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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!