Despite the fact she’s 22 years old, Sunset still runs faster than rider Tom Wilson can fire his gun in mounted-shooting competitions. The two have never set the mounted-shooting world on fire, but that hasn’t stopped them from having fun in the sport.
There were 29 horses and riders who took part in the first Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Championships in 1994. Tycoons Sunset, was just 7 years old at the time and was competing in her first competitive event.
Fifteen years later, Sunset has reached a ripe old age of 22, and is still carrying Tom Wilson into the arena at mounted shooting matches along the West Coast. Wilson is 69, so the pair would definitely qualify as the oldest horse-rider tandem at just about any match they attend. Make no mistake; Tom and Sunset haven’t exactly set the mounted-shooting world on fire with their accomplishments. The pair is mostly in it to have a good time and hang out with old friends.
“She’s not some super-duper, overall champion,” Tom admits. “But that’s because of me, not her. I had her at a one-day match in February where her times would have put us in the top two or three if I hadn’t missed so many balloons. I did such a bad job, I told my friends, ‘Sunset just fired me. She wants a new rider.’”
The Appaloosa mare was originally trained to be a heading horse. Tom owned Sunset’s dam and raised her from a foal. Sired by Tycoon Plaudit, she was given the name Tycoon’s Sunset because she was the last foal sired by the horse, which was gelded shortly after she was conceived. She’s since produced for Wilson two daughters, now 6 and 12 years old; both have shown flashes of ability in the mounted-shooting arena.
Tom had been a Single Action Shooting Society competitor, and was on hand when Jim Rodgers and others put on a mounted-shooting demonstration at the 1993 End of Trail event in Norco, California. Inspired by what he saw, he brought Sunset to the venue to see how she’d handle the gunfire.
“She didn’t seem to have a problem with it, so I decided to give it a try,” he says. “At first I tried to do both SASS and mounted-shooting events, and I just couldn’t handle the transition back and forth. So I went completely to mounted shooting and have been doing it ever since.”
Even at age 22, Sunset is still an easy keeper. In fact, Tom’s biggest problem is that she’s still too fast for him.
“I have to hold her back a little because she can run faster than I can shoot,” he says. “She’s still eager to do it after all these years. I think she really has fun and enjoys it. That’s the biggest reason we’re still out there competing. I think a horse needs a job, and this is a job she gets into.”
Mounted-shooting pioneeer Jim Rodgers says the vast variety of patterns makes the sport very demanding for horses of any age. Unlike most horses that compete in a single event, mounted-shooting horses don’t always know which way they’ll need to turn during a run. Turns made at top speeds make the sport physically demanding for its horses.
“There are more older horses in the sport than you might think,” he says. “But for a horse to be doing anything this physical at 22 is extraordinary.”
Tom says Sunset is still consistent at one- or two-day matches, but that he no longer competes at three-day matches. Sunset also has had a difficult transition in recent years after a shoulder problem forced Tom to begin shooting left-handed.
“She really didn’t like me shooting off that side,” he says. “It took a lot of work, but we’re finally getting back to where we were when I was shooting right-handed.”
Sunset might have been retired to the pasture by now, replaced by one of her daughters, but a bad saddle sored the younger mare’s back, putting the horse out of commission for a time.
“Since then, Sunset’s daughter hasn’t enjoyed it much,” Tom says. “She’s just now starting to do it again. That’s why Sunset is still my primary horse.”
Still, Sunset’s age has yet to be a handicap.
“She’s 22,,” Tom says, “but I think she believes she’s still 5 or 6 years old.”
Kyle Partain is a Western Horseman associate editor. Send comments on this story to [email protected].