Horses and Rifle Report


September 17, 2009, 02:18 AM
How do you get a horse to tolerate gun fire from the saddle?

Watching cowboy movies, they always depict the posse firing over the heads of their mounts as they pursue the Indians, bank robbers, etc....

I've experienced this before; when I was in the service on a live fire exercise as the RTO my 2ND LT fired a three round burst within 12 inches of my ear, which caused me to black-out for a few seconds.

No question a 30-30 is a bigger round than the 5.56, was it the flash suppressor that did me in or are the sheriff posse's horses deaf?

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September 17, 2009, 08:54 AM
Good question. But those pistols have no recoil, so who knows?

September 17, 2009, 09:08 AM
These folks can probably answer the question better than most:

For further study, you could ask the folks at SASS as they do have a "mounted" type of competition.


September 17, 2009, 09:10 AM
From what I remember, you start off by training them to tolerate the rifle report from far off and get continually closer and closer until you can shoot from the saddle.

September 17, 2009, 12:27 PM
They tend to use EAR PLUGS for the horses just like for the riders. With out them the horse can go just as deaf as we can get.

September 17, 2009, 12:37 PM
I asked someone about this when I went to a Mounted Shooting event. They said they had ear plugs for their horse, and that they gradually acclimated them to gunfire.

The Deer Hunter
September 17, 2009, 12:40 PM
We use big pieces of balled up cotton to give our spooking-prone horses a "duller" sense of hearing when they are on trail rides.

Horses are panicky animals, and they can get set off by the littlest things. I can't say for sure about how they get horses used to gunshots, but earplugs certainly will not stop a horse from spooking from a sudden noise like a gun shot.

Perhaps horses, like dogs, have different levels of comfort ability when it comes to loud noises. Some of our horses are very mellow, while others will spook with the drop of a hat.

September 17, 2009, 12:43 PM
The cowboys I grew up with said that when they hunt with horses, they almost always dismount to take the shot. Horseback doesn't ginv you a steady aim, and sometimes even a conditiond horse can have a bad day, get spooked, and throw you. Not worth it.

September 17, 2009, 04:07 PM
Movie blanks in the old-time Westerns created a satisfying puff of smoke but little noise (which would be dubbed on after). Don't want thunderous bangs on an indoor sound stage.

September 17, 2009, 05:42 PM
Don't believe what you see in the movies. There is a reason why cavalry were issued swords.

I remember the day my brother decided he was going to play cowboy after watching an old movie. (Josie Wales IIRC) At a full gallop he fired a replica 3rd dragoon BP revolver at the wrapper of a round hay bale. Dad, my Gramps and my uncle got a good laugh over it, the horse was not amused.

September 17, 2009, 06:09 PM
I have been shooting around horses most of my life. If a horse isn't use to the gunfire they run off and put as much distance between you and them as they can. After a while they realize that the big loud noise isn't hurting them and get use to it. The horses I have been shooting around all my life actually come and watch me shoot and get so curious they become a nuisance at times. Yes, it is just as loud to them as it is to us. I have never trained a horse to shoot from horse back but have seen it. It takes time and patience and the horse has to figure out its not going to hurt them and they learn to reconize firearms. They know the noise is coming when they see them. The other gentlemen are correct. The cowboy mounted shooters are the guys to talk too if you truely want to know everything about it.

September 17, 2009, 08:38 PM
I have owned several horse in the past few years shot off of everyone of them. Ridem till they are tired then shoot a .22 first time to see how they will act. Then you can work up to bigger guns.. I mostly shoot pistols off horse because it is hard to sight a rifle while controling a horse.

September 18, 2009, 09:27 PM
You would probably want to use the proper hearing protection for a horse so the horse does not go deaf. A horse can hear much better than a person. I would not want to be sitting on top of a horse and suddenly fire a shot into the bushes with a handgun for may not be on that horse very long and learn how to fly!

September 18, 2009, 10:13 PM
A long ago aquaintance was a fellow hunter-ed instructor. He was in the U.S.Army during the post WWI era and became a firearms/drill instructor. One day at AM briefing, they got a memo regarding anyone who wanted to qualify with the M1911 .45acp from horseback.... The "stable range" was going to be open for anyone who desired to qualify.

He stated that the old mare that was being used was over 20yrs old, and had been doing the qualifications for over 15yrs.... The course of fire was to trot (walk -as that was as fast as the horse would go...(experienced horse....); and travel in a figure 8, firing off a magazine on each circuit 4rd strong hand -3rds weak hand , for a total of 24rds- 3 magazines full.

He stated that as far as he knew, it was the last time that the U.S.Army conducted a horse-back qualification. He also stated that the old horse seemed to be practically deaf, and didn't even flinch at the gunshot....

I don't recall him stating what U.S.Army facility it was but I do remember him stating that he was stationed at Ft. Levenworth for a period of time. Also Ft. Hood. Could have been either one...

He later went into the U.S.Army Aircorp duing WWII, and following WWII, went to OTS and transfered into the U.S. Airforce and reached the rank of full Col. before retirement with 34yrs service.

He was a real character and a genuine person.

So, I suppose the horses become acclimated to the gunshots like my hunting dogs do... They just have to become aquainted under pleasant circumstances....

Harve Curry
September 18, 2009, 10:35 PM
I've had the good fortune of knowing two horse cavalry men and they were both real fine characters, accomplished genuine people.

I've heard similar stories of pre WWII marksmanship with the 1911 45.

I start my horses with 22 blanks. Sometimes with an assistant while I handle the horse from afoot. Go slow, praise the animal when he does better. Don't ask for alot at a time and always quit the training session on a good note.
Nowadays horse ear plugs are used on a individual basis. There's factory made, and I've made my own from foam rubber with a long shoe string attaching the two.
Do ground work till the horse shows enough promise to continue training from his back.
Shooting 90 degrees to the side or slightly behind the horse is good training idea also.
There's all kinds of blanks. Movie blanks can be real loud.

I don't keep a horse that spooks much from gunfire. They need to be able to put up with it. When I hunt from horse back I've always dismounted to shoot deer, bear, or elk. Why risk a miss?
I have entertained the thought of shooting coyotes or feral hogs from a running horse. That would be fun.

One thing I forgot to mention, you ask about high powered rifle report from horse back. I wouldn't do that to a horse. Always step down and in front, and hold your horse from a halter lead rope with the animal at lenghth behind you.

September 19, 2009, 01:13 AM
I asked my guide about shooting from the back of a horse while elk hunting in Idaho, he kind of grinned and said "only once".

He told me that it takes alot of work and even more time to condition a horse to that kind of thing and that his horses were more than happy to stop and let you off befor you shoot.

Harve Curry
September 19, 2009, 11:45 AM
If you ever have the chance go watch a Civil War Reenactment that has cavalry, check it out. Many of the horses will stand in formation with cannons going off from both sides, rifles, and even fireworks bursting overhead to simulate bombs bursting in air. Some adapt easy some don't. Being among other behaved horses is a big help.
I found it's a good continuation of training the horse with all that noise. Standing next to other horses, moving in formation with lots of gun fire, smoke, all around makes for a crash course (no pun intended). The artillery is loud enough that it sets off business and car alarms.

September 19, 2009, 07:12 PM
My Grandfather hunted Quail off of the back of a mule, of course this was back in the days of open land and lots of Quail! Those days are gone now, but I have been seeing more covey of Quail lately.

Jimmy K

September 19, 2009, 08:32 PM

I started out with a pellet rifle, then went to a 22 loaded with CB's, then full power 22 ammo, then on the big stuff (30-30, 45-70, 308, 45 acp).

I also have a "que" for Henry (the mule) so he knows whats coming...a very soft, subtle click sound made by mouth. I don't have to use the "que", but it keeps him from flinching if I do which means I can shoot again if I need to...without having to steady him.

His "flinches" are nothing big...kinda like when something spooks you, you know how you tense up real quick.

September 19, 2009, 11:43 PM
I have been around horses for about five years now. I inherited them with my girlfriend. She used to breed horses, compete, and ride for the Austrian riding school. She told me that you should "imprint" them with everything you could think of(guns, hairclippers, etc) when they are fresh out of the womb.

I had my horse in an stall attached to the paddock. I first time I locked them in their stall. The second time I let them out, and started off a good distance away, and gradually got closer. If the horse was a newborn, I would probably start out with a toy cap gun, then work my way up.

As for shooting a rifle that close to them, well I wouldn't do it. I don't want to hurt them, and I'm sure you would have an issue if a person let a .30-06 round loose next to your ears.

September 20, 2009, 02:20 AM
Thanks fellows, lots of good advice. I'm new to horse back riding, yet still carry my CC weapon on the trails and thought if I am going to mix the two I ought to get as much info as possible.

September 20, 2009, 02:42 AM
" 2ND LT..." 2ND LT's are like that. They need real world firearms training(and map reading. The most dangerous thing on Earth is a 2nd Lt with a map), after commissioning, just like horses and dogs need to be conditioned to the noise of a gun shot.

Chuck Warner
September 20, 2009, 03:02 AM
I,too, am in NM and have had a little opportunity to mix guns and horses. Mules seem to do better in my small crowd. We found that having the horses and mules tied and hobbled while practicing once a week helped acclimate them well. I have only fired a pistol once while mounted, while it wasnt catastrophic, it was interesting.
The Pecos Wilderness is tight, Lion, Coyote and Bear filled. I never ride without being armed and hope to get more Horse and mule experience with shooting as well

September 20, 2009, 03:08 AM
[IMG] I also have a "que" for Henry (the mule) so he knows whats coming...a very soft, subtle click sound made by mouth. I don't have to use the "que", but it keeps him from flinching if I do which means I can shoot again if I need to...without having to steady him.

His "flinches" are nothing big...kinda like when something spooks you, you know how you tense up real quick.

Henry is very handsome!

Chuck Warner
September 20, 2009, 03:10 AM this remote area a firearm makes a welcome survival tool as well!


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