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Something Different: Horseback Archery

In the first of our series, 'something different' we will be looking at more unusual and exciting riding disciplines. Meet Emily Massey, a 26 year old Riding Coach at Witherslack Hall Equestrian Centre in the Lake District who is also a horseback archer.

"I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember, although I grew up in a family who are not too fond of them! My first experiences riding ponies were riding my friend’s ponies, I basically learnt to ride on the roads around our village. I didn’t have my first lesson until I could already walk, trot, canter and jump, in a fashion, and I’m sure I scared my first instructor half to death!" Emily recalls.

Since leaving high school, Emily has worked as a working pupil at a local livery yard, where she got through her BHS Stages 1 & 2, and following that she studied a BA (Hons) in Equestrian Management and Development at Myerscough College. During that time, she also passed her BHS Stage 3 in Horse Care, and her PTT.

"I took my first horse on loan, and after spending the summer teaching Western Riding at a summer camp in Upstate New York, I returned and got myself a job as a coach at Witherslack and haven’t looked back since!" 

Tell us all about horseback archery... 

I’ve been doing Horseback Archery now for nearly 3 years.

Emily and Sebastian training with their club – the Ribble Valley Mounted Archers

What inspired you to get started?

One of my clients in his first ever lesson told me “I’m not bothered about learning to ride dressage; I just need to be able to stand up in my stirrups without holding the reins in walk, trot and canter!” Of course, I had to ask why and he told me he does Horseback Archery. I immediately wanted to know how I could get involved and so I booked myself onto a Beginners Horseback Archery weekend at The Centre of Horseback Combat in Hemel Hempstead and instantly became hooked!

How did you get started? 

After attending the Beginner’s Horseback Archery weekend, I was extremely lucky that my client and now good friend, John, would bring his bow and arrows up to the stables and give me some lessons. I had never done archery before so the whole thing was brand new to me!  My boss also let us have a go at shooting on one of our riding school horses, Jake. He was a superstar and took to it immediately, completely unfazed by arrows whizzing off his back! I attended the weekend camp again at the Centre the following year, this time for more experienced Horseback Archers, and I have since joined a club, the Ribble Valley Mounted Archers, which is affiliated with The British Horseback Archery Association (BHAA).

What training do you do? What level of riding/experience with horses were you at to begin with? 

I go for (almost!) weekly archery lessons at Northern Archery who are based very close to my home, they have helped me improve my technique off the horse immensely, and also taught me things such as how to make arrows and other important things! I have been working my way through the BHAA Qualifications, which are a little bit like BHS exams for Horseback Archers. I have achieved my Intermediate Horseback Archer qualification (the 2nd level out of 3) and I am also now a qualified Club Coach. Since gaining that, my riding school has now become a BHAA Affiliated School, and so I get to spend some time at work teaching it too! Horseback archery is definitely an equestrian sport, you can learn to ride if you can already shoot, but I think it’s much easier if you can already ride, to learn to shoot!


Practising your archery on the ground is very important!

Did you learn with an experienced horse? Have you trained your own horse to be skilled in this discipline?

Apart from when I visited the Centre and have hired horses for camps, I have mostly shot from our riding school horses. I am very lucky that my boss lets me borrow one of our school ponies to take to training with the Ribble Valley Mounted Archers. His name is Sebastian and while he can be a little quirky, he loves Horseback Archery. It took us literally 10 minutes to introduce him to the equipment, the sounds and sights of archery, and at the end of 10 minutes, I shot my first arrow from him. Most of the riding school horses that we have introduced to archery were the same, they are a very chilled out bunch!

 
First time shooting from Sebastian – You can see how unbothered he is, I think he might actually be having a nap!

How has your discipline impacted on the way you ride now?

In taking part in horseback archery, I have come across hundreds of people, all with different approaches to their training. A lot of riders come from western and/or natural horsemanship backgrounds, so it has been really interesting to learn about how they do things. I have adopted a few methods into my own training, I have found clicker training particularly useful, although I’m still finding my feet with it! Unfortunately, I have to admit that my dressage work has probably suffered a little, as I now prefer to ride with my reins in one hand, or not at all, and shorter stirrups (it’s much easier to shoot the bow if you’re standing up!) Learning to ride without reins has definitely improved my seat and my confidence though!

 

Training with the Edinburgh and Lothian Mounted Archers at their Summer Camp in 2019. This horse is called Champion – he’s a stunt horse when he’s not doing mounted archery!

Have you competed and to what level? 

This year my aim is to compete at the BHAA National Championships which are held in August (I’m keeping my fingers crossed this will still go ahead!) As Horseback Archery is still a relatively young sport in the UK, you gain qualification to the Nationals by completing “gradings”, which are run by the International Horseback Archery Alliance. I currently hold my Student 4 grade, and I am aiming to have my Student 6 grade by the end of this year. Once you’ve got your S6, you can move up to the HA Grades, which are much harder! 

What is the best thing about what you do?

I love that you can do horseback archery on any type of horse or pony, and with any type of rider. There are young children shooting off short, fluffy ponies on the lead rein, and there are experienced riders riding insanely fast horses. Horseback archery is also available to disabled riders, I currently coach 2 visually impaired archers at our school (both of whom are registered blind), who are quite frankly, inspirational to watch!
 

And what is the hardest thing about it?

Multi-tasking! Being able to “nock” an arrow (put it on the string) without looking whilst travelling at speed and then shoot it and hit the target takes some practise!

What are your future aims and goals?

(Very!) long term I’d like to be able to compete internationally. For now my goal is to compete at the Nationals, and continue to grow and develop our grassroots mounted archers at the school.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about getting started?

What are you waiting for?! There are quite a few Horseback Archery Clubs now around the country and more are popping up. There are also some schools who offer it. Do your research and get yourself booked in – you won’t regret it! And don’t panic if you’ve never done archery before, or you’re not the strongest rider.
 

Is there an official club or association?

The British Horseback Archery Association (BHAA) is the governing body for Horseback Archery in the UK.
 

How can someone find out more to get started? 

Visit the British Horseback Archery Association’s webpage to find yourself a local club, school or coach.


What’s the best equestrian advice you have ever been given?

Always go forwards with the horse’s energy! If you try to stop it, it will come out elsewhere!

You can follow Emily on Instagram: 

You can find photos of Emily's archery and horseback archery training at: @emilyandmurphy 

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