A growing sport has gained a foothold in Stanly County, or in the case of archery on horseback, has left its hoof prints.
Rising Arrow Mounted Archery, run by Aleshia Harrison and based at Angus Hills Farms just off St. Martin Road, recently held a clinic to teach the intricacies of the sport.
The clinic was taught by Diana Olds, Founder and CEO of Chelee Warriors Mounted Archery in Levittown, located just outside of Philadelphia. Olds is also vice president and sits on the board of directors of Horse Archery USA, a national organization promoting archery on horseback.
Rising Arrow is the only club of its kind in North Carolina and one of five clubs in the Mid-East region of Horse Archery USA. Nationally, the organization has about 30 clubs, the majority in California.
Harrison competes in archery on horseback with his partner, Samson, a 12-year-old Belgian quarter horse who has also won the Western Yachting Championship for two consecutive years. She has been practicing archery on horseback for over two years, but the Rising Arrow club is about a year old.
“We hope that now that we’ve sort of figured out how things work, we can do more, be able to bring more people to train with from different areas, because everyone trains differently,” said Harrison.
The sport has its roots mainly in Native American culture, but can also find other origins in places like Mongolia, Turkey and Korea.
As a sport, archery on horseback is quite young. But Harrison said the sport has seen a resurgence over the past two years, especially in the United States.
Rising Arrow has 12 members, but the group is growing.
“There are always new people out there who want to learn and come in,” Harrison said. “We try to adapt to all levels that you are. We will teach you from scratch.
Literally, new participants begin on the ground learning the skills to shoot an arrow from its container (a quiver), aim the arrow, and shoot before doing so while rolling. Once aboard the horse, participants begin by walking the horse before moving on to faster gaits.
The sport combines elements of equestrian sports as well as archery. Riders do not use reins to control where the horse is going as the athlete has to charge, aim and shoot an arrow at the target within seconds.
“You have to focus on letting the horse do its job. You have to charge, aim and shoot, all at the same time. There are literally a million things going on in your brain before you let go, ”Harrison said.
A good relationship between the archer and his horse is paramount, said Harrison.
“You have to trust (the horse) implicitly because you have no reins… you have to trust that it will go where it is supposed to go at the speed you asked it to go.”
Harrison said archery on horseback helped Samson and herself in their horse competitions in which they competed.
At the clinic, Olds said she got into the sport because she “wanted a cultural connection” to her family’s Native American past.
She said every country in the world at some point had some form of mounted warriors that had an archery aspect “whether as hunters or as defenders.”
Movies were also an influence for Olds, who said films like “Troy” or the John Wayne films made him want to explore aspects of mounted archery.
“I have this weird fantasy of wanting to run towards someone who is fighting and diving off my horse to break it. It’s like a dream… it’s the kind of movies I grew up with, ”Olds said.
For most horse archers, the ability to hit the target while the rider and horse are moving is empowering, Olds said.
Olds said she taught many people who came calm and shy and “didn’t trust themselves or their partnership with their horse” to become “war princesses.”
Harrison said that like most games or life’s difficult activities, mounted archery is “easy to learn at first, but it takes a lifetime to master it.”