Over 80 contestants filled the Mathewson Center to compete in Cowboy Mounted Shooting, a rodeo event where men and women of all ages ride through four obstacle courses while also trying to pop ten balloons with ten .45 caliber black powder rounds. Contestants competed in full Western dress in two separate courses over a marathon five hour show from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday, the first of the two day event which wrapped up Friday night.
Riders rode one after another for nearly the entire show, the country and classic rock pumping through the speakers serving as a backdrop to the sound of thunderous gunfire, galloping horses and cheering fans. Between 7 and 8 p.m. the arena was filled with the sounds of either gunfire or claps and cheers.
“I’ve been in horses all my life,” Angie Pope, of Bonne Terre, said. “We’ve had cutting horses, I’ve worked cattle, but this cowboy mounted shooting is the most exciting adrenaline rush I’ve ever experienced on a horse.”
Riders are ranked on levels one through six, with six as the highest. Men’s, women’s and senior’s divisions all competed on Thursday. There were also several groups of family members competing, with children through grandparents all taking part.
The most noticeable part of the event is the gunfire and the smoke it leaves behind. Except for two separate 15 minute gaps for a tractor to smooth out the dirt arena, horses sped around the poles and shots rang out. The arena quickly filled with a fog of gun smoke that sat like a haze throughout the night.
Cowboy Mounted Shooting is a mixture of accuracy and speed, as riders have to quickly guide their horses through the course and try to pop ten balloons with ten shots. Some of the quickest riders miss the most balloons and some of the best shots don’t finish quickly enough. Every missed balloon and every knocked over cone adds five seconds to a rider’s final time. Brace Tiemann, a 17 year old rider, said that strategy only goes so far.
“Focus is a big part of it,” Tiemann said. “Without focus you can’t do it.”
The speed and excitement of the competition had the Mathewson Center almost completely filled between 7 and 8 p.m.
“With (my) horse, you can a 13 or 14 second run out of him,” J.W. Barnhill, of Higginsville, said. “Some of these top guys will be running eight, nine, 10 seconds.”
The top speeds did not disappoint, with Mitchell Kramer winning the first heat with a time of 8.398 and Colin Esau winning with 10.964 for the more difficult second track. Colin and his sister Abby Esau were two of the breakout stars of the tournament, especially because Abby is in eighth grade and could be a possible rookie of the year in the CMSA.
The entire atmosphere of Thursday’s show can be summed by up the Duch family. Sophia Duch is a six-year-old Wrangler rider, the category for riders who are under 12. They ride the course and point their pistols but they don’t shoot. Sophia ran the second course in 15.415 seconds right after 9 p.m. The thinning crowd gave her a loud cheer.
The crowd that had filled the stadium had mostly left by 9 p.m., and by 10 p.m. only a few fans and family members still remained. After Boy Scout Troop 54 reset the balloons, 82 year old Erven Duch rode out and finished his run with a time of 23.103. A grandfather and granddaughter, both in full Western dress, competed under a haze of gunpowder to see who was best. An Alan Jackson tune played them out.