Horseback shooting enthusiasts spent three days competing at John Sharp Corral northwest of Prineville

by: JASON CHANEY - Cindy Griggs navigates a mounted shooting pattern on Friday evening.

Anyone who has watched an old spaghetti Western is sure to have seen their fair share of cowboys racing across the landscape, guns a-blazing.

For those who haven’t seen it on TV or the big screen, they could have checked it out in person this past weekend at Thunder in the Ochocos.

The Mounted Shooters of America event was held over a three-day span this past weekend at the John Sharp Corral northwest of Prineville.

“You have two single-action 45 long Colt pistols,” explained Stew Butts, Prineville participant and leader of the Lone Pine Rangers, a local mounted shooting club. “You load each gun with five rounds and there are 30 different patterns.”

After drawing the pattern, competitors race their horses through the series of cones placed inside the corral, popping off shots at red or white-colored balloons.

“You shoot five of one color balloon with one gun, then change guns and shoot five of the other color,” Butts said. “It’s a timed event, and so if you miss a balloon, it is a five-second penalty.”

Mounted shooting events emerged about 20 years ago, Butts said, and the Wild West-inspired pastime has steadily gained popularity ever since.

“It is one of the fastest growing equine sports right now in the United States,” he said. “It just keeps gaining momentum. We are not growing by leaps and bounds, but we will gain a lot of new people every year.”

The Lone Pine Rangers join four other clubs in Oregon who enjoy mounted shooting. The Thunder in the Ochocos drew about 45 contestants, some from the neighboring states of Idaho and Washington.

Like many sports, mounted shooting takes time to learn. New members start out as a rookie, Butts said, then after they have won a few matches, they move up to the non-pro division.

It can also deliver quite a rush.

“Consider going 15 miles an hour on a horse shooting your guns. It’s you and your horse against the timer,” he said. “It’s the kind of deal where you stop thinking about anything but killing balloons.”

While Butts thoroughly enjoys the thrill of horseback gunplay, his favorite part of mounted shooting is how it brings together new friends who share a common passion and skill.

“It’s a great bunch of people,” Butts remarked. “The people we compete against, even the top shooters, if you have a question on how to shoot the pattern better, they will help you out. Even though you are competing against them, everybody roots for everybody.”

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