A Good Gun and a Trusty Horse

Phil Spangenburger and horse Nevada at Shooting Competition
Keeping our Western mounted shooting heritage alive, Phil and Nevada performed together for over 27 years. In Old West parlance, Nevada was a “steady goer.” Here they blaze their way through a course of balloon targets as Phil rides with the reins in his teeth and a Colt .45 in each hand during a performance for the Tournament of Roses at Santa Anita Park racetrack.
– Courtesy CR Photos –

Throughout history, the horse has been known as “Man’s Noblest Companion.” Alexander the Great had Bucephalus, Marengo was Napolean’s favorite mount, General Robert E. Lee rode Traveller, and Buffalo Bill loved his Isham. Our cowboy heroes, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Clayton “The Lone Ranger” Moore won the movie West on Trigger, Champion and Silver, respectively. I’ve had horses for most of my life and have made part of my living with my six-guns and these magnificent creatures. I’ve experienced the heartfelt joy of working with a good horse for pleasure, in a competition or during a mounted performance.

Cowboy Mounted Shooters rely on their equine partners as much as they do their guns. Their firearms are very personal to them. Whether a Colt, Ruger, any replica Peacemaker-type single action revolver, or a longarm like a Winchester, Taylor’s & Co.’s Runnin’ Comanchero, Cimarron’s Saddle Rifle, Coach shotgun, or any other shootin’ iron, the gun becomes a part of the shooter. They also know the camaraderie and closeness provided by a solid, dependable mount. A willing, fast and surefooted horse counts for most of any high-scoring Cowboy Mounted Shooting run. The shooters place untold value on their four-footed teammates, as was true of the riders of the famed war-horses of the past.

Buffalo Bill Cody and horse, Isham
Cowboy Mounted Shooters and others who rely on their horses help preserve the age-old legacy of the strong bond between man and horse. Here, Buffalo Bill Cody, one of the most famous equestrian performers of all time, rides his favorite horse, Isham, who carried him through many of his Wild West shows and was later given a well-deserved retirement on Cody’s ranch.
– Phil Spangenberger Collection –

Knowing that Cowboy Mounted Shooting is a “team” sport and not a “me” sport, we’ve loved and taken the best possible care of our equine companions and they’ve returned that devotion through their steadfast performances. Multi-winning Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA) champions’ quarter horses—like Annie Bianco’s Costa, Kenda Lenseigne’s Lieutenant Justin, Joe Whitely’s Sundance, and Chopo, the faithful little pard of Cowboy Mounted Shooting’s founder Jim Rodgers, and others—all earned well-deserved retirements after their long winning careers had ended. Although I retired from mounted shooting competition years ago, having earned World and National Divisional titles, I’ve continued performing my horseback shooting, lancing and sword exhibitions on my own trusted mare, Nevada. For the past several years, Nevada enjoyed the easy life in reward for her 27-plus years of faithful service, only being called upon for an occasional, and always solid, performance. She carried me though our last mounted shooting show together in December of 2014 at the age of 33!

Phil Spangenburger and horse Nevada
As one of the last horses trained by legendary motion picture horse trainer Glenn Randall, Nevada performed her graceful bow after an exciting lancing or mounted aerial shooting exhibition. Randall had trained Roy Rogers’ Trigger, Gene Autry’s Champion, Rex Allen’s Koko, the 1959 Ben Hur chariot horses and many other famous performing equines.
– Courtesy CR Photos –

Sadly, after having her for a full 28 years—one third of my own life—we recently had to have her humanely put to sleep. My wife, Linda, and I lost a valuable and beloved part of our family. In her  34 years, Nevada traipsed the high country on hunting trips and campouts, was ridden across the state of Nevada on a Pony Express re-ride, performed in countless Wild West shows and pageants throughout the country, served me as a bomb-proof “war-horse” in many smoke-filled Civil War re-enactments, proudly hoofed it through many Rose Parades and galloped across the television screen in numerous History Channel and other cable network documentaries. Perhaps most importantly, she was my mount in the exciting exhibitions we performed that inspired CMSA’s Jim Rodgers to create the sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting.

Nevada could always be counted on to safely and boldly carry me through anything. She was beautiful, fast, sure-footed and dependable…she didn’t always give me the easiest or smoothest ride, having a headstrong temperament, but she was smart, and knew when we had to go to work. I knew her moves and how to read her. When we’d ride into the arena, she was the star…I was her sidekick! Like a good gun or a trusted friend, she was my partner, and I can honestly say she never let me down. Nevada was truly a noble companion.

Phil Spangenberger has written for Guns & Ammo, appears on the History Channel and other documentary networks, produces Wild West shows, is a Hollywood gun coach and character actor, and is True West’s Firearms Editor.

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