The Sports

Horse Archery in the 21st Century

25 June 2016

Horse Archery in the 21st Century

An ancient form of warfare is now a rapidly growing equestrian pursuit. Today, John Downes and Hayley Chambers-Holt explain what you need to know about horse archery.

Are you ready for a challenge? A real challenge??

There is a new horse sport in town but it’s not that new.  As a matter of fact it’s been around longer than showjumping and even dressage.  Actually it’s been around for thousands of years!

We’re talking about mounted archery. The Greeks, Mongols, Samurai and many other ancient civilisations had mounted archers.

Time and developments in warfare (including massed archers on foot who could shoot bows of larger draw weight, thus shooting further) and finally, firearm, saw the demise of mounted archers.  However some countries, including Japan and Korea kept the martial skill and made a sport of it; from these countries we have the sport of horse archery.

Horse archery is now practiced in many countries, including Australia, and it requires a rider to shoot a number of targets whilst mounted in walk, trot and/or canter.  Depending on the round being shot the targets may be angled or side on and the number of arrows shot at each target varies as well.  Distance from the target is usually 7 metres and is normally done by riding the horse down an alley or fenced off lane.

This all sounds rather nice in theory, but a number of limiting factors come along when trying to shoot a bow and arrow from horseback.

  1. Just how well is your horse really schooled? Yes you maybe able to jump a course of 1.3 meters or prance around a dressage arena or show ring, but can you control the speed of your horse or direction without reins?  Sort of obvious but to draw a bow you require two hands and must also be able to do so whilst controlling your horse. Many so called ‘well educated’ horses attend Mounted Archery Clinics and truly struggle with being able to hold a regular rhythmic pace whilst having no rein contact.
  2. Archery skills? The bows used are traditional horse archery bows so this normally means a recurve bow. No sight window is allowed – just a basic bow as designed by various cultures thousands of years ago.  Placing the arrow on the string is called nocking and to be able to nock an arrow quickly (without referencing the placement of the arrow on the string by looking at the process) is probably the most challenging aspect of mounted archery. Most competitors not only practice hitting a target but also the speed of their nocking. There are some courses that require you to shoot off 2-3 arrows in one target at a canter whilst the whole course has 3 targets! Very challenging! It’s best to refine your archery skills on the ground first, before trying it out on horse back (also sort of obvious!)
  3. The horse. Now one of the great aspects of this sport is that you don’t need a $50k warmblood to be competitive and as a matter of fact that expensive horse with massive ground covering paces is probably at a major disadvantage to the pony nag you picked up at the sales.  But the horse must be able to handle the sound of the bow firing the arrow and also the odd clout with either an arrow, errant bow or unbalanced archer.  This like most things comes down to schooling and compared to a well executed flying change is rather easy, simply habituation to the repeated sound. The horses with the smaller paces, pony trots, and smooth flat canters are generally a better pick to this sport, than the big warmblood with the huge elevated trot or athletic sport horse. Horses that are brave and have a cool nature are also quite exceptional to this sport, however at the higher levels you also need a horse with a bit of ‘get up and go’ to produce a fast canter or gallop down the run.

Some of the positives of this sport include that IT’S FUN.  It’s cheap to get into, there are no restrictions on saddle type, bridle/bit type, horse breed or style etc. You just simply must follow the rules on using a traditional bow and specific arrows.

How to get into this sport?  Make sure you contact an experienced and qualified trainer if you’re going to give this sport a go! John Downes and Hayley Chambers-Holt are both qualified NHAA (National Horse Archery Association) Level Two Instructors and hold a number of other equestrian industry qualifications and accreditations through Equestrian Australia, Queensland Universities, Riding for the Disabled, Show Horse QLD and many more.


John Downes and Hayley Chambers-Holt run regular horse archery training days, clinics and private lessons throughout Queensland. Check out their website or find them on facebook.


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