Saddle up! Cowboys and Cowgirls gather in Gilford for Mounted Shooting Championship

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More than 40 competitors will take part in the Cowboy Mounted Shooters Association New Hampshire Championship in Gilford Saturday. (Courtesy photo)


GILFORD — More than 40 cowboys and cowgirls will be riding into town today, six-guns blazing, as they take over the Lakes Region Riding Academy to compete in the Cowboy Mounted Shooters Association New Hampshire Championship.
The event will be hosted by the Northeast Six Shooters, who recently reclaimed the Border Wars flag from the Connecticut Renegades on Memorial Day Weekend.
Cowboys and cowgirls from all over New England are coming to show off their skills in the competition. Horsemanship as well as marksmanship is the key to a great run. The riders use revolvers that shoot special blanks designed for this type of event, and there is also a shotgun/rifle class.
The course consists of a series of patterns which a horse and rider must negotiate while the rider shoots at 10 targets using a .45 caliber single-action revolver. Riders change guns while riding to engage all 10 targets. The fastest time, plus number of targets hit, count in the scoring.
Dina Baratta of Londonderry, president of the Northeast Six Shooters and herself a competitor, said the blanks contain black powder, which heats up when fired, and the hot particles burst the balloon at a range of 10 to 12 feet.
Baratta, whose husband, Rob, was the Overall Cowboy Champion at a recent meet, said she always rode horses but never fired a gun until eight years ago when she took up the sport.
“It's a lot of fun and you get to meet people from all walks of life and all ages who are dedicated to keeping  the spirit of the Old West alive,” she said, pointing out that competitors dress in clothing true to that era of American history.
She says that the sport evolved from the Single Action Shooting Society events which feature Cowboy Action Shooting and has been around since 1994, when the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association was formed.
Baratta said it's a family-oriented sport and that not only is her husband involved, but her mother and father, John and Debbie O'Donnell of Hooksett are also competitors.
She says the Northeast Six Shooters are active from April through October and sponsor 22 matches a year.
The club has members from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont and New York. Last year, members competed in North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Members also rope, sort, and pen cattle; play gymkhana and versatility games; do dressage, stadium jumping and eventing; and enjoy plain old trail rides.
After Saturday's championships, many riders will be camping out overnight at the Lakes Region Riding Academy on Young Road in Gilford for Sunday's four-stage match at LRRA.
Events get underway at 10 a.m. both days and spectators are welcome.
Julie Lawrence, founder of Lakes Region Riding Academy, has been around horses all her life. The pony rides at Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts, ignited a spark within that never stopped glowing. The lessons she received at the age of 5 worried her mom, but Julie quickly found her way to a life filled with horses.
After moving to the Weirs Beach area in the early '70s, Julie met Jean and Tex (James) Weldon, and the spark was again kindled while being educated in basic horsemanship.
In the early part of the '80s, Julie began showing Appaloosas in Delaware, and then showed successfully in New Hampshire in the New England Paint Horse circuit into the late '80s.
In 1993 she began working with Hunter/Jumpers while helping to manage the Sandwich facility until, after several years, she was asked to teach in Meredith, at the Hartley family's barn in 1996.
And so, Lakes Region Riding Academy was born, focusing on safety and good horsemanship from the ground up, with an emphasis on the knowledge and mannerisms that make riding horses great fun for both the student and the horses they ride. LRRA has been working from 26 Young Road in Gilford since 2005.

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Dina Baratta of Londonderry will be competing in the Cowboy Mounted Shooters Association New Hampshire Championship in Gilford Saturday. (Courtesy photo)