COLUMBIA — There would be the crack of the rifle's report, and a balloon would disappear. Then there would be another shot, and another balloon would be gone, and soon the ring was littered with the latex casualties of the riders galloping about.
Cheri Bullard, who announced Friday night's Wild West Shoot-Out at the Central Missouri Events Center, said there are 60 different patterns possible in mounted shooting, varying in the setup of the balloons as well as the number of barrels and gates, and the riders didn't know the pattern until they arrived.
All riders had to follow a specific path through an obstacle course; down one side of the course to shoot the five white balloons, through two groups of poles called "gates," around a barrel, and then down the middle to shoot the five red balloons.
The objective of the shootout competition is to shoot the 10 balloons in the quickest possible time. Missing a balloon, dropping a gun, knocking over the barrel or failing to go through the two gates each resulted in a five-second penalty added onto a riders time.
There are three different types of competitions; the pistol competition, rifle competition and shotgun competition. In the pistol competition, all 10 balloons are shot with a pistol, but for the rifle competition, only the first five balloons go down by way of the pistol, the last five are shot with a rifle.
The trick to the obstacle course, Bullard said over the intercom, is a well-trained horse. The amount of time it takes to train shooting horses, as well as the method used, varies by the trainer as well as the horse.
Ben Denney, of Warrensburg, said he trained his 16-year-old horse, Sonny, by first tying him to the outside of the ring and cracking a bull whip in the center to get him used to the cracking sound, then by using a real gun. Riding while shooting the gun came later.
Sonny took to the sport with ease.
"He is very good — better than I am," Denney said. "People love to watch him run because he has a lot of heart."
Jamie Buckner, 17, of Ashland, used a slightly different method to train her gray horse, Fritz, by first riding him while somebody else shot the gun, and then moving on to shooting herself. A horse already trained for shooting usually rides alongside the trainee to calm it down.
"Horses react to other horses," Buckner said. "If the gun horse remains calm, the other horse knows everything is O.K."
A friendly rivalry continued in the junior division between Buckner and her best friend Katie Kerns, 15
"We are always trying to psych each other out," Buckner said. "We are usually seconds away from each other."
Of the two, Buckner had the best time. She got Fritz when she was 12 years old, and began competing with him two and a half years ago. Her step-mom got her into the sport, she said.
Buckner finished 44th out of 49 in the final stage.
Denney placed 20th.
Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.