GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The new year literally started off with a bang as competitors from all over the country converged on the Clay County Fairgrounds in Green Cove Springs for the Florida …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The new year literally started off with a bang as competitors from all over the country converged on the Clay County Fairgrounds in Green Cove Springs for the Florida Peacemakers Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association’s New Year’s Warmer Winter Pastures Shootout.
The competition was open to everyone, including children. They who ride their horses around a prescribed area and attempt to shoot balloons off poles placed within the arena for time.
“Cowboy mounted shooting is one of the newest, but fastest growing equine sports there is,” said Cindy Stavely, the secretary for the board’s association. “It’s probably the most exciting equine sport there is, if you think about it, because we get on our horses. We use two single action revolvers to shoot targets which are balloons, 10 balloons.”
The first five targets are shot with one revolver, before it was holstered. The rider had to draw a second holstered pistol and fire at the other five targets. The best time with the fewest misses wins. The patterns, target placement and direction in which the rider must go, change constantly.
This was the second annual competition. Competitors arrived from several states, including Michigan and Ohio. Many from the north were happy to escape the bone-chilling winter temperatures for the milder Florida climate.
More than 230 riders were registered for the event.
“Some of the top riders, like the reigning world champion [were] here to compete,” Stavely said. “Some other world champions, and former world champions will be here as well.”
Fourteen-year-old Ethan Moody of St. Augustine competed on his horse Kat. He has been competing for three years and is ranked No. 1 in the men’s level two nationally.
The competition also featured rifle and shotgun shooting from horseback. The first five shots were fired with the pistol. After holstering the handgun, the rider drew either a rifle or shotgun to engage the second five targets.
Competitors paid to stall their horses and park their RVs along with an entrance fee.
The riders competed in four different patterns on Saturday and Sunday to decide the winners. There were six different levels of expertise.
“When you first start out, you’re [level] one, and you have to get so many wins at each level to move up to the next level. It’s also split by men and women,” Stavely said. The grand prize for the event is monetary, and the 2020 event featured almost $40,000 in prize money.
COVID-19 wasn’t much of a factor during the event since it was held in open-air arenas. There also was plenty of room for the spectators to socially distance from each other.
Tay Reed of Keystone Heights has been a member of the Florida Peacemakers for almost a year. He began learning to ride and shoot during that time.
“I just heard about it and gave it a shot,” Reed said. He has not competed in one of these events, but he hopes to one day. The training is different, and not nearly as easy as it looks, according to Reed. “Learning how to work your, body, legs,” he said.
“It’s a cool area to be around. Good company; everybody’s friendly,” said Reed.
Sandy Nickerson is the treasurer of the Florida Peacemakers. She has been riding for 15 years and she is a senior level five competitor.
“My husband [who is also the president of the Florida Peacemakers] actually started mounted shooting in Florida back in 2000,” she said. “So he’s been doing it for 20 years and he’s also a senior men’s five [ranked rider].”
Last year’s event had 187 riders, and with this year’s entries at 230, the just-completed match was the Florida Peacemakers’ biggest.
Margaret Smith of St. John’s County is a nurse who has been riding for four years, and she rides, trains and boards in Clay County.
“It was a local practice hear in Clay County that they did. Everybody helped me, gave me guns, and got me started,” said Smith. “I love riding. I love shooting. The people are great. Friends have become family and it’s a good sport to be in.”
The event was action packed. Everyone was reminiscent of old cowboy movies, driving their horses to top speeds, before executing hairpin turns, all the while filling the air with the sounds of their pistols being discharged and balloons popping in concert.
Zane Chunn, the 2019 America Quarter Horse Association World Champion from Ft. Smith, Arkansas, was the overall winner, with Jared Penley of New Hampshire finishing second, Ethan Stanley of North Carolina in third, Byron Walters in fourth and Colorado’s Elizabeth Clavette in fifth.
“It’s the most humbling sport that I’ve ever had to compete in,” said Randy King, a men’s senior level three rider. “When you have all your targets, you can be on top, and it only takes one. It’s like a well-oiled engine. All the parts gotta work together. If something’s out of whack, you don’t make it.”
The Florida Peacemakers will return to the Clay County Fairgrounds from Feb. 19-21 for the State Match and Shootout.