WALLA WALLA - Horses and guns.
That's what drew 13-year-old Jeffrey Randolph into cowboy mounted shooting, one of the fasted growing Western sports, when he was only 4 years old.
"I like to shoot guns and I like to ride horses," Randolph said. "And that combined, I thought was pretty cool ... A lot of my friends aren't really entertained by horses, but once I told them I shoot guns on horses, that's a little different."
A multi-sport athlete, Randolph also plays football, baseball and wrestles. Through it all, Randolph still manages to maintain his grades at Pioneer Middle School.
"He's an excellent student," Randolph's mother, Bobbi-Jo Lawrence, said. "He's always had excellent grades - he's always been on the honor role or close to it.
"The only thing that really affects him is that he gets tired," she said. "He gets really tired, but that's it."
But let's get back to the horses and guns.
In cowboy mounted shooting, a horse and rider navigate a tight course of concentric rings as quickly as possible while using two pistols to shoot at 10 balloons located around the course.
The sport is fast-paced, with top riders often finishing a course in 12 seconds or less.
Randolph competed in the Western States Shooting Association's National Finals, which took place Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Nampa, Idaho, and before that at the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days Shootout at the beginning of September.
Jeffrey took first place in his class at the WSSA event with a score of 104.523, beating out his closest competitor by more than seven seconds. His score is an aggregate of six separate runs plus any penalties (five seconds for each missed balloon or mistake navigating the course). Randolph had an average time of 14.09 seconds with 20 seconds of penalties.
For comparison, the top finisher for the entire event, Tammy Billingsley in the Ladies Masters class, posted a score of 72.35, averaging 12.06 seconds per run with no penalties.
For all that, Randolph won $602 and a "very nice buckle," the ever-modest Randolph said.
Randolph did not do quite as well at the Walla Walla Frontier Days Shootout. There, he placed second overall with a score of 130.825.
Jeff Pearson won that event with a score of 116.795.
Although Randolph has been competing in mounted shooting since he was 4, he has only been allowed to shoot while mounted since his birthday in November. Riders under 13 compete in the Wrangler class, where they must first ride through the course, then dismount to shoot at stationary balloons.
"I have gotten more interested in it since I thought it was kind of boring just riding through the course," Randolph said.
Once he turned 13, Randolph was moved into the men's class A, the lowest level of adult competition, where he has faced and beaten riders of all ages. But Randolph said the competition does not faze him.
"All the time when I go to these shoots, all the men will come up to me and be like, ‘You're kicking my butt, knock it off,'" Randolph said of his rivals. "I don't know why, but I don't really get nervous. It's not my thing - I never really have gotten nervous.
"When I focus, I don't get nervous," he continued. "I don't talk to anybody when I focus. My mom will come up and talk to me and I will be like, ‘What?' I pretty much zone out and I just think about what I'm doing."
Randolph's grandmother and trainer, Colleen Winfrey of Hermiston, originally piqued Jeffrey's interest in the sport.
Winfrey said Randolph's success may not be in spite of, but rather due, to his youth.
"Eighty, maybe 90 percent of this sport is being able to ride a horse with one hand and being coordinated enough to do that," Winfrey said. "Sometimes children are more coordinated - he (Randolph) is extremely coordinated."
Although the change in classification has been huge for Randolph, he has been changing in other ways.
"In the past I've always taken care of the maintenance of the horse," Winfrey said. "This year, I've noticed he is becoming more of a young man - taking care of the horse from the beginning to end."
Like any sport, there is a large mental aspect to cowboy mounted shooting. With only six runs over a typical competition, the margin for error is razor-thin.
In the higher levels, a single balloon left standing or a slight mis-step from the rider's horse can spell the difference between first and 10th place.
Every single run counts, but riders must be able to forget about mistakes and move on.
That is something Randolph has always been able to do, Winfrey said.
"He (Randolph) is not hard to coach, he has a very good attitude," She said. "When things do not always go as planned, he doesn't dwell on it. He had a miss (at the WSSA nationals) and then he came back and won the next stage."
Like many 13-year-olds, Randolph has big plans.
But Jeffrey also faces big challenges.
A long-time goal of his has been to go to the Air Force Academy and become a pilot, but he was diagnosed with Seizure Disorder, which would disqualify Randolph from military service.
But luckily, last week Randolph's diagnosis was changed to that of Tourette's Syndrome, which, while certainly not ideal, will still allow him to join the military and may lessen in severity as Randolph grows older.
Randolph's particular tic is a movement of the eyes, which makes it difficult for him to read.
"It's challenging for me to read with my Tourette's," Randolph said. "I have to read like 400 pages a quarter, and I'm only on like 130 pages and the quarter ends Oct. 4. I can't read as well as normal people do because of my eyes and how they (go from side to side). I can't control it and I can't read that long."
Randolph's favorite class at Pi-Hi is science, although he said he is probably best at mathematics.
"I like to mess with that type of stuff and to play around with acid," Randolph said, laughing. "I don't know why, it's just something I like to do. I like to do experiments - lets put it that way."
His backup plan if the military does not work out?
Only to play football in the National Football League.
At a diminutive 5-foot-2 and just over 100 pounds, Randolph won't be flattening anyone on the gridiron soon, but he said his best strength is speed.
"When I run, oh jeez," Randolph said. "I'm not the biggest guy, but when I run I can hit people pretty hard."
Pi-Hi football coach Dallas Jones wished he had a whole team of Randolphs.
"He's pretty quick, but he's relentless," Jones said. "I've seen a lot of bigger, more athletic kids who don't have as much heart. Once he fills out, I have no doubt he'll be a great high-school football player.
"Jeff's a tenacious competitor, while at the same time he's extremely humble," Jones said. "He doesn't talk a lot - he's positive but he's not a self promoter."
And what about cowboy mounted shooting?
Jeffrey's mother said he planned on doing it as long as he was good enough.
Judging by the age of some of the older riders Randolph competes with, that may be a long time.