WATAUGA — It might surprise you to know there’s a world champion honing her skills out on Flyin’ W Ranch in Watauga.
Glenda Wilson is that world champion, who nears the top of national and international amateur lists for cutting and shooting horse competitions. But she gives all the credit to the creatures she rides, often to victory.
Hollywood’s Wonder Boy is the main horse Wilson rides while shooting, which has been her bread-and-butter event in the last few years. In shooting, Wilson and her fellow competitors weave through a set course on horseback with two .45-caliber, single-action revolvers at their side. Five of the six chambers are filled in each of the guns as the riders aim to hit 10 balloon targets along the way.
“I kill balloons,” Wilson jokes, describing the shooting that takes place as she and her horse race through the course.
Time is also a deciding factor in the competition. Wins and losses are determined on fractions of seconds, and how quickly a competitor can draw and accurately shoot her gun — all while controlling a horse.
Wilson’s upswing in the sport over the last few years has been impressive. Competitors carry personal rankings with them, from levels one to six, all while chasing elusive belt buckles, which are awarded as prizes to the victors.
Wilson has been ruffling feathers with the veterans, she said, who are often surprised to learn she earned her way to level five in just seven years of shooting, much quicker than the level-six riders who took 15-20 years to get where they are now.
What’s more surprising might be that Wilson had, at one point, considered quitting competitive shooting after tragedy struck extremely close to home.
Wilson and her husband, Dave, were riding an all-time high. They each had just won individual world titles, Glenda in 2008 and Dave in 2009, sold their corporation and traveled together across the globe, from Africa to Costa Rica for a year and a half.
Soon after, when Dave went to Maine in late 2009 for a bear hunting trip with a best friend, four stings from a bee put Dave into anaphylactic shock, causing cardiac arrest. There was nothing that could be done to save him so far out in the wilderness.
Glenda was so beat up about her husband’s untimely death that she uncharacteristically pulled out of an upcoming competition. But just before that competition, unbeknownst to her, Glenda’s friends took one of her horses, loaded up the horse trailer with all necessary equipment and drove the whole lot to the competition site.
On the way, they called Glenda and told her she needed to get back at it and they wouldn’t accept no for an answer. In fact, they said she had to get on a plane right then to get to the competition.
She did, and that was how she re-entered the competitive world, with 50 close friends and competitors mourning the death of her husband alongside her.
While she often used to compete against her husband, Wilson said he was also her best friend and biggest supporter, as she was his.
“Now I compete for the both of us,” she said.
And compete she does. Almost every weekend last year, her time was spent on the road, the vast majority of it dedicated to shooting.
When she’s not competing, Wilson is practicing. She even carries a gun on her waist when she’s at her house. She said constant practice is the only way to make the motion of drawing a gun become second nature
Another major aspect in Wilson’s success has been the connection she’s had with her horses.
When she was in the process of buying Hollywood’s Wonder Boy, Wilson said the horse was known as somewhat of a wild one that refused to be told what to do. From day one, though, Wilson said she and Hollywood, as she calls him for short, have had a perfect loving and working relationship. Competing is just about his favorite thing to do, maybe aside from eating graham crackers and raisins, Wilson said.
Flyin’ Ranch sits on the land where Wilson grew up on her family’s farm. It is where she first picked up her love for riding horses. At 10 years old, she was given a pony, which her father would let her ride as long as she could keep up with her chores.
With no money for a saddle at the time, Wilson rode bareback and used bailing rope to control the horse. After that, she took to cleaning stables and saved enough money — $1,500 — to buy a horse named Shotgun.
This early connection might have something to do with her ability to understand and get the most out of the creatures she loves to ride.
Wilson is set to hit the road again for the American Quarter Horse Association’s national convention in New Orleans on March 8. There, she’ll be honored as the Amateur Rider of the Year.
It’s certainly an honor, but Wilson said she doesn’t do it just for the accolades. If she didn’t love it, she said, she’d take her competitive fire elsewhere.
“My goal is to ride as competitively as possible,” Wilson said. “If it ever becomes work, I’ll do something else.”