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Young Archers Training Camp 2017

Last week saw us back on the road to the Domaine de Gauchoux near Limoges in France, for the second edition of the training camp for young archers where we had such fun  last year.

This year, CMA was represented by Aliénor again, as well as her sister Éowyn, and Alex Austin, who was hoping to gain her Club Coach qualification by the end of the week. After a long drive down through France on Thursday, we awoke on Friday morning to gorgeous sunshine.

The morning’s session was unmounted, with the kids rotating between different activities and coaches. We we joined by the brilliant Emil Eriksson again, as well as French and British coaches .

In the afternoon, the ponies arrived and again in groups they worked on skills for the Hungarian track. Ali was very happy to be riding Nadjie again…..

Saturday kicked off with a warm up session with Fred Luneau, involving lots of running, jumping and shouting. Then it was off to the sand school for practise on the Mamluk track and the qabaq.

Unfortunately the Qabaq training was cut short when we had to dismantle the pole as one of the arrows got stuck in the top!

On Sunday, all this training was put to the test when everyone took part in the current  IHAA postal match (Hungarian and Mamluk)

Then on Monday we got to see how the French competitions work, with the students competing at the Club 1 Korean and Hungarian events and Éowyn got to compete in the Club 3 event, 3 runs at the walk and a final one at a faster pace. She wanted this to be a mere trot, but the pony had other ideas!

Ali and Alex shot well enough to get Student 4 scores in the Korean and Éowyn came second in her competition, so all pleased with that.

Tuesday saw us on the hunt track with 3D targets, which not all the horses were too keen on. Even Éowyn got in on the action….

Then in the afternoon, all that was left was for Alex to do the final bit of testing on her Club Coach logbook, which she passed.

As well as all the archery action, we had the usual excellent catering and accommodation in yurts, and some pleasant evenings chatting and drinking. The kids all got on really well, and Éowyn struck up a friendship with Isabel, a Swedish archer who can give the adults a run for their money (despite only being a year or two older than Éowyn). So now our youngest member has a role model to emulate!


So a fabulous week, we all learnt a lot and made some new friends. Here’s to the next one 🙂 Finally, some video to give you more of a flavour of the event:


Training a horse for horse archery

Another subject we get asked about a lot. So here’s a bit about how we do it……

Firstly, there is no ideal horse for horse archery. We have had supposedly “bombproof” cobs run away in panic at the sight of a raised bow and “flighty” Thoroughbreds standing around totally not bothered by arrows being shot from their back. We think the most important thing (as with any equestrian discipline) is to have a horse that trusts you and to make sure you have a good solid foundation with the horse so that he knows you are someone who is up to the job of keeping him safe.

This does not have to be a long process; we have shown riding school horses within an hour that they can be OK with what we are asking them to do. But equally, with some horses, you can’t rush things, if they seem to be getting more anxious as time goes on, you need to stop and give them “take up time”, time to process what is going on. Sometimes a break of a few days can make all the difference, sometimes all that is needed is a few minutes with the pressure off so they can absorb what’s happening.

If you want to train your own horse to be OK with having arrows shot from someone on his back at a canter, you need to start with a horse that knows the rules on the ground. He should focus his attention on you, if you don’t have that, it is pointless to even begin a training session. He should follow you on a loose lead rein, keeping the “float in the rope” so he moves when you do and the lead rope never goes taut. He should stop and back up when asked without you having to pull on his head. He should be able to stand still calmly without fidgeting or trying to wander off and do his own thing. He should yield his quarters or shoulders when asked. If your horse doesn’t do all of this, we recommend that you start with teaching him how. There are plenty of trainers and websites out there who can help you with this, here is just one of them.

Once you have the basics in place, you can start showing him some of the strange equipment. We usually use our plastic Snake bows since if something goes wrong, we’re not risking damage to an expensive bow. It is also a good idea to use blunt arrows to begin with. Show him the bow, let him sniff it, start to gently move it around, initially in front of his head where he can see it with both eyes, then to each side. Some horses will move away from a bow held up or towards their side, this could be a result of learning to move away from a lunge whip for example. We need to teach them not to move if someone is doing something like handing their rider up a bow, so  hold the bow up as he moves and just follow the movement calmly until the horse stops, in which case you immediately lower the bow and move it away. In this way the horse will learn that not moving away is the way to get the stimulus removed and the pressure taken off.

You need to do the same with your arrows and any other equipment you plan to use such as a quiver and don’t forget to show him the target itself. Some horses are sensitive to sounds as well as sights so they may react to the sound of the arrows clattering together – we had one who didn’t like the sound of an arrow being drawn from a quiver – so better to get them used to this on the ground before getting on board!

The next thing to do is to introduce the horse to the sight and sound of arrows being shot at a target. Have someone shoot some arrows and lead your horse towards them, on a loose lead, always of course in the safe areas behind the archer. Give the horse plenty of time to process what’s going on. If he needs to move away, don’t try and hold him in place as this just adds to any anxiety he may be feeling. I like to do this on a long lead rope so the horse has plenty of room to move away if he feels he has to. Make sure your archer knows to stop shooting immediately if necessary!

Then walk the horse up and down behind the archer in both directions so he can see the action out of each eye. Even if you yourself are only be going to be shooting right-handed, it is always useful to have a horse who can be used for a left-handed archer too! Again, at this stage if the horse feels the need to speed up a bit if he’s feeling anxious, have a long enough lead rope so he can do this without you having to let go. If he really tries to run away, you’ll be able to disengage his quarters and bring him to a stop if you’ve done your groundwork. We tend to do all of the desensitising work in just a headcollar (actually we do pretty much everything in just a headcollar). The last thing you want to do is inadvertently jab a horse in the mouth when he’s worried if he’s wearing a bridle and bit.

Once your horse is fine with all this, repeat the exercise with someone in the saddle. If you have a trained horse available, get yours to follow him along a run with a rider shooting calmly in walk. Again, it is best to keep a totally loose rein and if he wants to speed up, let him. Leave plenty of space between the horses to allow for this.

The next step is to hold a bow whilst mounted on your horse, who by this stage will hopefully not be worried about it. Hold it out on each side of the horse so he can see it on both sides. If he’s OK with this, draw it (being careful not to dry-fire it of course).

Watch your horse carefully; his ears in particular can tell you how he is handling the situation, if it becomes too much, go back a few steps until he is comfortable again. It is very important not to overface a horse and be prepared to take things at a pace he can handle.

The final step is of course to actually shoot an arrow from your horse’s back. Hopefully by the time you are ready to do this he will have seen arrows in flight and heard the sound of them hitting the target (some horses do not like this at all at first) so this should not be too much of a shock. Be prepared for him to jump or flinch the first time or two, leave the reins alone, give him room to move. We recommend doing this in an enclosed space such as an arena for the first time in case he rushes  forward. You may wish to have someone on the ground by his head (on the side away from the target) but we have found it counterproductive to have someone holding the horse’s head since again it can raise their anxiety if they feel trapped. Some horses will throw their head up at first, generally because they are not happy about the sound of the arrow hitting the target. If you are at all worried about  shooting from your horse for the first time, find someone more confident to do it for you ( we recommend a teenager for this bit!) as you don’t want your nervousness to communicate itself to the horse.

 Another important thing to work on as well as all of the above is riding with no reins, giving your horse the responsibility for maintaining speed and direction without a contact, and  introducing voice commands for go and whoa. The less you need to do as a rider the easier it will be for your  horse. If letting go of both reins is too much at first, try riding one handed and teaching your horse to neck rein (invaluable for getting down to the start of the run with a handful of bow and arrows anyway). Perhaps letting go of the reins will be easier if you find something else for your hands to do!

The rider moving around in the saddle is another thing your horse will need to get used to.  Some of the forward and back shots require a lot of movement – as do some of the more unusual shots such as that for the qabaq event. As with everything, start at a standstill, (without a bow at first) then at walk and make sure your horse is comfortable with everything at this pace before increasing the speed.

If you are careful and confident your horse should pick everything up and be able to cope with it all fairly easily. If you are not confident with shooting around your horse, or have not yet learned how to shoot (or done basic range safety), get help from a qualified BHAA coach. In the meantime, you can still work on the groundwork and ridden aspects of training your horse. Be safe and have fun 🙂


All a-quiver

So, quivers for horseback archery. People seem to be asking me about this a lot recently so I thought I’d try to get some information all in one place.

First off, they are somewhat difficult to find, at least in the UK. Standard archery quivers tend not to be a good idea, largely because they’ve been designed for an archer standing still on the ground and we really don’t do much of that. So you don’t want something that’s going to flap about too much as you gallop up the track, and you don’t want your arrows rattling around inside it or coming out all at once when you grab for one of them.

You can get quivers designed for field archery or bow hunting, they tend to have a better design for holding arrows immobile, and some of the traditional bow shops such as Alibow also sell quivers suitable for mounted archers. BowTack quivers have an extensive range, but they are in the US. There are a few other people around the world who make some beautiful quivers, Etsy is the place to look for some of these. This is mine which I had custom made by Knavish Designs in Australia, so the postage was considerable, but it was worth it. It has loops for 6 arrows, plus a pocket on the front for a few more. It attaches to a belt, sits on the right hip of a right handed archer (so on the opposite side from the bow hand) and has a strap to fasten it around the thigh to keep it in place.

Another style of quiver to be worn on the hip is this one, made for us by a  friend of ours more usually to be found making western tack, Sinjun Mae Leathercraft, it is longer so you have less of the arrow shaft sticking out the top and has room for about 12 arrows, held secure by the looped leather strip inserted into the top.

We have also experimented with making our own quivers. This style is designed to be worn on the same side as the bow hand, with arrows angled forwards rather than back, so needs to be long enough to avoid having too much of the arrow sticking out and getting in the way. I made this by folding a piece of leather in half, stitching it down one side and across the bottom, then making an insert with a folded strip of leather to hold the arrows in place. I’ve also seen the top done with bits of knotted leather thong, as shown in the second two photos below, a quiver made by Dan of the South Downs Horse Archers, a design shamelessly copied by us. Fairly simple to do (but hard on the fingers if you’re not used to sewing leather!), then you simply attach it to a ready-made belt.

But be warned, some horses don’t like the end of these flapping about (even with a piece of leather thong securing the bottom corner to the belt for a bit more stability) as they need to be worn higher round the waist and are not therefore attached to the rider’s thigh.

The final style that I have seen is a back quiver.  Legolas and Katniss et al seem to favour these on screen. But for horseback archery of course, the main consideration is that of safety. If you use a regular back quiver and you take a tumble, you risk your arrows falling out over your shoulder and that could be unpleasant if you happen to land on them. So the way to work this is again individual slots for each arrow to keep them in place, and the bottom half of the quiver keeps the points from stabbing you in the back.

Of course if you’re still hopelessly confused by the choice of styles and don’t know where to start, you can simply try shoving your arrows through a belt or sash (taking care where the points are in relation to yourself and the horse) to start with and see how you get on. Some archers prefer this approach to using a quiver at all.

And the BHAA is working on a prototype quiver design so hopefully soon you’ll be able to buy one on their website. Watch this space!

Finally, a selection of quiver photographs taken at various archery competitions, some of which seem to be home made according to an archer’s preference.  And yes, one of them is stuffed with hay to keep the arrows still!


Our members – Vincent

Hello, my name is Vincent and my horseback archery didn’t start with any equine activities at all, in fact I started with my local archery club back in 2014, shooting target in the most part. I then found field shooting of interest as it had an instinctive element to it, and broke routine. It was much later after many offers of going to try riding from a family member I decided to go , and I wished I had of done it sooner. Shortly after a member within the mounted archers (Nicola), who is also a target archer, suggested that I give mounted archery a try after expressing a lot of interest.

I have had an amazing time so far! I am aiming to study for club horseback archer this year, and also would like to be able to pass archery knowledge onto others in the future. I’ve had a lot of help from some pretty amazing members, with a lot of my shortfalls in knowledge, and know none of it would be possible without them. Live, experience and learn!


Our members – Nicola


I’m Nicola and I’ve not been doing this very long! I took up target archery in May, and Horseback Archery in July 2016. After lots of practice sessions with the Cotteswold Mounted Archers I went with some of our other members to the Nationals, in September. After passing my Club Horseback Archer qualification, as a disabled rider I was eligible to compete in the walk classes – which to my surprise I went on to win! This gave me a taste for more, and my goal for 2017 is to compete in canter classes against able-bodied riders. I’m studying for my Intermediate Horseback Archer qualification and plan to become a club coach next.


Back to Beaumont

A couple of days before Christmas we were back at the Centre Equestre du Pays Beaumontois in south west France for another day’s coaching. A couple of friends who live near there brought their horses along for a look at what it’s all about.

And another couple of friends had a go at mounted archery for the first time

In the afternoon we had fun and games with the kids, they tried arrow pick ups and shooting at balls balanced on cones, some of them were very good at it!

Roll on the summer, when we can go back and do some more 🙂


BHAA National Championships 2016

On September 17th and 18th the BHAA National Championships were held at Old Mill Stables in Cornwall for the second year running. So most of the members of Cotteswold Mounted Archers made  the long trip down there, although due to financial and work constraints, we didn’t take our horses this time. Our newest member, Nicola, was already there when we arrived, having gone down a couple of days earlier to ensure she’d have time to do her assessment for Club Archer before the competition began. She easily passed her assessment, despite having only taken up the sport a couple of months ago.


Day one started with horse tryouts, followed by the first group of competitors doing the Hungarian competition, using a brand new target all the way from Poland. After lunch we then had the new Walk Course competition, for the younger archers and Nicola, who won the class. Eowyn came fourth, but still won the “who can get the most golds” competition she had going with Nicola, with I believe a bar of chocolate at stake……..



The day then finished with a second group of archers doing the Hungarian competition. Ali, sticking to the Tolkien-themed horse names, rode a cob called Bilbo and Alex got Tia, a very marish mare,  complete with sparkly browband.

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After a pleasant evening in the pub for dinner and chat, we were up early again on Sunday morning for day two. In the morning was the Korean competition, two runs of single shot, two of double and finally two of triple shot. Then in the afternoon was the Aussie Triple competition for the student grade archers, followed by the Mamluk for the HA grade competitors. The local BBC news cameraman had even arrived for this last stage, to film a few runs and interview a couple of the riders. We did have to stop a run at one point when he decided to stroll up to one of the targets to position his camera next to it!!

Al and Éowyn were fitted out with our new GoPro helmet cam, some footage from that (with a lot of talking from Éowyn) as well as the rest of the competition is here:

Then all that remained was to announce the winners. Overall winner and new British Champion was Simon Harding, followed by Oisín Curtis of Old Mill Stables in second and one of his students, 15 year old Amy O’Connor in third.


CMA came away with a first and fourth in the walk class (Nicola and Éowyn) and third and sixth in the Australian Triple (Alex and Aliénor).



Quick trip to France

We just got back from a couple of weeks’ holiday in France and of course there was some mounted archery involved. Ali went back to our old club for a couple of lessons with her French instructor, John, and he says she’s made some good progress.

DSC_2111 (2)During her second lesson, they tried jumping and shooting which looks like a lot of fun. Ali hit the target every time 🙂

DSC_2825 (3)Then last Sunday we spent a day at the Centre Equestre at Beaumont du Périgord with some old friends running a horseback archery clinic. Initially it was supposed to be me spending a couple of hours doing some coaching with an English friend, but when Isabelle who  runs the place found out I am now a qualified coach, she organised a whole day with more people. Was great fun, and of course we had the traditional 2 hour French lunch with BBQ and wine…….

DSC_2258 (2)Our youngest member joined in too and did really well, she even managed to hit one of the flying targets (unlike the rest of us!)

DSC_2223 (2)We did lots of unmounted practise first, moving and shooting, bouncing on a trampoline, playing team games (Team France beat Team GB!) and generally having fun.

DSC_2180 (2)Then after lunch they got on some horses and did a few more games for improving balance (and giving people  something else to do with their hands so they let go of the reins )

DSC_2294 (2) DSC_2394 (2)Then on to the mounted shooting, everyone did really well, starting at walk then moving on to faster paces if they wanted to……

DSC_2500 (2) DSC_2505 (2)DSC_2487 (2) DSC_2524 (2)DSC_2496 (2)We even introduced them to the Mamluk course, which they all enjoyed. A great day’s coaching, and they’ve asked us to come back the next time we’re in the area 🙂


GB v NL match

DSC_0826 (2) Last weekend saw us on the road to Cornwall again for the latest match in the BHAA International series. A team from Holland came over for a three-way tournament with a GB team and a GB under 18 team. Alex was on the GB senior team, and as of last Thursday, so was Ali (at the grand old age of 15), as one of the other adults had to drop out.

So, cramming the car full of camping gear, archery gear and the obligatory case of cider from our sponsor (and cheese from Alex’s sponsor), we headed down the M5 to Old Mill Stables, near St Ives, or nearly as far as you can go south west without the car getting wet. One day we really should get to go to a comp that’s not a stupidly long drive away. Although it was a lot further for the Dutch!

We got to the stables before dark, threw the tent up and went to the pub.  No sign of anyone else, so we had a quick pint and retired to bed. The next morning we were up early, largely due to the cockerels at the stables who apparently believe that morning starts at 4 am when it’s still dark……

As usual, there was a fair amount of standing around chatting to be done before some horses emerged down at the archery field and the process of matching mounts to archers began. Ali started off on Dolly, who is a mare very much with a mind of her own, and having never had a left-handed archer on board before, decided she didn’t really want to go down the run that way round. So we went to plan B which was an equally feisty mare called Tia who seemed to be permanently in season. Alex rode a nice little pony called Charlie who was of course remarkably straightforward compared to the mares……

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After lunch (Cornish pasties) we did the Hungarian competition. This being something we don’t get to practise much, the scores weren’t great. By the end of the day, the under 18 team was in the lead, followed by the Dutch and finally our (mostly) over 18 team.

DSC_0453 (2)The Dutch all rode really well and of course Dolly was as good as gold for one of their team……

DSC_0285 (2)After the competition was over for the day, we retired to the caravan site next door, where the accommodation for the rest of the teams was a lot more civilised than ours, and drank cider and ate cheese. Then in the evening it was time for a trip to the pub for dinner.

Sunday morning kicked off with the Korean competition, our girls did a bit better with this one, but by lunchtime (more pasties) the U18s were still in the lead. That afternoon was the Mamluk competition, this is a more interesting take on the Korean track, with such things as a target on the “wrong” side of the track and one flat on the floor, called a jarmaki. This is a lot of fun, but very challenging. The girls gave it a good go though.

DSC_0740 (2)DSC_0866cThe Queen of the Mamluk course turned out to be Charlotte from the Dutch team who scored amazingly well (if you hit all 4 targets you get extra bonus points) and snatched victory for the visitors away from Team Teen.

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So it was a great weekend, we met some lovely new archers and came away with a bronze medal and some sunburn. Here’s to the next one 🙂


Young archer training camp at Gauchoux

We’e just got back from a fun few days in France, down at the Domaine de Gauchoux near Limoges. This is a big equestrian centre owned by our friend Alan and he has lots of archery tracks set up and plenty of horses to use.

We stayed in yurts on site which are surprisingly warm and comfortable, especially as mine wasn’t one of the ones that lost its waterproof top during the storm we had one night, and were a mere short stagger back from the communal dining (and drinking) room.


The first morning saw us start in the indoor school with drills and skills on the ground. After that we were up in the big sand school with Alan and Oisin (the coach at Old Mill Stables in Cornwall) putting the kids through their paces. This included shooting on the “wrong” side which is every bit as hard as it sounds……

DSC_0406Then after lunch it was time for more warm up activities….


….then horses were retrieved and taken down to the main archery track for a lesson with Emil, a lovely chap and excellent horse archer from Sweden who just happens to be the current world champion. He was showing the kids how to be more effective when it comes to forward and back shots. This involved showing us his foot (and more importantly how much of it should be in the stirrup…..)


…and doing a lot of squirming around on a horse’s back


Next it was time for the kids to put all this into practiseDSC_0527 (2) DSC_0534 (2) DSC_0536 (2)And eventually they even got their bows back!

DSC_0619 (3)So after an informative and fun first day, it was back to the ranch for lots of nice food and some cider from our sponsor….

WP_20160326_20_26_22_Pro (2)Day two, and in the morning we went to visit the castle at Confolens and then on to a field archery course. This proved to be a lot of fun although several of the targets were right by the river so a few arrows went for a swim.

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DSC_0123 (2)Then in the afternoon everyone did the IHAA postal match. All 24 of them. Which meant that the last group was virtually shooting in the dark but never mind, it was a beautiful afternoon.

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Meanwhile, I got to play with one of Alan’s horses who hadn’t been introduced to archery yet. Lovely boy, very sensitive so took him a while to feel OK with what was going on, but we made some progress…….


DSC_0295 (2)After that I spent some time getting two small boys to stop arguing long enough to practise their archery. Then one of the French lads turned up and wanted showing some new stuff so it turned into a bit of a bilingual session.

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Once the last of the postal match competitors had finished their runs (in the dark) we all went back to another nice hot meal and some Soplica 🙂

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Sunday morning meant a circus skills workshop for the kids and messing about in the indoor school shooting for the adults. Spent a fair amount of time learning about different ways to hold arrows in the hand when shooting and different techniques for drawing them from a quiver too. Always good to exchange ideas with other horseback archers……

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Then after lunch it was time for the Hungarian competition so everyone could put their squirming around in the saddle techniques into practise.

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Our genial host Alan doesn’t look too pleased with things in this photo though!

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Again, I spent some time in the afternoon with the “learner” horse. We took him up to the sand school where the two small boys had momentarily stopped arguing long enough to do some shooting practise on a small pony. Big horse soon got the idea that the pointy sticks weren’t going to do him any harm. Small pony already knew this……

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After the competition was finished (before dark this time, clocks had changed overnight) there was time to go up to the hunt track for a quick whizz round. Think everyone enjoyed that 🙂

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On Monday morning it was fairly horrible, weather-wise, so we repaired to the indoor school for some more target practise.  Some of the targets were moving which made it more fun. Somehow, Ali managed to break one of Oisin’s arrows when she hit it as they were both aiming for the same target!

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By lunchtime, people were starting to leave, so we took the obligatory team coaches photo

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After lunch, we sat in the warm by the log burner and Dan (BHAA president and current British champion) showed us loads of useful stuff, like how to fletch arrows and care for the bow properly, and match arrows to bows.

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Then we had one final meal together before an early night and early start for home the next day.

It was a fantastic few days with some great people and we’ve all learned loads. Really hoping it happens again next year…….