Thursday, January 22, 2015

Taking Aim

About this time last year while I was still very much a newbie learning the basics of riding,  I discovered something that I have been wanting to do before I discovered endurance riding. Yes, before endurance.

Lajos Kassai, a lead proponent for Hungarian mounted archery
The annual Yabusame festival in Japan
Mounted archery is an ancient sport and mounted martial art that has been practiced for centuries. It seems to be more popular in areas of Europe and Asia, but there is a small but steadily growing group of mounted archers in the US who actively train and compete in Texas and along the west coast. Unfortunately the sport has not yet attained the same popularity on the east coast so local resources for information, lessons, and clinics have been sparse and lacking.

Not to be daunted though, I've been learning, reading, and digesting as much information as I can. Shooting a bow from horseback obviously requires a certain level of horsemanship and riding ability. There are different types competition courses involving a variety of target setups and track lengths. Beginners usually shoot at a walk- those just starting out are on lead lines, intermediate shoot at a trot, and advanced archers at the canter. All of this is obviously done without hands on the reins and communication with the horse is entirely leg, seat, and weight cues.When I started riding everything about mounted archery was very much beyond my abilities however as I've gotten more proficient on horseback, the fire has slowly been rekindling. I've been interested in doing archery for a very long time. I was introduced to it back in grade school gym class and really enjoyed it. Best of all this is something that I can eventually do with Quest. The more I've gotten to know her, the more I think she'd make a decent mounted archery partner with her smooth steady canter, great athletic abilities, and honest personality.

There is going to be a ton of work involved of course. I need hundreds of hours of practice on my own two feet first before doing anything mounted. Quest and I need to also keep working on lateral movements and basic dressage undersaddle. Then there is all the desensitizing work that needs to be done- the sound of slapping bowstrings and nocking arrows, the feeling of the bow, arrows, quiver brushing against hindquarters/sides, the visual of dropped arrows and bows on the ground, etc.  

Finding the proper equipment is another challenge. Mounted archery uses traditional archery methods which include recurve bows, namely horse bows, that come in a multitude of sizes, designs, materials, lengths, and draw weights. Like saddles, the bow selection is vast and they can be completely customized or purchased right off of a shelf. I've been spending quite a bit of time just figuring out what I need for my height/weight/size because being under or over bowed are both major safety concerns. I seem to have a penchant for choosing hobbies involving high risk...

I've been checking out archery groups on FB and some bowyers (the official lingo for bow makers) approached me about getting a custom build for reasonable prices. It'll be more expensive than the run-of-the-mill beginner bow but will be an actual horse bow and made to my specifications. So tempting...must resist. I'll likely settle for a good youth bow to dabble around with that can take a beating since I'll probably be knocking it into things, dropping it in dirt, and getting it coated in horse hair and slobber.

Lots of things are still in the works but I'm eager to give this new hobby a try. Next steps, getting my bow, safety equipment, and scouting out the basement to see what would be needed to set up an indoor practice range!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Good start

Bed gravity was unusually strong the Friday morning after New Year's Day and unfortunately the lethargic-ness followed me through the whole day at work so my plan for that night was to trim/touch up as needed and do a bareback ride session to work on my balance at the canter since I've been feeling a bit off-center lately.

After the usual free lunge warm up, we tacked up with the home-made bareback pad and got to work starting with walk/trot working up to canter. Quest was a superstar and gave me the best western jog ever so that I could really focus on my balance without feeling like I was about to break in half afterwards. I have mild scoliosis- it doesn't bother me for the most part but it does get rather painful when the weather gets humid (and keeps me from ever living in places like Florida). My back used to get sore when I first started riding but as I've gotten more proficient at using my core muscles, I've been pretty much pain-free for the most part.

After doing a ton of trotting we moved into cantering, first on my better side then switched to my weaker side for the majority of the workout. This session was the second time that I ever cantered bareback so I worked on moving with the initial beats when sitting the canter since I often bump around for a couple steps bareback until I catch the familiar rocking motion. My typically very opinionated and fussy mare who has a certain time-limit tolerance for arena work was remarkably patient with letting me figure things out as we did what felt like a million circles in the indoor section of the arena. I did finally get the hang of  it and ended the night being able to canter bareback with one hand on the reins AND on my bad side, yay.

The next day, A and Smokey decided to visit us from the main barn so we could all ride together. We were due to get some snow later on in the morning so we opted to stay indoors and do a group bareback arena ride.
All together! Caly, Quest, Nutmeg, and between ears Smokey
I was half-expecting Quest to get super testy about doing two arena days in a row but she was just fine. She continued to give me world's best western jog and we cantered a bit as well. I also got a chance hop on my friend M's horse Calypso, a spicy 16hh TB chestnut mare. Caly is known around the barn for her grumpy faces when people and horses walk by her stall and mare-ish tendencies. She was a delight to ride bareback though and didn't put a foot wrong. Her trot was huge with lots of movement- I didn't want to tempt fate cantering bareback on a strange-to-me horse either so we stuck with just a walk and trot. M rode in a drill team during college so Quest was in good hands and plus it was fun for me to watch someone else on my mare. It started to snow soon after we swapped horses and started accumulating pretty quick so we all called it a day and parted ways. I went home, showered, and curled up under blankets streaming TV shows and baked Chinese sweet breads. A decent start to 2015 I'd say.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hello 2015

I hope you all had a lovely holiday season and are ready to tackle those resolutions for the new year. Quest and I didn't do as much riding the past couple of weeks due to family obligations but we got in a few trail rides that really pushed and tested us (in good ways, I think). Now to work on the jigging issue- we'll get there though!

My family was finally able to stop by the barn to meet Quest last week and they really liked her. I didn't ride since we had errands to run but was able to groom and free lunge- smart mareface was on her best behavior. I was fortunately able to sneak in a ride yesterday on New Year's Eve before heading off to make/have dinner with my family first and then immediately run off to a party with local friends. It was the perfect way to end the year of the horse.