Thursday, February 23, 2017

BFF Mounted Archery Clinic

After two years of dreaming and scheming, it finally happened!!

As some of you may remember, back in 2015 I wrote about exploring a new equestrian sport. After getting a quick 101 archery lesson from my friend S later that year, there was little to no mention of mounted archery though because well... I literally hit a wall trying to find an instructor or lesson barn to help me get started. All my searches yielded nothing of viable worth and the timing didn't really work out either since after moving Quest to WSS a couple months later, I had my hands full with preparing for the 2016 distance riding season. 

About a month ago though, I stumbled upon photos on my FB feed of a mounted archery clinic that had just taken place at a barn about an hour away from me. I reached out to the organizers and to my immense excitement, they replied that there were still accepting riders for the next clinic date! One of the organizers, a lady named A, provided me with the clinician's information so I could contact her. S took my interest in the sport seriously and even going so far with offering to accommodate me with a private lesson on her days off. Unfortunately her barn is a 3-hour round trip for me so it will take some logistics and planning on my end to make lessons happen. However in the meantime, I had the clinic to look forward to and hoped it would be a good introduction to see if I really did enjoy it. 

The clinic started at 10am and the drive to the barn BFF took about an hour. I gave myself plenty of time and arrived early to snag a good parking spot and headed over to indoor arena for the day's activities. A, the event organizer recognized me from FB and introduced herself and S, the clinician. While waiting for others to arrive, I started chatting with a girl named E and we hit it off really well. Best of all we agreed to help each other with pictures and video throughout the day so it's all thanks to her (and her bf) that I have media to share with everyone! 

When S finally called us over to get started, the total count was 26 participants which felt like a pretty large number. She began the clinic by reviewing safety rules and then had us get into groups of 3-4 based on the draw weight of the bow we wanted to shoot with. We were given a selection of handmade Chinese horse bows with various draw weights to pick from. E and I paired up with two other ladies, S and K, and we got set up with our 22lb bow and a round of 4 arrows.

The first part of the clinic was focused on shooting skills from the ground. The indoor arena was converted into a mini archery range using a line of hay bales stacked 3 high in 8 separate groups. My group picked out our hay bale target and waited until given the all clear to start. Having only picked up a bow and arrow twice in my life, I was pretty sure I had the least experience out of our group and my hunch was confirmed after watching the other members of my group shoot first.

S made her way up and down the line, stopping at each group to watch and assist. I waited to go last because I knew I'd probably need some help. Mounted archery horse bows are traditionally made with no arrow shelf. It makes a ton of sense if you are shooting at speed with no time to use it and practically speaking, the shelf would probably get in the way since the end goal is to load, draw, and shoot without looking down at your hands. When it got to my turn, I picked up the bow and the lack of shelf completely threw me off. The two times I did archery, both bows had a shelf to work with so I was at a total loss of what to do and fumbled around. When I explained my issue, S pointed out that my hand acted as the shelf essentially. That imagery was apparently all I needed- it was as if a lightbulb clicked on and just like that my next two arrows flew straight and hit dead center. "Nice job!" S praised.

Taking aim
Release and follow through.
 Also when I realized I needed a glove on my left hand
because fletching cuts...oww! 

Because of the number of people and limited time, we were only able to get though two rounds of shooting from the ground. E got some great pictures that, aside from posterity, I used to improve my form to make the most of the practice opportunity. I tried to keep in mind the tips S gave to me earlier (draw hand cups the lower jaw, no chicken arms) and also did my best to make adjustments that I saw from the pictures. As with most things, proper form is foundation and muscle memory can be developed so I opted to get that part right first and as soon as possible. My aim wasn't horrendous though and I consistently hit my target.

The most fun thing about being part of a large clinic was watching others learn from their successes and failures. One guy bought his own bow and arrows and he obviously knew how to shoot. There was one hairy  moment though when one person on the far left of the range had an arrow go way high and break a window! The glass got cleaned up quickly though and it was the only mishap for the entire clinic thankfully. 

After shooting from the ground, it was time to introduce the horses!

There were four horses ready for our use that day and we could pick as we liked. I choose a pony named Macaroni with a very sweet disposition to be my partner for this part of the clinic. I liked how quiet he was and he had more whoa then go which was needed for my purposes that day.

S had us mount up 4 riders at a time and we practiced shooting while being lead at a walk. The first round was done very slowly as everyone had to pause at some point in order to figure out how to nock, aim, shoot and reload arrows from our "leg quivers" aka half chaps/boots.

Everyone in the clinic was eager to keep going so in the second round, S allowed us to pick from walk and/or trot and let us tackle the course one rider at a time with our leadline assistants.

Shooting from a trot introduced a whole new set of challenges as we had to figure out how to deal with a two-beat gait and still try to do the whole archery thing while moving. S suggested a half seat, two-point, etc...but we were allowed to adapt with whatever we felt comfortable with. Macaroni wasn't the smoothest or willing mover so I ended up timing my shots with posting and that also helped keep it instinctive and natural. As I get better though, I do want to practice in a half-seat since being able to shoot from a canter/hand-gallop is the final end goal. The leadline assistants were also clinic participants so I helped switch with them to jog horses so they could shoot as well. It was a nice break from standing around and waiting.

I was able to shoot 3 more rounds before the end of the clinic and I found something to improve or tweak each time.

At the end of the clinic, I was still smiling from ear to ear and still just as excited. What a joy it is being able to make what felt like a far-fetched dream come true. For me, I do know this is definitely something that I want to continue doing as an interest and maybe even get competitive one day. The latter is still a pipe dream but mounted archery has been gaining popularity in the East Coast over the recent years. Given enough time, there could even be enough support to set up organized events.

If you ever get a chance to try mounted archery, I totally suggest giving it a go! Done under supervision and with an experienced horse, it's a super fun challenge for the rider and just something different to try.

The smile says it all!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Bareback Boot Camp

The cold and dark winter months have become synonymous with what I call "bareback boot camp". It first started off as a way to get in a quick ride during the week while making good use of  a bay butt warmer but over the past 2.5ish years, riding bareback has become something I make a point of doing every so often for a quick self tune-up.

Away we go

When I first started as an adult beginner, bareback riding played a huge part in helping me develop better balance and seat. Looking back, I really do think it was the biggest thing that got me to improve as quickly as I did. Nowadays, these rides have been honing in on straightness issues that sometimes creep back into my riding. My biggest physical limitation still is tightness that I have on my left side and shoulder which causes issues going clockwise in an arena and some general lopsidedness. It's not horrendous but it is obvious to me. When I do manage to straighten myself out, Quest also straightens out underneath me and I can feel her move out a lot more freely, like she's clicked into a more comfortable gear. This is something that I'll need to keep working on myself and commit to muscle memory.

A few of the canter sets we did earlier this week felt really good though and it is obvious that Quest was enjoying the faster gait. Smart mareface has already figured out this will now be a consistent element of our rehab rides and asked me to GO a few times during that night. We are still in rehab mode though so I had to tell her no but wow, the sass was strong- it seriously felt like she was on rocket fuel lol

Since we added back cantering, I was curious to see how the mareface trotted out. I could have lunged her but I'm a lot more cautious/careful about repetitive small circles nowadays. The arena was totally empty/devoid of helping hands so I made do by propping my phone against the wall and had at it.

Love how our legs move in sync with each other lol

I probably should have taken off her blanket for the video so she could move completely unencumbered but it suffices for my needs. It was a good excuse to practice doing a trot out too. Quest is a pro at it now (she was totally clueless when I first got her lol) but practice makes perfect.

Although bareback riding is great and all, I am really looking forward to having daylight when I leave work- we will finally be able to fit in some trails during the week.