Horseback archery is a fast-paced adrenaline ride that blends speed with accuracy. If archery wasn’t challenging enough, imagine trying to shoot targets while controlling a horse galloping faster than 30 mph.
Anna Sokólska has mastered horseback archery and is one of the world’s best in this ancient discipline. She’s part of the AMM Archery Team, an elite group of Polish horseback archers and instructors.
Horseback archery’s rich history includes armies of mounted archers fighting on Asian steppes and Native Americans hunting buffalo on the American plains. Horseback archery today is a serious sport in Asia, Europe and the United States. Sokólska began competing in horseback archery after taking an introductory class. She considers the sport another fun way to enjoy her passion for horseback riding. “In this sport you are not alone, but part of a team with your horse,” she said.
Horseback archery is part of cultures throughout the world, and its varying competitive formats reflect every culture’s traditions. “There are many different disciplines, some very traditional, others quite recently introduced,” Sokólska said. “Once I took part in competition in Japan’s Nikko Toshogu shrine, where the tradition of horse-archery events dates back 400 years.”
The equipment and shooting style of horseback archers differs from other archery disciplines. Sokólska uses an Asiatic-style horse bow made by Lukas Novotny, a craftsman who hand-builds each bow. Her 48-inch bow has a 41-pound draw weight. Although Sokólska uses a custom bow, you’ll find less-expensive production horse bows at archery stores.
“This bow is small and light in hand,” Sokólska said. “It allows me to easily turn and aim in every direction from the saddle. Basically, with it I can hit anything I want, as long as I do my part correctly, of course.”
Horseback archers use shooting techniques that differ from those seen in the Olympics. Olympic archers methodically shoot their arrows, repeating the same technique over and over.
“Horseback archery, by its nature, is a very dynamic type of shooting, passing multiple targets at speeds up to about 55 kph, with angle and distance to the target constantly changing, Sokólska said. “So, it is highly instinctive aiming.”
Horseback archers don’t use sights. They rely on a combination of muscle memory, hand-eye coordination, arrow trajectory and subconscious distance calculations to the target. Shooting quickly while controlling a galloping horse are just some of the sport’s unique challenges.
If you want try horseback archery, several clinics and clubs across the United States can help. Furthermore, horse bows are fun to shoot, even with both feet on the ground. Several companies make horse bows and sell them at archery stores. After that, you’ll just need a quiver and arrows to start enjoying this ancient discipline in your backyard, or at a nearby club or archery range.