Archery has been a part of human history for almost as long as the idea of hunting has existed. The ability to shoot at an often-moving target at far distances allowed early hunters and military members to have the edge on the hunting grounds or the battlefield. However, the effectiveness of archery was often irrelevant when facing fast moving prey or an enemy force on horseback.
With this need for mobility came the invention of horseback, also known as mounted, archery. The first archers laid the foundation for wat is now a modern sport that is having a surge in popularity among archers and horseback riders.
Archery is complex on its own, but horseback archery is even more complicated and requires a whole new skillset for mastery. To understand the basics, let’s look at the history, equipment needed, and some common questions associated with horseback archery.
History of mounted archery
The most widely accepted origin of horseback archery is believed to be sometime within the Iron Age when the commonly used chariot was becoming too expensive and difficult to produce. Nomads, hunters, and military cavalry from nomadic tribes are thought to have started using the practice of mounted archery as early as the 9th century BC.
No matter the situation mounted archers were faced with, they were often considered to be the most effective and efficient warriors on the battlefield or hunting grounds. The ability to shoot arrows at high speeds from a moving horse meant that nomads could chase after fast animals for food and that horseback warriors were able to charge at enemies for a swift and deadly attack.
The Mongol archers of Genghis Khans’ fierce army are still talked about today for their incredible accuracy and life-long practice of mounted archery. These warriors learned to hunt from a very young age and trained to be combat ready in their teenage years. The Mongolians would often ride in large groups on horseback and fire all at once unleashing a sky of arrows upon any who came in their path. Mounted archers were feared on any battlefield, and it was not until the invention of the firearm that they faced any serious threats.
The resurgence of horseback archery
Modern firearms and compound bows made the need for horseback archery obsolete and irrelevant until fairly recently. In the early 1900s, Mongolian archers wanted to get back to their roots and revive the ancient technique of mounted archery to share their culture with the rest of the world.
The Mongolians experienced great success and spread their techniques and passion for archery and horseback riding with many European and Asian countries. Other countries like Korea and Japan also took to reviving their own ancient techniques of mounted archery and have helped to create the modern-day array of horseback archery styles that are experimented with throughout the world.
Modern day innovations in arrow, bow, and saddle design mean that modern-day mounted archery is more accessible than ever before and has led to a recent growth in popularity and competition on a professional level.
The learning curve
Just because recent innovations have made it easier to get into mounted archery does not mean that it is still not incredibly difficult to master and learn. To start, an archer must become a master of their bow on two feet before even considering getting on a horse and trying to shoot.
Some archers train for years and invest thousands into bows and equipment all in the pursuit of trying to achieve perfect accuracy while standing still. Similarly, many horseback riders grow up on a ranch with horses and create a strong bond with their horses that allows them to better understand and ride the animals.
It takes a very specific type of person willing to learn the two very difficult skills necessary to get good at mounted archery, but the end result is one of the most impressive and exciting combinations of sports ever conceived.
The most important consideration when looking to get into mounted archery is the amount of equipment and its price tag. Many think the sport is something you can get right into, but it requires research and a large investment of time and money before you succeed at mounted archery.
The first piece of equipment to consider when looking to get into horseback archery is the bow. It may seem like any normal bow would work but that just isn’t the case. A compound bow that would be suited for hunting is not allowed, nor are crossbows or powerful recurve bows.
The reason for restricting the use of powerful bows is that they are easier to misfire, which could hurt you or your horse. The more powerful hunting bows also require more force to shoot and could detract from your riding and accuracy over time.
Professional and recreational mounted archery organizations agree that bows with a draw weight of over 60 pounds are not allowed and should be avoided for mounted archery.
The most important factors to consider when picking your bow should be its size and weight. You will want a smaller bow because that will allow you to move your upper body faster and more effectively than if you would have to raise and aim a larger and more cumbersome bow.
As far as weight goes, having a bow that is both lightweight and has a light draw weight is ideal. A lightweight recurve bow is a great example of a bow that has a light construction, which leads to less fatigue and an average draw weight of around 35 pounds, for easier and less tiring shooting.
The Horse and saddle
Traditional archery is often considered an isolated and personal sport, but horseback archery requires you to have a connection and respect for another living creature. A horse is not just another piece of equipment and needs to be treated with respect and care.
Finding a horse that you are comfortable riding and can connect with will make you much more comfortable and shoot more accurately than if you were riding a new horse every time you wanted to go shooting. Choosing the breed and type of horse you want requires a lot of research and it nor an easy decision. Choosing a saddle is much easier.
A saddle and bow are very similar in the sense that while upon first glance any bow or saddle seems fine, but a specific design and style is almost always superior. The classic English saddle has a design that is very basic yet comfortable and allows for much more mobility than a saddle that keeps you constrained and immobile.
Another route you can consider is looking at the ancient Mongolian and early Asian designs that were once used by ancient horseback warriors. These saddles have literal generations of testing and refinement that make them perfect for the aspiring mounted archer.
In the end, it comes down to personal preference and what works for you and your horse that will determine your success and comfort.
Just like traditional archery, horseback archery requires a target or animal for a measure of skill and growth. Different leagues and organizations use various target styles and designs for mounted archery.
The traditional colored target with rings seen at Olympic events can be used and are a good choice for mounted archers looking for a way to track their accuracy over time.
Some Asian organizations use mobile targets to mimic the traditional hunting that mounted archers took part in and add two dimensions of movement that require a multitude of skills to hit. Not many people actually hunt on horseback in modern day situations, but it is possible after years of experience and increased skills.
Unless you only plan on shooting one arrow before you have to get off your horse and reload, it is recommended you pick up an arrow quiver. A good quiver will protect your arrows and give you the flexibility to shoot many times before having to get off your horse.
You can get a variety of quivers that mount to different locations like your back, hip, or leg. Many professional organizations recommend the use of a thigh quiver with individual arrow slots so you have easy access to the arrows while on horseback, and they can be removed easier than a quiver that just holds arrows randomly.
Unlike many other specific components used in mounted archery, the arrows you use are generally less important and vary from user to user. Having arrows that you are comfortable with and play well with your bow is ideal.
Look for arrows made of a lightweight material like carbon or aluminum as they are regarded as the best among almost all types of archers, including archers on horseback. The head and fletchings also come down to personal preference and target type as some arrow heads may work for foam and not with other target types.
The draw styles
Overtime, many variations on firing styles have been developed among various cultures that all lead to differences in shooting and make for subtle changes in your shooting. The most traditional form is known as the Mongolian draw.
This draw style is designed to make reloading faster and easier than more complicated styles. To draw in a Mongolian style, you use just your thumb to hold the string in its drawn position and use your index and middle fingers to stabilize the grip. Thanks to the lighter draw weight on mounted archery bows, this technique is possible and widely used.
Some other common techniques are the Slavic draw and the Mediterranean draw. The Slavic draw requires you to place three fingers on the string and use the thumb to hold the arrow until it is ready to be fired.
The Mediterranean draw is similar to the Slavic style, but it does not require the thumb to be used and is designed to reduce overall tension in the hand. Along with countless other niche positions, learning and perfecting drawing positions takes countless hours and shots to master and perfect.
The environment that you take part in mounted archery is often much different than any other style of stationary shooting. Hunting often takes place in a forest and Olympic archery takes place at a carefully measured range, but mounted archery requires a specific environment.
A horse needs a large area to move around in, which makes large fields and plains the perfect place for horseback archery. The large area means you can set up multiple targets of varying difficulty and your horse will have an easier time moving around than if it was confined to a smaller area. Most organized horseback archery clubs have areas they set up for members to ride and shoot on, showing you what kind of land is required for safe mounted shooting.
One important consideration when taking part in an activity with large animals and loaded weapons is the importance of safety. Horses are large, living creatures than can be incredibly dangerous if you are not properly trained to be around or interact with.
Horses can kick riders behind them without realizing it, which can lead to serious injuries. To ensure the most safety for yourself, take a few courses on general horse safety and then get specialized help with mounted archery horse riding so you and your horse are safe.
The archery side of the sport is the same story. You should be incredibly comfortable with your bow before even considering mounted archery because an unsafe archer on a horse can lead to disaster.
A significant amount of balance and control is needed to fire a bow on the ground, and it will take many more hours to find that same control on a horse. Finding the safe balance of fun and proper horse and archery safety is hard, but once you find it the rewards will be worth the learning process.
Questions about horseback archery
The mounted archery scene is full of dedicated members and is always looking for more. The barrier of entry is intimidating, but by answering some common questions you will have a well-rounded understanding of the skills and equipment necessary to participate.
What is archery on horseback called?
Depending on the culture you come from and where you learn to shoot on horseback, the terms used for horseback archery can differ and confuse beginners. One of the most common and widely used expressions is mounted archery.
This name is one of the earliest and easiest to understand. “Mounted archery” is used by many to describe the activity of shooting a bow and arrow off of a moving horse. Horse archery also goes by the name horseback archery or simple horse archery which all imply the same activity that is taken part in around the world.
What is a horse bow?
Compound bows are used for hunting animals with high impact, but horse bows are a unique type of bow in their own league. A horse bow is essentially a very basic and primitive bow that operates similarly to a recurve bow but with a few tweaks.
Unlike recurve and even some compound bows, the horse bow is designed to be compact and light so that the archer can fire without getting fatigued or putting themselves in danger. Many recurve bows look similar to a horse bow and that is because they share a very similar design language.
The key difference between a recurve and horse bow is the weight. A traditional recurve bow can have a draw weight of up to 70 pounds while a bow meant for horse archery often has a draw weight closer to 35 pounds to make for easier shooting.
How long is a horse bow?
Depending on the model, horse bows can differ in length pretty drastically. In general, you want your horse bow to be as compact as possible, while still maintaining as much power as possible. If your bow is more compact, you will have an easier time aiming the bow, moving it around the horse and keeping it steady before taking your shot.
The size of the horse bow should be somewhere around 50 inches to ensure that you are getting a comfortable draw without sacrificing any mobility. However, the size of you and your horse may also result in you needing a shorter or longer bow. Most horseback archers like to start out with a lighter weight horse bow to get comfortable with the intricacies before moving onto a slightly larger and more powerful bow.
What kind of bow is used in mounted archery?
Just like normal archery on foot, there are many bows offered by different companies for mounted shooting. When shooting from horseback, it is important to remember that you want a bow that provides enough power to be used for many shots and is light enough to be quickly moved around.
Horse bows are the most common style of bows used on horseback, as they have a design that is suited for mobility and ease of use. These bows operate very similarly to recurve bows and can come in various styles and sizes for different users.
The most common difference in the style of horse bow is where its design originated from. For example, there are many horse bows that come in a traditional Mongolian style used by early Mongolian warriors.
In contrast to the Mongolian design, there are also many bows that originate from Native American and Hungarian styles used many years ago. Many modern technologies like carbon have also created a new style of modern horse bow that is lighter and easier to shoot than some traditional styles.
Can you hunt on horseback with a bow?
Many archers like to hunt with their bows and mounted archers are no different. Some of the earliest uses for mounted archery was actually to hunt moving prey by the early nomads who had to hunt to survive.
The most important thing to remember about horseback archery is that you need to think about not only your own safety, but also your horse’s. Knowing their temperament and respecting them is key. Some horses may be fine for horseback archery target shooting but freeze up when trying to chase after big game.
It is possible to hunt on horseback with a bow, but it requires a lot of trial and error. If the horse has been raised to go hunting with a gun and is used to the conditions, then it may be suited for hunting with a bow. You will have to have a strong relationship with the horse before trying to hunt on it.
The common horse bow also does not have the same raw power of a compound bow, so make sure to understand that you will not be able to hunt every animal.
Can you use a compound bow on horseback?
If you are looking for power and speed in archery, the compound bow is the clear choice. Archers love the compound bow for its ability to shoot fast and hit hard on any hunting or target shooting they take on.
However, it is not advised to use a compound bow on horseback. With the extra power and force a compound bow shoots with and takes to use effectively, you could startle the horse or get tired over time using a compound bow. Compound bows are also larger in size and would be unwieldy to use on the back of a horse.
With such a rich history, it is easy to see why the incredible rush of mounted archery attracts so many new archers in this modern era. A background in horseback riding or archery can be combined with the other missing skill to create a truly unique and pleasurable combination. By understanding the history, equipment, and subtle nuances of mounted archery, you can be on your way to taking part in a sport that has spanned centuries and been enjoyed all over the world.