Cowboy mounted shooting is an exciting and fast-paced event in which riders shoot at targets will moving in patterns through the arena at a gallop. The sport requires precision, excellent riding skill and shooting accuracy. Cowboy mounted shooting is popular particularly in the United States, where the days of the Wild West required riding and shooting skills for survival. Cowboy mounted shooting also has origins in Australia where ranchers and cattle herders faced the same trials and required the same skill set as their western counterparts.

About Shooting

In cowboy mounted shooting, riders shoot at ten mounted targets. The first five targets are arranged in varying patterns. The second set of targets are arranged in a straight layout every 11m. This section of the course is dubbed the “run down”.

The guns used in mounted shooting were like those in the days of the west. The riders use . 5 caliber single-action revolvers to shoot the targets. Rather than using traditional bullets, the guns are loaded with blank ammunition. The gun has 6 chambers for ammunition. After each shot, the shooter must cock the handle to revolve the chamber and fire another shot. While the colt . 5 is a popular choice, other riders choose a . 2 caliber, . 8 special, . 57 magnum, . 4 magnum or a . 4 special. Riders carry two guns, one for the first round of five targets and one for the second round.

Rather than using traditional bullets, the guns are loaded with blank ammunition. The blanks are used primarily for safety purposes. While the blanks can be lethal at very close range, they offer no danger beyond 10 meters. In the 1800s, the gun powder used in revolvers was made of salt peter, charcoal and sulfur. Today, a gun power substitute is used because it is less corrosive, but still has the smokey effect of the past. Much of the cowboy mounted shooting associations seek to replicate the past as accurately as possible.

The mounted shooters run a pattern. The pattern is either pre-determined or selected the day of the event. There are generally 50 or more possible patterns. Competitions consist of three to six rounds, with a different pattern used for each. In each pattern, the balloons are coloured differently to denote the route. The first five balloons are in one color, while the second are in another. That way, the rider understands that he/she must shoot of all of one colour balloon before moving on the second.

After the first five balloons, the rider holsters the first gun and pulls out the second to shoot the balloons lined up for the run-down. In this arrangement, the first balloons are an unpredictable pattern while the second are the balloons lined up in a row.

The important aspects in the scoring of cowboy mounted shooting are speed and accuracy. While the speed determines the outcome, time penalties are assessed for any errors. If the shooter misses a balloon, five seconds are added. If the shooter drops a gun, five seconds are added. If the rider goes off course, ten seconds are added and if the rider falls off of the horse, sixty seconds are added. In courses where shooters must ride around barrels, there is a penalty for knocking over the barrels.

Australian Cowboy Shooting

In Australian cowboy action shooting, shooters use a minimum of four firearms. In addition to the single-action pistols, the shooters use rifles and shotguns. The rifle is typically a lever action rifle. The rifles load ammunition through the side gate and ejected as the next road is about to load. The shotguns used in cowboy mounted shooting are generally double-barrel shotguns used for single action shooting.

Mounted Shooting Horses

Cowboy mounted shooting is a sport that is open to any breed of horse. While some horses make better mounts than others, there are no hard and fast rules for the sport. Good horses should be athletic and supple. The horse needs to be willing to be trained. A good temperament is essential for a horse that will ride in cowboy mounted shooting. The horse must be calm and able to continue riding steadily through the noise of gunfire. Not every horse will overcome the fear of gunfire, though most can be trained.

A horse that will eventually compete in cowboy mounted shooting must be trained to be accustomed to the noise of the gunfire and balloons. Usually, the best method to help a horse overcome the fears is by exposure. Once the horse understands that it will not be harmed at the sound of gunfire or bursting balloons, it will no longer be afraid and tempted to bolt in those situations.


Shooters must have a great deal of training as well before attempting to compete. The rider must be able to grip the horse and balance with just one arm and his/her legs. In more advanced riding, the riders will use their legs to communicate cues to the horse. In addition to lower body strength and balance, the shooter must have accurate aim. The easiest way to train for this is through practicing extending the arm and holding it steady. Riders should aim to shoot at the balloons between eight and ten feet away in order to shoot at optimal accuracy without sacrificing speed in the full canter.

The typical route takes between 10 and 30 seconds to complete, dependent upon the pattern of the route. The run-down section is generally the quicker of the competition. Any mistakes can be paramount in such a speedy competition. It is important for riders to find the balance between speed and accuracy.

Tack and Equipment

The tack used in cowboy mounted shooting is similar to that used in other western-style equestrian disciplines. A proper fitting bit is essential for any equestrian discipline as the bit helps the horse to feel more comfortable. Many mounted riders will use hackamore bits, which, when used properly, can be more comfortable for the horse. Optimizing the comfort of the horse will help the horse’s performance in any area of riding.

Cowboy mounted shooting is a fast-paced and exciting sport reminiscent of the wild west. From the sharp shooting to the quick racing, the skills of the west come to life once more in the cowboy mounted shooting arena.

A positive relationship between horse and rider is essential for the successful teamwork needed in cowboy mounted shooting. A relationship of trust and mutual respect will lead to the highest possible level of competition. The riders aim their single action revolvers, pop the balloons and race to the finish and the spectators cheer and shout. The sport is action-packed and thrilling.