- Written by Mark Boardman
- Published on January 01, 2009
You can call John Clark a lot of things. Career law enforcement and security officer. Trainer and teacher. Native Ohioan turned Tennessee Mountaineer. CMSA World and National Champion. Eye Candy.
Now wait a minute. He may be good looking, and women notice him. And he may have it emblazoned on his gunbelt. But Eye Candy is no name for a manly horseman and shooter. Maybe Buck, or Butch, or Duke, or Wild Bill, or Deadeye. Eye Candy—that’s just not right.
Okay, I’m done.
But maybe his girlfriend Amanda Porter has found the right word: “He’s a Natural.” One that has honed his talents through a lot of hard work and dedication.
Let’s focus on that—the Natural.
John didn’t start off to be a horseman. Quite the contrary, as he remembers: “Neither of my folks were horse people. But we had a farm operation in Ohio with a horse. When I got through the sheriff academy [in 1994, top of his class], there was a neat group of guys who did elite stuff for the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s office–mounted patrolmen. So when I graduated, I started knocking the dust off the old horse, and they took me under their wing and taught me how to make a good mounted horse and what to do, even how to put a saddle on. I kept forgetting how to cinch it up, so I kept a cheat sheet in my pocket. I actually ended up running the patrol for a short period of time. The sheriff’s office is what got me into horses more than any one thing.”
But the experience was limited, to say the least; he only did crowd control. No loping or galloping or speed. That changed around the time he got together with Amanda Porter, who did have a background in horses (see sidebar article). They were looking for activities they could do as a couple. And they found it about six years ago.
“Amanda and my mother, for my birthday in 2003, got together and bought me a pair of single action Ruger .45 pistols,” he remembers. “And Amanda told me, ‘Remember when you saw mounted shooting in the magazine and thought that would be really cool and you needed to do that?’ And to this day, I don’t remember opening a magazine and saying that. But I had two pistols and figured I ought to go do this. I did some research. And then I ran into an Ohio shooter who said you oughtta come down and do a practice. And I came down; I tried it. And two weeks later I was in Tunica, MS, at the Eastern Championship.”
RISE TO THE TOP
A year later, Clark had already reached Level 5, a huge jump for somebody in such a short span. He says the reason was simple: “I would leave Ohio and go to Florida and drive home, and the next week go to Georgia and drive home, and the next weekend go to Missouri and come home. The average shooter was going to one or two shoots a month. I was going to four. The average shooter’s season started at the end of April and went until October. Mine started January 1st and ended at the finish of World competition. I just did much, much more shooting than anyone else.”
And the long trips actually helped him: “My average drive to a shoot is eight hours, one way. So I had eight hours to mentally prep myself for what I’m getting into, competition wise. And then on the flip side, I’d have eight hours directly after a competition to analyze what I did wrong, what I did right, what somebody else did that I want to start copying.”
Talk about being driven to succeed.
And it all started paying off in 2005. The Natural grabbed his first major championship at Nationals. “Two days before, I paid $25 to a barrel racer to teach me how to turn barrels with this horse. So I’m paying for riding lessons two days before the National Championships—which I win. I am not above doing just about anything to get better and win.”
John went on to win Easterns that year. And the National Rifle Championship. In 2006, he got buckles for Easterns (again), Reserve Champion at Nationals, and the top prize at Worlds. The success continued in 2007 with a World Cavalry title and Reserve High Point Cowboy.
Okay, John Clark worked awfully hard to get to where he is. So why is he the Natural? Because this guy, with such little experience when he came into mounted shooting, has saddled up a variety of mounts over the years—and won. “I have been on a different horse for close to all of these major wins,” he says. “One of the horses, I’d never seen before that day. I’d crashed on Elmer, which is the horse I won Worlds on, two days before the Eastern Championship. So I borrowed Matt Sronce’s backup horse, Bullet. I won the overall, and Matt won reserve. I want to do it on as many horses as I possibly can to show everyone that it’s me…not the horse.”
Clark says the lack of experience actually made it easier for him to adjust to different horses. Riding in tough situations—like he did with the sheriff’s department, quelling riots—forced him to adapt to the animal. “I found it was pretty difficult to communicate with 1200 pounds of pure raging, running horse. And they don’t count to 2 very well. I couldn’t out-talk them. I can’t talk them into it and I can’t out-muscle them. What I found to do was to get on a horse, see what he likes, to see how I can adjust my entire riding to fit that horse’s personality. They’ll tell you what they like.”
Fellow competitor and friend Rock Clark knows a great rider when he sees one: “When John Clark sits on a horse, he’ll take him out and ride him and get the feel for him. And then what he does is: he rides the horse. He’s in charge. And he’s one of the best.”
The Natural has settled on one horse at this point, an 11-year-old named Flash that’s still learning mounted shooting. Still, the pair topped the 2008 Points Standings. And John sees even more good things coming.
A CLARK BY ANY OTHER NAME
The Natural has an impressive support system. Amanda Porter is always there, at competitions and workouts, offering a sounding board and feedback and encouragement (both say there is no real competition between them).
But then there’s also Rock Clark, John’s “twin brother by a different mother” who is his closest friend on the circuit. It was Rock who took John and Amanda under his wing at their first shoots. Rock showed him the ropes, offering his experience and insight so that the Natural could also be the Winner. Amanda Porter says, “Rock has definitely been his mentor and somebody who has helped him all through the way, from finding horses when he needed them to just being there to support him. They’ll call each other after a weekend shoot and talk about what they did. They push each other. And they say, ‘If I can’t win this one, I want you to win.’”
Rock’s voice has a certain sense of pride and affection when he says, “He wants to beat you—don’t get me wrong. But he’s the first one to shake your hand and congratulate you. And during the competition, he’ll walk up to you and go, ‘You know, you’re setting good. You need to keep your head on your shoulders and do exactly what you’ve been doing.’ John is one of the most consistent riders, the most loyal friend, and an outstanding human being.”
The feeling is mutual.
“When I won the Worlds, I was leading after the fifth stage and there were a lot of people yapping in my ear. Rock pulled me away from them and said, ‘We can talk if you want to talk. We can just be quiet if you want to be quiet. But you don’t have anything to hear from those guys. All they’re going to do is get in your head.’ He’s always been there for me, and I’ll do anything to return that.” By the way, Rock Clark was in second place when that happened; he finished as Reserve Champion.
That’s the Clark boys for you.
TENNESSEE AND BEYOND
So life is good for the Natural. He and Amanda have moved to Tennessee, where they’ll run the Bar 7 Ranch, training horses and shooters alike. John continues to work for his father’s security company The Whitestone Group, handling government contracts. And pretty much every weekend, they’re on the road, shooting at a match somewhere in the south or midwest.
Future success? For John Clark, it’s a natural.
# # #
We could start this off with the old cliché about “behind every successful man is a good woman.” But we won’t do that in the case of John Clark. Especially since that good woman started off way ahead of the successful man.
John and Amanda Porter (“You can call her my girlfriend”) have been together for more than 10 years, back when she was in vet school at Ohio State and he helped haul horses for her and her students.
The Connecticut native was the one with horse experience; she began riding at age seven: “I’d always wanted a horse. Every vacation we went on, I wanted to go trail riding. I finally broke my parents down, I think, and they got me lessons.” She began competing in Hunter-Jumper at 11; Amanda finally got her own horse at 13.
“I actually took that horse to college with me [Otterbein College in Ohio],” she remembers. “My parents were mortified that they had to send a horse to college.” But she put it to good use, competing on the college team and majoring in equestrian studies.
She started riding Western when she met John Clark. But they had some trouble finding the sport that suited them. “We tried team penning, but that took a third person. And we tried roping, but I definitely can’t rope. Then he saw this story on mounted shooting in a magazine and said, ‘That looks cool.’”
Each of them brought something to the table: “It was definitely a combination deal, with him teaching me about the guns and me teaching him about the horse. It ended up being the perfect sport for us.”
But early on, it was Amanda who set the pace. She was a Lady’s 2 after her first match. She was a Level 4 when was a 2. She won the 2004 Reserve National Champion High Point Cowgirl and the Reserve Champion Cowgirl at the 2006 Easterns. “That was pure riding experience alone, versus my handling of guns,” she says. But there’s more to it than that; she’s been in the Top 10 Cowgirls in the points standings every year since 2003.
John Clark says it was Amanda’s success, combined with her knowledge and experience, that kept him focused. “She pushed me to keep working and moving up. That’s not the way most people think. But if she’d been below me, I might not have pushed so hard to move up.”
Up he went; so did she. Today, they’re one of the only couples in which each is a Level 6 (Matt and Tammy Sronce are another). And at their new Tennessee home, the future looks bright. Amanda is (at the time of this writing) looking for a veterinarian gig and working with her shooting mount of the future, a six-year-old Quarter Horse. And she and John have a full schedule of shoots to occupy their weekends.
Okay, so maybe we can fall back on that line about “behind every successful man is a good woman.” But in the case of Amanda Porter and John Clark, the reverse also holds true.