Mounted Archery. It’s two art forms coming together and functioning as one. Archery plus horsemanship equals Mounted Archery. Lately I’ve been working on the archery part while the horsemanship part has developed over many years of riding. Melding the two together is a work in progress. Making them into one will take me and “my” horse Carrera a little more time.
First Step A Bridleless Riding Clinic
Our first step in melding these two art forms together began with participation in the Bridleless Riding clinic held the day before the Mounted Archery clinic. Both clinics happened over three days at the same venue, Varian Ranch in Arroyo Grande. The Bridleless Riding clinic was put on by Heather Lomax of Hidden Creek Ranch.
Riding bridleless is a step towards prepping to shoot arrows from horseback. Mounted archery requires dropping the reins as the horse goes down the track. You need both hands to nock and cast arrows. Heather’s enthusiasm and process resulted in every horse going bridleless with a progress string by the lunch break. Some, like Carrera, still had the halter with reins attached yet tied up so they wouldn’t be used.
After lunch we returned bridleless or in halters and maneuvered through hay bales and over poles and along a track all going bridleless with a progress string. We even dismounted and mounted bridleless. Some horses went completely free of a bridle or halter, just a progress string. The horses all did really well and were more than happy to respond to our aids along with the progress string. Some horses trotted and cantered bridleless by the end of the day. All participants enjoyed the trust and connection built with their equine partner and the horses enjoyed the comfort and freedom of going bridleless.
Monica Bennett participated in the Bridleless Riding clinic with her horse Malbec. She was in for the whole weekend since her interest in riding bridleless led her to try the mounted archery as well. Monica has this to say, “Cantering Malbec bridleless was awesome. He got softer throughout the weekend. Malbec handled all the other horses calmly. It was one of the best riding clinics we’ve had to date.”
Next Step Intro to Mounted Archery Clinic
Truly a loaded bow is a weapon. In order to ensure the safety of horses and riders, learning about the equipment, getting instruction on how to load and carry a loaded bow, then safely shooting at a target were the first steps in learning about mounted archery. We walked through these steps without our horses. Elizabeth Gonzalez Tinnan was very systematic in her instruction, while imparting to us her vast wisdom and experience.
The 14 participants, broken up into two groups, got on the firing line several times in the dismounted intro morning session. We started with blind-nocking (putting the arrow on the bow string without looking) and basic dismounted target shooting. By the end of the morning we were casting arrows from a stash in our bow hand while walking alongside the targets. Many of us found our accuracy actually improved when in motion.
The afternoon session is where the horses were brought into the fun. Here again, Elizabeth had a system of desensitization for the whole group to follow. Our horses became familiar with going down the track while we clapped our hands – making us ride hands-free and introducing a noise and action from the saddle. The horses checked out the bows and arrows and experienced the equipment being rubbed all over them. Some horses snorted and some took everything in stride.
The final phase of desensitization was having the group ride down the track, in the method and way which makes shooting the safest, while two dismounted participants cast arrows at a target. My horse Carrera was okay with all of this leading up to finally casting arrows off horseback.
First Shot off Horseback
The moment came for us to line up a shot from horseback. Again, the system we had already practiced was clearly stated. We were to take aim at the first haybale target. Mounted pairs entered the track at the walk, giving ample space to the horse and rider in front.
So clear is my memory of loading my bow, holding it in resting position, lining up the shot then letting it rip. Twang . . . zip . . . zap . . . I hit the target! Yet, Carrera shook her head and sped forward, and continued to be bothered by the twangs, and zips behind us. I collected her together and joined the rest of the line waiting at the far end.
We reversed and went through the track back to the other side. Left-handed shooters (one in our group) took a shot through this direction. Here’s what our token “lefty”, Sonya Herrera riding Champ, has to say regarding her experience, “Although I’m right-handed, I am left eye dominant so I learned to shoot left-handed. I’ve been called many things, but that weekend was a first for ‘lefty’.”
Last Walk Through
Our group went through the same routine at the walk with the added challenge of getting two shots off accessing another arrow from the stash of three in our bow hand. I think I got one shot off, resulting in Carrera cantering off. She was not having it.
At the end of the day we took our last trip through. Carrera was even more agitated and leaped and lunged forward. I got her under control while retaining my bow and arrows in my bow hand. She did not stand quietly with the group and showed even more agitation as the sounds and energy from archers following simply added to her agitation. I finally got her settled and called it a good day.
Intro to Mounted Archery was a Very Good Day
Yes, it was a very good day. Most participants, both horse and human, took the activity in stride. There were only a few issues similar to what Carrera was exhibiting. Elizabeth’s understanding of horsemanship, horse behavior and how to translate that to help each rider and horse be successful with horse archery was truly fabulous.
As Breanna Davis riding Mo related, “The fact that by the end of the first day all but one person had shot off their horse really speaks to Elizabeth’s experience as a teacher and horsewoman. She was incredibly patient and encouraging to everyone.”
Repeat Offenders Clinic
Almost all of the Intro class students returned the next day for the Repeat Offenders Clinic for even more instruction. We began the day dismounted to increase our knowledge and skill level of mounted archery.
Mounted archery is different from standing archery in many ways. One of the biggest differences is that most of the casting of arrows is done in motion from a variety of vantage points. Thus, Elizabeth both demonstrated and had us practice shooting from a variety of positions and angles including having our backs to the target. There was much information to take in and apply, but going through the systematic approach helped seal the knowledge.
Many Repeat Offenders got to Canter
Again, we returned after lunch with our horses tacked up and ready to ride. The first “runs” through were progression steps with methods to cement the skills. A new riding position, suited to mounted archery was also introduced.
We then started the shooting runs. Due to Carrera’s agitation with the shooting activity the day before, I elected to dismount and shoot from the ground with Carrera next to me. On our first “run” I hit the targets, but Carrera pulled back at each initial twang. I just kept moving forward asking her to follow me.
Most of the other riders began to prep for a canter run. Before a rider was allowed to take a shot from horseback at the canter, the rider had to demonstrate the ability to drop the reins and not have their horse speed up in a run through at the canter. All who demonstrated this got to take a canter run, aim and shoot at a target.
Riding at the canter with the reins dropped, loading your bow (blind-nocking), taking aim and casting an arrow is not an easy task. However, several riders got a shot off. A few landed their arrows into the target.
One such rider was Kristin Dell riding her horse Stella, “I tackled blind-nocking my arrow at the canter and hit my target. I think I held my breath the whole time!” This was Kristin’s biggest moment of the weekend.
And a Great Time Was Had by All
Each participant came to this clinic with varying levels of experience with archery and/or horsemanship. Yet, each walked away with so much experienced gained in both art forms that they are now comfortable melding the two art forms together.
The venue, Varian Arabians in Arroyo Grande was the perfect setting and place for this clinic. Some riders camped on-site, others stayed in a nearby hotel and enjoyed downtown Arroyo Grande. Horses were stabled in big pens with no-climb fencing. We fed our horses, but Varian Arabian staff cleaned the pens.
The biggest achievement for me was that “my” horse Carrera eventually accepted the twang . . . zip . . . zap of the arrow leaving the bow and landing in the target. I am happy to report that on our last “run” through she calmly stayed with me as I got three good shots off, from the ground.
I was satisfied with her progress and so glad to be with other horsemen and women who love their horses, and love to ride. Yet the experience gained at this clinic has changed each one of us. We can now add . . . and love to cast arrows while pushing ourselves out of our own comfort zone into a brand-new frontier. We’re melding two art forms together into one, mounted archery. We released our inner warriors and are now a band of brand-new horse archers.
Cover Photo: Kristin Dell riding Stella Credit: Craig Corwin Photography
Story Photos Credit: Lynda Roeller Photography
Future of Mounted Archery on the Central Coast
There was so much enthusiasm for this new sport that a brand-new Horse Archery USA affiliated club, Poseidon’s Horse Archers, has sprung up from this band of brand-new horse archers. Monthly practices have been lined up at Varian Arabians Ranch in Arroyo Grande for the second Saturday of the month starting in March.
The practices are for horse archers who are shooting from their horses (even if just at the walk) and know the safety precautions and the protocol. However, anyone simply interested in seeing what goes on is welcome to come and watch, but only experienced members of Poseidon’s Horse Archers will be actually shooting.
Poseidon’s Horse Archers
Here is a statement from the founder of Poseidon’s Horse Archers, Judy Osburn:
“Because Poseidon’s Horse Archers sprang from participants in Elizabeth Gonzalez Tinnan’s mounted archery clinic at Varian Arabians, the founding members of this group have already proven to ourselves and to each other (during ground drill critiques) that Elizabeth has instilled in us a foundation enabling us to see the difference between what she showed us to do and what we see in each other’s performances—and during those same drills at her clinics all of us also demonstrated the proclivity to offer and accept encouraging constructive criticism. I am so excited for the opportunity to have multiple eyes watching on a regular basis from a vantage other than my own! I so need that.
However, as we expand our membership while just getting started ourselves, we are not yet ready to teach beginners. So, for now, to participate in practices and events members must already be actively and comfortably shooting from their horse, even if only at a walk.
We also welcome anyone who might want to come out to help us on the ground and see what we’re doing at practices.
See you soon!”
Yes! There Will Be Another Central Coast Mounted Archery Clinic Featuring Elizabeth Tinnan
The question keeps being asked, “Will there be another Mounted Archery clinic with Elizabeth?” The answer is YES! Mark your calendars for another round of the Release your Inner Warrior clinic on September 11-13, 2020.
Friday will be a Bridleless Riding clinic with Heather Lomax. Saturday the bows and arrows will be pulled out for the Intro to Mounted Archery clinic and Sunday the Repeat Offenders clinic, both run by our friend and mentor Elizabeth Gonzalez Tinnan. All three clinics will be held at Varian Ranch in Arroyo Grande. Sign up information will be coming, just mark your calendars right now.
There are so many ways to horse around in stunning SLO County. To keep this info at your fingertips we have developed a FREE Hot Sheet that will direct you to stories which tell you where you can trail ride, stay with your horse, show and taste. We’ll continue to add horsing around stories to our website. You can stay up-to-date by becoming a SLO Horse News herd member. Get your Horsing Around in SLO County Hot Sheet here >.