It felt like the old west at the Ponoka Ag Event Centre last week as gun-toting cowboys competed in a shooters competition June 30 to July 2.
These cowboys were not using bullets and the targets were actually balloons; between the guns and popping balloons, the noise definitely brought in curious viewers.
In the last seven years the sport has built a fairly fast growing following and the Canadian Cowboy Mounted Shooters Association (CCMSA) coordinates all the events. Director Allen Watson explained competitors use a special black powdered blanks to pop the balloons and all use single action .45s to pop the balloons.
The sport has started gaining popularity in the last two years, he explained. “Our membership has probably quadrupled in the last four years.”
Riders take a specific course to shoot a certain number of balloons in the fastest time possible — down to the one-thousandth of a second. Both riders and horses use special earplugs to protect their ears.
One of the CCMSA members, Don Litvak, said riders need to be quite accomplished to complete a course. “Your horse is 70 to 75 per cent of the game.”
Shooters must pop all the balloons in the run or they receive a five-second penalty for each balloon left standing. Watson feels the horse and rider must work together to ensure a solid ride.
“It’s a harmony of you and your horse,” Watson explained.
Much of what drives the rider is adrenaline. Litvak said shooters can get fairly pumped up before a ride. “It’s the funnest thing you can do with clothes on.”
The shooters’ competition came about in conjunction with the Ponoka Stampede to give rodeo fans additional entertainment. Watson said it was the largest show they have put on to date with 58 entries from all over Canada to compete for the prize winnings.
The top three male and female shooters from each day also had a chance to show off their skills during a break in rodeo competition at the Ponoka Stampede. Riders galloped along a specified course and used their sharp shooting talents to pop the balloons as fast as they could.
They became such an interesting part of the stampede Shaw Cable used them to do a mock stagecoach heist.
Watson said Ponoka Stampede director Blair Vold helped make it possible for the event to come together and he hoped to be able to return next year.
“This is wild and wooly — it’s fun,” stated Watson.