Qualities to look for…
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is, “what kind of horse is best for mounted archery?” There is no single breed that I have come across as being the “best” mounted martial arts horse. It is not in the breed as much as it is about the horses disposition and personality. I have seen people practice mounted archery on Arabians, Quarter Horses, Mustangs, Island horse breeds, Mangalarga Marchadors (a gaited Brazilian breed), Fox Trotters, Rocky Mountain Horses, Draft Horses, Thoroughbreds, and the list could go on.
Almost any calm, sensitive, willing horse, can be used for mounted archery; however, there are some qualities that I look for:
- A smooth, regular, and controllable slow canter, working canter, and gallop.
- Trained by the use of leg aids, and not dependent on the bit/reins for direction or rate of speed.
- Needs to be well socialized and be able to work with other horses. Confidence is a plus, because while working in a group there is a constant movement of horses needing to run away from the group, and then calmly walk back to the group.
In all of my experiences with mounted archery, I have found that the horse is the most difficult aspect of mounted archery. You are not working with a peice of equipment, you are working with another mind. Being turned into your horse, and them into you, is the hardest part. Often times, even the best archers will do poorly at events if they are at odds with the horse they are riding. Horses have good and bad days, just like people, which is very important to keep in mind when working with, and training, your horse.
My personal preference is for Arabians. Their agility, speed, sensitivity, and stamina, make up all of the qualities I look for in my personal horseback archery and horseback martial arts horses. I also feel that the Mangalarga Marchadors make a very desirable breed because of their willing dispositions, and smooth movements. But as I said before, just about any breed can get the job done, these are just two breeds that I prefer.
Horse Training Help and Techniques:
I am defiantly a believer of the so called “natural horsemanship.” Beginning any high energy activity with a horse requires a lot of patience and trust for both the horse and rider. One of the first things I recommend for people who want to train their horses for horseback archery or horseback martial arts, is to take it slow. This does not necessarily mean that you will need to take a long time to train your horse, but rather just try to help it seem enjoyable to the horse by not pushing them beyond their own individual comfort zone. Desensitizing a horse to anything, whether it is tack, new obstacles, a bow and arrow, or even guns, I feel it is better to take baby steps than to smother them with the stimulation.
The long and slow process I go through when starting a horse for archery:
Riding Tips while doing Horseback Archery:
The “Two Point,” also known as a “Half Seat” or “”Galloping Position” or “Jump Position,” is a way of setting yourself up above the horses withers while absorbing movement and shock through your legs rather than your bum. The rider supports his or her body using leg and stirrup, keeping the heels down, closing the hip angle, and lifting the buttocks out of the saddle while keeping the head and shoulders up. This also frees up the riders weight off of the horses back, giving the horse more freedom in their movements. I have found this to be an ideal location for shooting because it is where you will find the least amount of movement and/or interference from the horse while shooting. Two point, however, is much more easily accomplished when riding in an English, or horseback archery saddle. It is difficult in Western type saddles because of the way their seats are meant to sit further back on the horse, with the stirrups more forward, and the horn can sometimes be in the way. When I shoot, I am either in a two-point position, or a somewhat modified two-point.
Managing the reins:
I recommend using either a short loop rein, or a long loop rein with a knot tied in it. In the picture above, Holm has a short loop reins tied in a knot at the end, with a kind of attachment he calls a “pig-tail” so that he can keep it under his belt. The key is to have reins that are short enough around the horses neck so that when you let go, they do not slip down to the horse’s legs. But if you want a quick retrieval, keeping an end tucked in a belt is a sure way to keep them in place so that you can find them where and when you need them.
Managing the Bow:
A common question I receive is, “what do you do with your bow while riding the horse, when not shooting?” Well, Often, I will ride with one hand, and hold my bow upright with the other. Holding the bow upright helps keep the bow from bouncing into the horse unintentionally. I found a picture of Miyagawa-san from Japan, holding his bow upright and in one hand, while managing the reins in the other (this works best if your horse can neck-rein).
Other times, I find myself holding the bow in one hand, with the reins between my index, middle, and/or ring finger, of the same hand:
But when needed, I will use my other hand if I need two hands worth of strength. Because I first learned riding English, I most often ride with my reins between my thumb/index, and ring/pinky. In the picture below, Typhoon was trying to take off after the mare in front of us. So, I had to use both my hands to be able to keep him back. Notice how my bow still remains upright: