Of Cowboys and Horses: And the balloons they hunt down and shoot
Famous horses and famous riders are the stuff of legend. Trigger, Silver, Flicka, Black Beauty, Traveler, the Piebald, My Little Pony, Spirit, Swift Wind, Shadowfax, Sea Biscuit, Secretariat… if you know those horses, you’ve heard of them from pop culture, watching TV when you were a kid (or saw re-runs if you were born after 1980), or reading young adult literature. And of course, who isn’t familiar with that most American of traditions: the cowboy.
Louisiana isn’t the Wild West, but we have our own traditions associated with horseback riding, and yes, we have cowboys, too. The Louisiana equestrian tradition took hold when the rugged eighteenth-century Creoles and Cajuns illegally traded cattle with the Spanish west of the Sabine River. Our cowboys are wiry and they may even speak French, but they are bonafide cowboys, nonetheless.
Every self-respecting cowboy has his horse—and his gun. Samuel Colt, the Peacemaker, Smith & Wesson, Colt .45, six-shooters… anyone who enjoyed TV shows about “those thrilling days of yesteryear” knows the favorite tool of the cowboys. Cowboy heroes of legend never shot to kill. Any cowboy could shoot the gun right out of the hand of an enemy. Roy Rogers never killed a man in his life.
Now imagine this: a cowboy (or cowgirl) on horseback with a single-action Colt loaded with black powder blanks in an arena filled with balloons.
Yes, balloons. Part barrel racing, part marksmanship—and part costuming, part noise—this is Mounted Cowboy Shooting, and it’s one of the fastest growing equestrian sports in America today.
Balloons attached to posts in the horse arena are set in a variety of patterns. With the skill of a barrel rider and the aim of a horse soldier, the cowboy and his mount are required to cut the course as quickly as possible, all the while cocking a revolver and aiming at each balloon target. The rider is penalized five seconds for each target missed, every post knocked over—and for losing his hat.
Attention to detail is what gives the sport its appeal, according to Chuck Duncan, vice-president of the Blazin’ Cajun Mounted Shooters club based in Scott. (It’s fitting the club is headquartered in Scott, Louisiana… local lore says Scott is “where the West begins.”)
“Shooters use a .45 caliber single action revolver just like the ones the cowboys used,” Duncan said. The ammo is black gunpowder. “You’ve got to pull the hammer back all the way to shoot. The projectile is coarse black gunpowder that’s still burning when it’s fired and that’s what pops the balloon.”
The atmosphere is electric—hooves thundering upon the turf, the violent retort of six-shooters, black powder smoke hanging in the air, desperadoes riding hell-bent for leather to make a getaway—the only thing that’s missing is the rinky-tink of a saloon piano player and a can-can dancer shouting “Drinks are on the house!”
Cowboys and cowgirls are also expected to wear traditional cowboy garb, including a hat equipped with “stampede string” to keep the hat from blowing off at competitions.
Ed Leleux, 59, of Sulphur, often dresses in full cowboy regalia even at practice. He’s got the felt hat, riding pants with suspenders, a long-sleeved Western shirt equipped with rider’s cuffs, mule ear boots and a pair of fierce Ruger Vaquero .45s.
Even his horse, a paint he calls Apache, has a proper Western name.
Leleux and Apache are relatively new to the sport. Apache is not properly acclimated to the loud bang of the pistol. Leleux is slowly mastering the sharp turns of the course, but he’s grinning ear to ear after he completes a run. It’s extreme fun.
Julie Vincent, also of Sulphur, has thrown herself into the sport. She already had one horse and after her first exposure to mounted shooting, went out and bought a second pony just to train for mounted cowboy shooting.
“It’s great,” Vincent said. “It’s an adrenalin rush. I’m hooked. I’ve never done anything like this with my horses. I’ve just used my horses to work cattle.”
Duncan says the group meets for practice matches near Scott mostly in the fall and spring when the weather is cooler and easier on the horses.
The Blazin’ Cajuns host two competitions, the Louisiana State Championships and a ‘border war” with mounted shooters from Texas, at the Beauregard Covered Arena in DeRidder in the spring. The club also schedules several “bare bones shoots” throughout the year, but Louisiana riders go to as many competitions as they can.
“People like to shoot guns. People like to ride horses,” Duncan said. “This sport combines them both.”
Details. Details. Details.
BCMS Vice president
Sam Irwin always wanted to be a cowboy but his grandmother made him take his boots off in the house. His blog, LaNote, may be found at www.LaNote.org.