BEMIDJI - Like characters out of a classic western movie, about 50 cowboys and cowgirls dressed in late 1800s frontier outfits will shoot it out Saturday and Sunday at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds horse arena.
Members of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association Minnesota Mounted Shooters and Wild Rice Peacemakers will compete in these fast-paced timed events, riding their horses and shooting their 45-caliber single-action pistols. Spectator admission is free for the events, which begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Rev. Kent Dudley with the Bended Knee Band will conduct cowboy church at 8 a.m. Sunday on the Marilyn Shutter Stage at the fairgrounds.
As a rider enters the arena for the competition, the range master gives the signal that the targets are set and all is safe. Then the rider, armed with two pistols, speeds around a pattern of cones firing at 10 target balloons. Sparks from the blank shells, which are loaded with black powder, burst the balloon targets. When the rider completes the pattern and explodes all the balloons, he or she races across the timer line for a score. Mounted shooting requires skill in both horsemanship and marksmanship.
Kris Klasen and Joe Waslaski, owners of Gold Mine Ranch near Bemidji, hosts of the competition, have competed in mounted shooting for about a year and have racked up enough points to qualify for the world championships in October in Amarillo, Texas.
"We'll be taking three horses," Waslaski said.
Klasen will ride her mare, Flicka, Waslaski will ride Buddy, and a friend, Kyle Wavra of Red Lake Falls, will mount another of Flicka's offspring, Little Bit. Josh Klasen, 16, also competes, teaching a young animal the skills.
"He went last year on a 3-year-old horse that had 15 rides on him," Kris Klasen said.
Klasen and Waslaski have long competitive equestrian experience with barrel racing, pole bending, roping and other timed competition. Klasen said she had been interested in mounted shooting for years, but they didn't try the sport until May 2011.
"I talked Joe into going to the clinic, and he was more hooked than me," she said.
"We've been gamers our whole life, and nothing has been as exciting or fun as this sport," Waslaski said.
They bought a pair of single-action antique reproduction Colt 45s and had custom front-mounted holsters made for the pistols.
The couple said the horses don't mind the guns' reports. The animals wear soft ear plugs, as do the riders. But riders and horses had to learn new skills for the mounted shooting sport.
For example, Flicka is used to running flat out in competition, but with the shooting, she has to rate her pace so Klasen can fire at the targets.
"This year, she's totally got it," Klasen said. "She loves competition."
"Little Bit can run faster than I can shoot right now," Waslaski said. He repeated the advice experienced competitors gave him: "Let your horse run as he can run, and you'll learn to shoot as fast as your horse runs."
For the Saturday and Sunday events, Stittsworth's Brats and Michelle's Scandinavian Kitchen will offer food, and western vendors, Barbwire Clothing and Fisher Leather booths, will also be on hand. Waslaski and Klasen said cash prizes provided by area business sponsors will be awarded to competitors at the various levels.
"The community support factor was wonderful," Waslaski said.
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