"In the case of archery, the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects but are one reality. The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull’s-eye, which confronts him. This state… is realized when he becomes with the perfecting of his skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art.”
- D. T. Suzuki, Zen in the Art of Archery
Around 1200 B.C., archers began to shoot bows from horseback to hunt, protect their livestock, and engage in combat. Two types of horse archers quickly appeared after the start of horse archery. Some ancient tribes of nomadic warriors, like the Scythians, developed light archery. Light archers often rode in front to attack first and harass the opposing army. Due to their swift nature, these warriors could pressure and intimidate their enemies. In other civilizations, such as the Japanese, Russian, and Byzantine empires, heavy mounted archers were favored because they were invaluable in hand-to-hand combat. Working together as a disciplined unit, a group of heavy mounted archers had the ability to charge an enemy and inflict significant damage.
As technology advanced, mounted archery was surpassed in warfare by other inventions. Even though the technical uses for the technique became limited, the act of mounted archery survived. Today, there are several schools of mounted archery around the world that are dedicated to honoring, expanding, and advancing the sport.
Montana Horse Archers, a horseback archery group based in Livingston, MT, is one group that’s celebrating history and carrying on the sport of horse archery. Led by Trish Wild, Montana Horse Archers is a private group associated with Horse Archery USA (HAUSA). In order to participate, members must follow HAUSA rules and regulations. HAUSA focuses on growing the popularity and competition opportunities of horse archery while still making it a community-based and safety-focused sport.
To join Montana Horse Archers, no experience is technically required. Although the group advises its members to eventually own their horses, ownership is not a prerequisite for getting into the sport. Trish Wild has several trained horses that beginners can rent as they’re becoming acquainted with mounted archery. That being said, there are some very experienced horse archers in the group.
All members, regardless of experience level, have the opportunity to learn from top clinicians from around the country. The group brings in a new clinician every month from May to September. Outside of their events, the group focuses on horse archery techniques, equipment management, horse training, riding ability, and positioning.
Although there are different horse archery clubs around the United States, Montana Horse Archers stands out amongst the rest. In addition to catering to various levels of expertise, the organization is dedicated to making the sport accessible for younger generations. Their “Hire a Squire” program pairs a youth applicant with a club member who can teach him or her horse care, grooming, horsemanship, and eventually provide the opportunity to learn to ride and develop archery skills.
Jen Bainter broke out of old routines with the help of horse archery.
“I think we all feel the squeeze of everyday life, the rush and grind of work, dreaming of faraway places, more money, and how nice it would be if there was magic in this world,” reports Bainter. “I was a single mom working to support my daughter and grateful that I could have a few horses and escape into the mountains for some peace of mind. The day I saw the link for a mounted archery clinic, I knew, like a fire blazing through my veins, that this was the magic I had been seeking. From the day I shot my first arrow atop a horse, I felt wild, free, and powerful. Every day I practiced my archery, worked with my horses, and felt myself becoming bolder, stronger, and more confident.”
Shelton Fitzgerald, a 36-year-old from Seeley Lake, MT, is happy to drive four or more hours to practice with Montana Horse Archers. “The combination of horsemanship and archery provide a great opportunity for personal growth, the ability to overcome challenges, and a deep understanding of the connection between horse and rider,” says Fitzgerald.
“As an experienced archer but beginner horseman, I have come to realize there is much involved in combining the two effectively.”
Meghan Richardson, a professional woman who homeschools her two daughters, has gained much from joining Montana Horse Archers. “I was looking for something my oldest daughter and I could do together that would be challenging,” mentions Richardson. “My daughter and I love to practice horse archery together—she likes to correct my form! Since joining, we have spent most of our time learning how to shoot properly and safely. Both of us look forward to attending as many clinics hosted by Montana Horse Archers as we possibly can!”
Old Sport, Modern Flow
One thing Montana Horse Archers members talk about again and again is the therapeutic nature of their sport. First of all, simply spending time with horses can reduce stress and improve overall health. Horse therapy has been used by medical professionals for years to improve the lives of various populations. Regardless of your background, working with horses can dramatically enhance the quality of your life.
Moreover, archery can help people focus and tap into the strength of their mind and body. Simply standing and focusing on a target hones your intentions and blocks out distractions.
Members of Montana Horse Archers constantly strive to honor tradition while practicing an optimal state of awareness where they can feel and perform their best.
To learn more about horse archery in Montana, please contact Trish Wild by email: [email protected].