- Associated Press - Sunday, July 2, 2017

MERIDIAN, Miss. (AP) - Melinda Kramer knew her life was about to change after a flyer in a country western store caught her eye.

Instead of a new pair of boots, Kramer brought home a brand new hobby, a sport known as “cowboy mounted shooting”.

Six years later, Kramer was one of many competitors who were locked, loaded, and ready to compete in the first-ever Alabama - Mississippi Border War in Meridian.

Held at the Lauderdale County Agricultural Center, the event centered around the battle between the “River Bottom Shooters” and “Dixie Long Riders” to settle a rivalry that transcends from communities to colleges, and through every possible sport. Which state is better - Mississippi or Alabama?

While not affiliated with any traditional rodeo organization, cowboy mounted shooting is rodeo reminiscent, resembling the traditional layout of barrel racing. However, the key difference is that while competitors, who range in age from young to old, must nimbly navigate a horse through a barrel course, they must do so while attempting to hit 10 balloon targets with shots from a revolver.

“I knew after reading that particular flyer that this was going to change our lives, and it has,” said Kramer, who lives in Eclectic, Ala. with her husband Ross. “We get to spend almost every other weekend together competing. It’s a very wholesome environment.”

More than 30 competitors competed over the weekend in the name of defending the border line, attempting to beat the fastest course times of the opposing team. However, while competitors may disagree on which state is the best, all seem to agree the arena at Lauderdale County Agricultural Center is top notch.

“It’s such a nice facility,” said Patti Wilson, a member of the River Bottom Shooters club, which represented the Magnolia State. “There are plenty of stalls, and the arena is big.”

Despite any supposed rivalries, the atmosphere during the “war” was anything but tense. Friends and families moved about the arena freely, chatting with members of both clubs.

“Everyone here wants to help the other person do well, which is unusual when money is on the line,” Kramer said.

According to the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association, the sport is the fastest growing equestrian event in the country. This is perhaps in part due to the curiosity of rodeo competitors such as Ray Wilson and his wife Patti, who felt the desire to try something different.

The couple, who drove to the competition from Puckett, have competed in rodeos since high school. They were convinced by friends to try the sport more than ten years ago, and have been hooked ever since.

“The kids finally got out of our hair, so we decided to try it,” joked Ray Wilson. “But it’s a fun sport, and it’s a family thing.”

At the end of the competition, points will be tallied and a superior state (at least for now) will be determined.

However, the competitors are sure to be back, with another Meridian event, The Mississippi State Shooters Championship, already planned for August.

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