What do you get if you mix riding with archery? It’s obvious really...

South Downs member Danielle Johnston on Charlie
South Downs member Danielle Johnston on Charlie

You’ve heard of archery and you’ve heard of horse riding, but have you heard of a ‘new’ sport in town? Horse archery.

South Downs Horse Archers have been going for just over a year in Hunston and Ford and have progressed to members competing internationally for the GB development team.

South Downs Horse Archers are coached by Dan and Claire Sawyer and are affiliated to the British Horseback Archery Association, of which Dan is president.

The BHAA is affiliated to the International Horseback Archery Alliance – of which Claire is secretary – and the World Horseback Archery Federation.

Dan and Claire hold several national records, including being former World bronze medalists.

The summer of 2017 was a big year for the club as a number of members competed abroad.

Members took part in competitions in countries such as Poland and France, as well as Sweden where Dan and Claire competed in the second stage of the European Grand Prix Series.

Dan said: “New members that join the South Downs Horse Archers club learn the basics first. They are taught how to shoot the bow in the traditional Asiatic style until they progress to shooting of the back of the horse as it canters down a track.

“Most members at the club have their own horses so are already trained on that part, Claire and I teach the archery side until confident enough to do it from horseback.”

Not only do the riders need training – the horses do too. The coaches spend time helping people get their horses used to the bow and arrow.

Compared to other sports more regularly played by the younger generation such as football, rugby and cricket, horse archery is slowly on the rise.

Sawyer said: “Most people getting into the sport at the moment do so through word of mouth, particularly through the equestrian community.

“We have been playing this sport for a few years now and it all started via our passion for archery.

“We had been doing our hand in archery previously and were members of Chichester Bowmen and Rat Pack Field Archers (based at Binstead) when I mentioned to Claire about the historical practice of horse archery.

“Claire, already a keen horse rider, was immediately intrigued and wanted to try out the sport. We found the British Horseback Archery Association online and Claire went off to do a weekend course.”

Another weekend course later and both Dan and Claire were hooked.

Incredibly, since then, both have competed in three different continents – including winning team bronze for GB at the World Championships in Korea.

The Sawyers, as well as coaching the South Downs Horse Archers, volunteer as coaches for Horseback UK, a charity which helps wounded soldiers and ex-servicemen.

They take leave from work and travel to Scotland to run a free week-long course which culminates with them earning their Club Horseback Archer qualification.

Dan and Claire were introduced to the charity when they took part in the Forces Equine Games back in 2013 and got talking to Jock Hutchison who runs Horseback UK.

“Jock loved the idea of teaching horse archery up there and since then we have taught the staff and ran courses for the veterans themselves.”

To Dan, this has been the most rewarding thing he’s done through the sport. Donations and more information about the charity can be found at the website horseback.org.uk

South Downs rely greatly on sponsors Feefo, MMO Chartered Accountants, Keith Miller Insurance Services, and Colin Underwood Farriery.

Horse archery dates back to the ninth century and was orignally used for hunting and warfare but has gradually become more competitive.

Typically, it was practised in countries such as Japan and South Korea and, in Europe, in spots such as Hungary and Poland.

From Atilla the Hun to Ghenghis Khan’s Mongol hordes, many of history’s most fearsome warriors terrorised their enemies with storms of arrows shot from horseback.

Horseback archery is steadily gaining popularity in the western world and there are a variety of styles including Polish, Japanese, Hungarian, Qabaq, Mogu, Yabusame, Mamluk and Jordanian.

The modern take on the sport has a simple set of rules: it involves cantering a horse down a 90m track while shooting multiple arrows at one or more targets, reloading as you go.

The horse is ridden at a canter or gallop with the reins loose on the horse’s neck. Horses must be desensitised to the bow and arrows and the sound of shooting, as well as being trained to run at a steady speed without rein contact.

While not commonly known to many, horse archery participation is ever growing – not only in this country but worldwide.

The BHAA (British Horseback Archery Association) championship involves a range of people from competent beginners to those who have competed in the European championships and world championships.

In last year’s Euro event, three-quarters of the GB team came from South Downs.

It is open to a range of participants of all abilities. One of the main mottos from the BHAA is that the ‘emphasis is very much on the pleasure of participation and celebrating of our sport’.

More information can be found on www.bhaa.org.uk