Cowboy mounted shooting (also called western mounted shooting and mounted shooting) is a competitive equestrian sport involving the riding of a horse to negotiate a shooting pattern. Depending on sponsoring organizations, it can be based on the historical reenactment of historic shooting events held at Wild West Shows in the late 19th century. Modern events use blank ammunition instead of live rounds, certified to break a target balloon within twenty feet.
In the spirit of the soldier and cowboy, one organization, the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA) was created in the mid-1990s for equestrians and cowboy action shooters to participate in a competitive shooting sport while riding horseback.  The Mounted Shooters of America was formed in 2000. Mounted shooters may belong to either or both associations.
Mounted shooting requires competitors to use single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles chambered in pistol calibers, and side-by-side double-barreled shotguns. Single action semiautomatic firearms, also known as self-cocking firearms, are also allowed in special military cavalry and Wild Bunch events (named after the 1969 Western movie of the same name that used more modern firearms). In general, firearm designs and the modern replicas used in the sport are of the pre-1900 American West and Military eras.
All events, whether for Old West living history or shooting competitions, are directed by a certified mounted range officer who must be knowledgeable of firearm safety, event organization, and horsemanship. The direction of a mounted range officer helps to ensure the safety of the competitor, spectators, and volunteers at all events.
In the early years, mounted shooting competitors were required to wear clothing of the American west, classic B-Western Movies, or military cavalry uniforms of any time period or country. Today, the most that is required is modern cowboy clothing with chinks or chaps, long-sleeved shirt and a cowboy hat. The Mounted Shooters of America does not require chinks or chaps, except for showcase events at major venues.
Mounted shooting requires skill in both horsemanship and shooting that is measured in the form of competitive events and is one of the fastest growing equestrian sports in the nation. The object of the sport is to shoot ten balloon targets while riding through a variety of challenging courses using specially loaded blank cartridges fired from Old West-style single-action revolvers. It is a high-speed, timed spectator sport in which the competitor who rides the fastest with the least amount of missed targets wins.
The typical event requires two single-action revolvers, each loaded with five blank cartridges. Ten targets are arranged in a horseback riding arena. When the competitor is given a go-signal, indicating the arena is clear of people and hazards, the rider guides his horse across a timer line and engages the ten targets. When all ten targets are engaged, the rider returns across the timer line and his score is determined and recorded. The raw time of the rider is computed and penalties are added for missed targets or failure to follow the specified course or procedure or knocking over barrels or target stands.
Shooters enter the arena one at a time. Total score times are determined by taking the raw time for the stage (or course) plus penalties and/or bonuses. Penalties include missed targets, knocked over barrels and missed course direction.
To level the field, different levels of competition exist for riders and shooters of varying abilities. For CMSA members, as an example, classifications include Senior Mens, Mens, Senior Ladies and Ladies. The classes are further divided by age, each with their own rules for safety applied.
These classes are:
The MSA's classifications are Rookie, Non-Professional, Semi-Professional, and Professional. A competitors placement in these divisions is based on the Class level as determined by SASS or CMSA when a member of these associations first joins the MSA.
Competitors advance by accumulating winning placements. Mounted Shooters are automatically moved into higher levels to maintain equitable and fair events against people of similar proven skills. MSA members begin as a Rookie and advance to higher divisions by accumulating wins. While the MSA recognizes CMSA levels upon entry into MSA and upon moving to higher levels in the CMSA, the CMSA does not currently recognize MSA members divisions or move ups.
Mounted shooting uses black powder theatrical blanks with no bullet. Companies such as Western Stage Props, Buffalo Blanks, Circle E Blanks, Lonesome Pine, and Whitehouse Blanks manufacture certified ammunition for competition. These blanks were originally used in movie production and on the theatrical stage so that flame and smoke can be seen from the muzzle of the firearm. A slow-burning powder component of the blank can break a balloon target at a range of up to 20 feet (6 m).
Western Horse & Gun is a national newsstand publication devoted to the sport and covers the organizations, people, horses, competition, training, guns and equipment. The magazine is located in Cave Creek, Arizona, and is published six times a year.