Giving Their Best Shot

A South Texas ranch family uses their everyday vocation as a way to train world-caliber mounted-shooting horses.


When Matt Sronce graduated from Texas A&M University in 2001 with a degree in agricultural sciences, he didn't have to look far to find the perfect profession - one that enables him to blend his ranching background with his competitive mounted-shooting pursuits.

Matt was raised on the Barnhart Ranch headquarters in Westhoff, Texas, purchased by Paul Barnhart Sr. in the 1940s, and now owned by his sons, Irvin and Paul Jr. Matt was at work on horseback, helping his father, Don, the ranch manager, at an early age. As he grew, he worked up to earning a cowboy's wage and knowing how to perform any task on the outfit.

"From the time I could walk, Dad had me riding along and working," the 30-year-old Texan says. "I started with the lowest jobs, such as painting pens, and, through the years, was promoted to running heavy equipment and doing mechanical repairs. Dad trained me to do everything on this ranch, and it was the best thing that could've happened to me."

Fresh out of college, Matt was offered the opportunity to manage Barnhart Ranch Co.'s horse program, the company's Hebbronville and Highlands, Texas, ranches, as well as help his father and mother, Sharon, run the Westhoff outfit.

"Matt had opportunities to go elsewhere, and we pushed him to go into a line of work that pays better than ranching," says Don, who's served as general manager of Barnhart Ranch Co. for 31 years.

But Matt chose to follow in his father's footsteps. "So many things factored into my decision to stay in ranching," he says. "But the chance to work cattle and horses every day really appealed to me. In a roundabout way, we get paid to train mounted-shooting horses on the ranch."

The family's priority is ranching, but they also take mounted-shooting competition seriously. Matt and his wife, Tammy, both world-class shooters in their respective divisions, are gradually making names for themselves as producers of specialized mounted-shooting horses through their Sronce Texas Mounted Shooting Horses. Don also is an avid mounted-shooting competitor, while Sharon volunteers her time behind the scenes. She received the 2005 Tova Durfey Volunteer Award at the 2005 Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Championships for her years of dedicated service. Together, the family embodies the spirit that's made mounted shooting one of the fastest-growing sports in the horse industry, and their talented, athletic mounts are making quite a bang in the arena.

"The Sronces are the epitome of the type of people we want to attract to the sport," says family friend and Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association world champion Annie Bianco-Ellett, Cave Creek, Arizona. "They're a strong, tightly knit family dedicated to the western lifestyle."

For the rest of this story, pick up the May 2006 issue of Western Horseman.