By Shelly Hanke
Larry Michael grew up idolizing the heroes in classic 1950s western movies.
So when a client told him in 2008 about a sport that involves shooting guns and riding horses, Michael, a producer with The Brehmer Agency Inc., Butler, jumped at the chance to act out his boyhood fantasies.
“One of my contractor surety bonding clients knew I did a lot of target shooting and hunting,” he said. “One day he asked me, ‘Have you ever tried shooting revolvers off a running horse?’”
In that moment, a love of cowboy-mounted shooting was born, Michael said.
Calling it the “fastest-growing equestrian sport in North America,” Michael said cowboy-mounted shooting combines elements of old-time Wild West exhibition shooting with cavalry and historical re-enactment.
Contestants on horseback compete in timed events in which they shoot at targets using two, .45-caliber, single-action revolvers, each loaded with specially prepared ammunition.
Participants must dress in western gear — either traditional western style or the old-time style of the late 1800s, Michael said. Traditional style includes a long-sleeve western shirt, five-pocket blue jeans covered by chaps, western boots and a cowboy hat.
“Most people who are not involved with horses are not familiar with the sport,” Michael said. “I tell them that for a guy like me who grew up on cowboy movies, this is a dream come true.”
The popular cowboy westerns of the 1950s had a great influence on Michael, he said, particularly the themes of good versus evil and the emphasis on commitment, loyalty and personal sacrifice.
“I remember some of those movie scenes like I saw them yesterday,” Michael said.
Because of his love for such childhood idols as Alan Ladd and Jack Palance, Michael trained seriously for months before attempting his first competition to ensure he did justice to the sport.
“Other than a few trail rides, I was a neophyte with horses,” he said. “After some months of serious training for me, I actually can compete at the beginner’s level.”
Cowboy-mounted shooting offers a variety of competition levels, ranging from novice to the seasoned professional. Beginners often walk or trot their horse through the courses while seasoned riders can fly through a course firing at 10 targets in less than 15 seconds. Each course includes 10 inflatable targets along with a series of gates and barrel turns.
“The cowboy-mounted shooting sport is a perfect opportunity to experience a real life boyhood fantasy playing cowboy and having fun with your horse and other like-minded people,” Michael said.
The gun handling came easy for him, but developing a good relationship with his horse, Gunner, took time, he said. Riders must train themselves and their horses to get used to gunfire, sharp turning and fast action.
Michael has won a few competitions in his beginner class and wants to move up to the second level of competition later this year. He plans to participate in at least three competitions this summer, he said.
For Michael, any risks associated with the sport are outweighed by the friendships he has made along the trail. Competitors help each other out by loaning equipment and horses and sharing advice — a sentiment Michael described as “the cowboy way.”
“At this point in my life, when something comes my way I don’t pass it up,” he said. “Who knows what’s next?”