Drop the reins. One hand holds your bow, the other reaches for an arrow. You set your eyes on the target, trusting your equine partner will hold steady and true. You would think this takes a very confident rider, but the truth is quite the opposite. Many people who are attracted to archery are nervous riders who have found confidence in this exciting sport.
“The only mile marker we could all do without is that first fall. The first time I fell off Koda was like a fireworks show. The next few months were filled with lots of spooking and a lack of confidence from both of us. I thought perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew.”
One day some friends told her about a mounted archery clinic. “I thought it sounded cool, but I was also nervous,” she recalls. “The morning of the clinic, I thought there was no way I could let go of the reins to shoot a bow.” But by the end, Koda was trotting while Akvan shot arrows. Next for her was overcoming her fear of field archery.
“Galloping around in the woods without your reins and shooting a weapon? That was way different than an arena course,” Akvan says. She pushed on, however, and this past summer she competed on a field course.
“On our last [field archery] run, I finally felt the confidence I had been seeking,” she says. “For the first time since that bad fall, I trusted Koda and let him take me around the course without trying to micromanage him. It was the best feeling—total freedom, and that partnership I’ve always wanted.”
Combining Two Passions
Marissa Scalzo has ridden since she was 10 years old, and is also a ground archer.
“Putting my two favorite sports together seemed like a dream come true,” she says. “I think the idea of connecting with a horse so closely that you could shoot off them seemed amazing and almost unattainable. I was not expecting mounted archery to help with my confidence. In fact, I almost expected the opposite; I was sure that I would never be comfortable enough in my seat at a canter to be able to shoot a bow!”
But Scalzo found that confidence, and she now shoots at a canter on whatever horse she’s riding, since she doesn’t own one herself.
“I feel much more confident riding different horses, knowing that my seat is strong, my touch is light, and my mind is connected with my mount, all thanks to mounted archery.”
I, too, was a nervous rider due to a bad fall some years ago. Something about dropping those reins makes you pick up confidence and put down fear. Concentrating on a target and aiming makes your nerves go away. Within a year I was cantering, and not just down the archery lane. I now have the courage to canter down the trail.
Even if you don’t lack confidence, mounted archery gives you a strong bond with your horse and heightens your skill as a rider. It also has a way of drawing people into equine activities.
“My husband wasn’t really into riding until we watched a video of horse archery,” says Kristen Andersen, co-leader of Northwest Nomad Warriors in Washington State. Her husband, Canyon Coppola, is now the leader of a club and on the Board of Directors for Horse Archery USA. The sport offers great potential for couples or families to enjoy an activity together on horseback.
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!