It’s a sport that at first glance may seem straight out of a period movie. A horse and rider gallop through a field, the rider drops the reins and pulls an arrow from a quiver and with an elegant bow, shoots the arrow into the air with dizzying speed.
Well, if you ever wanted to be one of these people, now is your chance. Welcome to the growing sport of mounted archery, an international sensation among equestrians and archers alike. The sport was first introduced in Canada in 2005, by Hungarian-Canadian Robert Borsos, with just a “handful of enthusiasts” who practiced and competed in Mt. Currie, BC. Members of that group later founded the Canadian Federation of Mounted Archery (CFMA) in 2015. With chapters across the country the CFMA is a great starting resource that includes a list of coaches.
Ontario-based Kendall Goddard is an intermediate level 2 certified coach and operates the Golden Horseshoe Mounted Archery Club in Grimsby, Ontario. She has participated in national and international mounted archery competitions across Canada, including representing Canada in the 2020 IHAA World Grand Prix.
Goddard became interested in mounted archery after witnessing the communication and trust between horse and rider that is required for the sport. “While competing, mounted archers seldom use reins as our hands must be free for shooting. This means that we must use other aids such as seat, leg, and voice, to speed up, slow down, maintain pace, and even turn or perform lead changes on courses that are not confined to a straight track,” she explains. “Trust in our horses gives us the confidence to turn our attention toward the targets and focus on shooting accurately while our mount continues forward. This is the type of partnership I have always strived to achieve with my own horse.”
One of Goddard students is Kirstyn Smith, who became attracted to the sport after learning ground archery in 2020. “I have been riding horses since I was a young girl, and I always dreamed of being a warrior princess that could ride a horse and shoot a bow like some kind of Viking goddess,” she says. She met Kendall and began to train on Kendall’s horse Conner. She says of the challenges of learning the sport, “Doing both [riding and archery] separately is tricky enough, so imagine how challenging the combination of cantering and galloping at high speed can be while trying to shoot multiple targets. [It] calls for a high level of agility, accuracy, extreme balance and a powerful connection between horse and archer.”
So, what exactly does this new sport entail? Archers ride their horse down a track while shooting arrows at targets set-up at different angles and distances according to the competition rules. There are several different types of competition tracks, each with their own set of rules and target set-up. The three main tracks are Korean, Hungarian, and Qabac or Turkish tracks. The International Horseback Archery Alliance posts rules for all three tracks on its website.
The courses are most often straight, while others are more challenging and require circles, diagonal changes, transitions, shooting forward, sideways, and backwards, shooting behind your head (what is known as the Turkish “Jarmakee” shot), and even sometimes shooting an arrow while jumping a fence. Each mounted archer completes a predetermined number of runs down the track, usually six to nine runs, and their scores for each run are added up to give their final competition score.
During competition there is often an allowed time, and the horse and rider must complete the track within the allotted time otherwise points are lost, or their score is negated entirely. If you are a rider with a need for speed, you can gallop the track faster than the par time, which earn speed points, which are added to arrow points for a final score. “For this reason, mounted archery can be a high-speed sport. However, some competition rules favour arrows points over speed points, so the horse and rider are encouraged to slow down and shoot more arrows,” Goddard explains.
Goddard says that riders learning to shoot would learn basic mounted archery techniques such as loading arrows and shooting accurately first on the ground, then on a horse, as her student Smith did. “The techniques themselves are not difficult,” she says. “The difficulty lies in executing them all at once while in motion on the back of a horse.”
For this reason, mounted archers regularly practice ground archery to build muscle memory while improving on speed and accuracy. “Anyone can learn mounted archery at any age,” Goddard adds. “Safety for both horse and rider must always be top priority when learning mounted archery so young children should learn with age-appropriate archery equipment.
As for the types of horse best suited for the sport, Goddard says, “the beauty of mounted archery lies in its diversity.” The breed itself doesn’t matter as much as if the horse used has good self-carriage, an ability to adjust and maintain speed on cue, and the ability to remain calm and relaxed when exposed to new sights and loud sounds. “A smooth, rhythmical gait is a bonus,” she adds.
So far in her mounted archery career Smith has ridden Thoroughbreds, Draft crosses, Morgans, Quarter Horses, and Standardbreds, all of which were “willing and eager to take me around the track while I make strange noises with a bow as fly arrows past their head and land with a SMACK on the target.”
Adding to the flexibility of the sport, any type of tack is allowed, so whatever is most comfortable for the horse and rider is accepted. And should you want to dip your toe in at a slower pace, there are competitions with walk and trot divisions, perfect for newbie horses and riders, or older horses (or adults!). “Slower horses will excel in competitions that encourage a high volume of shots whereas faster horses will excel in competitions that encourage a small number of quick, precise shots,” Goddard says.
Smith loves the sport so much she is planning on getting certified as a coach by the CFMA, and last summer she opened her own outdoor ground archery range in Niagara Falls called Sigma Archery. “It is truly empowering as a young woman. It gives me confidence in everyday life. If I ever think I am not capable of something, I pause and remind myself, ‘Girl, you ride horses and shoot bow and arrows from their back at high speeds! You got this!’”