By Lauren Woodard
This is a common response when someone says they have taken up mounted archery. And really “How cool IS that?”
There is something in us that just loves the immediate picture that pops into our mind of a galloping horse, reins flying freely and the rider poised and balanced, sideways with their beautiful bow as they draw the arrow back and let it fly.
So, maybe YOU want to take up mounted archery. There’s great news. If you already have a generally, somewhat normally trained horse and are a decent rider, it’s not very expensive to get the basic equipment and begin your mounted archery journey. Of course, like every sport and endeavor, there are different levels of ability and skill and the equipment.
Even better news, the exercises and practice, if approached appropriately, will make you a much better rider and you’ll have a much better trained horse.
Certainly there are those out there, as there are in any sport, who don’t really aspire to get better and think they can do as little as possible and still get good results, but of course, they’re mistaken. All the parts have to come together to really be successful. And those parts are horsemanship skills along with shooting skills. No matter how skilled you may get with your bow and arrows, if your horse is bolting out of control and running off track, it’s unlikely you’re going to be hitting your targets.
People did this thousands of years ago, surely you can do it. Mounted archery groups are popping up all over as the sport is in a big growth spurt and there are competitions all over the globe.
Right now, to help you figure out how to go about your own practice, let’s look at reverse engineering it.
Canter, lope or gallop – whatever you want to call it – down a 90-meter track, trail, line, shooting at 1-5 targets depending on the specific challenge. You only start at the top if you’re digging a hole, so we’re going to the beginning, not starting at the goal. Right?
You can acquire a bow, some arrows, a couple of minor items like quivers, hand protection and a couple of targets for a few hundred dollars. Mounted archery uses the simplest of recurve bows. No compound anything, no arrow rests, sights or such. Just the bow and the string, arrows, target.
It’s a good idea to contact one of the MA3 folks so you can get their input on the best bow and arrows for you. There are some specifics related to your body type and size such as bow length and how many pounds of pull you’ll be comfortable with. The trainers can tell you how to measure your size for the correct arrow length and what kind of field tips you need, feather length, decide if you want three feathers or four and why and the appropriate nocks (the part that snaps onto your string) for the ends of your arrows.
MOUNTED ARCHERY TECHNIQUES are a bit different than standing styles. The movement and speed of the horse, the placement of the arrow (which side of the bow), the arm position and the fingers or thumb used for the arrow hold and pull can be different. It’s much easier to find out how to do it in the first place before you learn and practice a way that isn’t appropriate to mounted archery. There are variations and styles that different instructors teach that will dictate how you choose and what feels right or works best for you at this stage.
1) Start practicing on foot, advancing to walking – on your own feet and then moving faster while shooting at a target. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, you must start training your horse to understand his/her part of the job. Since your hands are used holding the bow and the arrow – huh! You don’t have another hand for the reins to steer and slow down a horse.
You need to be able to work your way up to galloping your horse, maintaining good balance and a quiet mind for both you and your horse with no hands to be successful. This takes some training and maintenance.
It’s a good idea, once you get your skills figured out, to practice shooting some arrows with your horse in the area – not mounted.
2) Have your horse on a long rope draped over your elbow while you shoot a few arrows – in the opposite direction of your horse of course – so you can get an idea of his response to the action and sound. Depending on the reaction, you can decide the time frame for getting closer so your horse can get comfortable with your shooting. When you can have your horse right there next to you and not reacting, get on and start doing the movements, before you loose an arrow, standing still at first and then walking.
The great part is that you can start practicing both your shooting and your horse work at the walk pretty quickly. You don’t have to have one piece great before you put in the other piece. Both you and your horse need to get the feel for the track and how and when to nock your arrow and to loose your arrow. Your horse needs to learn to remain quiet when you are fiddling with a bow, pulling an arrow out of the quiver, nocking it and there is a whish-twang of the string as the arrow goes. All this goes on just behind the horse’s ear and eye.
You do not need to have a course set up to do this. An arena or out in a field works depending on what you have available, your horsemanship skills and your horse’s behavior and training. You may start in a ring and set up some PVC pipe stands that have T’s on the top to run cord thru for your track delineation. You can use cones or barrels or poles to line your track. Something that both you and your horse can start to understand.
3) You can then teach your horse how to stay in line and be calm, where to enter the track and to stop at the end nicely. Easy, peasy to start. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be good or great, but it is easy to start.
There are videos on Youtube and Facebook. Some are good, some are terrible. Some who make their videos can’t ride and don’t know what lead their horse is on, so be careful what you take to build on, but it’s all good to explore.
So, what’s to stop you from starting today?
For more information about Mounted Archery Association of the Americas (MA3) visit their website:
Lauren Woodard of Exceptional Horsemanship has been teaching and training for over 40 years. All horses walk, trot, canter, go left and right and stand still. The problems arise, no matter the discipline or training because they don’t do it NICELY. This is Lauren’s focus and she presents a different perspective to help folks figure out how to create the horse they had in mind when they got one in the first place. Please check out www.Exceptionalhorsemanship.com.