan competes in men’s senior level two classes. “Beginners start at level one and work their way up as they win and earn money,” he explains.
“For most classes I will use two 45 Colt pistols. I’ll shoot the first five balloons with one pistol, then holster it and use the next for the last balloons.”
But MacMillan’s favourite class is the rifle competition where a pistol is used for the first five balloons and a 44-40 Winchester rifle for the others. “Those last five balloons will be in a straight line on the way home,” MacMillan says. “Riders must drop the lines and run flat out while shooting. It’s a real kamikaze class, and not for the faint of heart!”
Mounted shooting pays well at the CFR with a $5,000 purse plus prizes. But the money isn’t the part the MacMillans enjoy the most. “For us the people and the fun are more important than the prizes,” he concludes.
Mounted Shooting goes Nov. 5 and 6, 2012 at 1:00 PM in EXPO Centre, Hall D at Northlands in Edmonton.