By Annette Doerr
1. You get what you pay for. The old saying “You get what you pay for” is absolutely true. I once got a “great deal” on a water bottle for trail riding. It seemed handy, hooked over the horn of my western saddle and then secured around the fender. Sounds great, right? Well the first time we used it was when my husband (not exactly an equestrian) took my horse on a Poker Run with some friends of mine. It was all good, until my horse started spinning and bucking. Seems the nylon strap that hooked the water bottle over the horn came undone causing the full water bottle to drop onto my horses shoulder, spooking him as it banged into him every time he moved.
Now imagine getting a “great deal” on a cheap holster. Is securing your weapon something you REALLY want to skimp on? Cheap, Chinese plastic may look like a good deal, but if it cracks and breaks while you’re using it, the last thing you need is to have your weapon unsecured or worse yet, fall. While there are plenty of good deals to be had on quality holsters, know what you’re buying, and buy the best quality that you can afford (preferably American made!)
2. Breath. Yes, breathing is important in both equestrian activities and shooting. When I’m on my horse and I get nervous, I sing. I’m a terrible singer, but singing keeps me breathing.
Target shooters know that breathing is key! It is recommended that you take your shot at the end of an exhale to keep things consistent. If you’re having consistency problems, try to remember to take notice of your breathing, and let the shot go when fully exhaled!
3. Keep it clean. Routine maintenance is important. You can’t just show up at the barn, take the horse out of his stall and go for a ride. Keeping a healthy and happy horse means spending a lot of time not riding! Grooming, bathing, and cleaning parts that we don’t even want to discuss here are all part of horse ownership. Is it glamorous, no. Necessary? Absolutely!
Maintenance of your firearm is just as important. Routine and regular cleaning is a necessary part of ownership. At basic minimum, you need to know how to field strip your firearm and clean it. Regularly. A clean firearm is more likely to perform better. A bore snake in my range bag and a small bottle of Hoppes #9 allows me to give my favorite firearm a quick once-over before I leave the range. Later, when time permits, I can strip my pistol down and give him a proper and thorough cleaning.
4. Size matters. Ponies are notorious for being naughty. While logic would dictate that a small horse should be easier to handle than a large draft cross, but guess what? Ponies have no idea that they are smaller! Often times, these sassy little mini-me’s are tough little buggers to work with!
Similarly, a sub-compact pistol, while in the same caliber as the pistol you are used to shooting, may be a snappy little thing with more recoil than you’re ready for! Always try to shoot a handgun before you buy it. A 9 mm with a 5 inch barrel will feel completely different than a 9 mm 3 inch sub-compact conceal carry handgun. Work with a professional instructor if necessary to ensure that you are proficient with whatever size pistol you end up purchasing, but know that a small size does not mean small recoil!
5. Be Patient. You probably won’t take your very first riding lesson and then enter the Olympics. Likewise you shouldn’t expect to be a virtual sniper the first time you go shooting. Practice, practice, practice. Work with an experienced instructor and get to the range every chance you can. Should you ever “need” your weapon in a defensive situation, you want muscle memory to be able to take over (as opposed to having to stop and think about what to do). Learning to shoot proficiently takes time, be patient and keep practicing.
6. Know your limits. Taking a trail ride at a hack barn in the Pocono Mountains does not make you an equestrian. Just as there are beginner-safe horses, there are beginner-safe firearms. I love to suggest a .22lr pistol to new shooters. Lower recoil firearms like a .22lr can teach you safety, mechanics and offer low recoil in reward. Inexpensive and fun to shoot, there is nothing wrong with working on your skills with a .22 lr before moving up to something larger. Sure, we all want to be Dirty Harry, but you seriously don’t want his 44 Magnum to be your first shot!
7. Bring along a first aid kit. Whether at the barn or at the range always have a suitable first aid kit handy. Just last week I went to slide the lock on the door at my range, and took a chunk of skin off my finger while doing it. Had I not had Band-Aids in my range bag, I would have spent the next several hours bleeding all over my pistol, target, and my friends!
8. Have a sense of humor. My horse is a 1,200 pound, living, breathing being who has his own brain. We’ve been together over 8 years now and he makes me laugh each time we’re together. While my pistol uses my brain to function, there are days when I laugh at my accuracy at the range. Distractions, lack of time, improper prep work all take tolls on your accuracy. There are days that I leave the range feeling like a marksman. There are also days when I leave laughing, because my inner sniper just wasn’t feeling it! Tomorrow is another day; work hard, train hard and you’ll see consistent results. On those “bad hair days” you just have to laugh it off, you’ll get them next time!
9. Accessories are fun! Sure, all you need are basics, but adding some color to match your outfit is always fun! Saddle pads, colored bridles, polo wraps, there are a million different options out there! Do you need them, not always. But does it change things up? You bet!
Depending on which firearm you purchase, there are gazillion of different accessories, add ons, wraps, magazines, grips etc. that you can purchase. Does your pistol work great right off the shelf? Sure! But will adding a custom grip, trigger, or sight make you more accurate? Probably! Will adding something new make things more fun? Definitely! Besides, it’s fun to customize!
10. Get in Shape. Core strength, strong arms, strong legs, strong mind. You need all of these to ride well. You also need all of these to shoot well. The stronger you are, the steadier you will be. The steadier, the more accurate your shots will be. Physical training will not only benefit your shooting, it will benefit your entire well-being.
I have been riding longer than I have been shooting. Both sports take time, effort and money. Work hard and train hard in everything that you do. Not taking shortcuts and working with an experienced instructor always pays off in the end. Most of all have fun!