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Guns and fast horses make for exciting new sport

Manitoba’s fledgling mounted shooting association saddles up for six-gun fun

Riding fast horses is a rush and shooting handguns is a blast.

Combining both into a a double-barrelled adrenalin fix is the idea behind mounted shooting, the newest sport to hit Manitoba’s equestrian scene.

“It’s every kid’s dream — you get to shoot guns and ride horses,” said Shawn Parsons, a member of the Manitoba Mounted Shooting Association who was on hand at the recent Horse 3 event.

The year-old association has two dozen members, who dress up in Wild West regalia, strap on a pair of .45-calibre long Colt revolvers, and shoot multi-coloured balloons while riding full tilt through a barrel-racing-style course.

The guns are real, but fire black-powder blanks — ammunition sufficient to pop a balloon without posing a danger to riders or spectators.

Mounted shooting clubs have existed south of the border and in all western provinces for several years, and a resurgence of interest in shooting sports has made it the fastest-growing equine sport in decades, said Parsons.

Competitors use two single-action revolvers, an old-fashioned style of handgun that requires the hammer to be drawn back for each shot, loaded with five blank rounds. The pistols cost $500 to $1,200, while the ammunition consists of a primer and 32 grains of the coarsest black powder available in a crimped brass casing. No projectile of any sort — not even a paper or wax wad — is allowed. The resulting blast of sparks is enough to pop a balloon at 30 feet, and 15 feet for half loads.

The goal is to complete the course as fast as possible. There are 100 different course patterns, which are chosen by a random draw beforehand. Typically, light-coloured balloons are shot first with one pistol, which is holstered after all of its cartridges are spent. Then riders use the second gun to take out the dark balloons. Five-second penalties are added to a rider’s score for every missed balloon, and 10-second penalties for knocking over barrels or poles.

The blank rounds are loud, and competitors and their mounts often use earplugs. Getting some horses to tolerate having a sponge-rubber ball stuffed into their ears can take a bit of training, Parsons noted.

Desensitizing horses to the boom of a Colt .45 is a step-by-step process.

“We start out with cap guns on foot, then we go to actually getting on the horse with cap guns, then real guns with just a primer that just makes a ‘pop,’ then half loads, and finally full loads,” said Parsons.

Because the Manitoba association is new, competitors can dress however they like. But some U.S. clubs require long-sleeve western shirts, cowboy hats, boots, and chaps, or even authentic period dress from the 1800s (they also favour fanciful nicknames such as ‘Whiskey Bill’).

Relaxed firearm laws also means American practitioners of the sport can practise in the corrals behind the barn.

However, in Canada, a single-action revolver is a restricted firearm. That means the owner must be a member of a gun club, take a one-day training course, pass a written test, provide three personal references including their current or former spouse, pay a fee, and wait 45 days for their application to be considered by the Canadian Firearms Centre. If it is accepted, they receive a photo ID card allowing them to purchase a handgun.

They also need a one-time “authorization to transport” document to take the weapon to a range, and a second authorization to transport the trigger-locked pistol in a locked case to each mounted shooting event. The association has six approved event venues.

It is hosting a “Revolvers for Newbies” information session at Little R Farms in Grunthal on April 27.

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