One of my favorite things to do with my horse is the little known sport of horseback archery. Let me introduce you to one of the most thrilling activities on horseback.
Horseback archery has its origins in antiquity, dating back to the time before ancient Greece. The Greek writer Herodotus has given us numerous descriptions of an Asian tribe of horseback archers known as the Scythians; these Scythians are thought to be the inspiration behind the mythical character Centaur. Out of the steppes of Asia came subsequent invasions of the Parthians, Sarmatians, Huns, Magyars, Avars and perhaps the most terrible, the Mongols. Their primary weapon was the composite horn bow which they used with great efficiency from the back of their galloping steppe ponies.
The modern sport of horseback archery was partially developed and promoted by Hungarian Lajos Kassai. Kassai is credited with creating the Hungarian style of this sport. The Turks, Japanese and Koreans all have their own versions as well. In the Kassai Hungarian style (of which I am a member and practitioner) the competitions consist of a series of 9 gallops along a 99 meter track while shooting arrows at a target that is half way down the track and 9 meters from the track. This stationary target actually spins with the rider to present the target face the entire run. These runs are timed, the participant must enter the track at a gallop, never breaking gait and has 20 seconds to get to the other end of the course. Any time left over is added to the score assuming at least one scoring arrow has hit the target. Arrows are held in the bow hand and there is no limit to how many shots can be taken, the only limit is skill level.
When I first started this sport ten years ago I was looking for something new and interesting to do with my horses. I had done clinics, lots of trail riding, penning and whatever else I could find. None of it really appealed to me or captured my imagination. Horseback archery changed all of that. It is much more difficult to do than one might imagine, at least to do it well. With my slightly type A personality, I wanted to make sure that I could do it well. That is when a lot of things changed for me, my horses and our relationship.
Pick up a canter…start your horse down the track…nock an arrow on your bowstring…feel the rhythm of your horse…focus on the target…time the draw of the bow and release the arrow at the height of the stride when all four feet of your horse are in the air…then reload and do it again. Needless to say there are a lot of things going on in one run down the track. Generally one starts on the ground, learning the proper archery form (which is quite different from modern hunting archery) and then progress to the horse. Kassai has developed a wonderful series of exams that encourage mastery of the shooting form on the ground, riding ability, and then combining them.
I came to this sport with a good deal of horse experience, but I had much more to learn. I threw myself whole hog into learning the ground shooting and also into improving my horsemanship and my riding skill. I even renewed my study and practice of Dressage. The practice of horseback archery forged a new level of trust between me and my horses. I also learned to pay much greater attention to what my horse was feeling/thinking and with much more than my eyes since they were usually focused on a target, not the back of his ears. The subtlety of these wonderful creatures expanded my perception and awareness of their thinking but it continually shows me that I have so much more to learn.
I spent more and more time working with my horses and this had a spillover effect. Not only did my horseback archery skill improve, but my overall horsemanship and riding continue to improve. The relationship with my horses has improved as well. I am not sure where the journey is leading, but the trip has been enlightening so far.
Thanks for reading