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Davis Journal

Cowboy mounted shooting gives riders ‘adrenaline rush’

Aug 01, 2022 09:20AM ● By Becky Ginos

Tyler Johnson competes in a cowboy mounted shooting event. Johnson and his father both got involved with the sport about four years ago. Photo courtesy of Tyler Johnson

KAYSVILLE—Londyn McKnight started riding horses as a child when her neighbor taught her alongside his children. She competed in some junior rodeos but it wasn’t until about two years ago that the 16-year-old West Bountiful girl found her passion in the sport of cowboy mounted shooting (CMS).

“My neighbor helped me get the basics down and then asked me to go to a couple of shoots,” she said. “I fell in love. I love horses and love guns so it was two of my favorite things together. There’s so much adrenaline.”

Cowboy mounted shooting is a timed event where riders must shoot 10 balloon targets without missing while navigating a patterned course using two single action long colt .45 pistols or one pistol/rifle or pistol/shotgun combination.

“We use black powder,” said Rick Johnson, who got involved with the sport four years ago. “No projectile comes out of the guns at all which makes it so the public can come out and watch.” 

Johnson has been riding horses for more than 35 years and owns a 20,000 square foot indoor horse arena in Kaysville that he opened up as a practice facility. 

“We’d been involved with the 4-H program in Davis County for years then my kids aged out,” he said. “We had this phenomenal facility that was not being used. I did some research and had a conversation with the president of the club and asked him to tell me about the sport.”

He said because of the winter and snow, the event came to a standstill until spring, said Johnson. “I told him I would open the arena up to him and the club if he would teach me how to do it. Now we go year round in a heated indoor arena.”

Johnson’s son Tyler also competes but took a break from horses when he was younger. “Tyler had grown up with horses but in ninth grade he said ‘I’m done. This is your hobby not mine,’” said Johnson. “He got into high school football, motorcycles and rec sports programs. Then when I found shooting four years ago I told him to come look at it. He said ‘I’m not a horse guy’ and had little interest.”

Then he got on a horse and tried the guns and he’s been riding ever since, said Johnson. “He revamped his life into this. He’s probably ranked 15 to 20th in the nation. He’s done extremely well.”

The horses are absolute athletes too, he said. “The horse beneath you has to perform at a high level. Riders have to go down and back in eight to 20 seconds depending on the pattern. There are 70-80 patterns and the horse has to listen to you and move in that direction while you’re targeting balloons at the same time. The horses have to be trained so that the blast above their head doesn’t interfere with their momentum moving forward.”

The sport takes them all over the West to compete. “We’re loading the horse trailer and traveling a lot,” Johnson said. “We’ve gone as far as Oklahoma and next month we’ll be going to Las Vegas, Driggs, Idaho, Wyoming, Heber – it’s non stop. You can find a competition every weekend. With fuel prices you have to decide how much you’re willing to pay to play.”

The drought has affected the cost too. “With hay they’re not getting as many cuts so the price is high. Horse care is expensive no matter what.”

“The shooting community is amazing,” said Faythe Yarbrough, who has been in the sport for about three years. “I couldn’t leave once I started. It’s been a dream my whole life.”

It’s like a family, she said. “Everyone follows each other and they’re never catty or cutthroat. It’s always positive. Everyone’s rooting for each other and they want you to succeed.”

Cowboy mounted shooting is one of the fastest growing equine sports in the country, said Johnson. “It’s very fun. We’re pushing it from a contestant based event to a spectator event. That’s where we’re headed in the future.”

There is some prize money, he said. “That’s what we all chase. There are buckles, apparel and other products. Very few people can make money at it though. They do it for the love of the game.” λ