"Medieval Equestrian Games and Their Application to the Society"
(Viscountess Kassandra Tenebrosa, Magistra)
[reprinted with permission from the author --the original is found at  Issue #134, Spring 2000
© K Charron 2000

When equestrian activities began in our Kingdom,  I was very excited to be doing medieval things with horses.  The new activity combined two disciplines I greatly enjoyed.  While the games that we began doing were ring tilting, quintain, "beheading" and pig sticking, I wondered what other games might have been done in the Middle Ages.  I was told that rings and the quintain were documentable games, that pig sticking was based on a post period activity, and beheading was an "idea" of medieval knight's training.   Archery was soon added to the approved games, and spear throwing became more common.  This increased the variety of activities.

Yet often at demonstrations I was asked, "Did the medieval knight practice these games?"   This question prompted me to do more research into equestrian activities in the Middle Ages, and in doing so I was to find several new games as well as more concrete documentation for the activities we were currently enjoying.

The publishing of Ann Hyland's book opened up many new areas for the medieval horse enthusiast, and her research helped prompt my search for period games.  Along with her books, there are actual manuals from period, including Maurice's Strategikon, several excellent Arabic manuals, and the later period works of Duarte and Pluvinel.  The increased interest of the Middle Ages in the academic world has lead to many translations of works previously unavailable.  A translation of a complete Medieval manual of arms is due out next year that will include more information on the tournament horse and activities.

This article looks further into the period sources to gain insight on what activities were done from horseback as martial drills, and examines methods to make them applicable to Society equestrian activities.  I have organized the article into categories defined by the weapons being practiced from horseback: archery, spear games, sword, and quintain.


Archery exercises are found predominantly in Arabic manuals from the late 13th -14th century.  Proper technique and form are mentioned, such as the method of holding the reins while shooting (between the middle and ring fingers), handling the bow, and proper stance in the stirrups. 1  One of the archery drills discussed in H. Rabie's article "The Training of the Mamluk Faris," involves shooting at a target on the ground in a "downward manner".  The target was called al-qiqaj, which was possibly a sand filled basket.2

This game could easily be adapted to our current method of running archery in the Society.  Presently, we run a lane with a catch pen at the end, similar to the Japanese Yabusame archery.  Using a basket, or a low ground target, we could easily simulate al-qiqac.

A second Arabic drill is called qabac (meaning gourd).  H. Rabie discusses this game as well:
"...a very high wooden beam erected on an empty
plain.  A wooden circle was fixed to the head of the
beam.  Standing up on horseback, the archers shot
their arrows through an opening in the circle, in order
to hit a target placed behind it.."3

The rider is told to:
"approach the qabac from its right side, leaning
somewhat towards his left side, and to be
aware of touching the wooden beam with his
knees." 4

Another version of the game is described from 1293:
"...a high mast, to the head of which was
fixed a gold or silver gourd (qar'a) inside
which a pigeon was placed.  The faris would
advance towards the target and shoot at it,
while he was in motion.  The one who hit the
target and sent the pigeon into flight would
receive a robe of honour and the gourd as
his prize." 5

Illuminations from the manuals show the approach of the rider, aiming high at the gourd target. 6 (see drawing of the qabac game)  The height of the post is given as approximately 21.5 feet.

This game could be adapted for use in  the Society by erecting a post just outside the archery lane.  This could help prevent hitting your knees on the post, as the manuals warn against.  This version of archery would require a set up with plenty of open space for the left side of the lane, as it would be difficult to set up a catch net for the arrows, since the rider will be shooting upwards.  As our blunted arrows could not pierce the gourd target, bells could be tied to the gourd to signal when it is struck.

Archery also appears in Maurice's Strategikon.  This manual from the 7th century devotes much of its text to discussing group cavalry drills, but does suggest exercises for the individual.

"He should also shoot rapidly mounted on
his horse at run, to the front the rear, the
right, the left.  He should practice leaping onto
the horse. On horseback at a run he should fire
one or two arrows rapidly and put the strung
bow in its case, if it is wide enough, or in a
half-case designed for this purpose, and then
he should grab the spear which he has been
carrying on his back.  With the strung bow in
its case, he should hold the spear in his hand,
then quickly replace it on his back, and grab
the bow." 7

While it would be difficult to attempt to fire rapidly in all directions as suggested, due to the limitations of the lane and safety considerations, it would be possible to loose more than one arrow at the same target, shooting front, left side and rear as one approached and passed the single stationary target.  It would require a longer lane, but the additional length would enable the drill to include the spear as well.  This addition of spear handling to this drill would give excellent insight on how the mounted archer would be required to move fluidly from one weapon style to another, and back again.  All of the archery games could be done while moving , as intended, or statically, to encourage beginner participation.


Spears and javelins thrown from horseback have been an effective weapon since ancient times.  As this activity is such a basic use of this weapon, used in hunting and warfare alike.  Illuminations and artwork from the period do show the javelin and spear in use, and one illumination in particular shows actual practice with spear throwing.  A French illumination from around the 14th century shows two riders approaching a "quintain" (but lacks the arm and counterweight construction), which appears more like a shield atop a tall post.  The riders approach from the left, looking up at the target.  They hold their spears, uncouched, high above their heads, arms pulled back ready to throw the spears. 8

Currently our spear throwing activities consists of throwing spears into a low target, such as hay bales or a standing figure cutout. (see photo of spear throwing) This activity that appears in the illumination could easily be done, and the current quintain target could be used for this spear game. 

Other spear games appear in Arabic texts.  Most of these appear as early "ring tilting" types of games; ie. games involving the targeting of a ring or small cord loop.  One game, with different variations is called birjas.  I will discuss each version separately, and look at their possible applications.

From Rabie's article:
" The birjas figured prominently in Mamluk
training.  It was a wooden target consisting
of seven segments, one placed on the other with
the seventh reaching the height of the horse,
and topped by a metal ring fixed to a piece of
wood.  The horse-borne Mamluk approached
the birjas in order to hurl the spearhead into the
metal ring.  If he succeeded it was the piece of
wood fixed to the ring that came down; if he failed,
his lance would fall to the ground" 9

This is accompanied by an illumination from period, similar to the drawing of the birjas game shown here. (see drawing)  While somewhat difficult to interpret, as the drawing does not show the rider "hurling" the spear, the confusion could come from a translation problem.  "Hurl" and "thrust" could be similar, and while the successful description sounds very much like a version of ring tilting, the unsuccessful description becomes confusing.  Why would the spear fall to the ground if one is just "ring tilting"  the ring off the segmented post?  And why does the target, which appears as a post, need to be segmented?  There may also be a problem in translation with "his lance would fall to the ground."  When holding the lance with both hands as in the illumination, this hardly seems possible.  Perhaps they are referring the segmented pole supporting the ring collapsing to the ground? 

The correct "throwing/thrusting" of the spear would allow the ring and connected top piece of wood to be carried away , leaving the remaining segments standing.  An close but unsuccessful attempt (as opposed to a complete miss) would strike the side of the ring or the segmented support, and the thrust would collapse the segmented support to the ground.  This could prove to be a very challenging game. 

The second form of birjas is taken from Ibn Hodeil's text, which shows an illumination almost identical to the one from H. Rabie's article, and the one pictures here.  The translation of the caption reads:
"Drawing of a birjas- a way of stabbing (or
penetrating), making it penetrate, how to
pull it out, about handling the weapon;

This is an English translation of the French translation of the Arabic caption that accompanies the illumination.  I was unable to get the entire text of the book translated, but Ann Hyland references this game in her book _The Warhorse 1250-1600_.
"The former used a post, a dari'a, raised to
a rider's height; on top was a ring or cord loop.
As he galloped past he either reversed his lance
to extricate it from the loop or could let its thrust
carry it through the ring and retake it as his horse
galloped past.  Both methods had risks, the first if
he did not disengage cleanly, the second if the
horse galloped too fast for him to grasp his lance"11

A variation of this style of birjas was played recently at an event.  Short javelins were used, as the above mentioned illuminations had not been discovered and the length of lance was unknown.  Attempts with longer spears had been more challenging, but the pictured rider (see photo of birjas game) had success with the short javelin.  Another interesting note on observing the illumination shows the rider holding a longer spear with two hands, the reins being held in the leading hand.  Two hands could give more stability in attempting to "jump" your hands over the ring.  In the photographed version of the game, the ring is attached to a small block of wood which has a lanyard connecting it to the post.  If a rider failed, the ring was knocked down, or the spear fell to the ground without being caught.  If successful, the ring would be left standing, and the rider would be holding the spear.  I believe the birjas game could evolve into several interesting variations within the game structure of the Society, having varying levels of difficulty.

Another ring game which is unrelated to birjas, but that appears in the Arabic manuals is described thus:
"..metal rings, twelve in number ,fixed to
a piece of metal, which all had to be caught
in one attempt."12

While it doesn't give the orientation of the rings (on a post; suspended) or how they are attached, this game sounds remarkably like ring tilting.  This was attempted at an event this summer, with our current ring standard slightly modified with an addition to the arm allowing twelve rings to be mounted in-line.  This game proved more challenging when the rings were small in size, or were hung in order of descending size.  This proved to be a fun addition to standard ring tilting.

Our current method of running the rings is almost identical to plates shown in Antoine de Pluvinel's _Le Maniege Royal_, first published in 1623, several years after his death.  Pluvinel lived from 1555-1620, and his work illustrates the riding and styles of the late 16th century. Techniques showing the correct way to hold your lance for ring tilting also show up in French illuminations from period.13

Another type of spear game that we currently engage in that has its roots in medieval exercises is "pig sticking".  This was originally based on the post period game of tent-pegging.  A late 13th century Arabic author
"mentions cornets or cones which used to be
scattered on the ground, to be collected by the
mounted mamluk with the spearhead of his lance."14

Unfortunately the material of the "cones" is not mentioned, but paper cones, or cones constructed of bound straw or hay could be a was to recreate this activity more accurately.

The same source mentions using a ball placed on top of a person's head as a target to be speared as the mamluk rides by.15

This could easily be modified in to a safe game by substituting a post for the person.  Again, it was not mentioned what the material of the "ball" is, but it does say that the ball is to be speared, not just knocked off, so we can assume it must be a "spearable" material, perhaps cork.


One of the more interesting discoveries was of a sword drill done from horseback.  Illuminations from two sources illustrate the drill and there are several variations of the drill as well.
"At first, a green reed the height of the faris
was fixed in the ground.  The horseman approached
it from the right, riding very fast, and cut a span
from it.  He repeated the exercise a number of
times until only one dhira (about 26 inches)
was left from the length of the reed.  The next
exercise consisted of fixing five reeds to the
ground on the right hand side of the faris,, the
distance between each reed being ten dhira
(about 21.3 feet).  The faris approached on
horseback, cutting each reed, piece by piece,
as in the preceding exercise.  The last exercise
of this kind involved the placing of five reeds
on the right hand and five more on the left hand
for the faris to cut through, piece by piece." 16

While this resembles the current beheading game used in the Society, there involves no weaving of the "reeds" or posts.  In many of the sources, the ability of your mount to be able to run in a straight line, especially when the reins are dropped, was a highly desirable.  This exercise, along with many of the archery exercises, illustrates the importance of this ability.

This game was recently recreated at an event.  The reed posts were set much closer (15 feet) for the in-line game than the manual dictates, as the measurements were not known at the time of the event. (see photo) Ten posts were set up for the in-line game, and then the alternating posts were pulled out to form the two lines of reeds for the alternating reed game. (see photo of alternating reed game)  This drill proved very popular, and quite challenging.  As your mount built up speed going through the course, the more difficult it was to have time to strike the reeds.  Set at the proper distance of 21.5 feet, this difficulty may drop and would allow for more speed.  The faster the horse however, the more difficult the course.  This game could be timed just as the current beheading course is, and points could be removed for missed reeds, or for knockdowns or collisions with the posts.  We found this game to be popular with beginners and youth who were learning how to handle the sword or mace for this game.


The use of a quintain as a jousting target goes back to the late 11th-early 12th centuries.
"the monastic chronicler, Robert the monk,
..noted that the Crusaders spend their leisure
moments running at the quintain"17

As tournaments changed from their early format of open field melees to a more enclosed list field, the quintain became more prevalent and appears in many manuscript illuminations, including one showing youths practising the joust on a wheeled "horse"18. Pluvinel's work also illustrates riding at the quintain.  In period, quintains were constructed in varying manners; however, all were made to represent a shield or target to be struck by the riders lance.

In 1434, Duarte, King of Portugal, writes on the techniques of jousting, in which he discusses the different ways of carrying a lance properly.
"You can carry the lance in your hand
in four ways; with the lance running along
the arm with the arm extended; with the
lance a little higher and crossing over
the mane of the horse; with the lance
over the left hand or arm; and with the lance
either below or above the belt."19

Although much of Duarte's text deals with jousting an opponent, much could be used and applied in practice against a  quintain as well.  Duarte admonishes the jouster on targeting and gives much advice on how to improve targeting precision. 20  As this is important in the live joust, one should look at jousting the quintain with the same precision.  A quintain used recently had been constructed with the upper right corner (about six inches square) cut out and remounted with a spring loaded hinge.  If struck with a lance with accuracy, the knock out would drop back, and the quintain would not spin in the traditional manner.  This does not interfere in any way with striking the quintain in the standard manner, rather, it allows for several different ways for the game to be played.

These activities, and their possible applications to the Society's current equestrian activities, open up areas of challenge and gives us more insight on the exercises and drills that were done by the medieval horseman.  This article is only a beginning, not an exclusive list of medieval drills from horseback.  Please be aware that Kingdom rules vary, and may effect the way the above games need to be changed to fit the differing rules.  For example, the alternating reed game does require a longer horseman's sword to give the reach needed to strike the reeds.  Please contact your Kingdom Equestrian Officer for any questions regarding your Kingdom's rules for the equestrian list before implementing the games.

1. H. Rabie, 'The Training of the Mamluk Faris' in _War, Technology and Society in the Middle East_ , ed.  V.J. Parry and M.E.Yapp (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986) p.160.
2. Ibid.
6.From Rabie, Plate VI, and from Ibn Hodeil ( Aly ben Abderrahman ben Hodeil el Andalusy), _La Parure des Cavaliers et L'Insigne des Prex_, tr. L. Mercier (Paris, Librairie Orientaliste, 1924) Plate 33, p.384.
7.Maurice, _Maurice's Strategikon_, tr. G.T. Dennis, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984, p.11.
8. From Briggitte Prevot and Bernard Ribemont, _Le Cheval en France au Moyen Age_.
9. H. Rabie, 'The Training of the Mamluk Faris' , p.156.
10. Ibn Hodeil ( Aly ben Abderrahman ben Hodeil el Andalusy), _La Parure des Cavaliers et L'Insigne des Prex_, tr. L. Mercier (Paris, Librairie Orientaliste, 1924) p.498 describing Plate 27, p.276.
11.Ann Hyland, _The Warhorse 1250-1600_, (Stroud, Sutton Publishing, 1998), p.124.
12. H. Rabie, 'The Training of the Mamluk Faris' , p.156.  Rabie references Najm al-Din al-Ahdab al-Rammah's (d.1293) work "al-Furusiyya" for this game.
13.Richard Barber and Juliet Barker, _Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages_, (New York, Weidnefeld and Nicolson, 1989), p.205.
14.H. Rabie, 'The Training of the Mamluk Faris' , p.156.  Rabie references Najm al-Din al-Ahdab al-Rammah's (d.1293) work "al-Furusiyya" for this game.
15. Ibid.
16. H. Rabie, 'The Training of the Mamluk Faris' , p.162.  Rabie uses as a source for this exercise a manuscript that is from 1348, written by Muhammad ibn 'Isa al-Hanafi al-Asqsara'i and titled "Horsemanship, Nihayat al-su'l".  This manuscript exists in Cairo, but there are several other preserved manuscripts of this title elsewhere, including the British Museum.  The manual from Britain appears in G. Rex Smith's book _Medieval Muslim Horsemanship_, and deals primarily with the illuminations from the manuscript.  While the illuminations aren't as clear in describing the reed game, one does say " a horseman performing a sword exercise".  (This illumination also shows up on pg.121 of Ann Hyland's _The Warhorse from Byzantium to the Crusades_)  It is unclear how much of the translation appears in Smith's book on the manuscript, and if it may reveal further information about this game.
17. Barber and Barker, _Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages_, p.16.
18. Ibid., p. 208, illus.
19. Ibid., p. 197.
20. Ibid., pp.200-201.

Barber, Richard  and Barker, Juliet ,_Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages_,  Weidnefeld and Nicolson, New York, 1989.
Hyland, Ann, _The Warhorse from Byzantium to the Crusades_, Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1994.
Hyland, Ann _The Warhorse 1250-1600_, Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1998.
Ibn Hodeil ( Aly ben Abderrahman ben Hodeil el Andalusy), _La Parure des Cavaliers et L'Insigne des Prex_, tr. L. Mercier, Librairie Orientaliste, Paris, 1924.
Maurice, _Maurice's Strategikon_, tr. G.T. Dennis, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.
Pluvinel, Antoine de, _The Maneige Royal_ tr. by Hilda Nelson, J.A. Allen and Co. Ltd., London, 1989.
Prevot,Briggitte and  Ribemont,Bernard, _Le Cheval en France au Moyen Age_.
Rabie, H., 'The Training of the Mamluk Faris' in _War, Technology and Society in the Middle East_ , ed.  V.J. Parry and M.E.Yapp, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986 .
Smith, G. Rex, _Medieval Muslim Horsemanship: A Fourteenth Century Arabic Cavalry Manual_, The British Library, London, 1979.

Suggested Reading:
Ayton, Andrew, _Knights and Warhorses_The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1994.
Davis, R.H.C., _The Medieval Warhorse_, London, 1989.
Hyland, Ann, _Training the Roman Cavalry_, Sutton Publishing, London, 1993.
Museum of London, _The Medieval Horse and It's Equipment c.1150-c.1450_, ed. John Clark, HMSO Publications, London, 1995.
Paris, Matthew, _The Illustrated Chronicles of Matthew Paris_, tr. Richard Vaughn, Allan Sutton Publishing, Cambridge, 1993.
Usamah ibn Munqidh, _An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usamah ibn Munqidh _, tr. Philip K. Hitti, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1987.

Schooling For Mounted Archery
Viscountess Kassandra Tenebrosa, Magistra
(© K Charron )

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the first International Horse Archery Festival, held in Fort Dodge Iowa.  While there, I was able to attend classes held by the master of horse archery, Kassai Lojos.  Many know him for the horse bows that he crafts and sells, but he also has a camp in Hungary where he teaches techniques for horse archery.  A lucky few who were able to afford the fee to study with him during the festival were able to put their skills to the test, and those who weren't able were allowed to watch and learn during these sessions.  The following are some of the exercises taught by Kassai to help improve ones archery and spear throwing skills.

Of course, the first recommendation was to improve your ground archery skills.  Release techniques and relaxation exercises were discussed.  Among the most critical techniques mentioned was the anchor point for horse archers.  Many field archers anchor at the jaw, or cheek, and sight down the arrow.  For horse archery, however, one must develop a loose anchor, drawing to the collarbone area.  The bow arm must be horizontal, with no break from the shoulder.  The drawing arm must keep the elbow up, but not above shoulder height.   While I could write more about the ground exercises and release techniques, I would be greatly out of my field of expertise, as I am first a horseman, and archery is not my forte.

All of the exercises done from horseback were done bareback, as Kassai stressed the feel of the horse's movement, and how critical it is to shooting successfully. 

The first exercise was a simple hand to eye coordination test.  Students were given a handful of small stones and were told to toss them in the air, catching them and immediately tossing them up again. This was done with the left hand. The students did this exercise at a trot, but it could also be done at a walk. While it is helpful to do this exercise with someone fetching new stones for you, I found that a pouch or fanny pack full of stones could keep me occupied for some time. (see photo)

To continue with the stones, the second exercise was to place a small target on the ground.  As the students rode a circle, they would toss the stone with their right hand, aiming for the ground target, which was about ten feet in front of and to the right of the rider.  The purpose of this exercise was not just to hit the target, but to feel the horse's movement and to time your throw correctly.  You want to release the stone as the horse begins to step up with the right hind leg.  (see photo) This should be done first at a walk, until the feel of the horse's movement is learned, and then at the trot.  This is an excellent way to feel the rhythm of the horse and to learn timing of the release of the arrow or spear.  While not demonstrated at the canter, this exercise could also be done at the canter, and the release of the stone would need to be done at the moment of suspension in the horse's gait, when the horse is rising. 

The next exercise was done mimicking the holding and shooting of the bow.  The left arm is held horizontally away from the body, first facing forward, and then slowly moved as if riding past a target, until you finish pointing backwards.  (see photo)   The critical aspect of this exercise is to have your upper body correctly aligned as if you are shooting.  Your torso must twist from the waist, while your shoulders remain aligned with one another, avoiding the movement of either shoulder independently.  This is not simply moving your arm back and forth.  When shooting to the front, your entire upper body must be positioned so that your bow hand is aligned at 11 o'clock.  At the finish of the exercise, when shooting to the rear, your upper body should have rotated counterclockwise so that your bow hand now points 7 o'clock, depending on your suppleness (these instructions are for a right handed shooter).  This also can be done at walk, trot, or canter.

After this, the students were given bow and arrow, and shot a target set at the same height as they were on horseback, at a distance of about six feet.  Done at a walk and trot, release technique was critiqued as the students passed the target.

These were the basics of Kassai's teaching, however I did glean a few other interesting facts while watching and asking questions.  The horse must always be on the left lead while cantering or galloping the course.  You must always time your release of arrow or spear when the horse is in the moment of suspension, in the upward movement of the gait.  Knotting the reins can really help, especially if your horse expects contact and tends to rush when the reins are dropped.  And, my favorite quote, in response to my question about his Hungarian saddles being uncomfortable to sit in: "You want comfort, sit at home "

  Mounted Archery Ithra Class
by Donwenna La Mareschale and Agelos Evienece
(© 2008 Donna Debonis and David Cadwell)

Course Description: Registration is open to all archery and equestrian skill levels, from beginning to advanced. Participants will be grouped according to skills and instructed in groups and individually. The basic schedule will call for three hours of training. Arrive a few minutes early. All the necessary elements of shooting, riding and the meshing of the two will be covered, but tailored to each individual's development. Approximately one-half the training will be ground exercises which simulate different portions of the integrated mounted discipline, and then the other half of the training will be on horseback. There will be some variations on this general schedule. We will be teaching Kassai Lajos's style of Hungarian Horseback Archery which is  based on research he did on  the medieval Steppes Nomad.

Room Requirements: Covered arena

Instructor Supplied Materials: Handout

Ithra Supplied Materials: none

Student Supplied Materials: 1.Reasonable fitness and basic equestrian skills are required.  The student must be able to mount a saddled horse from the ground, and demonstrate controlled cantering
2.Students need comfortable pants and boots . It is strongly urged that the rider bring and use a riding helmet.
3.Bring your own bow and compatible arrows. Any bows (excluding crossbows) are permissible but they should accommodate an overdraw (back near collarbone), and they will work best in the range of 30 to 40 pounds to facilitate training in form, a great amount of shooting, and maneuvering on horseback.   Either finger or thumb-ring releases are fine, but no mechanical trigger releases.
4. HORSE (Owned or rented)
Before arriving at the Ithra, the horse must be able to gallop in a straight line or circle without reining, be totally calm about all the sights and sounds of a mounted archer shooting at all angles, and must be of a good disposition while moving around closely with other horses in a clinical setting. The horse must be under the control of the rider at all times.
5.Preparation for the Training
a) Do aerobic exercise three times a week--jogging, treadmill, dancing, fighter practice, etc.
b) Ride a minimum of once a week. Get lessons if you do not have a horse.
c) Practice nocking without looking daily even in your home; .
d) Practice ground exercises designed to help build mounted archery skills (see Schooling For Mounted Archery article above)
e) Read and study ' Horseback Archery by Kassai Lajos (email donwenna@gmail.com for info on buying  copies)

Mounted  Archery Resources
collected by Donwenna la Mareschale
(aka, Donna DeBonis, DVM)
by  Evan A. Morris. --AKA, Ld. Alastair -ap-Maelgwyn
Now, as to the process. This is difficult to explain, much easier in person.But I will try. Always keep in mind economy of motion. Start with threearrows in the bow hand. They are held point down with the feathers just an inch or two above your gripping fist. They must not cross over each otherand should all be against the back of the bow. They will naturally tend to
slant a bit and must not overlap the arrow pass. Note this is based on
shooting off the right side of the bow using a thumb ring. The process is similar but adds another step if you use the Mediterannean release. Practice arranging the arrows a few times until it is easy to do. To shoot; holding your bow out at near full extension, reach foward with your drawing hand and grab an arrow by the nock. Snap nocks with flat sides that allow for easy indexing are a BIG plus. Tilt the arrow down to horizontal letting your
gripping fingers release it one by one from the bottom up. This lets you
keep your grip on the bow and the other arrows. Practice this a few times
until it seems halfway natural. Then draw the selected arrow back and
quickly push it between the bow and the string to get it on the left side of
the bow. This is a step you get to omit if you are shooting thumbring.
Continue pushing foward until the nock is even with the string. Nock the
arrow. A nocking point is a must. Set it up so that you are nocking below
the point and sliding the nock up the string to touch it. With practice you
will be right there anyway, but this takes awhile. Make sure your nocks are
not so tight that you can't slide them easily. This was the biggest problem
I had. You can use a heat gun to soften the nocks and an awl or nail to
widen them. Otherwise you can sand them, but this takes longer. The proper
fit is a fine line between to tight to slide and to loose to grip. Until you
are an expert horseman your arrows can easily come off the string with the
movement of your body with the horse. Snap nocks pretty much prevent this,
so don't open them up too wide. Once you are nocked, draw smoothly to full
length and release on the upward beat of the horses gallop, as you are
hanging for a moment. At release your hand should follow through a bit to
the rear, which helps balance you. Immediately thereafter reach foward for
the next arrow and repeat. The key to the whole process, and the thing that
requires so much practice is that you must keep your attention focused
unswervingly on the target the whole time, and never look at what you are
doing. As you pass the target you simply twist your torso to follow it while
your hands do the work of drawing and nocking mechanically without your
thinking about it too much. As long as your attention is focused on the
target your arrows will hit it. Of course there is a lot that can go wrong
with this scenario, but that is why it takes so much practice. The good news
is that you can do the hardest part anywhere, even in your living room. just
omit the draw and shoot part. Once the arrow is nocked, draw about an inch,
just to prove the arrow is really on then flick it off the string with your
fingers and let it drop. Go for the next one. Eventually hope to get as many
as 8 arrows in your hand. Master Kassai can. Me, I can do 6. On the course
the most I've carried is 4, since I've never gotten more than 3 off in one
run. But I hope to improve this spring. It took me and most of the rest of
2003's IHAF class a few hours to get the technique down practicing on the
ground and the steel horse. Then a few runs of the course to prove we could
do it and by the second day many were pretty good with 2-3 arrows. Once and
awhile you will fumble while nocking or drawing the arrow from your grip.
Drop it quickly and go to the next. Time goes by VERY quickly indeed.

Best of luck. I know it sounds hard, but it is really pretty simple. Hope
this made sense. -Alastair

     Being on the left (correct) lead is not that important. What is important is to NOT be on the Right (incorrect) lead and in the way of the horse. This will cause a sore backed horse. It is the riders responsibility to sit the horse correctly. The idea is to get the horse on the lead we choose.
    On either lead your hip moves forward slightly with the horses leading leg. Try stepping forward with the right leg and throwing a ball with the right hand. It works the same with the bow. It is much easier to shoot bow leg forward. In a perfect world the horse would start on the left lead (right handed shooter) and change leads when you start shooting backwards. This would allow the right hip forward. This is more pronounced bareback and the difference in balance and timing is critical. Saddles help the rider compensate for this. The problem is that the horse can still feel it and it is not the most comfortable ride for the horse or rider.
    Generally speaking your ride will be smoother, the horse will last longer and your shots will be more accurate with a well balanced ride. By keeping your right leg centered on the horse you can rotate the left front to rear without disturbing the balance of the horse.
    To sit right hip forward on a left lead is hard to do, hard on the horses back and makes shooting more difficult
    On another note last week I had a very good rider with a very well trained horse tell me he had trouble with his horse picking up a left lead. When he could get him to pick it up the horse would change. I never saw this horse and rider have a problem all week long. The reason is because both horse and rider did what came natural to them. The rider positioned himself shooting forward, left leg and hip forward. The horse did what was most comfortable and easy for him, picked up the left lead. When the horse and rider work together this discipline becomes an art.

   Hope this clears up the importance, if not we can visit it some more.


Training  Your Horse for Mounted Archery
by Donwenna LaMareschale
© Donna DeBonis 2008

Mounted Archery is the most challenging and demanding horseback sport I have ever tried. I am no where near an expert, but I can at least tell folks about my own mistakes so that we all can learn from them. 

#1- as a Mounted Archery you must learn to be controlled in your movements on the ground. You must learn to move ONLY the top part of your body when you are shooting at the target. This means you must keep the bottom of your body (i.e., from the hips down) from pivoting as you are passing and focusing on the target. The bottom of your body is in charge of directing the horse. More on this later. Kassai has developed many drills that discipline your top body to move your upper body seperately from your lower body.

#2--You cannot hold the reins while we shoot. This will be a clue to the horse that you are doing a 'different activity.'  You must go very slowly with this aspect of training the horse. The first time you let of the reins your horse will think you are giving him his head and then he will run (away).  You must be sure to train your horse that he must hold a steady controlled gait instead, when the reins are released to lie on his neck.

#3. Shooting off horseback. Sit on the horse with the horse standing while you hold the bow. Practice moving your upper body only and keep the horse standing. You have to train him to him to understand that with the bow in hand he does not need to follow your upper body movements.  The horse must learn to follow only your lower body movements.  Practice this at every gait, making sure that your horse understands he is not to veer off the path to follow your focus on the target. Do not shoot until you and your horse have this understanding at each gait.

#4-Focus on the target with your upper body only and focus on the riding path with your lower body. This will be confusing to the horse. When you ride your horse you focus on a target or a path. The horse naturally follows your focus. That is why you MUST learn to train your lower body separately from your upper body so the horse follows the correct signals, which will be coming from your lower body. Otherwise if you are focusing on the target with all of your body, your horse will follow you off the path and head for the target.

by Magistra Kassandra Tenebrosa
Asian Traditional Archery Research Network
 Mounted Archery division
by Donwenna & Agelos
by Todd Delle
by Ld Alistair
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This page was last updated: May 12, 2017

©  2014 Donna DeBonis
  Contact the webperson, Donna DeBonis for permission to copy information. Permission is granted to link to this webpage.

Greetings from Donwenna,
Like many of you here, I like to learn and share what I have learned. I believe that education and communication are vital towards positive change and growth,not just amongst the equestrians in SCA, but also as we 'tread' on the territory of others. In the case of promoting mounted archery in the SCA, I made a concerted effort in my approach to bringing mounted archery to this kingdom.  Frankly, I didn't want anyone to shut us down for any reason.

Having heard concerns several years ago, from  the higher ranked unmounted archers in this kingdom about whether mounted archery was safe enough, I can understand all sides of the argument. What worked for me, was to show them what I had learned.  One of the tools I was lucky enough to get my hands on was a DVD of Kassai Lajos' Horseback archery competition from several years ago. To say it was awe inspiring is an understatement. Showing that DVD at  Hunt Guild and Equestrian displays (not horse events!!!) plus the then recent TI article by Magistra Kassandra Tenebrosa, went a long way in showing these high ranking archers that I was credible. That coupled with  HL Khaidu & I training to become Senior Target Archery Marshals [Sr TAM] went a long way into providing not only a comfort level, but also a reasonable degree of support from  the archery community. What's more I included the unmounted archers and I also served time working for them as a TAM. Certainly the unmounted archers did not want to jump on a horse to start shooting, however, I also made them welcome on our 'mounted archery' course. In fact, at Summer Hunt we had more unmounted archers (19)competing then mounted ones (14) this last year.

In the beginning several years ago, when I  wished to promote  mounted archery for IKEQC purposes, I researched both the mundane horseback archery (I won'tcall it modern, because these folks also base theirs on their cultural traditions) and our regular  SCA archery. As you all can guess, for the mundane aspect I started into what was happening at that time--the Ft Dodge Archery Festival , which featured for the first couple of years, Kassai Lajos. I found his website; I discovered the HBA yahoo elist, I talked to Magistra Kassandra Tenebrosa and other SCA-ers who had attended Ft Dodge's events; I found the Atarn website. I put all of this onto a website (I'll upload it here later today after I update the links). After that I set up my first mounted archery class at an event on my property called Fibers and Fletching. By then I had already introduced the concepts to some of the high ranking unmounted archers AT NON -Equestrian venues---and then they were able to see it in action in a very small scale controlled setting.  Next, HL Khaidu (as a SR TAM and EM himself) included it routinely at events he held.  We gradually built this into the consciousness of the kingdom. Yes, we had a couple of blips a long the way ---1 person reported that she felt we were dangerous cause the arrow shot by the rider  could hit the horse in the eye--after showing the DVD of Kassai Lajos and his student and competitors, where by archers could see exactly the trajectories, this person's opinion was disregarded. At no time was anyone ever hurt  or any animal ever hurt.

In summary, I would suggest a similar process. You know your kingdom best. You know the archers who are openminded and 'highranked' --approach them and wow them with your information and knowledge. Show them you are prepared. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but in the long run it will work. If anyone would like to discuss this privately--feel free to contact me at donwenna@gmail.com


Asian Traditional Archery Research Network