By DENISE GRANT
Equine enthusiasts have another reason to be excited about this year’s Hancock County Fair. It’s a fun mix of skilled riders and trusty horses, gunpowder and good aim: a chance to “play” cowboy!
The Mid-Ohio Marauders, based in London, a chapter of the “Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association,” will make its first appearance at Hancock County’s fair this year. The club, now in its second year, just finished a show at the Ohio State Fair.
Contestants ride horses and shoot at balloon targets, using two .45-caliber single-action revolvers, each loaded with five rounds of blank ammunition. The guns are provided, but it’s bring your own horse.
The entry fee for Sunday’s event is $20, and the show gets underway at 7 p.m. in the north grandstand. As of Thursday, 13 riders had already registered for the event.
Marauder President Mark Wright said the event was a big hit at the state fair.
“The crowd really loved it. You get out there around a lot of people, not just horse people, and everyone has a question. Some people are just mesmerized with the horses,” Wright said. “It’s a good show.”
Wright said the mounted shooting competition is a very accurate representation of the skills it took to survive as a rancher in the American West during the late 1800s.
“The competition is born out of the Wild West. Ranchers had to be able to defend themselves. There were a lot of outlaws, Indians, wolves, rattlesnakes, wild dogs and mountain lions,” Wright said. “You have to remember that when people were going to be bad back then, they were going to be really bad.”
Horses entering the competition with their riders need a good temperament and time to become accustomed to the sights and sounds.
Wright said horses are naturally afraid of smoke and fire, and the gunfire can also startle them.
“It’s actually the embers from the burning gunpowder that pops the balloons. The horses can see that fire and smell the smoke,” he said.
Some horses, he said, do just fine, while others do better with ear plugs and eye shields.
“It’s a learning process. Everyone just needs to go slow and let the horse get used to what is happening, but in the end, it makes for a really great horse. Nothing spooks them,” Wright said.
Wright said Sunday’s show will also include a mounted long-gun competition.
“That’s a real adrenaline rush, because you have to let go of the reins and control the horse with your legs to shoot the gun. The crowds love it. That’s a lot of faith between you and your horse,” he said.