Her petticoat and blue dress flap in a rush of air surging past her fast-moving Thoroughbred, and she draws her weapon.
Galloping up to the bouncing target, she reaches for the gun strapped around her gown.
Left hand holding the reins, her right hand arching up at an angle from her waist, and with no time to spare, she aims, squeezes the trigger, and gallops on.
The sound of an exploding balloon competes with the short burst of gunfire, and as she and ex-racehorse Listen To Us move to their next target, the horse cocks an ear back as they both move forward. The subtle flick being is the only acknowledgement of the noise.
For owner and rider Danielle Ambrecht, the cowboy-mounted shooting exercises she performs with her ex-racehorse she calls Levi, is a thrill.
“It’s just a total rush,” she says. “I’ve tried just about every other form of riding, but nothing compares to the feeling of riding as fast as you can on your horse, and shooting targets.”
The 26-year-old may have a special knack for some aspects of the competition, given that she is also a police officer in the New York area.
Race name: Listen To Us
Show Name: 501 Blues
Barn name: Levi
Sire: Two Punch
Dam: Need I Say More
Foal date: 2002
(To see more cowboy-mounted shooting photos, visit J&D Creative Photography).
But long before she wore a badge, she was just a horse-loving kid like so many others, growing up on Long Island and taking weekly lessons. She got her first horse when she was 16, an Appendix named Lennox who she still owns, but has retired.
She wasn’t actively seeking a racehorse or to sign up for cowboy competitions when she started idly looking at Internet horse listings in 2008.
But when she came across the gray gelding, she made her decision as quickly as she lines up a target and fires off a round. In a flash, she said, “He’s mine.”
“I saw his picture and I felt I knew in that instant that I would buy him,” Ambrecht says. “I know it sounds a little corny.”
Levi retired from racing to Rivendale Farm in South Carolina after competing in his last race at Monmouth Park on May 12, 2007. She spotted his picture, noticed his “kind eye,” and quickly had her credit card ready to make the purchase without even meeting him first.
So positive was her experience with the farm, which offered to take the horse back if he didn’t work out, that she bought him on the spot. He arrived late one evening in February 2008, and the fun soon began.
“I rode him the next day. I wanted to see what I had bought,” she says. “His head and tail were high in the air and he bucked with me around the ring. But even with the bucking, my trainer, who was with me at the time, just loved him.”
After a few days, he settled in and has been, by far, the most evenly tempered and willing horse she has ridden. “The things that even a seasoned horse can’t deal with don’t faze him at all.”
Early on, he proved just how calm he could be: “We were out on a trial ride when a plastic bag blew out of a tree and across the path. Nothing rattles him.”
So when a friend at her barn decided to introduce cowboy-mounted shooting competitions, creating Island Long Riders, she figured Levi was equal to the task.
Wearing costumes evoking the cowboy era, riders carry two 45-revolvers strapped in holsters, and compete against the clock and each other to shoot 10 balloon targets. Guns are loaded with five rounds of black-power blanks.
“The atmosphere is so much fun, and Levi is just awesome,” she says. “He’ll do anything I ask, he’ll heard cows like a dog, he does the cowboy-mounted shootings—he’s pretty amazing.”
And she is too. Part cop, part Annie Oakley, part Thoroughbred horse rescuer. Pretty amazing.