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Gunshots and horses open window into ‘Wild West’

Thundering hooves hit soft dirt. The crack of gunshots resounded. Cowboys and cowgirls wearing leather chaps and traditional felt hats steered sturdy horses on a quest.

For a few hours on Saturday, St. Francois County Fairgrounds opened a window into the “Wild West” as men, women and children competed in a Cowboy Mounted Shoot match.

By the end of the day, 26 shooters and two young wranglers had raised $950 for the St. Francois County United Way. The event was sponsored by The Missouri Big Irons Mounted Shooters, with help from the Farmington FFA.

Cowboy Mounted Shoot matches involve fast riding and quick shooting on a course in which competitors shoot balloons. Scoring involves the rider’s time and the number of balloons shot with the black powder pistols.

“It’s multi-tasking at its best,” said Brian Bequette of Old Mines, who has been competing for about three years. “The horse is going at breakneck speed, and you’re trying to catch those balloons.”

There are several levels of competition, and various courses to follow. Kassidy Herbst rides at the Ladies One level. The highest level is number six, she said.

“You have to get three wins in one year to move up a level,” she explained. “We shoot the balloons with black powder – it’s like a needle hitting the balloon.”

The Wrangler level is for young children who compete by doing the course without shooting a gun.

Between runs, a group of local FFA members ran into the arena and replaced the red and white balloons for the next rider.

“The (poles) for red and white balloons are marked,” said Klaire Lewis, one of the day’s balloon setters. “That’s how we know where to go.”

Typically, balloon setters earn $300 per match for their group, said Kathryn Lewis, who was busy blowing up balloons for the event. The FFA group donated their earnings to the local United Way.

“When the organizers of this event contacted me months ago, they hoped they’d raise $500, so this is almost twice their goal for the United Way!” local United Way executive director Donna Hickman said. “We are thrilled they chose to invest in the work of the 28 agencies we will fund in 2012. To all those who gave, please know your money goes toward the $175,000 the United Way has pledged to award.

“Your money stays right here in St. Francois County meeting the needs of your neighbors!”

Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at

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