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Published May 14, 2012, 09:42 AM

Dead-eye

STEPHEN, Minn. — Three years ago, lifelong equestrian Laura Pikop was hunting for a competitive event to ride her horses in when she read about mounting shooting in a magazine.

By: Ann Bailey, Agweek

STEPHEN, Minn. — Three years ago, lifelong equestrian Laura Pikop was hunting for a competitive event to ride her horses in when she read about mounting shooting in a magazine.

After she found Wild Rice Peacemakers, a mounting shooting club based in Twin Valley, Minn., which is affiliated with the national Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association, Pikop decided to give the sport a try. Mounted shooting is the fastest-growing equestrian sport in the nation, Pikop notes.

Pikop, 32, has raised and shown horses since she was 12. She is a University of Minnesota-Crookston agriculture industry graduate and farms near Stephen, Minn., where she grows soybeans and wheat. She lives on her family’s homestead with her horses, River, an 11-year-old quarter horse mare, Jazmine, a 6-year-old paint mare, and dog, Bailey.

Although Pikop is an experienced horsewoman and had done some hunting, she had never combined riding with shooting until she got involved in mounting shooting events.

Mounted shooting

“I had no idea you could shoot off a horse,” Pikop says. She started practicing on a quiet horse and got advice from some of the other members of Wild Rice Peacemakers.

Mounted shooting is a timed event in which riders and their horses complete one of 60 patterns, she says. The rider doesn’t know the pattern they will run until just before the event.

During the mounted shooting competition, the rider wears a holster holding two 45-caliber, single-action long colt revolvers. The revolvers contain five black powder blanks in each of the gun’s cylinders. As the horse gallops through the pattern, the rider pops 10 balloon targets. Shooting the balloons from 8 to 12 feet away is optimal, Pikop says. A missed balloon target results in a five-second penalty.

Riders hold the reins in one hand, while shooting with the other.

“You may be shooting off-hand. You may be shooting strong-hand,” she says.

The competitors strive to do a revolver change without looking down at their holsters.

“If you look down, you slow your horse down,” Pikop says.

The reaction from the horses to the sounds of shooting varies.

“As far as training a horse, some take right to it and some take over a year to get over that hump,” Pikop says.

Mounted shooting gave Pikop what she was looking for when it comes to a speed event.

“It’s extremely fast-paced,” she says. But it wasn’t always that way for her, she adds.

“At my first shoot back in May 2009, I was trotting.” Pikop has made great strides since then.

Competitive events

In fall 2010, she was the CMSA Ladies Level 3 national champion, Pikop garnered top honors in the Ladies Level 4 CMSA national and world mounted shooting competitions. Now, Pikop has advanced to Level 5 in the six levels of competition.

There also are competitive events for children 11 and younger and for senior citizens.

It’s really a fun family event. You’ve got all the ages, all the levels competing. During the winter, Pikop competes in CMSA mounted shooting events in Arizona, which she says is probably the Mecca of mounted shooting.

There also are events through the summer and fall in northwest Minnesota. Pikop recently competed in a CMSA event in Crookston, which was held in the Red River Valley Winter Shows building.

Mounted shooting keeps riders’— and fans’ — interest because so many things can go wrong, Pikop says.

“You have moments of brilliance and moments of ‘What did I do? How did this happen?’”

While speed plays a big part in determining who wins, riding and shooting ability also are important.

“It’s not necessarily the fastest run that wins it, it’s the smoothest and fastest,” Pikop says.

Pikop plans to teach mounted shooting and hold clinics to help the sport grow. Novices should have a quiet horse to start with, she says. Once the rider is experienced and competing at a higher level, the personality of the horse doesn’t matter as much.

For her, mounted shooting is the ideal combination.

”It’s probably the most fun I’ve had on a horse. When I get done, I’m shaking with the adrenaline rush.”

Information about Wild Rice Peacemakers mounted shooting club and a schedule of area events: www.wildricepeacemakers.com.

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