There was a time when being proficient at shooting a pistol while mounted in the saddle of a moving horse was an important and even necessary skill for many Americans.

While those times ended long ago for the most part, the nation’s fastest growing equestrian sport is to some extent bringing that skill back.

Known as Cowboy Mounted Shooting, it’s an activity being undertaken nationwide by horse lovers of all ages who possess all levels of prowess with a handgun. Since mid-2010, a Cowboy Mounted Shooting club called the Silver Nickel Shooters has operated out of Raymondville, using the Silver Nickel Arena on Highway 137 as its home base.

The basic premise of the sport is to carry two guns in holsters and fire at five balloon targets with each while navigating a preset course on a horse. Targets are mounted on poles resting in traffic cones, and the first five to be fired at are arranged in one of 64 different patterns, as approved by the sport’s overseeing body, the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA). After holstering the first gun, a shooter then pulls the second gun and fires at five targets in a straight line down the middle of the arena – known as the “run down.”

Guns used must be .45 caliber single-action revolvers, which require being cocked manually prior to each shot by pulling back the hammer. Rounds fired at targets are made up of cartridges filled with black powder that can break a balloon from a range of up to about 15 feet.

Time to complete a course determines placement in competition, and shooters incur a five-second penalty for each missed balloon or for dropping a gun, a 10-second penalty for not running a course correctly and a 60-second penalty for falling off a horse. In turn, speed is important, but accuracy is usually more important as a typical pattern can be run in 15-35 seconds.

CMSA events feature six classes each in men’s, women’s and senior classes, and a class for shooters 11 and under.

The Silver Nickel Shooters currently has about 30 members. Club president Roy King, a resident of Golden Hills near Raymondville, said those members hail from numerous communities in the area, including Eminence, Salem, Licking, Houston, Raymondville and Summersville.

“I love to hunt and shoot and ride horses, so what could be better than to mix them this way,” King said. “We have really good shooters and we have shooters who are just learning – and it doesn’t matter. We just have a great time.”

The club gathers at the Silver Nickel Arena every Friday night from May to October for practice sessions and “fun shoots.” Several members have performed in exhibitions the past two years at the Licking Rodeo and some traveled last Saturday to Sullivan, Mo. for an exhibition at a National Day of the Cowboy event put on by the Sullivan Saddle Club.

While some horses have no problem getting used to the sound of a gun being fired by a rider, others never do. But given a bit of training, most can and do take to it.

“Most of us in the club pretty much started from scratch,” King said. “None of our horses had been around gunfire.”

As is the case with any sport, being good at Cowboy Mounted Shooting requires dedication. But since large animals and ever-changing target patterns are involved, other factors also come into play.

“It takes a lot of practice,” King said. “Having some experience with guns can help a lot, too, but a good horse makes a huge difference. You could have a horse that won’t go where you want him to and you’ll never be a good Cowboy Mounted Shooter no matter how good a shot you are.

“But the idea is to pull the trigger and shoot the balloons as fast as you can.”

Silver Nickel Arena owner Cody Nickels, of Raymondville, is also vice-president of the Silver Nickel Shooters. Since first trying his hand at Cowboy Mounted Shooting in May of 2010, Nickels has quickly grown to love the sport and has competed against world-class opponents in several CMSA events.

“I’ve always been the kind of guy who can do a little bit of anything if I put my mind to it,” he said. “But this is one thing that just kind of felt right to me from the beginning.”

Nickels’ next big shoot will be Aug. 14-15 at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, where he’ll be part of a strong field of 65.

“There will be several world champions shooting there,” Nickels said. “It’ll be a ton of fun.”

The Silver Nickel Shooters member roster includes a few female names. Jan Domokos, of Raymondville, said Cowboy Mounted Shooting has given her and her horse Minnie another enjoyable activity to do together.

“I heard they were starting shooting in the arena up here, and I had heard about it but never witnessed it,” Domokos said. “I came and watched a couple of times and decided that this would be something different to do with horses other than just trail ride.

“And Minnie took right to it – like she had been doing it all her life.”

To help the club attract new members, plans are in place for a new-shooters clinic sometime this fall or in the spring of 2012.

“There’s a lot of people interested in doing it,” Nickels said, “but sometimes they’re shy about getting up in front of a group and doing it. By setting this clinic up, we can say ‘everybody here is new and nobody is here to judge you.’ Everybody has to start somewhere.”

Anyone interested in trying Cowboy Mounted Shooting, or being involved with the Silver Nickel Shooters in some other capacity, is encouraged to call King at 417-457-6090 or Nickels at 417-967-6484.

“We’re the kind of club where if someone wants to try this, we’ll see to it that they have guns to use,” King said. “And we even have members who don’t ride, but help with things like blowing up and setting balloons.”

“It’s really a fun thing to do on a Friday instead of sitting home watching TV,” Domokos said.

The Silver Nickel Arena’s email address is silvernickelarena@yahoo.com.

Nickels said he is working toward getting a web site complete with scheduling online sometime later this summer.

Visit the CowboyMounsted Shooting club online.

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