Before there was gunpowder and firearms, there was archery. In the time when the bow and arrows were among the most feared weapons, some of the most formidable archers were mounted on horses.
Today’s weapons of war have progressed to more complex technology, relegating archery to the dust heap for modern conflicts. However, the skill of shooting an arrow off the back of a charging horse has gained popularity in recent years.
Mounted archery instructor Brandy Von Holten of Mora, Mo., presented a session about the “coolest sport ever” at this year’s Midwest Horse Fair held in mid-April at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
Von Holten bases the sport’s attraction on the fact that age doesn’t put limits on who can participate, making it a family-friendly activity.
“Older archers usually do better because they have more time (to put into the sport),” Von Holten said. “One 72-year-old never did archery until he became involved in mounted archery. When he received a ranking, he said, ‘Go post it in the nursing home.’”
The revival of the ancient craft has been credited to movies showing the prowess of heroes and heroines in the ancient martial art. Because the films showed proficient female archers, the sport has caught the fancy of more than a few women. A poster in Von Holten’s PowerPoint presentation expressed the sentiment of women and girls taking up the sport: “I don’t wear bows; I shoot them.”
Von Holten pointed out riding a galloping horse while shooting an arrow at a target improves horsemanship and hand-eye coordination. But she emphasized the sport also has a number of other attractive aspects.
Along with self-improvement, another proficiency gained from participation in the sport is setting personal goals.
“You better not be getting into this sport to win something because it’s all about goal-setting,” Von Holten said.
The personal goal-setting aspect appeals to the martial arts competitor because the focus is on self-improvement rather than winning over others as in horse-show competitions. Von Holten has seen the worst come out of people fixated on winning.
“I’ve seen monsters formed out of good people,” Von Holten said regarding the winner-take-all-at-any-cost attitude some horse owners develop when competing.
Harkening back to the roots of mounted archery, a traditional recurve-style bow without an arrow rest is used; compound bows are banned in the activity.
Along with learning the skills of mounted archery, devotees learn about the different cultures where mounted archery was a critical aspect of the culture.
“You can’t be a mounted archer without it being a bit fun,” Von Holten said. “It’s customary to dress in your country’s (ethnicity) native garb. But it doesn’t influence your score.”
The prominent styles of mounted archery competitions are the Korean, Hungarian and the Qabaq. The type of mounted archery is based on how the targets are placed and how archers shoot off their horses.
The Mounted Archery Association of the Americas website is at www.mountedarchery.org.
More about Von Holten and mounted archery can be found on her Facebook page at Von Holten Ranch 1906.