Cowboys, cowgirls bring Old West alive at EquiFest

02/10/2013 12:00 AM

02/09/2013 5:46 PM

In their “spare time,” they are registered nurses, radio DJs, the guy you work with at Spirit AeroSystems.

Astride a horse, on their hard-workin’ weekends, they’re shoot-’em-up cowboys and cowgirls, dressed in fringed chaps and flowing prairie skirts, demonstrating that the Old West is alive and well in modern-day Kansas.

As they speedily round poles on a course where they shoot targets using black-powder blanks, the riders and their horses are taking part in a sport called cowboy mounted shooting – one of the competitions held Saturday during the EquiFest horse exhibition at the Kansas Pavilions.

Drawing horse people and horse lovers from around the region, the annual EquiFest features demonstrations, breed showcases and vendors selling everything horsey from saddles to saddle purses. You can get your boots polished in one corner of the main pavilion and then wander to the horse stalls to the south to visit horses and their owners – and learn about sports such as cowboy mounted shooting.

Men and women – even an eighth-grade boy – competed in the timed mounted-shooting contest Saturday. As their specially trained horses navigated white poles set into orange road-construction cones – the poles bearing blue and yellow balloons as targets – the riders packed two holsters and had to switch their .45-caliber single-action revolvers during the ride. Seeing the fast-driving horses gallop down the straightaway at the end, the riders firing away, one got caught up into another world where high-tech jobs melted away and cowboys took care of business.

One of the riders was Rusty Walker, a DJ for radio station WIBW in Topeka, wearing a white feather in her black cowboy hat, a red-embroidered black cowboy shirt over her blue jeans. She’s the vice president of a new cowboy mounted shooting club – the Flint Hills Mounted Shooters.

“You didn’t get shot sitting in the front row?” Walker jokingly asked two fresh-faced young boys, in identical leather vests and cowboy hats, as she left the ring with her American Paint horse named Cowboy.

“He wants to do it someday,” Joy Sallee, from west of St. John, told Walker, indicating the interest in the sport of one of the boys – her elder grandson, 9-year-old Benjamin Meador of Ingalls. He has two horses.

“I do too!” chimed in Benjamin’s younger brother, Malachi. He’s 6 and also has two horses, including one called Mystery, because she was a surprise.

“I think she could do it,” Malachi said of Mystery and her ability to take on cowboy mounted shooting. “She’s a fast horse. She’s real confident. I don’t think she’d be scared of the noise. I don’t think my other horse could do it, because a cat ran under his legs and spooked him and he bucked me off.”

After Walker showed the boys her gun, saying, “You shoot the guns just like the cowboys – you have to cock it every time” – Malachi confided that the boys had that angle covered, too.

“We have toy guns that we cock,” he said.

And the boys get good exposure to the sport, their grandmother said.

“We bring them to this every year.”

EquiFest continues Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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