HERMISTON -You might say 74-year-old Donnie Rock knows the three Rs of most sports involving a horse: "ridin', ranglin' and ropin'."
Rock has ridden horses since he was a small boy. He remembers asking his mother when he was 6-years-old if he could ride his father's horse, Punchie.
"She said only if I could catch him," Rock said. "Well, the thing is by then I'd already caught him."
Before then Rock had ridden the family's donkeys, which he hated dealing with.
In a photograph the size of a business card dated 1941, Rock points out himself astride his horse, Socks, at the Baker County fairgrounds. He believes he was 10 or 11 at the time. He went on from there to participate in most every sport involving a horse you can imagine.
"Rodeoin' of course. Team roping. Team penning. Calf roping," he recounted.
Rock rides into the arena again this weekend to compete but for the first time in many years in a new event. He will ride and fire single action .45-caliber pistols while on horseback.
"You set up a course with these balloons and shoot at them," he said.
He is talking about the newer sport of cowboy-mounted shooting. Rock competes in the Columbia Basin Spring Shoot Out this Saturday and Sunday at the Hermiston Sage Riders arena. Participation in the shootout increased from 39 riders in 2003 to 57 riders in 2004. The group expects almost 100 riders this weekend. The event requires an astute balancing of equestrian skills with marksmanship.
"Even though it's competitive, it's therapy," Colleen Winfrey said.
In the sport, riders don gear from the 1850 to 1890 era. Their courses involve six rounds. Each requires the horse and rider to stop, turn, change leads and accelerate. Balloons are set up in a variety of patterns. All riders use blank ammunition.
Winfrey and her sister, Cyndy Griggs, just want people to catch their enthusiasm for mounted shooting.
"We want the community to come and see more about this sport," said her sister, Cyndy Griggs.
Each got into the sport because they said once you're an accomplished rider, it becomes difficult to feel challenged.
"And this is more so, because not only do you ride but have to handle the loaded pistol," Griggs said.
Both sisters favor Ruger guns and use holsters to hold their weapons between draws. Handling the reins is a matter of personal preference.
"You have to shoot at a dead run while managing the horse so what do you do with the reins? Either drop 'em or hold 'em," Griggs said.
Winfrey prefers to hold hers in her teeth while Griggs and Rock hold the reins in one hand with the gun in the other. Each said training the horse to become accustomed to the gunfire can be one of the trickiest parts of preparing for competition.
"I got one horse that couldn't handle it - the breeze blowing the balloons, that scared him," Rock said, who will ride another horse, "Juno Light."
Men and women compete separately. The sport includes Wranglers (6-11), Juniors (11-18), Ladies 1-6, Mens 1-6, and Seniors. There is no charge to come and watch. The shootout starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday at the Sage Riders arena.