Tens of thousands of people are flocking to Houston's annual Livestock Show and Rodeo, the biggest event of its kind in the world. The main attraction is the rodeo, where cowboys ride bucking horses and compete in other contests drawn from ranch life. A new event this year connects visitors with the cowboys of the Old West depicted in movies.
This is what most people come to see every year at the rodeo, cowboys competing in events like bull and bronco riding, team roping and barrel racing.
The rodeo organizers have built a loyal fan base with these contests. But this year they have added some new attractions, including one that harkens back to old Western movies, Cowboy Mounted Shooting.
In this sport, riders try to pop balloons as they race past.
Although it was rarely done in the historic Old West, horseback shooting became common in Hollywood depictions of that era. Those movies inspired Jim Rogers, Chairman of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association, to start this event more than 20 years ago.
“Cowboys shooting from horses is part of Americana that we wanted to capture,” said Rogers.
But no one gets shot in this event. Balloons are the only fatalities. Because moving the horse around the targets quickly takes great skill, not physical strength, the riding challenge has attracted many women competitors like Annie Bianco.
“Eighty percent is riding. You have to be a really good rider to do this sport and the rest is gun handling,” Bianco noted.
The guns fire a special charge of black powder that produces a lot of fire and smoke, but no projectile. The burning embers from the gun muzzle are what break the balloon.
Denny Chapman has been competing for 15 years. He says competitors use revolvers similar to those used in the Old West.
“Every time we shoot this gun it has to be cocked back because it is single action and then we pull the trigger to lower the hammer,” Chapman noted.
In some contests, they use rifles instead of revolvers.
“Most of us drop the reins on our horse and we run about 35 miles an hour [56 kilometers an hour] just shooting as fast as we can and, boy, it is fun. It is exciting,” Chapman added.
The rough-riding, fast-shooting cowboys hope to become a yearly attraction at the world's biggest livestock show and rodeo.