Imagine competing in an archery tournament with 106 other countries under these conditions: You must use a traditional bow, traditional arrows, and no sights. You must also shoot while riding a horse. Mounted archery, or horseback archery, is just one of the events featured at the World Nomad Games, which wrapped up its third year at Kyrgyzstan in September.
This competition has become one of the most significant events in the Nomad Games’ history, according to its organizers. The event began in 2012 when the Kyrgyz Republic’s government decided to revive and preserve the culture of nomadic civilization. It’s essentially the “Olympics for nomads.” The Games also won support from the leaders of Turkey, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
Among this year’s competitors was Serena Caballero of Texas, who joined the team at a friend’s invitation. She practiced mounted archery the past six years, which helped prepare her for the Nomad Games. Each mounted archery team consists of four men and two women.
Caballero took part in four of the five archery competitions, including the Kyrgyz event, where she had to execute shots from the side, back and kneeling positions. She said her focus at the World Nomad Games was mounted archery, in which she won the 2018 women’s bronze medal. The event required competitors to take three runs on a straight track – all from a different horse – and shoot forward, sideways and backward when 7 to 10 meters from the target, she said.
Because of the distance and travel logistics to the Games, Caballero and other competitors from around the world couldn’t compete with their own horses. Her 7-year-old Appaloosa gelding, named Blue, had to stay home in Texas, so Caballero adjusted to riding an unfamiliar horse.
“In this particular competition, it was incredibly challenging for all,” Caballero said. “No one knew the horses they were on. The horses ranged in size, shape, color, speed, tack used and stirrup settings.”
She said organizers sometimes picked horses for the competitors, which forced her to let her frustrations go.
“Trust yourself, your skill, and focus on your shooting,” she said. “It was about remembering to enjoy the experience and just try your best.”
As if shooting while riding an unfamiliar horse wasn’t hard enough, the competitors also had to follow a Nomad Games rule for archery gear: Keep it traditional. Caballero used her 52-inch, 32-pound Damascus bow (Saluki Bow Co.); her self-made shooting glove; hip quiver; and bamboo arrow shafts with three-fletched feathers and plastic flared nocks.
She said other traditions also caught her attention at the tournament. Those traditions included historic garments worn during the events, and unique games like kok-buru, which is also known as “headless goat polo.” In that game, competitors on horses drag a goat’s carcass to their opponent’s goal.
Despite the Games’ many cultures and events, Caballero felt a sense of camaraderie with the other athletes.
“As per usual, archers are kind, friendly and fun,” she said. “No matter what country you were from, everyone helped you and each other. Several times I went on excursions with new friends from Russia, Slovakia and Canada.”
Turkey will host the next World Nomad Games in 2020. Caballero said she plans to compete there, and hopes to improve her medal finish from bronze to gold.
If you wish to try competitive archery, talk to the experts at an archery shop, get some shooting tips, and practice on the archery range. To try mounted archery, contact Hadley Hudson, the liaison for USA mounted archery.