ZAWAYDA, Gaza Strip – Mohammed Abu Musaed, the first in Gaza mounted archery trainer, assiduously trains his team to represent Palestine in international and Arab competitions. Archery, which has recently seen an international boom, is a very old sport.
Archers ride horses, carry leather quivers and hold their bows in their hands, trying to stay focused on their targets as their horses travel a 150-yard path. Abu Musaed, 40, watches and gives praise and advice.
Abu Musaed, who was busy preparing the way before the archers arrived at the club – empty land given to Zawayda in southern Gaza – told Al-Monitor. “Archers need to have equestrian skills, musculature and balance, alertness and quick intuition to be able to control their horses and simultaneously hit multiple targets quickly. It takes training and practice.
Gazans, he said, especially in the southern and central areas where the Bedouin community lives, are known for their horseback riding. He said he was currently working on a sports book, which dates back to the 16th century. One of the earliest known archery competitions was held in 1583 in Britain with the participation of 3,000 archers. He explained that Arabs consider archery on horseback to be the highest level of riding.
He said he started archery three years ago. His passion for sport drove him to learn it online. In 2019, he traveled to Indonesia for training. He learned to make arches and mastered the skills of archery. After completing his 29-day training, he returned to Gaza.
Abu Musaed said it took him nine months to make an organic bow using sheep horns, mulberry wood and glue produced from cowhide. He wrapped him in snakeskin to protect him.
He said he is currently working with a bow he made using modern tools. He has several more that he made inexpensively, in carbon fiber and sheathed in leather. He also makes bows from wooden sticks and iron heads adorned with colorful bird feathers. The color and the shapes symbolize different civilizations.
Abu Musaed said it costs around $ 200 to make a bow. But he stressed that due to the Israeli siege, he does not have access to the materials he needs. He sells bows and arrows, but demand is low amid the difficult economic conditions plaguing the Gaza Strip.
Abu Musaed is the only coach of his club. Before opening it in April 2021, it requested government funding, but has yet to receive any support.
He said: “I get many requests from people to join the team, but I cannot accept them due to a lack of financial resources as well as the lack of means to transport the horses. It also takes a lot of effort to teach interns.
He said archers ride their horses from home, which tires them out even before training, as many archers live in remote areas.
Abu Musaed has assembled a team of five archers and has a Youtube channel on making bows and teaching archery.
Abu Musaed said he wanted the sport to grow in Gaza so that he could possibly create a bigger horse archery club and build teams to represent Palestine in international tournaments.
He also pointed out that last year he received an invitation to compete in South Korea, but was unable to travel due to lack of financial resources.
Ahmed Abu Zayed, 27, from Zawayada, told Al-Monitor: “I have loved horseback riding since I was a child. When Abu Musaed suggested that I combine horse riding and archery, it was obvious to me.
Speaking as he hit all of his training targets, Abu Zayed said he initially found it difficult to hold the bow and arrow and control the horse at the same time. He first learned regular archery at the Abu Musaed club, and only after mastering archery on horseback.
He said: “I get great pleasure when I play this sport because it helps me focus and strengthen my muscles.”
He explained that he has been practicing equestrian sports since 2009 and has become a certified horse trainer with the Palestinian Equestrian Federation. Unfortunately, he had to sell his horses for economic reasons. He currently uses a parent’s horses for training, but says he will buy a new horse as soon as he can.