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Mari Roberson— Hard riding and straight shooting

For Mari Roberson of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), there’s nothing more exciting than riding at full gallop on her horse while popping balloon targets with her single-action revolver.
May 29, 2018
  • Mari Roberson
  • Mari Roberson
  • Mari Roberson
  • Mari Roberson
  • Mari Roberson
“I’m famous for shooting without looking. As I’m riding at full speed through a part of a course, I look straight ahead at where I am going, raise my arm to where I know the balloon is, and squeeze off a round. I hit it every time—every time. People ask me, ‘How do you do that?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know, but I do.’”

Hard riding and straight shooting

Dressed as a cowgirl fresh out of the Old West, Mari Roberson of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) waits for the range master to give her the okay to engage the course. Once the signal is given, she presses her horse forward, using subtle body cues to navigate the mount through a challenging pattern. As she and the horse go through the course, Mari draws her revolver. Firing off rounds loaded with black-powder blanks, she takes out a series of strategically placed balloons until she and her horse complete the required pattern. 

“Any sport where you can go fast and be judged only by the time clock and the accuracy of your shooting—I am definitely interested,” says Mari about her joy of the sport known as cowboy mounted shooting. “There are some equestrian competitions that rely solely on judges and what and who they like on a particular day. I love competitions where it’s just me and my horse against a clock.”

A Typical Competition

Mari Roberson
Mari Roberson fires a round at a balloon while she and her horse charge through a challenging course.

Cowboy mounted shooting requires skill in horsemanship and marksmanship. The object of the sport is to shoot 10 balloon targets while riding through a variety of challenging courses. The winner of a competition is the person who rides the fastest with the least missed targets.

“I’ve always been a good shot,” Mari admits, “and so being able to do that, along with riding at a gallop, makes for a lot of fun.”

Although the origins of this sport hearken back to the Wild West Shows that started in the 1870s, the sport proper began in the 1990s, when Jim Rogers of Scottsdale, Arizona, formulated the basic rules of the sport and helped form the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association. Mari has practiced this sport since 2005.

One of the challenging characteristics of this sport is that the patterns used change from competition to competition.

“There are about 100 different patterns,” says Mari, “and you don’t know what pattern you’ll be riding through until the day of the competition. Competitors enter the arena one at a time. There are penalties that affect your final time, such as missing targets, knocking over barrels, and going the wrong way in a course.”

Effective Horsemanship and Straight Shooting

To navigate a pattern as quickly as possible, it is important that horse and rider work as a single unit. Some of the competition patterns can be a challenge, particularly when it comes to navigating close to a thousand pounds of moving muscle.

“Your horsemanship needs to be on point before you even consider entering such a competition,” Mari emphasizes. “You don’t ever want to combine a new horse with a new rider. Not all horses take to it, and so it’s important to work with your mount, a process that can typically take a year or two to see if the horse has the proper temperament for this sort of thing.”

When it comes to marksmanship, safety is of prime importance. “We use black powder blanks in our pistols,” Mari says. “These blanks are certified to travel a maximum of 20 feet. It’s the embers that pop the balloons. That’s how we’re able to have spectators watch us in the stands—each course is designed so that it is farther than 20 feet from the stands.”

A Mounted Range Officer is always on hand at each competition to enforce safety rules. Violating safety rules could lead to a competitor’s disqualification from an event.

"These rules are here to keep everyone safe,” says Mari. “If you ever aim at anything other than the target—sweep the spectators, the range master, anybody really—you could be disqualified. Also, you cannot leave the arena with any loaded rounds, even misfires. You need to leave all empty shells and misfires at the bullet table before you exit the arena.”

Working toward the World Championship

Mari says she competes only a few times each year, as the sport can be fairly expensive, particularly when it comes to housing and feeding a horse while on travel. However, Mari does have a goal for 2018.

“This year, I am focusing on events sponsored by the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association,” Mari says. “My goal is to get 300 points at these events so that I qualify for the World Championship, an event that will be held in Amarillo, Texas, on October 17–20, 2018. My dream isn’t even to win there—it would just be great to compete because I know I can place at this competition.”

Mari Roberson
One of Mari’s students, Rayha James, stands next to Mari’s horse, Jazz. Mari is the 4-H horse leader for the Jemez Mountain Stallions, where she trains five girls in horsemanship, speed events and body work.

Mari Roberson works for the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO).


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.