The perfect combination of horsemanship and marksmanship, mounted shooting is one of the fastest growing equestrian sports in the country. Learning a new sport through trial and error is always tough. These simple guidelines will help direct 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 expensive. I always recommend that people who are interested in mounted shooting take a mounted shooting lesson from an experienced trainer. A mounted shooting lesson from a professional on a safe and skilled 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, will also present new shooters with opportunities to experiment with different equipment to 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.
Firstly, be sure your prospect suits your riding ability. Young horses less than four years of age, generally do not make good prospects for novice riders, due to the fact that they require regular training. 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, stop well, back up and your horse should move laterally from your leg pressure. To begin gun training on your horse without full control, will only by asking for difficulties when you cannot quickly correct your horse’s reactive behavior to gunfire.
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. The majority of horses will be scared by the too much-too soon approach. This can lead to problems such as a horse not wanting to go into the arena, not moving forward to a balloon, shying sideways away from gunfire or not wanting to cross the timer. What you will end up with in this situation is retraining. So the rule is; take the time to start your horse slowly and 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!
Rushing through the fundamentals 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 used to being allowed to run through the patterns. Horses that have been pushed too fast may also have a tendency to leap or bounce when you try to reduce their speed at the lope, which makes shooting off them difficult.
The key to keeping your horse running smooth and keeping his mind stable, is understanding your horse’s personality and knowing what he can handle. If you have a horse that is mature and extremely laid back, it would not be a problem to ask him for a little more speed through the patterns 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 mistake.
Always be willing to Learn
Be a reflective rider, ride with feel and learn what your horse needs from you to be better. Horsemanship is key. Watch and learn from others. Keep an open mind and keep advice that works for you and what sounds good to you. Don’t be scared to 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, will 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.