Horseback archery

Editors note: if you didn’t think archery was hard enough already, Nadeem’s article today looks at the exciting world of Horseback Archery, how it works, and how to take part…


It’s impossible to talk about the Asiatic style of archery without talking of mounted archery – the two are completely interlinked and mounted archery has formed a crucial part of Asian warfare and hunting for over 2500 years. It requires extremely good horsemanship, as you are riding without any rein contact.

The first peoples to use mounted archery were the Assyrians and the Scythians. Mounted archery in war was typically combined with shock cavalry to devastating effect – in 53 BC, the Parthians used this combination to be the only peoples to ever destroy an entire Roman legion at the height of Rome’s power; and in the 13th Century, the Mongols under Chinggis Khaan used this tactic to conquer most of the known world.

Assyrian horse archer

An Assyrian horse archer, without stirrups. Note the forward position of his legs to help stabilise him whilst riding (this is long before the invention of stirrups!)

Mongol Cavalry

Mongol Cavalry engaged in battle. The Mongols have short stirrups and stand up in them, giving them a lot of maneuvrability.

The power of the composite bow and its ease of use from horseback meant that mounted archers were still able to rule the battlefield as late as the 19th Century. In the early days of the American west, American soldiers and settlers would get off one shot from their single shot, muzzleloading rifles; before being cut to pieces by the mounted archers of the Plains Indians such as the Lakota and Comanche. The bow and arrow would be a formiddable weapon until the introduction of repeating firearms in the mid-1800s.

Mounted archery today

Today, mounted archery is a rapidly growing equestrian sport. There are several centres in the USA, a few in the UK, and several more scattered throughout Europe and Asia (in particular, countries such as Germany, Hungary, Poland, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Mongolia, China, and Korea have very good mounted archery associations). Japan is one country which has had an uninterrupted tradition of mounted archery since medieval times, called Yabusame.

Mounted archery has changed from a method of warfare and hunting into a sport. This has resulted in a few changes. Firstly, bows used by modern-day mounted archers are light (under 50 lb). Some have wrongly used this as evidence that historic mounted archers only used bows of 50 lb, but it is not hard to train and build up strength to use heavier bows, even at a full gallop (yes, I am speaking from experience!). The horse is often guided along a track, marked off with rope to keep the horse straight. This is in no way a historical technique. Also, most modern day mounted archers tend to sit in the saddle, whereas historic mounted archers would prefer to stand up in their stirrups in the two-point position, giving them much more maneuvrability.

Mounted archery competitions are held throughout the year in various places. The biggest ones are in Korea (the International Horse Archery Festival – IHAF) and Europe (the European Open Championship of Horseback Archery – EOCHA), smaller competitions are held at various points throughout the year in the USA, Europe, and Asia. Many competitors dress in traditional costume (to match their traditional bow, arrows, and quiver) and the community is very welcoming of beginners.

There are two major types of competition. The Hungarian style and the Korean style. The Hungarian style has only one type of run – you have to hit three targets along the run within a specified time. The targets are: a forward shot, a sideways shot (the easy one!) and a backwards shot (the difficult one!).

The Korean style includes a few different runs. The easiest of these is the single shot – which is just one arrow on one target, a sideways shot. Next in difficulty is the double shot, which is a forwards and a backwards shot. The most difficult is the serial target, which is 5 targets, all sideways shot. This requires you to loose off 5 arrows in a very short amount of time.

The Korean mounted archery style also includes a game called Mogu. In Mogu, the mounted archer chases after a large ball for a target, which is dragged along by another rider. The ball is shot with arrows dipped in ink, and the number of hits is counted as the number of ink stains on the ball. This is very difficult, as it may require the use of offside shots (i.e: shooting to the right if you’re right handed, with your bow arm crossed across your torso and your waist twisted to the right). These offside shots require a great deal of maneuvrability and a light bow.

How to get started in mounted archery

The base for mounted archery is good equitation. It doesn’t matter how good your archery is, if you can’t ride well, you will not be able to do mounted archery. On the other hand, if you ride well but cannot shoot, mounted archery is very easy to pick up. You should learn to control the horse in all gaits and learn to balance properly. If you have your own horse, work on giving cues with the legs, voice, and seat only, and not using the hands. Some horses will naturally rush forwards when you drop the reins. If your horse does this, immediately bring them to a standstill until they have learnt to rush forwards only at your request.

Use a bow which is light. Although certain people have managed to use heavy bows on horseback, even in the modern day, it requires a fair bit of training. You must be able to shoot instinctively, as you will be unable to gap-shoot or use other aiming methods such as sights on horseback – against a target that is moving, relative to your frame of reference.

Blind nocking is an important part of mounted archery, and you should be able to nock your arrows without looking at them. It helps to get arrows with 4 feathers on so it doesn’t matter which way round they are. Many mounted archers use plastic nocks on their arrows which give some indication as to which way to nock the arrow (by feel), but it is certainly possible to use simple self nocks too – I do!

Which bow to get?

This is down to personal preference, but make sure you choose a bow that is lighter than what you are used to. Experienced riders or athletes with a strong core may be able to get away with a bow of the same poundage.

There is also the question of long vs. short draw. In my experience, a longer draw provides better balance, however, a shorter draw allows you to shoot more arrows quickly and is vastly more maneuvrable. At the extreme end of the short draw bows are the Plains Indian bows, with draw lengths often as short as 18 – 22 inches. These bows are extremely handy for forward and offside shots, requiring very little (if any) twisting of the waist.

Looking to get started? Watch out for Nadeem’s horseback archery directory, coming later this week. If you have already signed up to receive email updates, we’ll email you when it’s ready.

Find this article useful? Please spread the word and share it on your favourite social media sites.

Questions or comments? Please leave them below

3 thoughts on “Horseback archery

  1. Interesting and exciting and things I did not know still exist going on today. My problem is hitting the yellow standing stable with 2 feet on the ground.
    Rob these are some exciting books containing archery. You may have read them but maybe your readers would enjoy them:
    1- Genghis Bones on the Hills by Conn Iggulden
    2-Genghis Birth of an Empire ” ” ”
    3-The Archer’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell

    Alan J Sault MD, ABHM

  2. Interesting and exciting and things I did not know still exist going on today. My problem is hitting the yellow standing stable with 2 feet on the ground.
    Rob these are some exciting books containing archery. You may have read them but maybe your readers would enjoy them:
    1- Genghis Bones on the Hills by Conn Iggulden
    2-Genghis Birth of an Empire \" \" \"
    3-The Archer\’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell

    Alan J Sault MD, ABHM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Security Code:

Get More Articles Like This

The Traditional Archery letter is delivered free via email every Friday. Enter your name and email address below to start your free subscription.