Getting started on Mounted Archery
The biggest struggle with mounted archery is how to get started. Many people see it in movies and think it looks fun and exciting, but then they don't have any resources to get them going. Even more challenging, they don't know where to look for resources. This is where many folks turn to online research. Even on the internet, information about horse archery is difficult to find. My beginnings in horse archery started at a renaissance faire back in 2017. I was there with my friends and I saw a group doing a mounted archery demonstration. I said to myself "I want to do that." And I did. I went up and asked one of the archers how to get started after the show. She wasn't the most helpful, but she did point me in the right direction. Find a club. Now there are two major governing bodies for mounted archery in the United States. The first and smaller of the two is Horse Archery USA. This is where I found my first club. The Sherwood Forest Mounted Archers. Unfortunately, they were two and half hours from me. I was able to go to their club twice and use the information I got there to really begin my journey. Just two weeks after the renaissance faire I purchased my first real bow. A warped 35 lbs recurve I found on Craigslist for $65.00. I practiced with this bow for several months using the three fingers Mediterranean draw that I'd learned as a child. It wasn't until I was able to meet the Sherwood folk that I even learned the thumb draw existed. Throughout my journey in the beginning of mounted archery I found most of my information from online research. There are few and far between instructional videos on mounted archery and a lot of my starting out was input from trainers and ground archers attempting to piece together the puzzle of mounted archery. This all changed when I found the Mounted Archery Association of the America's. MA3 is the largest mounted archery Association in United States and is affiliated with the International Horse Archery Alliance. MA3s website has a wealth of information on getting started with mounted archery and a list of other clubs and connection to the IHAA website which is even more in depth than MA3. I ate up all this information and practiced and desensitized my horse for two years. Then, the funniest thing happened. I infected two of my friends with the horse archery bug. I'm not sure how it happened, but slowly, they got into it too. And me, Jazmine Heberlein and Nicole Richards became the founders of the Ridgeline Mounted Archers. We wanted this amazing sport to be available to people in our area and we wanted folks to practice and have fun with too. We started out just the three of us in February 2020 and by the end of the summer we had ten members and had performed our very first demonstration. The next year, we became an official affiliated club with MA3, and now, I'm about to set out on my first internationally ranked mounted archery competition. Funny how things grow, huh? And just to think that if I hadn't been at that renaissance faire, or if that archery club hadn't demonstrated, none of this would ever have happened. So my message here is this: first off, if you want to do something, do it. Even if it's done poorly. Life isn't baking a cake. You don't get one shot at putting the correct ingredients in or else it's ruined. Life is growing a garden. It's something that is done daily. You plant your seeds, and water them every day and in time you have beautiful fruit. It's okay if not all of your seeds sprout. It's okay if you forget to water them sometimes. Your garden is a work in progress. You can always go back and fix your mistakes, or learn from them. And you can always be improving your garden. The second part of my message, is if you want to do something, anything, the first step is always to ask. Now this may be asking the archer after the show what equipment to use or how to get started, or it might be looking up "How to do horseback archery" on Google. Once you know what to do, then you can get started on doing it!
Okay so now you've read all this way and you're thinking "okay so are you actually going to tell me how to get started?"
The answer is yes. We'll do that right now!
The first step is finding a club.
Now if you're in Eugene, Oregon you're going to want to connect with us! The Ridgeline Mounted Archers. If you're elsewhere in Oregon you can check out the Sherwood Forest Mounted Archers or the Rogue Mounted Archers. If you're somewhere else in the United States, you can go to the Mounted Archery Association of the America's website and check out the "clubs" map to find one near you! Now if you're reading this in a different country, you're going to want to check out the International Horse Archery Alliances website to find the governing Mounted archery organization for your country and find a local club on their website!
The second step is more of a question. Are you an archer, a rider or neither Usually? Usually people come into horseback archery from either ground archery, or the equestrian world. Depending on which of these you have experience in you're going to want to start learning the other. So if you know horse riding, you'll start learning archery. If you know archery, you'll start learning horse riding! If you've never learned either you're going to start with horse riding! Get in touch with a local stable to get some basic horse riding lessons. You're going to want to be able to comfortably canter before getting into mounted archery.
Once you are ready to tackle archery, you're going to want to connect with either an MA3 club, or if there is none available in your area, you can get started with USA Archery. Olympic archery is slightly different than mounted archery, but the basics are all the same and easily adjustable once you're ready to start practicing mounted!
Let's talk about equipment. Since the horse is always first in mounted archery we'll talk about their equipment. Now we're assuming that you already have a horse who is going to do mounted archery with you and is healthy, desensitized and in good condition for the sport. If you don't, you can check out our other post about selecting your Mounted Archery partner! The equipment you're going to need for your horse is a saddle, saddle pad, girth or cinch, a bridle, bit or bosal. Other equipment I suggest is protective gear for your horse such as tendon boots. You need to make sure that all your equipment fits your horse comfortably. You can use any style of saddle for mounted archery. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each style.
Western saddle. The western saddle, being the most popular in the United States, is probably what you have in your barn. Now the good thing about this saddle is that it is easy to stay in with a high pommel. And it has a cantle you can counterbalance against in your two point (or half seat). This issue is that the horn on the saddle can be cumbersome and can get hooked onto your bow while you're riding.
English saddle. Depending on the style, an English saddle will vary on its usefulness in mounted archery. In general English saddles are light and comfortable. They are easy to dismount from quickly and don't have a horn in the front to catch your bow. Unfortunately they also do not have a cantle which makes your two point a little more leg work and runs the risk of you toppling over while doing a challenging Quebec or Backshot. Experiment with different English saddles to find which works best for you.
Endurance saddle. The endurance saddle is ideal for mounted archery. With English style stirrup leathers it allows your legs to be more flexible, and it has the benefit of a cantle without the cumbersome horn. Unfortunately Endurance saddles are more difficult to find than English or Western. Check out Cloete Endurance saddles for some mounted archery designs!
Otherwise you'll need to get a good quality saddle pad and a matching and sized girth or cinch for the saddle you choose.
Bits and bridles matter more to your horse than they do to you. Make sure that your horse is comfortable with the bit and bridle style you choose and that they are the correct size. In general, you want to opt for gentle bits like snaffle bits. D ring, O ring and full cheek snaffles are always good choices and a French link will make it even more comfortable. Your bridle can be western or English with a noseband or without. Whatever makes your horse the most comfortable and confident is what you should use. The next consideration is reins. When you are practicing mounted archery you will not have your reins in your hands. Now for my horses, one prefers Western and one English. My western horse has barrel reins. These are much shorter so I can drop them without worrying about them tangling in her legs. For my English horse, I tie my reins in a knot at her neck so they are out of the way. Whichever you prefer to do will be just fine!
Okay. We are done with horse equipment now moving on to the archery.
You are going to need
A horse bow
Feather fletched arrows
A hand guard
An arm guard
And a thumb ring or finger guard
Now the sizing for these is going to depend very much on your size and strength. Just for reference, I am 5'6 and my bow is 28" draw and 30 lbs pull. You can find information about how to take your draw length pretty easily online.
You're going to want to purchase a bow from one of these sites
Alibow, AF Archery, or Nomad Warriors
Any bow you find here will be suitable for mounted archery. Start out light at 20 or 25 lbs and work your way up to 35 or 40. Never use a bow over 50 lbs for mounted archery and never use a compound bow. Horse bows are based off of Mongolian bows used to conquer most of Eastern Europe! They do not have arrow shelves, or sights! Remember it's always best to start lighter rather than heavier as pulling too heavy can injure the delicate rotator cuff in your shoulder.
For your quiver you can try out some of the styles on these sites and see what you like best! I personally prefer the side quiver.
Arrows need to be feather fletched. The reason for this is that we blind nock in mounted archery and there's not time to line up the odd fletchingr out. Feather fletchings allow the arrow to roll past the grip without throwing off your aim.
Your hand guard is going to be a leather glove that protects your skin from getting torn up by arrows. Since there is no arrow shelf, the arrows sit directly on your hand and can move so fast they can cut you and make you bleed.
Your arm guard will protect your forearm from what is called string slap. Almost every beginner starting out will have string slap once. This is where your form is collapsed in and your forearm is in the way of the string as you release and it hits with that 30 lbs of pressure and causes a painful bruise. This leather guard will help to protect from string slap. But a better way to prevent it is to have good open and engaged form!
Alright we've made it to the thumb guard or finger guard. Now what you use is going to depend on which draw you do. If you're doing the thumb draw you're going to want a thumb ring or athletic tape to protect your skin from the repeated abrasion of the string. If you practice the Mediterranean draw, you'll want to use a finger guard that protects your three middle fingers. You can find finger guards at your local bow shop. Remember that the quality of your equipment is very important not just for your performance, but also for safety! While some of these things can be found on Amazon, we do not reccomend that you purchase them from Amazon. We have unfortunately learned the hard way that the money saved is not worth the quality lost. Additionally, sometimes the equipment is not safe! We have had some instances of Amazon equipment breaking that could have resulted in serious injury. Be prepared to pay around $300-$400.00 for your mounted archery equipment.
Alright. So now that you have your equipment, you know where to look for riding lessons, archery lessons or (hopefully) a mounted archery club in your area. Now, it's time to get practicing. So good job! Good job asking questions. Good job doing what you wanted to do! Now you've done all the prep work you've planted your seeds. All you have to do is keep watering them. Congratulations! Welcome to mounted archery, and I hope I'll see you at a competition some day soon!