In 2009, Kenda Lenseigne made history when she became the first woman in Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA) history to win the Overall at a World Championship, beating all male and female competitors to claim the title. Just six months later, Lenseigne did another “first ever,” becoming the first woman to win the Overall at the CMSA National Championship. Combining expert horsemanship with top-notch shooting skills, Cowboy Mounted Shooting is growing in popularity across the country, and Lenseigne is at the forefront of the wave. Not only does she compete in shooting events, Lenseigne, 38, is a widely-regarded horse and rider trainer. When she’s not on the road, she spends her time on her ranch in Arizona preparing for her own events and training other people’s horses for mounted shooting.
For those of us not familiar with it—like myself—can you describe what Cowboy Mounted Shooting is all about?
Each course can vary, but generally you have course set up with 10 targets—small balloons 7 to 9 inches in diameter, set on short poles—and two single-action pistols in your holsters, each with five rounds. You’re scored on time and how many targets you hit. You and your horse cross the line or electric beam, and you have to ride a pre-determined pattern. As you’re riding at full-speed, you shoot your first five targets, holster your pistol and draw out the second one, then fire off your next five shots, and cross the finish line. You’re going 35 miles per hour on your horse, weaving in and out of the pattern, so you have to be a very accurate shot.
What’s your all-time best ride?
My fastest time was 9.4 seconds. That was clean—hitting all the targets. I think I had an out-of-body experience on that ride! (laughs) It’s one of those times when your mechanics and training and your horse all just take over kind of automatically.
What are you firing?
It’s a blank .45 caliber black powder cartridge. So it’s the burning powder that breaks the targets. It’s kind of like a small shotgun blast, without the spread. You can’t bust a target with the cartridge at more than 20 feet. You’re not allowed to bring your own ammunition to the events. It’s provided. They’re very careful about that, because this is a spectator sport and the people are pretty close to the course.
How long have you been riding?
I actually started riding right before I was born.
(Laughs) My mother’s a great horsewoman, and she was riding right up until I was born. I started riding on my own at two years old, and started competing at four. Basically barrel racing and pole bending. Having started so young, riding was just a part of my life. I’ve always done it.
When did guns come into the picture?
About 15 years ago. I was working on a different ranch by then, in California, and a friend invited me to go with her to mounted shooting event. It pretty much looked like the most fun you could have on horseback, so I tried it and have been hooked ever since.
Had you shot recreationally or hunted before that?
No. That was basically my introduction to firearms.
I see that the Cimarron Firearms Company is one of your sponsors.
They’ve been so great to me. Fantastic firearms, and they actually developed a special hammer for the single-action Cimarron Thunderstorm that I use. Most of the single actions out there have a standard Colt hammer spur. It sticks up pretty high. But with mounted shooting, you’re moving around so much, and you can only use one hand. So when I started working with the people at Cimarron, I asked them: can we move the hammer spur down a little? I’d seen some people already doing it on their own.
What sort of money can be made in mounted cowboy shooting competitions?
I’ve come away with a check for $10,000. I was at a competition in Tunica, Mississippi, just a week ago and left that with $3,000 in my pocket. But I’ve also come away with 30 dollars. With all the expenses—feed, trailer and truck, gas, lodging, entry fees—if you make $30, you’re looking at a pretty good loss. But I love all of it. I’m really grateful to be a part of this.
What’s your training regimen when you’re getting ready for an event?
A lot of riding, setting up targets, riding around them, a lot of dry firing. Lots of long days in the saddle. You really have to be in sync with your horse or none of this works.
What is the harder part of this career?
The traveling is probably the most challenging part of my life right now. I have my ranch set up like I want it for training horses and holding my classes. I get home, I get back into the routine, and then it’s like I have to leave again.
And I am self employed, and you never know about the money. When people run out of money, hobbies are the first thing to go, and riding and mounted shooting are hobbies. So when the money’s tight, a lot of people can’t afford the classes I teach. Still, it beats the heck out of sitting in an office!
This may sound kind of silly but, with all the shooting you do from horseback—is there hearing protection for the horses?
Actually, that’s a great question. Yes, we use hearing protection for our horses. It’s basically made out of the same squishy orange foam used to make human ear plugs. They’re just four times larger! So you just squeeze the foam down and slip the plugs into your horse’s ears. They’ll shake their head the first few times you use the plug, but the horses get used to them pretty fast.
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