This post may be useful for those of you who have their own horses.
Even though I might not be able to teach you all the details through one single post, but within this post, I hope I can give you some tips and direction to help you prepare your horse to be ready for your next mounted archery session.
Systematically, the process of training a horse for horseback archery can be broken down into three phases:
- Training the horse to accept the bow, quiver, arrows, and shooting.
- Training the horse to maintain the pace.
- Training the horse to follow your direction.
Training The Horse to Accept The Bow, Quiver, Arrows, and Shooting
The goal of stage one is to let your horse getting familiar with your archery equipment (bow, quiver, arrows) so he won’t be shocked by the presence of that equipment up, in, and around his space in a real mounted archery event.
You might need to ask someone to help you hold the horse, while you present the different pieces of equipment to the horse.
Let him smell and identify the object that you present, remember to keep your distance should the horse becoming afraid and jump on you.
If the horse remains calm and relaxed, you can then remove the object that you present.
Initially, you want to approach your horse from one side, once you have successfully desensitized one side, you may then progress on another side.
Because of the way the horse’s brain works, you need to train the left and the right side of the horse separately, as there is almost no connection between the horse’s left and right brain.
Once the horse is comfortable with all the equipment up, in, and around its space, you can then continue to the next stage.
The goal of stage two is to make the horse numbs to the sight and sound of shooting the bow and arrow.
First, let the horse run loosely in a stable, a round pen, or small paddock while you shot your arrow nearby.
There are two possible outcomes from the first step: the horse would become terrified and run to the far side, or the horse would be intrigued and moving closer to observe what you’re doing.
Either way, you can assess the horse’s initial reaction from a distance before progressing further.
Once the horse is showing a positive outcome (i.e.he is coming closer), you can continue the process by asking your assistant to hold him closer while you continue to shoot.
In any likelihood that something goes wrong (the horse panics or pulls away), tell your assistant to let go off the horse and allow him to drift apart. Take a break, and continue the desensitization process once again.
Repeat the process as many as necessary until the horse remains calmed for more extended periods.
The third step is to make the horse comfortable with you shooting up close and personal.
Come closer to his personal space, to his front, side, and towards the rear while pretending to shoot, drawing the bow with no arrow.
Once again ask your assistant to hold the horse and let him go if the horse pulls away.
Always be on guard and be ready to take a step back should something goes wrong. Repeat this step over and over again until you’re sure your horse is ready for the next stage.
In stage 3, your goal is to desensitize the horse to shooting from the saddle. I cannot stress how important it is to ask the help of an assistant before continuing further.
Mount the horse, and ask your assistant to pass your archery equipment to you and pass the equipment down to your assistant.
Do it over and over again until the horse is desensitized with the motion of having the bow passed up to you and passed down again.
After that, try to rub the horse all over his body with your bow and arrow, use blunt arrow during this process.
Then try to drop the bow and see the horse’s reaction. It’s common to accidentally drop your bow or arrow during a real-life horseback archery event, so you want to make sure you’re able to drop the bow without frightening your horse.
Once you’re sure that your horse has become getting used in all the different settings that you have been introduced him to, you can now try shooting the bow while your assistant holds the horse.
The principle of push and pull should be applied throughout the whole desensitization training process — try dry drawing (shooting the bow without an arrow) before shooting with an arrow, raising and lowering the bow, drawn and undrawn, etc. and finally shooting.
There are three different shooting positions that you want to introduce the horse to: 45 degrees forward, 90 degrees to the side, and 45 degrees to the rear.
It’s up to you which position you want to try first, I usually start with the 45 degrees forward position.
Shooting in Motion
Once the horse remains calm and relaxed with you shooting on his back while standing still, the next step is to try shooting while he is moving. Start small from walk then to troat to canter and finally to gallop.
Training The Horse to Maintain The Pace
Before we begin the second and third phase of training horse for mounted archery, you need to remember that riding a horse with a bow and arrow in our hands is entirely different than the traditional horse riding.
In mounted archery, you don’t use traditional rein aids to direct your horse. Instead, you use seat position, leg, and verbal commands to help encourage the horse to slow, speed up, or stop.
As a part of training, initially, you can use rein aids to train the horse to maintain the pace. Apply the rein aids, then release the reins once your horse moves within a pace that you desire.
Only apply the rein pressure again if the horse tries to change his pace. Once you’re able to encourage the horse using reins, the next step is to replace the reins with your leg.
Apply the pressure your leg by squeezing your calves together and hold it. Release them once your horse moves within a pace or up a pace that you want.
If the horse slows or breaks, apply the leg pressure once again and release it once the horse follows through. Over time the horse will learn to keep its pace.
Remember the goal here is not to control your horse but to give him some responsibilities. Therefore, you don’t want to nag your horse with your leg continually only interfering if the horse changes its pace.
You can use your seat to influence the pace of the horse. This is hard to explain since this is something that you’ll learn by doing.
The principle is to go with the flow when you want to keep or speed up your horse’s pace and go against the flow by stiffening or bracing your seat against the movement to make the horse slow down or stop.
Training The Horse to Follow Your Direction
Much in the same way as you use your leg to control the pace of your horse, you also use your leg to direct his movement.
For example, let’s say you want your horse to go left, but your horse drifts away to the right, you may then apply the pressure of your right leg to signal him to go left.
Once responded, relax your leg, and let the horse move on its own again.