Simply put, a horse archer is armed with a bow and arrows and able to shoot while riding from horseback. In Mongolian culture, horseback archery was used for hunting, for protecting livestock, protecting the tribe from outside enemies and for war as horseback archery created a highly-mobile warrior. It was one of the defining characteristics of the Mongol Army – the Mongolian composite bow is a formidable tool with explosive acceleration and velocity and accompanied the Mongol Army as they conquered what became the largest contiguous land empire on earth.
Horseback archery blends speed with accuracy – using a bow requires the rider to let go of the reins with both hands which means that to shoot on the move requires superb equestrian skills.
Historically, horseback archers were eventually rendered obsolete by the maturity of firearm technology although traditional standing archery remained part of Mongolian culture and forms one of the ‘Three Manly Sports’ of Mongolia’s traditional sporting festival of Naadam. You can learn more here – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/mongolian-archery/.
But now, horseback archery is making a comeback in Mongolia through local organisations and groups such as the Mongolian Horseback Archery Association МҮМХХолбоо, the ‘Khan Mongol’ Horse Riders Association, and the Namnaa horse archery academy. They are getting local Mongolians fired up and passionate and wanting to learn the ancient Mongol sport of horseback archery. They are also organsing competitions such as the Spirit Mongolia Open Horseback Archery Tournament and the Khuraldai Falconry Festival. Not only that, but Mongolians are now bringing home medals from international horseback archery competitions.
There are many different disciplines with some being traditional and others quite recently introduced. Disciplines include the Korean event whereby the target is square and contains 5 scoring zones. Arrows must be carried in a quiver and cannot be held in the bow hand. There’s also qabak whereby a target is put on the top of a tall pole and the archer passing the pole at full-speed has to turn in the saddle and shoot the target.
Horseback archery, by its nature, is a very dynamic type of shooting with instinctive aiming. In the words of Anna Sokólska part of an elite group of Polish horseback archers and instructors, ‘Horseback archers don’t use sights. They rely on a combination of muscle memory, hand-eye coordination, arrow trajectory, and subconscious distance calculations to the target.’
What we love about the Mongolian participants is that they are students and doctors and teachers and drivers … and you can join them. If you’re interested in horseback archery, we can book a professional lesson with the Namnaa horse archery academy. Or, if you have more of an interest in the bows and how they are made, you can join in one of our archery workshops with one of Mongolia’s master bow and arrow makers – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/mongolia-day-trips-archery-workshop. Get in touch for details.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes