The beginning stages of learning mounted archery are the most dangerous. Incidents can happen because of a lack of skill of the participant, inadequate safety protocol or implementation of safety protocols. Of course sometimes accidents just happen, but by following safety protocol, and following these 5 tips you can minimize risk and keep everyone safe and having fun. Here are some of OUR ways that we keep students safe while learning mounted archery.
ALWAYS USE SAFETY GEAR
Every rider should wear an STMI certified riding helmet. It's even better if they can wear a multidirectional impact rated helmet!
Head injuries are the most common riding accidents. And concussions are no joke! They can cause memory loss, increase the risk for neurodegenerative disease and even cause seizures. By wearing a fitting, quality riding helmet you can prevent serious injuries. (Also make sure your helmets aren't expired!)
All riders should wear appropriate footwear.
When doing ground archery everyone should wear close toed shoes with good ankle support to prevent accidental punctures, and sprained ankles.(Especially in an outdoor range ankle sprains are very common!) All riders should wear riding boots with at least a 1 inch heel. This prevents the foot from slipping and getting caught in the stirrup. (If you were to fall off you would be dragged by your horse which is obviously incredibly dangerous.)
Riders should wear long pants and when possible proper riding breeches.
Wearing long pants prevents chafe, blisters, and serious cuts and road rash if the rider falls. Breeches are much more ideal because they are textured (especially full seat breeches) and help the rider "stick" to the saddle. One of the worst falls I ever had was when I was wearing a pair of very slippery riding pants. I personally am not a fan of slick fabric riding tights, however any long pants are better than shorts! Keep a few pairs of riding tights and breeches around for when students inevitably show up in shorts in the summer.
Archers should wear gloves, thumb rings, tape, and arm guards when necessary.
A note on armguards:
Arm Guards are very popular, however they should be used sparingly and with caution. While armguards can prevent some injury from string slap they can cause MORE serious injury if the bow string gets caught under the guard. This can cause bleeding and even hematomas. The best thing to do is teach beginners proper technique so they avoid string slap in the first place. If you have an archer with hypermobility, constantly check before they shoot and remind them to bend their elbow out before they release until they get the habit.
ALWAYS USE SAFE EQUIPMENT
Follow all protocols for equipment care and maintenance including storage and repair.
Always store bows unstrung in a dry temperature controlled environment ( a tack room is sufficient.) Replace bow strings and servings when necessary. Always check arrows for damage when they hit a hard surface. Keep saddle leather clean and in good repair.
Bows should be at comfortable draw weight and draw length.
Repetitive motion injuries are very common in archers. To prevent this, teach good open form and stretch and warm up/down your students. Most importantly, match students to appropriate draw weights. In general, most adults are comfortable starting with 20 lbs -25 lbs. Have the students try a few different weights and if they seem to struggle or tense at all, give them a lower weight.
Arrows should ALWAYS be a little extra long for beginners to prevent overdrawing.
Overdrawing is when an arrow tip is pulled behind the riser of the bow. If released it will hit into the back of the bow and cause a very serious accident. To prevent this, measure students draw length and use arrows that are a couple extra inches long for beginners. Once students have a consistent anchor they can use arrows that are more precisely matched to their length.
Never rush your students.
Lack of skill is what leads to injuries from misfiring and falling off. Encourage them, drill basics and take the time they need! At Ridgeline we have 2 skill tests that every beginner must pass before shooting and riding at the same time. Passing a skill test is a good goal for students to work towards and proves they have the skill to do mounted archery safely.
Practice riding more than archery.
Riding ability comes before archery. Without good balance and ability to control the horse an archer cannot be able to shoot confidently and is at a high risk of falling. Falling is something we want to prevent at all costs when doing mounted archery. This means students should be able trot comfortably, post and 2 point without reigns before they start shooting while mounted. Work diligently to improve your students strength and position at a walk, on the lunge line without stirrups and at a trot.
Practice ALOT of mounted archery drills on the ground.
While students are working on passing their skills tests they should be preparing for moving and shooting, and bouncing and shooting. Check out our blog post on ground mounted archery drills for ideas. Drills will help students prepare to shoot and ride safely while they are polishing your skills to combine the two.
Do not allow mounted archery tourism.
You will have many people come to you who simply want to try mounted archery once and be done. Do not entertain these people. They are not interested in learning skills, only in checking off a bucket list. Insist on following your learning and safety protocol and don't allow people to shoot and ride until they successfully pass the tests. We wouldn't let a new student jump a course on the first lesson right? Mounted archery takes just as much skill, and is more dangerous.
Foam tips are the BEST tool for learning.
Foam tips are large foam arrow heads that screw into the insert in an arrow. Foam tips remove any risk of harm from puncture of an arrow. Even if someone misfires, no one will be hurt. We use these at every new learning stage to ensure the rider has good control before giving them real target arrows. You can use foam tips to play games like archery golf too!
Exercise balls are an excellent tool to practice loading an arrow while on a bouncing platform.
Before you consider getting on a horse with your bow, practice shooting while bouncing on an exercise ball to prove you have the dexterity not to drop or misfire an arrow! This is a great way to strengthen your students and work their cardiovascular system.
Phony Pony is a fake horse that students use to practice awareness of their horse while shooting.
Your phony pony could be a large rocking horse, a rain barrel with a saddle bolted on it, or a more sophisticated phony pony mounted on wheels that you can hitch to a tractor to practice shooting while moving at fast speeds. (Also called the Iron Horse.)
5. FOLLOW SAFETY RULES
There are 3 sets of rules you need to learn by heart. Archery range rules, horse safety rules, and mounted archery safety rules. You can find examples of these rules on the USA Archery website, the International Horseback Archery Alliance website and there are many resources for learning equine safety rules.
Here are a few good examples of rules to remember:
Never shoot with any living thing down range OR within 60 feet to the side of the range.
Always walk and remain calm around horses
Pull arrows from a target one person at a time
Start your run on the mounted archery track only after the track marshal has indicated its safe to start.
Keep all spectators at least 15 feet behind the archery track while in use.
Always walk on the range.
Always load the bow with the arrow pointing UP! (Teach this from the very first lesson. Never load pointing down with mounted archery because when you're riding, your horse is beneath you!)
We hope you will implement these recommendations in your own lesson program for mounted archery! Remember this is an ancient martial art, not a tourist activity. Treat it and yourself as a practitioner and instructor with the respect it deserves. If you want to learn more about instructing mounted archery, send us a message on our website about our teacher training workshop.