Corro Stories

Cowboy Mounted Shooting with De Chapman

By Jennifer Petterson


The horse is ready. At this level of competition, he isn’t just a fast horse—he’s a sophisticated partner; a motivated equine athlete. The music changes and it’s time to go. Guiding almost invisibly, the rider is all focus. This is a test of ultimate control of mind and body. It all happens too fast to make any slow decisions or second guess an approach. De Chapman has just delivered a pitch-perfect run in the exciting sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting. I caught up with Chapman in the middle of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Eastern U.S. Championships in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to learn more about the sport and her path to Cowboy Mounted Shooting.

Image courtesy of De Chapman.

From Barrel Racing To Cowboy Mounted Shooting

Her experience with horses started with childhood riding lessons.  Eventually, her father purchased a ranch complete with a compliment of horses. Horses have been a way of life ever since. She began her competitive career at the rodeo. Campaigning barrel horses became a lifestyle for Chapman, and her daughter soon joined her on the road. 

“My husband was a shooter. I was a barrel racer and raising our daughter to be a barrel racer,” Chapman explained. "[Cowboy Mounted Shooting] brought it all home for us. Many families travel and compete together with senior and young divisions and everything in between.” The transition fit her family and Chapman's exceptional abilities as a trainer and rider. Now a popular clinician, instructor, and trainer, her name is synonymous with mounted shooting.

Image courtesy of De Chapman.

What Is Cowboy Mounting Shooting?

Part speed event and part shooting contest, this fast growing sport is quickly becoming a favorite of competitors and audiences alike. Its healthy dose of western heritage provides the perfect backdrop to showcase horsemanship and shooting ability. 

Cowboy Mounted Shooting is a timed event where balloon targets are shot while maneuvering a course in an arena. The shooter uses blanks shot from a .45 caliber single action revolver pistol. This requires the shooter to carry two pistols that must be cocked before firing. The burning powder breaks the balloon targets with an effective range of about 15 feet. Each pattern includes ten balloons. The five white balloons could be grouped or spread out in the arena with the “rundown” red balloons generally set five in a row toward the finish line.

Governed by the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association, the organization is not unlike many other equestrian disciplines or breeds. It serves its membership through local, state, and regional affiliated clubs. In addition to promoting the sport, the CMSA maintains point records, rankings, sanctioned events, and the rule book. 

The association offers six levels of competition divided by gender, as well as a senior division. The Wrangler class is for youth 11 years old and under. They ride patterns for time without shooting, and at 12 years old, they can begin to shoot live rounds. They will start with shooting from the ground. With around 75 different patterns to randomly draw for competition, the shooter and horse are going to see different challenges in the arena.    The competitor must learn to be a safe gun handler according to Chapman. "[They] develop the ability to ride competently, though [their] primary focus is on the next target.” It draws shooting enthusiasts to riding and riders and speed event enthusiasts to shooting. 

Image courtesy of De Chapman.

Scoring is all about time and accuracy. Shooters acquire a five second penalty foreach missed balloon or dropped gun, and a 10 second penalty for not running the course correctly. A fall from your horse is a 60 second penalty. Most patterns are run in around 15-35 seconds, so a clean run is a serious advantage. This allows shooters to capitalize on strengths and strategize how to approach each pattern. The variety of patterns keeps horses fresh and mounts are sometimes picking up mounting shooting as a second equine career. 

Cowboy Mounted Shooting Attire

Tradition runs deep in the mounted shooting community and maintaining heritage dress is something many competitors enjoy. While some shooters will be in modern rodeo attire (chinks and the like), others compete in late 1800’s ground shooting period clothing. Authentic fasteners, skirts, collarless shirts, and period-specific style is all part of what draws some to the sport. Riders customize their gear with replica or custom designed gun belts and holsters. 

Image courtesy of De Chapman.

Developing Top Mounted Shooting Horses

As a trainer, Chapman's descriptions of the horses she is campaigning in Murfreesboro tells the story of her commitment to developing their talent. She works to develop confidence by building on a horse’s strengths and bolstering weaknesses. She expects no less from herself. She describes her process for maintaining a top ranked position in the sport with an eye toward a holistic approach to horsemanship and athletics. 

“I ride every day, building young horses, conditioning my mature horses, giving lessons and clinics. I train with other trainers to hone my skills. I work out and stay fit, and I eat well to be strong and clear minded,” Chapman shares.

Her years of experience have given her the ability to find the right horse for the right rider, and develop and campaign the top horses in the sport.

What It Takes To Be At The Top Of The Sport

Loading up and leaving her Colorado home to compete across the country almost 50 weekends a year is typical for the Chapmans. Cowboy Mounted Shooting has made traveling a family affair. She travels with her family and clients with a blend of Chapman's, her family's, and client's horses. 

While the competition days may share much in common with other equestrian sports, she emphasizes how different the competitions feel. The sport is endlessly encouraging to new shooters; loaning tack, equipment, and even horses to give a novice a great experience. 

The rush of a good run and the camaraderie of the competitors is her favorite aspect of the sport. “We are still a fairly small sport and I have made so many great friends all across the United States and Canada.”

Competition day is underway and Chapman prepares the next horse.  She confidently enters the arena with pinpoint focus. She knows what she expects from her horse and he knows exactly what to expect from her. The music is on and the announcer preps the audience for Chapman's run. In a few tight turns and pops of powder the run is over to applause and ringing praise from the seasoned announcer. It takes just minutes for the conversation between competitors outside of the arena to move straight to where the group will go for dinner that night. This is the family atmosphere that brought Chapman to the sport that she calls her "shooting family." 

For more information about Cowboy Mounted Shooting go to and find a clinic near you or an event to meet shooters. They will direct you to good people in the sport. The CMSA Professional Horseman’s Association is a good source to meet trainers in your region to help get you started.

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