Even if you’re a longtime archer, it’s unlikely you’ve tried mounted archery. That’s because few people worldwide practice the sport, which blends archery and horseback riding.
Mounted archers, though few in number, are devoted to popularizing the sport, which requires shooting up to five arrows at targets while riding a galloping horse.
Serena Lynn of New Braunfels, Texas, has ridden horses 13 years and first tried mounted archery in late 2012. Five months after her first lesson, she earned third place among the American competitors in her first competition, and was one of America’s champions in 2013. She says mounted archery is addictive and freeing.
“Learning to shoot a bow and hit a target is an amazing rush,” Lynn said. “Hitting targets from a running horse is even more exhilarating because it means I’m not limited to doing an everyday thing. It’s a great confidence builder to grow strong enough to climb on the back of a 1,200-pound animal and not feel small or afraid.”
She says it’s also exciting to be part of history by participating in something people did centuries ago. Besides blending two sports, mounted archery also blends modern elements with tradition. Before heading to her first international mounted-archery competition, Lynn explained some details about a sport she calls “pure bliss.”
Shooting a bow while riding a horse are the sport’s most obvious challenges. Lynn trains her own horse, Moonshine, which has mastered mounted archery’s routines. But when she travels outside her home course, she must rent a horse near the competition site.
“Taking my horse to competitions is too expensive,” she said. “It’s an extra challenge to compete on a horse I’ve never ridden before, and I also must be aware of special situations that can arise. The horse I plan to ride could get fatigued or injured while running the course with a rider before me. I would then have to ride a different horse, which could make a difference in how well I complete the course.”
Another challenge is the variation between courses. Mounted-archery courses vary by location from straight lines to zig-zags. Others resemble barrel-racing courses. Target types also vary by location and competition. Some are 3-D foam targets shaped like animals, which are often used on walking courses and by bowhunters. Others are 80-centimeter FITA target faces. FITA, the Federation Internationale de Tir a l’Arc, is known as the International Archery Federation in English-speaking countries.
Like courses, competitions vary by location. The host of each competition typically decides the course type, number of rounds and number of targets. Because so many factors are at play, scoring also varies.
Hosts of international competitions can choose any courses they want. To ensure all participants have equal chances to compete, hosts usually add one or more of five standard courses accepted by the International Horseback Archery Alliance (IHAA): Hungarian, Korean Single, Korean Double, Korean Triple and Qabaq.
Riders earn points based on the target ring they hit, just like in archery. There’s also a time limit. For most ranked courses, the time limit is 14 seconds. Riders receive bonus points for scoring on the target and finishing the course with time left on the clock
Lynn travels to about three competitions each year. Soon she’ll travel to Poland for her first international competition. Commonly known as the “Grunwald Competition,” it takes place on Poland’s largest battlefield. She plans to compete on the Hungarian Course and the Korean Triple, where she’ll try to shoot three targets in under 14 seconds.
Some countries – including Korea, Hungary and others in Europe where the sport is especially popular – fund national teams. The United States, however, offers no opportunities for full-time mounted-archery professionals. Even top-ranking mounted archers in the United States must work other jobs to cover the sport’s expenses.
Mounted archery also offers few endorsements or sponsorships, which makes Lynn especially grateful for her local sponsor. H&H Customs in New Braunfels dips her arrows in colorful patterns to match her custom leather quiver.
Lynn also works full time as a veterinary technician and recently launched Serena Lynn Leather Working, where she makes custom quivers, belts and other items for mounted archers. She concedes her hobby requires lots of work, but it also brings enjoyment and camaraderie with other archers.
Lynn shoots a Magyar bow with a 35-pound draw weight. She uses a Mediterranean split-finger technique to shoot this modified Hungarian bow, which means she places her index finger above the arrow nock, and her middle and ring fingers below it.
Mounted archery also requires special bows. Her bow is similar to traditional recurves, but it lacks a shelf or arrow rest. Those features aren’t allowed because they were considered nontraditional when the sport’s rules were set. Competitors also can’t carry arrows in a way that could hurt the horse or archer in an accident, so arrow tips are typically covered.
Even so, the sport has few regulations on equipment. Most competitors use a hip quiver and draw the arrow from their dominant side with their dominant hand. Lynn uses a hip quiver she made, and pulls the arrows from her right hip with her right hand. There also are cross-draw hip quivers, which means right-handed archers use their right hand to pull arrows from their left hip.
Future of Mounted Archery
Lynn belongs to the South Texas Archery Riders, which is part of the Mounted Archery Association of the Americas (MA3). Leaders with MA3 and IHAA work to grow the sport and make it more secure with consistent rules and regulations.
The United States has only nine active mounted-archery groups affiliated with MA3. Some groups require members to provide their own horse. If you have a horse and want to try mounted archery, search online for clubs and schools.
If mounted archery isn’t an option but you’re interested in new challenges, try changing the terrain where you practice, find a 3-D archery walking course, or take up bowhunting or switch to a different bow type.