The Games People Play (on Horseback!): Cowboy Mounted Shooting

The history of the wild west, the ride’ em, shoot’ em-up cowboy of yesterday has mostly been portrayed by filmstars from Roy Rogers to John Wayne and created a cult following. While you can still find those films of yesterday on certain television networks, like the Marlboro Man, they have become part of a bygone era.

Enter in Jim Rodgers of Scottsdale, Arizona, who combined the love of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver with the idea of shooting from horseback. Through him, the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association was born, which he co-founded in 1994. There is also the Mounted Shooters of America that was founded in 2000.

The CMSA has grown leaps and bounds, creating interest and new chapters across the United States. There are local events as well as regional and national. Special presentations are held at fairs and historical events or reenactments.

Mike Nickerson, FL Peacemakers Chapter President

Mike Nickerson, FL Peacemakers Chapter President

Reminiscent of the wild west shows of years ago with the likes of Buffalo Bill and Annie Get Your Gun, the CMSA is portrayed as a family affair, with categories of competition for both young and old.  These include Men’s class 1-6, Ladies Class 1-6 and Senior Classes 1-6 as well as a class for those 11 years of age or younger called the Wrangler Class. Beginning members are required to start in class 1 and work their way up to 6, no matter their skill levels at the start.

The object of the game is to shoot ten balloon targets while riding horseback through a variety of courses and requires reigning skills as seen in pole bending and barrel races. Points are given for the most targets hit in the least amount of time.

Participating members compete for those points which are recorded at all sanctioned CMSA events, and varies for each event. The end result of accumulated points is year-end awards and prizes.

There are rules, one being period-style attire from the late 1800s. Men and women are dressed in vintage-looking garments which adds color and flavor to the event. Long draped skirts flow as women contestants race, aiming at intended targets. Men look like they stepped out of a sepia-toned photo of years gone by with collar-less shirts and five-pocket jeans.

It is a noisy event, with the blast of guns ricocheting from one side of the arena to the other, but the rule of guns is two .45 caliber single-action revolvers loaded with five rounds of black powder blanks called long colts. Each shot requires cocking the lever before pulling the trigger, and the black powder enables to bust the balloons up to 15 feet away. (Live ammo is strictly prohibited at these events.) All events are directed by a certified mounted range officer who helps to ensure the safety of the competitor, spectators, and volunteers at all events.


And of course, there are the horses. It takes time and training to accustom a horse to the explosive sound coming from behind or sometimes over their heads. Earplugs for both horse and rider are recommended but not required.

The participating mounts are of all breeds, and from paints to palominos, there is no discrimination here. A recent visit to the Lady Lake Equestrian Center where a Florida Peacemakers ( chapter event was being held reflected this.

I spoke to a couple of contestants and what I took away from our conversations was that while this is a serious event due to the very nature and respect for both horse and gun, it is also just a way to have fun. A competitive sport that requires speed, agility, and superb hand-eye coordination, it still smacks of Saturday matinees and John Wayne – what more could you ask for?

For more information and a schedule of National events, visit!

Barb currently resides in Central Florida with her three horses; when she’s not writing or riding for HRL, she loves to read and travel.

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