Lily Rodgers holds up what, for her, is essential equipment.
"These are earplugs for the horse," the Scottsdale woman says before placing the black foam discs in the ears of a complacent Steppin’ Bill, her bay quarterhorse and partner of her sport of choice.
She then throws a leg of fringed buckskin over the saddle and, after a few adjustments, gallops away, holding reins in one hand while using the other to pull out a Colt single-action .45 revolver.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
Rodgers "kills" six green balloons as Steppin’ Bill charges past the spaced targets. They wheel. Still in motion, Rodgers holsters one gun, pulls another and again leans forward in the saddle. Six more gunshots blast over the sound of pounding hoofs.
Rodgers competes in Cowboy Mounted Shooting — the event that is as much Wild West show as it is sport. As such, it fits in perfectly as a component of this weekend’s 15th annual Bison Homes Festival of the West, billed as a celebration of all things Western, including a chuck-wagon cookoff, cowboy poets, a faux mountain-man camp, live Western music and a dose of celebrity appearances (Mickey Rooney and Rick Schroder, among others).
"It’s a tremendous crowdpleaser," says Mary Brown, trail boss of the four-day festival held at Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse in Scottsdale — the recreated1880s town slated to move to the Gila River Indian Community.
"It’s one of the fastestgrowing shooting and equine sports in the country," says Brown. "And it got started right here in Scottsdale. Jim Rodgers was one of the founders."
That’s Rodgers, as in Lily. Her husband is also her coach in the 13-year-old sport that he created and continues to dominate even as he enters his 60s.
Sure, the lifelong gun aficionado didn’t have too much competition in the early years (1992-95), when he took home the championship belt buckles again and again. But now the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association has some 10,000 competitors nationwide and a tournament just about every week somewhere in the country.
And Jim Rodgers is still taking trophies from riders 40 or more years younger.
"You don’t see too many 62-year-old quarterbacks," his wife says to emphasize the point.
The one-time ranch hand, who now pays the bills as a land broker, says he got the idea for the competition after watching an exhibition of mounted shooters in 1990. There were a few problems that had to be worked out.
Ammunition, for starters. A sport involving flying bullets might have a tough time attracting spectators. The solution was a combination of black-powder blanks and balloon targets. The burning powder flies just far enough to burst balloons.
When asked the secret for his continued success, Rodgers concedes that while marksmanship and horsemanship are crucial, "you have got to have a great horse. . . . Fifty percent of it is the horse."
His is named Junior, a strawberry roan gelding with whom he’s scored a number of titles, sometimes by as little as 16 hundrendth of a second. "And it takes 25-hundredths of a second to blink your eye," he says.
Unlike Steppin’ Bill, Junior doesn’t need the big foam earplugs. "Some horses don’t mind the sound (of gunshots)," he says. "They have a resistance to sound. Kinda like me. I don’t wear earplugs half the time . . . though I should."
He also wears a weight belt, the only part of his ensemble that couldn’t have walked right out of Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone. The Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association has a dress code for its riders — they must be attired in getups that either resemble the silver-screen cowboys or reflect the turn of the century or earlier.
"It kind of sets us apart, gives us an identity from the ropers and rodeo cowboys," he says.
It also adds to the spectacle of men and women galloping wildly across an arena with guns blazing. It seems appropriate that the sport has attracted a number of celebrity participants, such as actors Alex Cord and Bruce Boxleitner, says Jim Rodgers.
"People just love to watch them," says Brown. "It’s so fun. And doggone it, one of these days I’m going to get on a horse and I’m going to do it myself."
If you go
What: The 15th annual Bison Homes Festival of the West
Where: Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse, 23023 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $12 for adults, $11 for seniors, $4 for children between 5 and 12, Today all kids 2 and younger are free.
Information: (602) 996-4387 or www.festivalofthewest.com
• Western Music Jamboree — three stages of live music
• Western Trade Show — everything from saddles to jewelry
• Cowboy Spirit Award — actors Mickey Rooney and Rick Schroder among those to be honored
• Cowboy poetry
• Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association competition
• Chuck Wagon cook-off
• Log home show
• Mountain Man Rendezvous & Sutler’s Row — a re-enactment camp