We headed down the road for LaFayette, CO and got our first view of the leftovers of last night's thunder/hail storms that crossed our county.
Before we knew it, we were at our destination and the jitters had hit big time. What had we done, signing up for a young person's sport? OK, we both love to ride - and we both love to shoot (even though I, personally, had not shot a gun in years). Good enough reason to give this a try; it's a beginner's class. How bad could it be?
We were soon put at ease by the instructor, Elizabeth Clavette, a world-class CSMA eliminator shooter and Dick, the firearms instructor. We got booster lessons on the different types of weapons used in the sport, how to safely handle them, and all the sport specific terminology. They let us try all the different styles and furnished us with the specialty holsters.
You start by walking the course; trying to remember all the instructions:
1) Keep you rein hand in front of you, in a normal riding position.
2) Draw your gun and swing your arm over your horse's head to the off side, aim and fire behind you.
3) Swing your arm back over your horse's head, aim and fire on your strong side, again behind you, to keep your horse moving forward.
4) Take out all five balloons and holster your gun - without looking down to find the holster!
By the way, did I mention you are supposed to walk a straight line down the middle of the course - but watching the balloons!
Aim for the pole, not the balloon. Breezes blow the balloon around and will cause you to miss. Works like a charm.
Always shoot behind you, to keep your horse moving forward. Aim, pause, shoot, pause, and follow through, before changing sides.
Learn to find your holster by feel; develop that muscle memory spot; never look down - you lose your perspective on your target and path.
Swing your arm over your horse's head to avoid any accidental shooting near their ears. As you get faster and your horse runs faster, you will automatically compensate with a lower swing, but develop the proper one first.
Don't cock your gun until you have sighted on the target; again, you will compensate with speed later, but learn correctly first.
Don't pull straight back on the hammer; it causes you to move the muzzle of the gun up and down. Slide your thumb off the side so you can keep a tight grip on the handle; causes your thumb to move into the correct position to help stabilize the gun.
By the way, it helps to breathe while you are trying to remember all this. Yes, I am walking crooked in the video. I thought I was walking a straight line, but you walk where you look - just like you ride, so you have to practice going straight!
You will notice the camera doing some bouncing; it became obvious very quickly that Jesse was NOT going to like the noise. We started with cap pistols, then progressed to air/pellet guns, .22's (blank loads), then half and full loads of .45 blanks. Washoe didn't much pay any attention to the noise until the .45s. Jesse bounced her head hard at the very first gunshot! She never did settle down for the 45 blank half and full loads, even after all day. At the end of the afternoon, she tolerated the .22.
Since I am still recovering from a strained leg muscle AND a sprained wrist, Bill let me trade horses with him, since it appeared Washoe was going to be today's star pupil. As you can see, it was a good decision on my part; not so good for Bill.
I am going to make some like Elizabeth does, using two small, foam kitty balls and a shoe string, and practice with the horses, until they get used to them. Both horses seemed extremely bothered by the NOISE. I know they have acute hearing and it was obvious that was their complaint. Jesse was still shaking her head tonight at feeding time, like she had a headache, or at least ringing ears.
My first run through on Washoe with the air gun, went so well Elizabeth suggested I do it again with a .22 blanks loaded into the 45. She handed me a gun and off I went. Down went the first balloon and as I was swinging my arm back across it dawned on me that the balloon shouldn't have broken with the .22. By this time, I had pulled the trigger on the second balloon and popped it, too. Washoe and I came to the same conclusion about the same time: wrong! As he stopped cold I heard Elizabeth shouting, "Stop. You have the wrong load in that gun." It was loaded with .45 full load blanks and sounded like a cannon. Lucky for me, Washoe was as stunned as the rest of us and just did a screeching halt! With a little coaxing, we tried it again and things improved greatly with the proper load.
This YouTube clip shows you how it looks when practiced and done by the 'good guys'.
On that, we broke for lunch and had hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on a grill, cold pop and a lot of fun chatter. The clinic furnished all the weapons, the holsters, ammo and lunch for $100. I bet we shot more than that in ammo!
Bill kept valiantly working with Jesse. Elizabeth said she thought it was a battle of wills with that horse; she has no idea how close to the truth she was about working with Jesse. I love that horse to death, but she is as opinionated as they come. She worked great for him in setting balloons, and following him all over the course, but don't put a gun in his hand! He never did get to shoot anything louder than a .22.
Sometimes Elizabeth would ride her horse along with the new horse when they got frustrated; it helped the horse to calm, and start thinking. She had to do this a lot. (I think Washoe is the only one that went totally on his own every time. )
The first two balloons were always the worst, then she would sort of settle like she was saying, "Let's just get this DONE!"
Later in the day, we added the second half of the course and the second gun, so we could practice holstering one and drawing the second. On this run, I was shooting a mix of half-load .45 and .22. You do this so you don't get in the habit of anticipating the next round - for you and the horse. Even Washoe was beginning to tire of the noise by now, so I had to do a second run through without ammo to settle him.
This particular horse was the real trooper of the day. We called him Eyore, because of his ears. You can see how Washoe handled all this; just turn away and ignore the sound.
By this time it was about 2:30 and rain clouds were moving in. Bill and I had already decided the horses had had enough; we didn't want to overdo their tolerance and develop a hate for the sport, so we did one 'clean' run, without guns, just practicing aiming with our arms, and called it quits on a good note.
It turned out not all the participants showed up and there were only four of us riding, with a couple of watchers. We got a lot more runs in than if there had been many there, so it was a really, really good day.