Cowboy mounted shooting relives Wild West

On the Farm: A passion for the sport leads this central Alberta couple to share their knowledge with others

BLACKFALDS, Alta. — The romance and folklore of the Wild West fascinated Niels Lausten when he was a farm boy growing up in Denmark.

“Not only did he watch every western he could on TV, those were dubbed into German so he learned that language as well,” said his wife Cheryl La Rue.

Lausten started riding horses at age 10.

“I was always pretty horse crazy too,” La Rue said.

As a young girl growing up in Drumheller, Alta., in the 1970s, La Rue was elated to land a job at a horse rental stable on the edge of town.

Involvement with horses to one degree or another has been a constant for both of them over the years. So when they were introduced to cowboy mounted shooting 12 years ago during its infancy in Alberta, it was a natural fit.

“I always liked the sport aspect of horses,” said La Rue.

Describing her husband’s reaction she said, “he was like a kid in a candy store.”

Cowboy mounted shooting combines elements of Wild West show exhibition: the horse, the speed, the skill, the gun, the rush of adrenaline.

A firearm-wielding rider uses the skills of barrel racing, pole bending and reining. The object of the game is to shoot 10 balloon targets while galloping through a weaving timed course, at times hands-free. The fastest competitor with the least number of missed targets wins. Firearms include .45 calibre single action revolvers, rifles and double barrel shotguns loaded with blank ammunition.

“It’s a mental game,” said LaRue. “It’s really important to stay focused right to the last stage. You can’t think about the mistakes you made.”

Generally, a two day event contains five stages, or events.

Cowboy mounted shooting has taken Lausten and La Rue throughout North America.

The couple love that the sport is family oriented.

“Sometimes you have three generations competing all together,” said Lausten. “In what other sport can you do that?”

There have been lots of wins over the years but one stands out.

“In 2008, we each won the world championship in our class in Amarillo, Texas,” said Lausten.

The International class was for competitors living off the continental U.S. and included riders from Canada, Germany, Sweden and Alaska.

The couple have a practice arena at their 40-acre Gala Ranch where they have 10 horses: four Lusitano and six Quarter Horses. Both breeds are known for their intelligence, speed, and athleticism.

La Rue said Lausten generally practices once a week when the weather is good and more often when there’s a competition. He fits in time for the sport around his full-time work as owner-operator of his hydro dig business.

La Rue had to quit riding a couple years ago due to back problems and asthma, which flare up particularly at indoor shoots where there’s dust and smoke.

But it doesn’t stop her from encouraging and teaching others alongside her husband.

“We really enjoy helping people get better,” said Lausten. “It’s a lot about horses and a little about hunting and shooting. And now it’s also about teaching.”

La Rue said the work begins by preparing the horses for the mounted shooting, getting them used to the noise of guns. They start out with a small noise like a cap gun, then progress.

La Rue said that when a horse gets to the point of becoming gun broke, they are already well trained.

“If a horse takes to the gunfire, they generally really start to love the sport.”

Course patterns vary and are picked randomly before each show from about 60 variations. So, it’s not a matter of memorizing the pattern, said La Rue.

Since she isn’t as involved as she once was, La Rue has delved into other pursuits, including pottery, iridology and the wearing and promoting of the health benefits of copper jewelry.

The couple also raise a few hormone-free Texas Longhorn cattle for personal consumption.

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