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Ride Hard, Shoot Straight: CMSA Eastern U.S. Championship


2019/10/02








Story & photos by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

Fast horses. Tough riders. Sharp shooters. With all the action, excitement and nostalgia of the Old West packed into one incredible sport, it’s not hard to see why people have fallen in love with cowboy mounted shooting. But what keeps exhibitors coming back for more isn’t the exhilarating combination of horsemanship and marksmanship, the thrill of hitting every target through a haze of black powder smoke, or even the promise of points, prizes and prestige. At the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association’s Eastern United States Championship Show, the main attraction is family.

“We really pride ourselves on being a family sport,” said Greg Fry, executive director of CMSA. “The whole family can go and participate at a show together. We have kids’ divisions, ladies’ and men’s divisions, and we also have senior divisions. We’ll have grandparents who get into it because they want to spend time with their grandkids, and then they end up loving it.”

On September 4-7, 2019, more than 300 competitors gathered to compete at the CMSA Eastern U. S. Championship at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, TN. From eighth graders to grandparents, riders of all ages and skill levels competed in various divisions throughout the week. Riders ages 11 or younger rode the patterns without guns in order to learn the finer points of horsemanship, while older kids, aged 12 and up, put their riding and shooting skills to the test. Men, ladies, and seniors all competed in multiple divisions with pistols, rifles or shotguns, each weapon carefully loaded with special cartridges of black powder. During cowboy mounted shooting, it’s actually the heat of the black powder discharging from the barrel, not a projectile, that can pop balloons from up to fifteen feet away.

According to Fry, the Eastern Championship drew more competitors than it ever has before, including exhibitors from as far north as Canada and as far west as Oregon.

“This was our largest eastern championship that we’ve ever done,” Greg said. “Last year we had around 270 competitors, and this year we were up over 300, so it was a really good turnout. We also paid out around $100,000 in cash plus prizes on top of that. It was a huge event for us by sheer numbers, so that really excites us to see so many people come out and have a good time.”

Seventeen-year-old Emma Fitzgerald traveled to the show from her hometown of Eustis, Florida with her father, Ryan Fitzgerald. Emma competed at the show on Cajun, a gray 5-year-old American Quarter Horse mare. 

“I’ve been shooting for about three years and riding for longer than that, but I have loved horses ever since I could talk,” Emma said. “I’ve always wanted to do out-of-the-ordinary stuff, like trick riding, plus I grew up learning how to hunt with my family. So when I saw guns and horseback riding combined, I was like, ‘This is what I need to do!’”

As much as Emma loves the thrill and excitement of riding and shooting, she says her favorite part of the sport is the people.

“The people are pretty incredible in this sport, and that makes it so enjoyable,” Emma said. “If you have a horse that goes lame, someone in your own class might offer you their own horse to ride. Just the other day, my gun broke as I was walking into the pen. My friend gave me her pistol, let me go in and shoot, and then we re-loaded and she shot after me.”
Emma’s father, Ryan, also of Eustis, Florida, says the sport has encouraged his daughter to be “fearless.”

“This game is about failing and then getting up to go again anyway,” Ryan said. “Ten balloons, wide open horse; if you miss your balloon, you have to keep your composure, so you don’t miss more, and you’ve got other runs to follow. Emma is a young lady who’s fearless and that’s what I want her to be. She has also learned that when you’re unsuccessful, you get back on your horse, ride on and get successful again. And that’s a process she can take into life and not be afraid to try anything that comes her way.”

Exhibitor Sarah Rossi of Charlotte,  NC also praised the family aspect of cowboy mounted shooting.

“Everyone has each other’s back,” Sarah said. “Guaranteed, we’re all at a competition and we’re competing with each other, but at the end of the day, we’re sitting around together and everyone’s just happy for each other and happy that everyone is doing well. The family environment is the best part.”

Interested in learning more about cowboy mounted shooting? Visit CMSAEvents.com to learn about upcoming clinics and competitions or to find a cowboy mounted shooting trainer in your area.

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