Rocksy is another matter altogether. She’s a bit more high-strung and might not be suited for the rigors of mounted shooting. Those gunshots cause her to flinch time after time. Just can’t get used to all that noise.
“We’re being extra careful. If it’s not her cup of tea, I’m not going to force her. She’s a beautiful and wonderful trail horse,” said owner Vickay Gross of Bismarck, N.D.
Andy, by the way, was once known as Andromeda Gardens, back when he was a racehorse and before he went into training to become perhaps the next Trigger or Champion of the mounted shooting world. Rocksy went by Dirty Socks Rock.
Andy, by all accounts, is going to make it in this Cowboy Mounted Shooting game. He’s a fast learner, eager to get it right and do what’s asked of him.
For anyone not familiar with the routine of this wild west sport (video below), just turn on the western channel some afternoon and watch re-runs of Roy Rogers or Gene Autry programs, episodes in which they ride their trusted ponies at full gallop while firing round after round at the fleeing – sometimes pursuing – guys in the black hats.
Now add in some balloons on poles arranged in random patterns. Try to imagine barrel racing with a lot more dips and hairpin turns and cutbacks and a rider maneuvering his mount through this obstacle course, running against the clock and shooting balloons at the same time.
The bullets in this sport have been altered so they aren’t really bullets any longer but still capable of deflating a balloon at 10 feet or so, just don’t plan to stand in front of a shot to test it out. The impact and sting will make you wish you hadn’t.
In any event, this sport is what Andy has in front of him once he gets used to those dang ferris wheels and tilt-a-whirls.
Andy got his first taste of mounted shooting competition in Warren, Minn., last weekend and, well, he was prepared to compete, just not ready for those motorized monsters and screaming teenagers near one end of the arena.
Didn’t want anything to do with them.
“The gelding froze up on me,” said Gross. “I didn’t have enough time into him. There was no problem with the shooting part, but the event was held at the country fair and he just couldn’t get past those carnival rides at the end of the arena.
“I was so darn mad at him and I had a 5 1/2 hour ride home to fume,” she added. “I was calling him super star the entire way home. But it wasn’t his fault. I made a darn fool out of myself. I hadn’t put enough time into him. He just needs more time on the road to adjust to things he hasn’t seen. I really believe he’ll be a star in this event.”
Vickay says that Andy is actually her daughter Olivia’s horse, but mom is riding him until the mare, Rocksy, is ready, if in fact that ever occurs. Vickay herself is a beginner in mounted shooting. “I just started in June,” she said. “I usually try to walk (Andy) through the patterns, although tonight (Tuesday) we cantered through.”
Andy and Rocksy are both adoptees from Dr. Dick Bowman’s ranch in Bowman, N.D., where he annually takes retired racehorses from Canterbury at the conclusion of the meet. Gross became aware of Bowman’s adoption program after he visited the ranch where they board their horses to do some equine dental work.
“We met him at the Flying D and he was telling stories about his horses,” Vickay said. “You know, as a little girl you dream of Secretariat but I never thought I’d own a thoroughbred. You hear so many stories about them.”
Yet, Gross and a couple of friends made the trip to Bowman to look at the good doctor’s stock of former racehorses from Canterbury, the first time about four years ago.
“We took a trailer along with us,” she said. “I don’t know what the heck we were thinking.”
They took a trailer and had a horse with them when they headed home. It was the same thing a couple of years later when they visited Bowman’s ranch
“I was sure that this big thoroughbred (Andy) was trying to kill me at first,” Gross said. “I didn’t know how to train a thoroughbred. Things you take for granted with a “normal” horse, they haven’t seen yet. They’re used to the racetrack, a stall and that’s about it.”
The first thing Andy needed to get used to? “Cattle. That was a biggie,” Vickay said. “You could get unloaded over that one.”
The arena itself was no problem. Gross threw a western saddle on Andy and away they went . “That’s not a problem. After all, these horses were broke to ride,” she said.
There was never a problem on trail rides with Andy either, as good as could be, especially with the young girls who took him out.
A trailer on the property was another matter. “He didn’t want to get anywhere near it,” Vickay said. So, she slowly began desensitizing him to the vehicle, taking him a step closer at a time and letting him relax. It didn’t take long for Andy to adjust. He quickly realized that the closer he got to the trailer and the quicker he relaxed, the sooner he would get to take a rest. “That took the monster out of it for him,” Gross added.
Andy might have been born to do mounted shooting. Time will tell. “If I put him on a line, he can do rollbacks and switch directions beautifully,” Vickay said. “It’s a misconception that thoroughbreds can’t do this stuff. They’re just the opposite of what people think about them. They’re very versatile.”
Versatile enough that a fellow who spotted Andy at the Warren mounted shooting event thought the former racehorse might just make a fine healer for team roping.
Imagine that, a former racehorse who becomes a mounted shooting expert and then runs off and becomes a rodeo star. Sounds like a Hollywood script for sure.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.