By JONAMAR JACINTO
What started out as a recreational activity to fill her time as a retiree has turned into “an expensive hobby.”
Perhaps it’s even more than that for Manteca resident Larie Merilles.
Last week, she competed in the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association Lakota Western U.S. Championship held at the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center from July 29 to Aug. 1. Merilles took first place in the Senior Ladies Class 1 revolver competition by a wide margin, accumulating a five-stage total time of 87.982 compared to runner-up Beverly Resch’s 106.663. Overall, she was 68th out of the 269 riders in the men’s, women’s, and senior divisions.
It’s the largest event Merilles has won in her three years in the sport. Last year, she was the reserve champion — “a polite way of saying ‘second place,’ she said — in the Lakota Western en route to earning the 2014 CMSA points championship in the SL1 class.
This past February she had another runner-up finish in the Bishop’s Trailer Sales Winter US Championship in Arizona. In June, she took first in the California/Arizona/Nevada Regionals and placed in the top 10 overall.
Merilles is a two-time California state champion (2013-14) and opted not to defend her title this year. She has earned money for placing in the larger events, though it’s just enough to help pay for entry fees, transportation costs and lodging.
Merilles has qualified for the season-ending Tony Lama World Championship, a massive six-day event in Amarillo, Texas.
“I don’t know yet if I’m going to go, but it’s one of the major goals in my shooting career,” she said.
It began in 2009 when she was introduced to the sport by friends retired from law enforcement. Merilles took it more seriously after she retired in 2012.
“I’ve owned horses for years and a small ranch,” she said. “This gives me something to do other than trail riding. It keeps me busy, keeps me going.”
And it turns out she’s handy with a revolver, too. The retired correctional officer has experience as a firearms instructor. That combined with her love for riding horses make mounted shooting a perfect fit for Merilles, but it’s a nuanced sport that takes time to understand, much less master.
“You can’t just pick it up overnight,” she said. “It’s not like you go, ‘I can ride a horse, therefore I can do this.’ It does take some horsemanship skills, but it’s also gun handling and it requires calmness in the pen. It all comes together through months of training.”
Merilles trained her 5-year-old Quarter Horse named “22,” which came from Texas, for competition.
Riders are rewarded for their speed and accuracy in the sport. Scoring is determined by time, with penalties assessed for missing targets (5 seconds added), dropping a gun (5 seconds), riding through a course in an incorrect pattern (10 seconds) and falling off a horse (60 seconds).
Riders are separated according to skill and experience. Class 1 is the starting point, and for a rider to advance to Class 2 he or she must get a qualified win four times. Class 6 is the highest.
“There aren’t a lot of competitors in California, so I’m having trouble getting out of my Class,” Merilles said. “I’ve won events in California, but it takes a full Class for it to count.”
Merilles puts forth extra effort to improve. She watches videos of upper-level riders online and studies their technique. She’s also a Certified Range Master, an official in the sport. Between big competitions, Merilles participates in local shoots and is part of the San Joaquin Valley Rangers and California Range Riders.
“I don’t do anything halfway, I like to make myself available any way I can,” Merilles said. “I’m invested in the sport. It’s always best to know more and I can help people along the way, that’s how I looked at it.
“I’m proud to get to where I’m at. It’s a sport that takes some time to be successful at.”