Tag Archives: Yabusame

HBA competitions 101

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……

Traditional Korean target

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)

Korean track

Next up, the Hungarian competition. I’m sure you can figure out where this one comes from……

Here’s a picture of the course.

comp_hungarian_show [1822586]
Hungarian track
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……

bfletch (1)


Qiraj-Qabaq_ Turkish Style
Qabaq style

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.

19551415-Tk93H [1822585]

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.

Tir Jordanien

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!

mogu resized

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……



A brief history……

Mounted archery is often described as an ancient art undergoing a modern revival. So when exactly did this mounted archery idea start then? I decided a bit of research was in order and found out a thing or two….. the following is my somewhat random and incomplete history of horseback archery.

It would seem that mounted archers began to replace charioteers at the end of the Bronze Age and on into the Iron Age. The Assyrians are widely credited as the first to take it up, when they began hunting from horseback with a bow. This would seem to be a logical thing to do once you decide to start riding these creatures that can run so much faster than a man. A bow would have been the best way to bring game down, given the range it allowed. And of course it never took long for hunting skills to transfer to warfare, which was just bringing down a different kind of prey if you think about it.

I found some extracts from what looks like an interesting book online by Robert Drews, all about the beginnings of mounted warfare. According to this, when they first introduced mounted archers into the army in Assyria (which was part of modern day Iraq), they lacked the horsemanship skills needed to control the horse and the bow, so would be in pairs, one rider shooting and the other holding the reins of both mounts. Looks like that’s what’s depicted in this Assyrian relief from about 900BC.

assyrian archers [1490888]
Assyrian archers
However, of necessity, they soon got more proficient and this “lead rein” approach was no longer needed. Another interesting snippet from Robert Drews is the purpose of the large tassel under the horse’s head, as can be seen in the picture below. He maintains this was a type of martingale, the heavy tassel being suspended from the reins so that when the archer dropped his reins to shoot, the martingale’s weight would have fooled the horse into thinking that the rider still held them. Have to say, the horse looks none too happy about this arrangement……

The tassel martingale

Of course the Assyrians were not the only mounted archers getting proficient at the art. The Scythians too were one of the early people to master the art of mounted warfare. First appearing in historical record from about 800 BC, accounts vary as to the extent of their empire, but they seem to have been spread across a large region north of the Black Sea and their land may well have reached as far as the Caspian Sea. So they would have needed horses to get around all that lot…..

Mounted archery required a bow adapted to shooting from the back of a horse so a  composite bow appears to have developed in separate regions but at roughly the same time. A composite bow combines different materials (wood, sinew, and horn)  and utilizes them fully, creating a mechanical tour de force. More about these bows on this website, from which the diagram below is taken.

Asian composite bow

The Parthians, who had an empire in modern Iran from about 250 BC, were also renowned mounted archers. The “Parthian Shot”, in which the archer turns in the saddle to shoot backwards, was described as a contributing factor to their victory over the Romans at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC.

The picture below shows a figure delivering a Parthian shot from the lid of a bronze cauldron of Etruscan (ancient Italian) origin from the sixth century BC. Interestingly the figure seems to be female. Some accounts of Scythian warriors, based on finds of grave goods, indicate that the women may have been as warlike as the men……

Amazon_Parthian_Shot [1490887]
Parthian shot
The peoples of the Asian steppes, most notably the Monguls under Ghengis Khan , perfected the art of mounted warfare over the centuries. The Mongul Empire reached its height in the 13th century. The Mamluks, originally slave warriors of mediaeval Islam , ended up ruling  Egypt and Syria for several centuries until the early 1500s. In Japan, meanwhile, from about the 4th century AD, Samurai warriors developed their own form of mounted archery, yabusame, using tall asymmetric bows.

Samurai mounted archer

I discovered  a  practise in Japan called inuoumono, which involved mounted archers shooting at dogs let loose in a circular arena. Originally intended as a military training exercise, it quickly became popular as a sport. Thankfully Buddhist monks were able to persuade the Japanese nobility to blunt the arrows to avoid killing the poor dogs and eventually it was banned completely in the 19th century.


As for any kind of tradition of mounted archery in our part of Europe, I have been unable to find much. The general consensus seems to be that whilst archers would ride to a battle, they’d dismount once there and shoot on foot. I did find a couple of tantalising glimpses of mounted archers however,  during a recent trip to see the amazing Bayeux Tapestry (which is in fact an embroidery), I noticed this:

Bayeux tapestry

And this is from a mediaeval manuscript showing the Battle of Bouvines in 1214:

WP_20150805_20_29_19_Pro 1
Battle of Bouvines

And even this, from the 14th century Taymouth Hours, another woman looking like she is shooting a longbow from horseback:

Taymouth hours
Taymouth Hours

As time went on, inevitably, as with its unmounted counterpart, mounted archery was rendered obsolete in the historical arms race thanks to the increasing use of firearms. But luckily for us, in recent years it has undergone a bit of a renaissance, which has been credited largely to the efforts of a Hungarian, Lajos Kassai.

So there you are, the results of my wanderings round the internet finding out more about the origins our favourite sport. I leave you with a rather gorgeous picture of a  mounted archer from a fabulously illustrated Mamluk manual of horsemanship form the 14th century. Just beautiful……

Add 18866_0266 (2)
Mamluk warrior