Mounted Archery for the fearful rider – HaliPawz

I had my first mounted archery lesson last week.  I had talked about it in a previous blog sharing how I’m not a great rider but I wanted to change that this year.  It was a freezing cold day for April in Missouri so I was happy to have half of the training inside the wedding barn at Von Holten Ranch.  Complete side note; if you are planning a wedding or need an event space near Sedalia / Mora, Missouri and want a beautiful venue ran by two really great people, definitely check them out!

Brandy Von Holten is a GREAT educator.  She has a way of making everything fun, she’s down to earth, but she makes sure you truly understand what it is she is teaching.  The first half we did classroom type training where she broke down the basics, not only of mounted archery, but of archery in general.  She put in a ton of time to make it easier for us to acquire the items needed for this sport and when something wasn’t available the way she thought it should be, she just designed it herself and had them ready for us.  I admire anyone who can think a couple of steps ahead to make a solution of a problem because I feel I have those traits in areas I excel in.

Luke and Beau waiting for their turn

Luke and Beau waiting for their turn to learn Mounted Archery

When we broke for lunch, I won’t lie, I was apprehensive about continuing.  I’m not sure if it’s because it was starting to get real and we were going to be putting our education into practice, including involving our horses or if it was because it was all so overwhelming in general.  To qualify for the beginning student level in the international division, you have to be able to make all your shots in a full canter (for non horse people….a run).  Ummmm, I’m the fearful rider!  I don’t even canter my horse in general, let alone dropping the reins and shooting a bow and arrow!  All I kept thinking is…..nope, this isn’t for me.

We started eating lunch and I openly discussed my concerns with my friend who was also learning this sport.  I knew Brandy would do everything in her power to keep us safe.  I knew she was passionate about the sport and truly believed it was something I could do, so I sucked it up, finished my lunch and pushed past the nerves in my stomach to go out and start the second half of our training.

One thing we learned QUICKLY is our “mounted archery bow” we purchased on Etsy WAS NOT going to cut it for this sport.  Brandy had a bow for us to try as well as she tried ours and we laughed at how different they were.  We initially chose them because we didn’t want to put a lot of money into something we might not enjoy.  Needless to say, it was a good thought, but was a true fail.  The style of shooting was almost impossible with the bows we chose.  We learned to shoot off our thumb, a very traditional style of shooting, but also very difficult if you have the wrong bow.

Archery Target

Not the right bow for Mounted Archery

The bow is cute and would probably  be good for a young girl learning archery so I might put it up for sale after I get my correct bow, but I can guarantee I will not be using it to shoot from my horse.

After some clear instructions from Brandy, it came time to shoot from the ground.  Without even thinking, when we had been practicing at an archery range, not once did I think….”hey, you’re gonna be on a horse, so you should probably stand facing one direction and shooting to the side!”  I also felt a little crazy because Brandy said to wear our hat or riding helmet if we were planning on wearing them when we were riding our  horse.  I ride with a helmet, so here I am, freezing cold, gloves on, hoodie up to cover my ears from the cold wind, and then my crazy riding helmet!  I say crazy because, let’s face it, if you’re a plus size rider with a round face, you know there is NO good helmet for you.  Even the “low profile” helmets look bad on a round face.

It came my turn to shoot having switched over to using Brandy’s bow instead of my Etsy one and I discovered something.   I’m a decent shot!  Please understand, it’s painful to shoot off the thumb and it’s difficult to shoot the right way but thanks to great explanations from Brandy, I was able to get off some pretty good shots.  I was proud of myself!  A lot of it is hand positioning and shooting based on a feeling but it was a lot of fun watching the arrow fly from the bow and hit the target!

First attempt with a Korean Recurve Bow

My FIRST attempt at shooting a Korean Recurve Bow with off the thumb shooting. Do you see the RED??

We had a lot of fun goofing around, trying to stay warm, while everyone had a shot.  The nice thing was, every woman there was encouraging each other, it didn’t matter if we knew each other or had met for the first time, we encouraged, we worked with each other to help each other understand the techniques, and mostly, we laughed.  We laughed a lot.  We laughed at how many times we dropped the arrows, we laughed when we were being silly, and we were all comfortable being ourselves.  We ranged in ages, we ranged in riding disciplines, we ranged in riding abilities but none of it mattered.  We were all there because we were excited about learning something new.  Something we could do with our horse.

Mounted Archery Practice on the ground

My second attempt at shooting

We had “mastered” (and yes, I use the term very loosely) the art of shooting on the ground, so it was time to tack up our horses.  I am not quick at tacking up my horse (for the non horse people, it means putting the saddle on them) in general, but when the nerves kick in, I feel like I’m even slower.  Luke was antsy and kept pacing, which made me more nervous, which made him pace more….do you see the pattern?  My stomach was doing flip flops so I had to run to the restroom.  By the time I was done tacking up, everyone else had been tacked up and already on their horse.

I went and brought my mounting block over and had a little panic attack.  I was so excited to try this and panic just hit me.  I couldn’t bring myself to throw my leg over.  Thankfully, Brandy, sensing my concerns AND having worked with me and Luke in the past, walked me through it a few times, showed me Luke really could care less about the arrow flying from the bow near him, and, in time, I mounted my horse.  The irony is, the minute my butt is in the saddle, I’m usually good again.  It’s just the swing over that sets my heart racing.  I took a couple of spins around on Luke to get familiar with him and the arena, then it was our turn to go through the pattern and shoot.  I have NEVER been led on my horse, so I was a little nervous about it, thinking I would panic, but I was handed the bow and we set off down the lane.  I came to the first shot and I wasn’t thinking about not having the reins in my hand, I was thinking about shooting this bow and arrow correctly.  I didn’t shoot it correctly the first time.  I held it too long and didn’t shoot great.  The second time I had to pause my walk, get reset, and then shoot.  My second shot wasn’t great either.  Third time was the charm.  I started my walk, I pulled back and let the arrow fly.  It HIT!   I shot a bow and arrow FROM MY HORSE AND  HIT the target.  The pride I felt was a little crazy.  I did it.  I fought past my fears and did it.

Click here to watch a hilarious video of my first shot…..my helmet looked crazy but wait until the end, you’ll see the pride in my final shot. Thanks Brandy for the fun video!

I know I’m a long way from my goals but I am taking the first steps.  Not only am I learning mounted archery but I’m agreeing to compete with friends in a country tough challenge at Von Holten Ranch.  I’m setting up lessons with Brandy as well as another great trainer so I can focus on my skills, my nerves, and now, archery.  Until this year, I would always say I owned a horse, but I never felt like I had the right to use the term “equestrian”  This year is going to change.  By the end of the summer I hope to proudly say I am a rider, I am an equestrian, and I am a Mounted Archer!

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Mounted Archery – What AM I thinking? – HaliPawz

Towards the end of last year I made a decision I was going to try Mounted Archery. What the HELL was I thinking?!?! Don’t get me wrong, I think the sport looks amazing and I’m looking forward to trying it, but seriously, me? The one who still competes in the walk – trot division at the fun show? Me, the one who has a panic attack before throwing my foot into the stirrup EVERY time? Now I think it’s smart for me to attempt something where I have to let go of my reins and trust me connection with my horse, trust my ability to balance without falling (yes, I know balance has nothing to do with holding the reins but in my mind it does!), trust myself to do this at any speed faster than a walk? I cannot believe I’m thinking this is a good idea.

I love my horse, Luke. He is an wonderful boy.

I adopted him November 2011 from an amazing horse rescue, Crosswinds Equine Rescue, Inc, and have loved him from the moment he arrived in Kansas City. I took lessons, I worked with him, I try to get him the best feed, I do what every good horse owner should do, except deal with the mental block that keeps me from becoming a better rider. Luke has never done anything to make me feel like he isn’t there for me. Just the opposite really….when I’m in the saddle, he’s different. He’s slower, he’s steady, he seems to sense I want calm, and for the most part, gives it to me. When a stronger rider is on him, he goes into a more spirited version of himself and responds accordingly.

I made a decision last year. I decided I was going to STOP saying “I’m a bad rider” and figure out a way to change it. The first thing is to figure out what I would enjoy doing with Luke. I have learned I don’t truly enjoy trail rides with my friends but I do enjoy the controlled environment of arena work. Now this may be a “what comes first, the chicken or the egg” situation, meaning I might not like trail riding because I’m not confident in the saddle, but if I get better in the saddle, I might enjoy trail riding. Time will tell. The second thing is, I have to pick something or some things to do which will result in me wanting to be in saddle more. I had taken a tracing lesson last year with Brandy Von Holten and truly admire her as a person as well as an equestrian. I saw where she was going to be doing a ground zero archery clinic this spring and my curiosity was piqued. I liked archery as a child, hadn’t done it as an adult, but thought it sounded interesting. A decision was made. I was going to try mounted archery!

I started where every decision seems to lead; the internet. I searched everything I could find on archery, mounted archery, equipment, techniques, etc. I didn’t want to put a lot of money into it in case it wasn’t something I enjoyed and, let’s face it, budget always has to be a factor.

I found a bow for a reasonable price and asked my mom for it for Christmas. Since I’m her favorite daughter (ha ha, now I’ll know which sisters read my blog. I know I’m not her favorite, she loves us all equally….blah blah blah 😂) she, of course, said yes. The bow took a LOT longer to arrive than expected, I won’t go into details but it was ordered the beginning of December for a Christmas delivery and I didn’t get it until February. Once I had it, I needed to find arrows and other items just to get started. I read where real feathers for the fletchings are better but they are also more expensive. I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to shoot this thing! Oh yeah, let’s talk about this bow for a second. Mounted Archery requires you to use a traditional bow, similar to the Mongolian style….with no shelf! It’s bad enough you have to shoot at a target while you are moving, on a horse, but you have to do it with a complicated bow! Again, what am I thinking?

After a long search, I decide to order some arrows off of Amazon. I always make sure to use smile.amazon so a portion of my purchase goes to a rescue of my choice. I have Crosswinds Equine Rescue as my rescue I support. I figure they are too far from me to give of my actual time, so it’s only fitting I give back to them this way. I chose the arrows I did because they were reasonably priced, bright colors, and would be good for basic ground practice in the beginning.

I watched a few YouTube videos to help me understand exactly how to shoot this crazy bow with no shelf. I appreciated BackyardBowyer for his simple approach to teaching how to hold the bow and shoot it. I watched a few of his videos and decided I was going to try the off the thumb method because it made the most sense for grabbing and positioning the arrow while moving. I ordered a leather thumb ring when I ordered the arrows and waited patiently for the to arrive.

My plan was to practice from the ground first before even attempting to add Luke into the equation. Let’s face it, dropping an arrow on my horse would not be a good thing. I found an archery target at Wal-Mart marked down to $8.50 and went to pick it up. I now had everything I needed to attempt to shoot. A friend of mine is also trying this and said we could go out to her dads to try but I was excited so I set the target up on top of my outdoor trash can, walked back about 10 feet (I figured I’d start simple since I live in the city, didn’t want to risk my neighbors) and drew back my first arrow. THUNK! It totally missed my target and bounced off my privacy fence. Oops. Arrow # 2. Repeat of 1. Arrow #3….another repeat. This isn’t looking good for me. Arrow #5 HIT!!! Yes! I could do this! Arrow #6….repeat if 1-4. In total, I hit the target twice. Not a complete fail but not good either. I decided for the sake of my arrows, my privacy fence, and my neighbors safety, I would stop practicing in my back yard until I’m better and find a more suitable place to practice.

I’m nervous beyond belief of this endeavor but also very excited. My archery clinic is in April so I have some time to practice before then.

I’m hoping this is the year I go from “I’m not a great rider” to “I’m looking forward to riding” I’ll still do the fun shows in Oak Grove, MO each month like I have every year. I’ll stay in the walk – trot division this year and I’m ok with it. I may even consider doing some obstacle competitions this year. I just want to enjoy time with my horse ON my horse. I want to focus on moving forward and not letting fear or nervousness keep me from doing something I believe I will truly enjoy.

Have you tried Mounted Archery? Have you ever been nervous mounting? What are some things you enjoy doing with your horse? I’d love to hear your stories. Feel free to share in the comments.

Wish me luck on this new adventure. I’ll keep you posted!