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

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

The SAINT' Victor Rifle delivers a lightweight and agile rifle solution while maintaining effectiveness at extended engagement distances.

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.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

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

Improved ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance downrange without upping blast and recoil. How-To

The Key to Shooting Far: Improving Ballistics

Rick Jamison - April 17, 2019

Improved ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance downrange without upping blast and...

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.” Optics

Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm

Sam Wolfenberger - May 01, 2019

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”

How can a shorter-barreled revolver have higher velocities than a longer-barreled semiautomatic pistol? Handguns

Revolver vs. Semiautomatic Pistol: A Ballistic Oddity

Allan Jones - May 15, 2019

How can a shorter-barreled revolver have higher velocities than a longer-barreled...

See More Trending Articles

More Ammo

The Hornady 6.5 PRC is among the latest 6.5mm cartridge development; here's how it stacks up to others of the same caliber. Ammo

6.5 PRC vs. Other 6.5mm Cartridges

Layne Simpson - February 10, 2020

The Hornady 6.5 PRC is among the latest 6.5mm cartridge development; here's how it stacks up...

Winchester's new semiautomatic pistol ammo, named USA Ready, is currently offered in 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. Ammo

Winchester USA Ready Handgun Ammo

Brad Miller, PhD - March 20, 2020

Winchester's new semiautomatic pistol ammo, named USA Ready, is currently offered in 9mm...

Weatherby has announced two new Mark V rifles the Backcountry and Backcountry Ti in combination with an all new Weatherby 6.5 RPM magnum cartridge. Ammo

Weatherby 6.5 RPM, Mark V Backcountry Rifles First Look

Shooting Times Digital Staff - September 06, 2019

Weatherby has announced two new Mark V rifles the Backcountry and Backcountry Ti in...

The new Hornady Handgun Hunter ammo is crafted for hunting many different types of game. Ammo

Hornady Handgun Hunter Ammo - New for 2020

Shooting Times Digital Staff - January 27, 2020

The new Hornady Handgun Hunter ammo is crafted for hunting many different types of game.

See More Ammo

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

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