Mounted archery is an exciting sport in which participants shoot arrows at targets while galloping on a horse. Mounted archery dates back in history across most continents and many people groups. While the style may have differed, mounted archery has been used across the world in hunting, sport and war for centuries.
Mounted archery has existed since horses were domesticated over 5,000 years ago. Horseback archery was popular among the nomadic tribes of early central Asia. The Scythians were the first known group to practice horseback archery, which then spread to the Huns, the Avars, the Magyars and the Mongols. These tribes helped to develop mounted archery in to the precise form it is today.
The first bows were short and featured a small, three-edged head made of bronze. From that, it was modified to have ears at the end and a larger tip. The Mongols eventually modified the bow to have strig-stool to provide a faster cast. These nomadic tribes were incredibly proficient with their archery and the tactic began to spread across the world.
Mounted archery spread into Western Europe. Some countries, like Germany, adopted the use of a crossbow rather than a traditional bow. With the journey to the new world, horses found their way to the Americas. Many Native American tribes became proficient at mounted archery. The most notable of those tribes was the Comanches. Archery was used a tactic in both hunting as well as battle. The long range and accuracy of the arrows led to bloody battles between Natives and settlers.
Modern Resurgence Under Kassai
After the introduction of artillery, the use of mounted archery began to decline until it was little more than ancient history. One man name Lajos Kassai of Hungary decided to change that. Kassai spent years researching the bows of the first nomadic tribes. He began to garner interest in horseback archery once more.
Kassai recreated the reflex bow with a traditional appearance and modern technology in the core. The handle and ears of the bow are made from ash wood while the insides are made of fibreglass. The places where the pieces join are wrapped in nylon threat. The fibreglass is wrapped with leather then glued with nylon or cotton cording. The result is the flex and strength of the first traditional bows.
Kassai recreated the bows and additionally founded training camps across the world. The version of mounted archery established by Kassai is known as the Kassai system. The Kassai course is set out over 90 meters. Each 30 meters, a target is placed 9 meters off of the track. The first and last target are set at 45 degree angles while the middle target is centered. There are four posts set out on the path of the course. The posts signify the distance from which the archer has to shoot as each target. Once a post is passed, the archer must shoot at the next target. There is no limit to how many arrows are shot, but the course must be run at a gallop and under 16 seconds time.
Each archer will have the opportunity to run the course three times and the score is determined by how many arrows hit the targets, plus bonuses and minus penalties. Each target has five circles. The scoring for each circle is different for each target. The first target, at which the archer is shooting forward at, is worth 6 points for a bull’s eye, 5 for the red circle, 4 for the blue, 3 for the black and 2 for the white. The second target is the center shot target. This target is worth 5 points for a bull’s eye, 4 for the red circle, 3 for the blue, 2 for the black and 1 for the white. The last target is the most difficult to hit as this requires a parting shot (also known as a parthian shot. This final target is worth 7 for the bull’s eye, 6 for the red circle, 5 for the blue, 4 for the black and 3 for the white.
If the rider completes the course in under 16 seconds, one bonus point is awarded for each second under. Penalties are given for any perceived mistreatment of the horse. If an archer shoots an arrow that hits a target when the shooter is not between the posts for that target, ten points will be deducted. Completing the course in more than 16 seconds results in a zero score for that run.
Korean Style Mounted Archery
Another popular and upcoming school of mounted archery comes from Korea. Korean horseback archery features a number of different skills competitions including a single shot, double shot and five-shot competition. The single shot competition takes place on a 90 meter course with 30 meters tacked on to the beginning for acceleration and 30 meters tacked on the end for a smooth finish. Courses can be straight or curved depending on the facilities. The target is placed placed halfway through the course and 6 meters away from the barrier.
In Korean mounted archery, the archer must pull an arrow from a quiver, belt or boot. The course must be run in 15 seconds. Any rider that takes more than 15 seconds is disqualified. In addition,the horse must remain at a galloping speed the entire time for the shot to count. Each rider is given three runs with one shot each. The scores are determined by which area of the target is hit: gold for 5 points, red for 4, blue for 3, black for 2 and white for 1. The rider with the most points wins.
The double shot competition is similar to the single. Instead of one target, two are used. The targets are set ten meters apart at the 40 and 50 meter marker. The rider has two opportunities to hit the targets, one arrow for each. Scoring is the same as for the single shot.
The third competition in Korean style mounted archery is the five-shot serial. The five-shot course is 180 meters long with an additional 30 meters for start-up and 30 for slowing. 30 meters after the start, the first target is set six meters off the track. Four targets follow the initial target. Scoring is the same as for the one and two-shot competitions. Additionally, if an archer fails to hit 3 targets, no score will be awarded. If an archer hits all five targets, five bonus points are awarded.
Mounted Archery Horses
There are no regulations regarding which breeds of horses are allowed to compete in mounted archery. Many breeds compete in mounted archery including Arabians, Quarter horses, Mustangs and Draft horses. The most important qualities to look for are a horse that is willing to be trained and a smooth canter. The horse must have a gait that remains smooth while changing speeds in order that the archer can hold the bow as still as possible. The archer must have incredible balance as well as leg strength.
Mounted archery requires skill, patience and precision. From the ancient war tactics to modern artistry, horseback archery has long been a tradition in countries all over the world. As the resurgence of ancient techniques continues, the history of cultures past is retained and a new sport is born.