My jaw dropped. Saucer-eyed, I sat frozen in a ridicule gawk. This can’t be real… Oh my crow, this is real.
At first I couldn’t believe it, but as reality set in an unfamiliar excitement crept through my heels, past my knees and up my spine. It was some unaltered joy; the kind that gets left in a relatives’ attic or basement closet with your threadbare teddy bear and kindergarten crayon sketches.
But this is not some sun bleached childhood dream - this is happening here in our backyard.
The Manitoba Mounted Shooting Association hit the ground running this spring. Darrell May started mulling over the idea of starting a club in January, and by February had the ball at a good roll. No one had ever done anything like this around here before, so some red tape needed cutting and safety procedures needed laying.
After working up the courage to see if the reality lives up to fantasy, I was welcomed out the moment I asked about observing some practice.
On a Sunday afternoon I stepped in the arena off guard and jumped as the crack of igniting powder reverberated hard against the walls, jolting my eardrums. I snapped around to see a gentleman, six-shooter drawn, barreling a fine horse fast my way.
Blast after blast rang out, as he unloaded five more rounds, exploding each balloon target he passed. In a flash of dust they turned on a dime, the man drawing a second pistol to take out the last half of the course.
Clearly, I was in the right place.
Every person I spoke with broke down and explained in great detail all of the regulations surrounding firearm use and the safety measures you take before shooting.
“We love our horses,” Robin Lagmodier explains. “No one here would do anything to put their horse in danger.”
The .45 caliber single action revolvers use blank ammunition, so no hard projectiles leave the gun when it’s fired. Burning gunpowder pops the balloon targets.
“Unless you get hit with the stuff on bare skin at point blank range, like in the face or something, it’s not going to do you damage,” Sarah Bedford says.
Safety gear is encouraged for all, and mandatory for minors. Special earplugs for the horses are always on hand, and riders take extra care in working their mounts up to the task gradually.
The energy in the place is something else. It’s a clean high, a welcoming warmth we don’t often come across in these times. Even for those members who work with horses daily, mounted shooting offers up something very special.
“It’s the ultimate. You ARE a cowboy, you ARE a cowgirl,” May says, shaking his head.
Not only has the club reignited childhood awe and wonder, they have managed to cultivate a truly exceptional community to boot.
Jenna VanWalleghem, who started training her pony Nico at the young age of six, comes out to club meets with her dad, Michael.
“I can’t shoot until I’m 18,” she says as we watch Bedford take Nico through the course.
Everybody is happy to help each other out. Safety is priority one for the club and experienced members are eager to ensure newcomers feel comfortable and confident from handling to horsemanship.
The sport itself is something out of hyperbolic western romance and childhood fantasy. If you’ve ever stared off across the plains lost in those stories, you’re in luck.
Here and now, where once mass herds of bison meandered, the Manitoba Mounted Shooting Association can help you bring those dreams back to life.