So here’s a question I get asked fairly often: how do horseback archery competitions work?
Well……it’s a bit complicated.
There are a fair few different types of competition, depending on which parts of the world you take the tradition from. Let’s start with the first type we were introduced to, the Korean competition.
Hailing from, well, Korea, this competition is usually run on a straight track over 90 or 150 metres. All the targets are near ground level between 5 and 7 metres from the track. The traditional Korean targets are things of beauty, multi-coloured and with a painted animal at the centre which looks to me like a tiger but I am reliably informed is in fact a boar…they’re not stripes, but tusks, apparently……
The rules vary a bit depending on which type of run you are doing, but generally you have to start with your arrows in a quiver and you can’t draw one until you’ve passed the start line. Most Korean competitions start with a single target halfway down the track. Then they can change to two (angled) targets, or 3 or 5. Usually if five targets are used, the run is 150m long and you are allowed to start with one arrow nocked. There are also speed points available, but not unless you have actually hit a minimum number of targets.
There are various versions of this competition explained on the IHAA website, but as their diagrams are rather dull, I’ve found some prettier ones from this site (which also has a lot of interesting photographs you might want to look through)
Next up, the Hungarian competition. I’m sure you can figure out where this one comes from……
Here’s a picture of the course.
Main difference from the Korean is the height of the targets, and that they tend to be circular. You have 3 faces to shoot at (unless you’ve got a fancy mechanical target that turns as you run along the track like our friends in France) so this involves some forwards and back shots, making it a bit more technical. Again there are speed points, more information on the Hungarian competition here
Then there’s the Turkish style competition, also known as Qabaq. This involves shooting at a target overhead, using a blunt arrow or flu-flu. Flu-flu arrows look very pretty as well as having a silly name, since they are designed to make a somewhat gentler return to the ground than your average arrow……
As you can see from the pic, this can also involve shooting at a target flat on the floor too. Often you have to pick an arrow up from an arrow stand before you shoot it. And there might be another knock down target to aim for after the overhead one. I have never tried this, but there is a certain technique to learn with regards to rider position when aiming overhead, as can be seen in this illustration…..
You might want to practise that a time or two with your horse first to get him used to it……
Another competition I’ve never tried but would love to is the Polish track, sometimes called a hunt track. Having watched a couple of competitions involving this, it basically looks like a cross country course with targets instead of jumps. So would be a good test of horsemanship. Targets are randomly spaced out along the track, not necessarily all on the same side or the same distance away. Sometimes 3D targets are used. Hard to find a handy little diagram of this, but here’s a photo of my friend Claire looking cool on the DHA Hunt Track in Sweden.
More information about this Swedish competition, along with some video so you can really see what it’s all about here (the site from which the above photo is stolen).
Those are the main styles of competition you’re likely to encounter. There are more. The Jordanian involves holding a bow and a sabre, which sounds pretty dangerous to me, and as well as not cutting off any fingers, stabbing your horse or dropping any weapons you need to shoot an arrow at a target on one side then pick up a smaller target from the ground with your sabre on the other.
Then there’s the Masahee, a bit like the Korean but with targets up on stands you knock over shooting a blunt arrow, that get progressively smaller with each run. The Mamluk course is one of the more challenging, with targets at various distances, flat on the ground and on the offside. Other variations on a Korean course have been developed by different countries, such as the Texas Triple or the Australian Triple. The Japanese have their Yabusame competitions using asymmetrical bows. I do not pretend to understand how these work. A subject for another blog post, perhaps…..
And finally there’s something called the Mogu competition. This involves one rider towing a large white ball behind his horse at a gallop with other riders behind trying to hit it with ink-covered blunted arrows. This sounds like enormous fun, but of course I’ve never tried it. I have however heard it described by someone who has as the most terrifying few minutes of his life…..
Just desensitizing the horse to having this large white thing bumping along behind him sounds like a challenge in itself, although judging by the speed of the horses in some of the videos I’ve seen, perhaps they didn’t bother!
To really give you an idea of how all this works, in the video below you can see footage from the 11th Horseback Archery World Championships in Korea last year. First is the Korean single shot discipline, then the double shot, then serial shot. Next is the Masahee and you can see just how small the targets get. After that the Qabaq and then finally the Mogu . Oh, and lots of flamboyant costumes, dancing and some truly awesome hats……