by Tammy Sronce
Not every new shooter is fortunate enough to be surrounded by experienced shooters to help guide them into a mistake-free introduction to mounted shooting. Unfortunately, many new shooters have to learn lessons through trial and error or by doing things the hard way. These simple guidelines can help guide you towards a safe and knowledgeable start.
Finding the Right Equipment
Getting started in mounted shooting and purchasing equipment such as guns and holsters can be costly. I always recommend that people who are interested in getting started in mounted shooting take a mounted shooting lesson from an experienced trainer. A mounted shooting lesson from a professional on a trained and safe shooting horse, will give the person an idea if this sport is for them, without the costly expense of purchasing equipment.
Working with a trainer or alongside other experienced shooters, will also present new shooters with opportunities to experiment with different equipment and find out what suits them best, this will ensure that the correct equipment will be purchased the first time.
I also recommend new shooters attend a mounted shooting competition as a spectator to see the competition format.
Finding the Right Horse
New shooters either have the choice of purchasing a trained shooting horse or seeing if their current horse would be suited to the sport. There are mounting shooting trainers who will introduce your horse to gunfire for you, however if you chose to do this yourself, there are some basic guidelines that you should follow with great caution.
Firstly, be sure your prospect suits your riding ability. Young horses less than five years of age, generally do not make good prospects for novice riders, due to the fact that they require regular riding, and they generally lack maturity. People who lack the free time during the working week usually have a difficult time managing a young shooting horse. However, saying that, there are some young horses, in the right hands, that make very nice shooting horses.
Your shooting prospect also has to have a relatively finished ‘handle’ on him before you begin your pistol training. You should have full control over your horse. You should be able to walk, trot, lope (on both leads), stop well, back up and your horse should give to pressure from your legs. To begin gun training on your horse without full control, will only by asking for difficulties.
The Right Start to Gunfire
The most common mistake a new shooter can make is the desire to see if their prospect will be able to handle the noise of the firearms straight away. A common statement that comes from friends with the best of intentions is usually: Hey…let’s see if he shoots? Someone may take your horse and off they go riding and shooting, that is probably the worst thing you can do to a brand new prospect.
The problem is that the majority of horses will be scared by jumping in with the too much- too soon approach. This can lead to other problems such as a horse not wanting to go into the arena, move forward to a balloon, shying sideways away from gunfire or not wanting to cross the timer. All you end up with here is retraining. So the rule is; take the time to start your horse correctly. Get advice from an experienced trainer on how to put a solid shooting foundation on your horse.
Finding the Right Speed
Although this is a timed event, training a mounted shooting horse requires the utmost patience. Pushing a shooting horse through his training and running your horse too fast- too soon, will create unnecessary anxiety, so resist the urge to see how fast he will go! This is another common mistake.
Skipping this step will cause problems in the future; a rushed horse can develop anxiety at the gate and in the arena. They also lack the ability to rate back at high speed, because they are so used to being allowed to run through the patterns, they then have a tendency to leap or bounce when you do try to reduce their speed.
The key to keeping your horse running smooth and keeping his mind sensible, is understanding your horse’s personality and knowing what he can handle. If you have a horse that is mature and extremely laid back, and one which you need to constantly push through a pattern, it would not be a problem to ask him for a little more speed through the pattern earlier in his training. However, if you have a young horse who is constantly wanting to charge through the bridle and run, pushing this horse early in his training and teaching him that he will have to run every time he goes into the arena would be a terrible mistake.
Always be willing to Learn
I tell my students that the guidance I have to give is really what has worked for me in my career. Everyone has something to offer and advice to give. I have kept an open mind over the years and I have listened to a lot of different people. Keep what works for you and what sounds good to you, and throw away advice that doesn’t work for you. Being open minded will help you learn more but being smart enough to take advice and scrutinize it first, may save you from taking bad advice.
Keeping the Right Perspective
If you are new to mounted shooting remember to keep your goals in perspective. If you are an entry level shooter just starting out, don’t try and go and compete with the professionals at your first event, you’ll only be disappointed. If you keep realistic and obtainable goals, you will always have fun.
Coming from Australia where having a firearm was pretty much unfeasible, I had never picked up a pistol in my life until I started mounted shooting in 2001. I was petrified of firearms, so if you love horses but have little or no experience with firearms, this sport could still be for you! After multiple World and National Championships in mounted shooting, I have a brand new relationship with the pistol.
Multiple CMSA World & Champions Cowgirl
National CMSA Rifle Champion