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Warriors Wanted! The Return of Mounted Archery

To me, being able to work with horses has always been like a dream come true. A dream that is full of excitement, hard work, and romantic imagery of a time in history that is now long passed. Even now, if I listen carefully, I can hear them coming. I can hear the thunder of hooves as they ride across the land. I can almost taste the dust in the air, and I can smell the sweat of their horses. When I close my eyes I can see them. They are warriors Ė horseback warriors, and they are coming back from the farthest corners of history. Thanks to reenactment events, special interest groups, and a few new equine sports; the warriors are returning. One of those sports bringing them back is Mounted Archery, and itís bringing a whole new kind of horseperson into the industry.

Few things throughout time have impacted the world as much as horses and archery. When combined they have been responsible for the creation, preservation, and destruction of entire civilizations. After all, it was Attila and the Huns that brought Rome to its knees. Genghis Khan and the Mongol hordes conquered and maintained the largest continuous land empire in history. And it was the Native Americans with proud people like Crazy Horse, Geronimo, and Sitting Bull that fought for this country long before it became the fifty states it is today. They, and many like them, changed the world from the back of a loyal horse with bow in hand. Working together as one with their horses, they left their mark on history. As time has gone by, and technology has come to out run the horse; mankind has said goodbye to the mounted warriors. Well, that is until now. Mounted Archery focuses on bringing back the warrior traditions of the past without bringing back the war itself. It focuses on the unity of the horse and rider as they take aim to be the best.

Driven by both a love for the past and excitement on horses, people around the world have started bringing back Mounted Archery. One of the driving forces to this movement has been Kassai Lajos of Hungary. Over the past decade, Kassai has taken mounted archery from being a reenactment event to being a sport. From his home in Hungary, Mounted Archery has been spreading across Europe and is making its way to America. More and more competitions are taking place around the country, and in Iowa you can attend the International Mounted Archery Festival every year. Though it is not yet a widely known sport, it is growing in popularity. The combination of high speed riding and difficult archery has brought enthusiastic competitors and fans from every walk of life. There have even been discussions about making it an exhibition event at the Olympics. Mounted Archery is here to stay.

The Mounted Archery competition is designed to test both horse riding ability and archery accuracy in a traditionally realistic way. Historically, mounted archers would be used against an enemy in a kind of hit and run attack. The mounted warrior would charge toward their enemy firing arrows as they approached. Then ride along the front line of battle hailing arrows as they passed. While retreating to safety, they would turn and shoot arrows at those that would try to follow. In reflection of those concepts, the archery course used in Mounted Archery is set up to make competitors take all those same shots. The course is constructed in a straight line measuring ninety yards. There are areas before, and after the ninety yards that allow you to get the horse into a gallop and then slow them down at the end of the run. The ninety yard course is divided into three, thirty yard sections. Each thirty yard section is marked by a set of posts to help the rider know where they are located on the course. Halfway down the course, there is a three sided target set a few yards off to the left side of the track. Each section of the course corresponds to one side of the target. If you have the resources, a laser starting device is placed at the start and at the end of the ninety yards to accurately keep track of the time it takes to finish the course. Typically, the course itself is leveled to make sure it is safe for the horses. That leveling can also create a small edge to the track that can help guide the horses as they run.

By the time the rider begins the course, the horse should be running at a controlled gallop. As the rider enters the first section they shoot at the first side of the target in an approaching shot. As they come into the second section, they fire at the second side of the target in a lateral shot. And as the horse and rider pass the target and enter the third section, they must turn and fire at the last side of the target in a parting shot. All of this has to take place in sixteen seconds or less; and because you are using a bow, it means you are doing it without the use of reins. This takes great skill with both horse and bow. Not to mention a whole lot of courage. Being a little crazy helps too!

Scoring of the event is based on how many points you earn. You earn points for every arrow that hits the target. The amount of points you earn for each arrow depends on how close to the bullís eye you hit. Points are also added or taken away based on your time compared to the sixteen seconds. For example, if you finish the course in ten seconds youíll get six points added to your score. If you finish in eighteen seconds, you lose two points. This means if you want to win, you better be able to ride fast.

The horses that are used in competition must meet one requirement: reliability. As stated above, to operate the bow you need to drop the reins and steer the horse with your legs. This means that you donít need a really expensive horse with great blood lines; you just need an awesome horse. You need a horse that can run fast, respond well to you, and not go crazy as you shoot arrows over their head. All breeds are welcome, and they all have the ability to do well in this sport. They may start as a backyard pony, but they will finish as a tested warhorse.

Mounted Archery is a great sport that is bringing a new type of rider to the horse industry. A rider that isnít focused on how pretty or well bred the horses are. Rather they are riders that just want good horses - dependable horses. To compete in this sport you have to be a very good rider, and have a very good horse. Both you and the horse have to be comfortable enough to drop the reins at a gallop. Then focus not only riding, but on also on making a good archery shot. Within ninety yards and sixteen seconds, a good mounted archer can shoot four arrows. A great rider can shoot as many as six arrows. As a result, I see competitors approach the sport as less of a hobby, and more as a martial art. They approach the sport as if it was a personal quest to better themselves and their archery abilities on the back of their horses. Mounted Archery exemplifies the romantic image of how a horse and rider must work as one to elicit the best results.

Currently, Mounted Archery in the United States is still just starting out. There is more information about the sport on the web. I recommend looking at the site for the International Mounted Archery Festival (http://www.intlhorsearchery.org). They have links to some decent sites for information and equipment vendors. Look for competitors like Lukas Novotny of Iowa (http://www.salukibow.com), or Kassai Lajos of Hungary (http://www.horsebackarchery.com). For a good bow I recommend Toth Istvan of Washington State (http://www.sevenmeadowsarchery.com). You can also contact me at my email address: kickingbearmustang@yahoo.com and Iíll be happy to answer any questions that I can.

The horse industry is always changing. Today, as we come to a time when one generation will be retiring from competition, we have the responsibility of making a horse industry that is inviting to the next generation. I believe there are many new sports that help meet that expectation. However because it is fast paced, exciting, inexpensive, and overflowing with the romance of a horseback warrior lifestyle; Mounted Archery certainly is one sport with a lot to offer. The competitions are welcoming to both men and women, and I hope that the up-coming generation will give it a try.

Good luck, and keep riding!


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