Trainer Sam Helms introduced South Carolina equestrians to the sport of cowboy mounted shooting.
River Neck Acres in Florence, South Carolina, had a special visitor last week when trainer Sam Helms, of Hired Gun Horsemanship, arrived to teach a cowboy mounted shooting clinic for owners looking to acclimate their horses to gunfire.
Cowboy mounted shooting is a competitive equestrian sport which involves riding a horse while maneuvering a shooting pattern. It is governed by several governing bodies, including the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association, which was formed in the 1990s, and is one of the fastest growing equestrian sports in the nation.
Helms has been riding horses since he was a teenager, and for nearly 20 years he trained them on the side while working as a brick layer.
In an interview with SC Now, he explained how the recession of 2008 shifted his career focus solely to horses:
"I started helping people with problem horses at the matches, and then it wasn't long before I was making more money training horses than I was laying brick. There came a choice to be made, and I picked the horse business full time while the economy was tanking."
Helms chose cowboy mounted shooting as his area of interest, because it combined two of his passions.
"My dad had a great love of guns, and he gave it to me," Helms said. "I have a great love of animals, so when I seen mounted shooting, I just combined the two."
Helms continues to work with problem horses, but also breaks young horses and teaches mounted shooting clinics.
The clinics are important, because Helms has met many people who have the wrong idea about what it takes to acclimate a horse to gunfire.
"They'd try to ride around and say, 'You just ride around long enough and shoot off your horse and he'll get it.' Well, that's kind of like saying if you sit next to a math book, eventually you'll get it. That doesn't always happen that way."
Before shooting off a horse's back, Helms believes that it is important to first earn the horse's trust. During the Florence clinic, he worked with all five horses in a round pen, acclimating them to the gunfire sound by firing the pistols from the ground, before mounting up.
By the end of the clinic, Helms had ridden all of the horses except the yearlings (which are not yet broken to ride) while firing a .22 and .45-caliber pistol.
It's no surprise, since Helms is an expert. But he warns first-time owners that the process is not as easy as it looks.
"Either buy a finished horse first or find you a reputable trainer first," Helms said. "A lot of people get very attached to their horses and want to use their own personal horse, and that's fine, but get proper training for the horse and for yourself."
All images by Megan May via SC Now.
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