It’s Archery Time

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Quite a lot of people ask me, “What exactly do you do?” The easiest answer is, ‘Have you ever seen the film Brave?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ – well I do what she’s doing when she’s galloping through the woods shooting targets left side, right side and up in the trees.

I started riding when I was about six years old. When I was at school I slacked off quite a lot because I preferred to skive off and come to the stables. When I left school I thought, “What I really want to do is be good enough so that people want to pay me to ride their horses,” and for a while I had a job around the Devon area putting on jousting shows every day. When that finished I came back to Cornwall and was working at the stables when a friend sent me a photo of a guy shooting a bow on horseback and said, “I bet you can’t do that.” I thought, ‘That looks really fun – I’ll just have a go’, so I taught myself. Within about six months I was shooting from canter and I went to my first training session in Hemel Hempsted and competed in my first competition for GB.

There aren’t very many of us, but it’s growing as a sport. There are probably sixty people actively doing it in the UK and about forty active members of the British Horseback Archery Association – I’m the Development Officer and the secretary. We’ve been putting together a series of qualifications so that we can have properly qualified coaches. I’m one of the only coaches in the country who teaches this, and if we want it to grow as a sport we have to keep it very professional. I currently have about seventeen students. A couple of them come regularly from Exeter, there are others who come monthly from Bristol and some who have come down from as far as London for lessons. Lessons are £25 an hour, so they’re a bargain really.

There’s not actually a great history of horseback archery in England. There is some evidence that the Picts may have done it, and that certain Roman troops were both archers and horsemen. But historically it’s more often done across Eastern Europe, and the Japanese have been doing it for over 2000 years. They still do it, but it’s spiritual for them, so it’s very uncommon to do it competitively over there. It’s more of a kind of meditation – a side of Kyudo –the Art of Archery. I have experienced a bit of a Zen feeling a few times – you sometimes get a moment when you release the arrow and you know in that second that it’s going bang in the centre of the gold. It doesn’t happen very often, but that’s the feeling that you’re looking for – when you know that it’s right.

This year we have eight people on the GB team. We’re part of the European Grand Prix, so we send teams off to all the competitions. There are three countries hosting this year – the first is Poland, which we’ve already done, and this week there’s a competition called the Swedish Hunt Track where you just gallop through the woods and shoot targets. Then the next leg of the Grand Prix is in France later on this month. When you go in for a competition, you don’t bring your own horse – you’re allocated one – so it’s just you and a horse you don’t know. That’s part of the skill. In open field courses you might have half an hour to an hour to get to know your horse, so there’s an advantage to being the host country – you get to ride your own horses.

In September we’re hosting the BHAA National Championships on the weekend of 19th and 20th, so we’re hoping people will come along and watch the competition and find out a bit about what we’re doing. And maybe get involved. Anyway, Dolly is warmed up now, so I’ll show you what we do.

Come on Mrs Beast – it’s archery time…

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The BHAA National Championships will be held on the weekend of 19-20th September 2015 at Old Mill Stables in Lelant Downs: http://www.oldmillstables.com/

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