Skip to main content

Guns & Horses

Guns & Horses

When I was a kid growing up in southwest New Mexico, I was required to exercise my old pony every evening after school, which I didn't really consider a chore, though the palomino tended to be a little salty at times.

When Bart was first allowed to carry a handgun while on horseback as a boy, he had to have a Colt single action. First it was a .22 New Frontier (front), which eventually evolved into a .45 Single Action Army.

When I was a kid growing up in southwest New Mexico, I was required to exercise my old pony every evening after school, which I didn't really consider a chore, though the palomino tended to be a little salty at times. When I was old enough, my dad started letting me pack a handgun while on horseback, though he was a little nervous about it at first.

Choosing a horseback pistol isn't something to be taken lightly, even when you're a kid, but one thing was clear to me--it had to be a Colt. What cowboy wouldn't be carrying a Colt Single Action while on horseback? My first choice was the first handgun I'd ever acquired, a Colt .22 New Frontier with its handmade Garret Allen holster. This outfit was perfect for knocking around the brush, especially on horseback.


My dad was a firm believer that one should never shoot from the saddle. He said it was always best to dismount and fire for a number of reasons, one of the most important being the fact that you can definitely hold your gun--handgun or rifle--much steadier. It's also safer, especially if your horse isn't trained to be shot off of. Nothing is more hazardous than being bucked off your horse with a loaded firearm in your hand, especially if it's cocked. Of course, these theories had to be tested, I surmised. Just being lectured on such things wasn't sufficient.


My old palomino, Skokie Joe, loved to buck, and I spent a lot of time hitting the ground. Shooting from that treacherous equine's back proved to be an even more risky proposition. Fortunately, the first time I tried it I didn't have time to recock the .22 before I hit the ground. I decided to take the old man's advice and start dismounting to shoot, hoping the palomino would eventually get used to it. He didn't.

I'd read a few cowboy yarns about training horses to be comfortable around guns, but most of them involved having the rider fire a high-powered rifle over the top of the horse's head, deafening them. This method didn't seem feasible to me at all, but it did give me an idea. I figured if I shot a heavier caliber revolver around him enough, the .22 might seem puny to him after a while and I would be able to shoot it without incident. One afternoon I slipped out with my .45 Colt SAA on my hip, saddled Skokie Joe, and rode out several miles from the house to warm him up. I dismounted, spotted a likely target in a mesquite thicket, and fired the Colt with one hand, holding the reins in the other. The shot caused Skokie Joe to leap into the air backwards with me in tow. He hit the ground on his hind quarters and rolled away from me. The first thing on my mind was how I was going to explain to my dad how I'd managed to bung up the bluing on my good single action. Skokie Joe then stumbled to his feet, jerked his head, and snapped the reins. He held his head up, snorted mightily, and broke into a dead run as if a grizzly was after him.


I had plenty of time to wipe the dust off the Colt on the long walk back to our place and to think about my horse-training skills. When I finally got to the house, Skokie Joe was grazing happily in my dad's garden, stomping down corn stalks. I was at least glad to see he hadn't dragged my saddle off someplace.


My shooting lessons with Skokie Joe took place long before I'd ever heard of the sport of cowboy mounted shooting. I'm not sure when the sport actually started, but I've been interested in it for some time, though I've never been a participant. A few years back I did make the acquaintance of Rick Levin who was an accomplished horeseman and quite involved in the sport. He got a kick out of my stories about Skokie Joe and invited me down to Lajitas, Texsa, to demonstrate to me just how easy it was to train a horse to get used to gunfire. I was eager to learn about the right way of doing it and took him up on the offer.

Levin saddled a big bay horse that had never been around shooting and led him into the arena. In the center of the arena was a bucket of sweet feed sitting on a small table. Levin was carrying a Ruger .22 Single-Six loaded with blanks, and he began trotting the bay in a circle around the table. He did so for five minutes or so before drawing the Ruger and firing over the bay's hindquarters. While the bay's reaction to the shot was nothing like Skokie Joe's had been when I touched off my .45 years before, he still jumped and ran sideways. Levin regained control and spurred the bay straight to the table and grain bucket where his wife fed the bay a handful of the sweet grain. This process was repeated for roughly 20 minutes, at which time the shots became more frequent and closer to the bay's head. After about 45 minutes of the shooting/grain treatment, the bay didn't seem to pay much attention to the shots at all. The following day, the .22 was replaced with a .38 Special with blanks, which obviously provided a sharper report. The process was repeated, with excellent results, and the training quickly excelled to the .45 Long Colt. I understand the bay horse soon became an excellent cowboy mounted shooting competitor. Levin's method was fascinating and simple. I'm told that this was a variation of the old U.S. Cavalry method of training horses.

I suppose had I read that old Cavalry training manual, I might have saved a lot of bruises--and a few long walks home.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

The Glock 21

The Glock 21

Frank and Tony from Gallery of Guns spice up the Glock test using their non-dominant hands.

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the .30-06.Get the Most Out of the .30-06 Ammo

Get the Most Out of the .30-06

Joseph von Benedikt - April 01, 2019

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the...

This somewhat-odd loading had an interesting history, and much of its reputation was based on assumption.The .38 Special 200-Grain 'Police Load' Ammo

The .38 Special 200-Grain 'Police Load'

Allan Jones - January 20, 2021

This somewhat-odd loading had an interesting history, and much of its reputation was based on...

The Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm riflescope is not the company's newest offering, but it is a relatively lightweight (17 ounces) and short (12 inches) scope.Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm Riflescope Optics

Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm Riflescope

Steve Gash - January 05, 2021

The Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm riflescope is not the company's newest offering, but it is a...

A great pump-action shotgun design has several characteristics: reliable, smooth and easy to function, easy to shoot well, adaptable to vastly different configurations and uses, and it's classy.6 Best Classic Pump-Action Shotguns Ever Made Shotguns

6 Best Classic Pump-Action Shotguns Ever Made

Joseph von Benedikt - January 21, 2021

A great pump-action shotgun design has several characteristics: reliable, smooth and easy to...

See More Trending Articles

More Ammo

Although it was introduced 40 years ago, the 7mm-08 Remington is still one of the best 7mm-08 Remington History and Performance Ammo

7mm-08 Remington History and Performance

Allan Jones - June 26, 2020

Although it was introduced 40 years ago, the 7mm-08 Remington is still one of the best...

While the 6mm-caliber cartridges that can be considered “great” are few in number, some have long and storied histories.12 Great 6mm Cartridges Ammo

12 Great 6mm Cartridges

Steve Gash - August 20, 2020

While the 6mm-caliber cartridges that can be considered “great” are few in number, some have...

Even though muzzle flash has more effect on an observer than a shooter, reducing flash is always a good idea.Muzzle Flash and Other Distractions Ammo

Muzzle Flash and Other Distractions

Allan Jones - November 17, 2020

Even though muzzle flash has more effect on an observer than a shooter, reducing flash is...

Would you take the extra power and pop of the .22 Magnum over the more price-effective .22 LR? Here's one man's opinion.Best Rimfire Cartridges — .22 Magnum vs .22 Long Rifle Ammo

Best Rimfire Cartridges — .22 Magnum vs .22 Long Rifle

Payton Miller - December 21, 2020

Would you take the extra power and pop of the .22 Magnum over the more price-effective .22 LR?...

See More Ammo

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Shooting Times App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now