Saddle Up for Mounted Shooting

Top AQHA shooters are crowned during the 2010 Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Finals.

Top AQHA shooters are crowned during the 2010 Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Finals.

By Larri Jo Starkey

Chad Little of Saint Michael, Minnesota, shoots his way through a course during the 2010 Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Finals on October 22 in Amarillo while riding GBH Stringwood Snipy. To see more CMSA photos, scroll to the slide show below.

The best of the best lined up against the clock in a literal shoot-out at the 2010 CMSA World Finals. In the AQHA class, the five shooters with the best scores in the men’s, women’s and youth divisions got to compete in an October 22 finals.

In cowboy mounted shooting, a horse and rider run through a pattern of poles with balloons on top. The shooter must hit the red balloons with one gun and switch guns before starting the rundown back to the finish line, aiming at the blue balloons. Each missed balloon is a five-second penalty, and the top shooters don’t miss many.

Mikayla Zayas of Orlando, Florida, is already a top hand. Riding Four K Silver Cat, she smoothly blew away the youth competition. As in many competitive horse disciplines, exhibitors are ranked from 1 to 6. At age 15, Mikayla is ranked a 6 in the women’s ranks — not just the youth division — after shooting for almost four years. She also doesn’t practice much at home.

“I ride ‘Silver’ at least three times a week to keep him in shape but we don’t really practice with him at home,” she says. “I don’t want him to think shooting is his only thing he has to do. We trail ride a lot and run a few barrels in the back yard and have fun.”

Silver,  a 2003 gray gelding by Cat Silver-Four K Teresa Bar by Gay Bar Sun, has a long string of victories to his credit with Mikayla and with former owner Matt Sronce, also a top CMSA shooter, but those victories don’t show up on his AQHA record. Starting in 2011, though, mounted shooting horses will be able to earn points and Incentive Fund money. At specific CMSA events, entries in AQHA classes will be eligible to make their horses’ records shine.

Chad Little of Saint Michael, Minnesota, who won the men’s division on GBH Stringwood Snipy, saw the AQHA class at the world finals as a chance to showcase his horse and a bit of a warm-up for the Eliminator class and the overall championship, which he also won.

“I’ll enter anything, but the thing I like about the AQHA class is that it gives a chance to highligh the main horse in our sport,” Chad says. “The American Quarter Horse is about the only horse that can run away with this sport. It just gives us a chance to tell about these horses, instead of just another horse running.”

Natalie Johnson, who won the women’s division, almost didn’t enter the class on her 18-year-old mare, Millies Prom Date.

“I almost didn’t enter the class, because I was already doing so many runs on my good mare,” she says. “My trainer Dan Byrd told me to enter it because my horse deserved it. That was enough for me, and I entered it and I won and she definitely deserved it.”

With the AQHA win under her belt, Natalie is eyeing putting points on “Millie.”

“I’m very excited about that, and not just for that horse,” Natalie says. “I have other Quarter Horses that I haul and that’s great. If I try to sell them or if I go to buy a horse, it will be a great way to keep track of them.”

Natalie started shooting at age 12. Now, a month shy of 20, she gives all the credit for her meteoric rise in CMSA to Millie.

“She was my twin sister Emily’s horse,” Natalie says. “I was going to a shoot at the last minute, and I was riding a younger horse, but I decided not to pull the younger horse out of the pen and took the old horse. It was a great idea. That was my first shoot riding her, and I won reserve on her at the Western United States Championship, and it was my first major CMSA win, so my sister stopped riding, and I kept riding Millie and it’s been great ever since.”

Millie is by El Costa Prom and out of Millie Twinkle by Millie San. There’s a fair chance she might get a shrine in her stall for her newly won AQHA trophy.

“I have shelves in my room with buckles and stuff, but I think I’m going to have to find a special place for this one, because this is for my horse, not me,” Natalie says.

To learn more about earning points through CMSA, see the December issue of the Journal. To find a CMSA affiliate near you, go to

To see more photos from the CMSA World Finals, check out the Journal slide show below. Click on each photo to see the caption.

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