Riders turn back the clock

Published 1:19 pm Saturday, August 22, 2009

A total of 68 riders paid homage to the Old West Saturday as they competed in the North Central Regionals of mounted shooting at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds.

Attired in Old West garb, riders from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota ran random courses and fired blanks at balloon targets using either single action .45 revolvers or rifles as they contended for points to build toward the world finals.

Mounted shooting started in 1992 in Arizona and has become the fastest growing equine sport in the world.

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Riders are scored on time and accuracy with a five-second penalty for dropping a gun, a 10-second penalty for not running the course correctly and a 60-second penalty for falling off the horse. A typical pattern can run from 15 to 35 seconds.

“Being smooth is the key,” said Chad Barthel, of Princeton, who has competed in mounted shooting since 2004.

The sport is based on Wild West shooting competitions and authenticity to the time period is a must. Riders are required to wear traditional western style long-sleeve shirts, western boots, five pocket blue jeans covered by chaps, western boots and a cowboy hat. If the hat falls off during a ride, the contestant is assessed a 60-second penalty.

Several past world and national champions ran in the event, including Andra Olson, Jim Hanson and Jessie Kuka.

Entrants ponied up around $180 to participate in the event and had a chance to visit with the other riders, which is often the best part for some.

“We have the best people I know in this sport,” said Lisa Grimsley, who serves as the secretary for the Minnesota Mounted Shooters chapter.

The season is long, beginning in January and concluding Oct. 25 with the world competition in Amarillo, Texas so riders become well acquainted with each other. Last year Grimsley spent three weekends at home.

The sport has grown in Minnesota considerably and the state won an award last year at the world championships for having the most recruited new members.

Minnesota holds around 22 shows throughout the year while Iowa holds about 15.

Anyone is eligible to participate at the regional level as long as they hold a Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association card, but in order to compete at the world level a rider must accumulate a specific number of points, often 100 points more than their current status. Divisions range from one to six, with six being the highest level.

There are three divisions and six classes in each division. There is also a Wrangler class for children 11 and under.

The events often give back to youth athletic programs by donating money to groups who volunteer as balloon handlers. Members of the Alden-Conger girls’ basketball team served as the balloon handlers Saturday.