A Modern Love for the Ancient
Sport of Horseback
Archery A Modern Love for the Ancient Sport of Horseback Archery

Would you cross the globe for an archery lesson? Anna Minkkinen, a Finnish student and martial-arts practitioner, did just that.

Minkkinen wanted to learn about horseback archery and so, like many beginning archers, she sought a coach. Although most new archers find instructors near home, Minkkinen wanted to learn from the best.

That’s why she contacted Ali Ghoorchian, a world-champion horseback archer, to arrange a training session in Iran, his home country. That’s a long trip, but Minkkinen’s friend Brice Portolano came along to photograph her adventure. Upon arriving, Minkkinen and Portolano immersed themselves in horseback archery’s culture – a heritage Ghoorchian works hard to preserve.

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Ali Ghoorthian, a world-champion horseback archer from Iran, performs a Parthian shot. To perform this shot, archers turn their bodies to shoot at the enemy while retreating at a full gallop. The maneuver requires superb equestrian skills since the rider’s hands are occupied by his bow. Photo Credit: Anna Minkkinen.

“Ali is very, very passionate about Persian culture, so his goal is to keep the Persian culture alive, so they like to dress in the old times and to feel the timelessness of what they’re doing,” Portolano told National Geographic in an interview.

Archery is an old sport steeped in history. As humans progressed, archery styles grew alongside many cultures. Archery’s culture in Asia and the Mideast centers around horseback archery, which has been practiced since the ninth century B.C. in Central Asia. This archery style came from the people’s nomadic lifestyle, and proved effective in hunting and warfare.

The short, powerful recurve bows used by ancient horseback archers gave them an advantage in battle. They were fast, mobile and devastating when fighting armies of foot soldiers.

Horseback archery today is a sport that’s a cross between a re-enactment and a high-speed tournament. Japan, Hungary, Poland and South Korea are known for their prowess in horseback archery, but Ghoorchian, a master archer, is one of the few practicing the sport in Iran, according to the Portolano.

Even so, Iran was home to horseback archers historically. Perhaps that heritage and Iran’s arid mountains helped Minkkinen find her new passion as she rode a horse at full gallop, bow in hand.

After that first trip introduced Minkkinen to horseback archery, she kept training with Ghoorchian. In June 2017, Minkkinen returned to Iran for a month-long camp to hone her skills further.

“During this trip, I learned and experienced a lot!” Minkkinen wrote in her blog. “Most of it was the basic horseback archery training to still work on my basic shooting technique and to get it better and better.”

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Anna Minkkinen (right), a Finnish student and martial-arts practitioner, travelled to Iran to study with world-champion horseback archer Ali Ghoorchian (left). “During this trip, I learned and experienced a lot!,” she said. “Most of it was the basic horseback archery training to still work on my basic shooting technique and to get it better and better.” Photo Credit: Anna Minkkinen.

Most archers can relate to the need to continually work on fundamental techniques under a coach’s careful instruction. But whether you want to learn how to shoot a bow from atop horse or with both feet on the ground, your journey will start just like Minkkinen’s, minus the long commute for lessons.

That means getting introduced through basic archery classes, which are available through archery shops and clubs. These classes let you try archery and experience this awesome sport at a sensible price and with modest commitment.  After taking a basic class, you can decide what archery discipline you want to pursue.

And even if you’re sold on horseback archery, you don’t have to fly to Europe or Asia to try it. Horseback archery clubs offer classes right here in the United States.

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