Joe Mugnai took to the life of a cowboy like a horse takes to oats.
After taking horseback riding lessons for only a few months back in 2006, Mugnai, of Farmingdale, bought his horse and attended his first cowboy mounted shooting match a year later. In 2009, he formed the Island Long Riders, Long Island's first cowboy mounted shooting club.
"It is difficult to describe the feeling of dressing up like a cowboy, galloping on your horse and shooting targets," says Mugnai, 50, who owns Family Media, a Garden City-based publishing company. "It is like being in one of the John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart movies I loved as a kid. For a little while, you can put away the TV, cell phone and computer and step back in time to where things were a little simpler."
Mugnai and his fellow cowboys and cowgirls will ride into Old Bethpage Village Restoration Saturday for an event billed as the "Gunfight at the Gulch," the group's second Long Island match of the season.
Spectators look on as mounted contestants will compete in fast-action, timed events using two .45 caliber single action revolvers each loaded with five rounds of specially prepared blank ammunition -- like the stage props used in Hollywood movies -- to pop balloons.
WHAT YOU'LL SEE
As part of the match, participants dress in period clothing, replete with boots, chaps and cowboy hats, in keeping with the Old West spirit. Mugnai says riders also adhere to the "cowboy code," which, he says, "is the code of honor and respect typified in old Westerns where the good guy always did the right thing. All cowboy mounted and cowboy action shooters I have met follow this code."
Courses of fire are set in a variety of patterns, with the first five balloons arranged randomly and the last five positioned in a straight line known as a rundown. Riders score points based on accuracy and time, and at the end of the match, which usually consists of four "stages," the rider with the best total time, including any penalties such as missed balloons or overturned barrels, is declared the winner.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
The Island Long Riders have about 20 members, half of whom are new this year.
"It's very addicting," says Denise Serina, 35, a graphic designer from Middle Island who rode in her first competition in April with Rebel, her 12-year-old Tennessee Walker. "I bought him three years ago," she says. "We're learning everything together."
Most of the group's members start out by attending clinics or matches, Mugnai says. "Once they see how much fun this is, they apply for membership in the club."
"Cowboy mounted shooting is so far out of my comfort zone that I cannot believe how much I love it," says Mary, 47, co-founder of My Shine, a therapeutic horseback riding program for individuals with special needs. "I am not a person who loves speed or is highly competitive, but when I am out there on my horse, it is just the most exciting thing I can think of doing.
"Being able to share this sport with both my husband and my daughter makes it even more enjoyable," Mary adds. "Since my daughter rides my horse, I think there's always an unspoken competition between us to see who will have the better time. Now, my goal is to get my two other kids to start riding and shooting, too."
Gunfight at the Gulch
INFO islandlongriders.com or email email@example.com
ADMISSION Included with general museum admission of $10 ($7 ages 5-12)