European Grand Prix 2015 Final Stage – Sweden

Regular readers will know about the European Grand Prix by now.  It’s the world’s only multi-stage horseback archery competition, contested over 3 stages by 7 nations,each sending a team of 3 to each stage.  This year’s final stage was in Norrtalje, near Stockholm, and I went together with Oisin Curtis and Adam Snowball as Team GB.

I am going to take a moment to talk about the way the GP has gone this year for GB.  If you just want the review of this stage, without me pontificating on selection processes and so on, then feel free to skip a couple of paragraphs.  Be warned though, this is basically a whole competition’s blog in one go, so it isn’t going to be quick!

The Story So Far

With Finland sitting this year out,GB were lying in 6th place (effectively out of 6) going into this event and far enough behind that a 6th place finish was inevitable.  The objective was to ensure that we did not finish 6th in each event.  In the two previous stages GB had always finished last.  This is not a reflection on the British team but on the strength of the opposition.  The teams from Poland and Germany in particular are stunningly good and have good depth as well.  France have been performing well, with great performances by a number of their members, especially some of the younger ones.  Hungary had been able to call on the abilities of former Al Faris Champion Matyas Ruszak as well as a number of very solid competitors.  Like Hungary, Sweden have been able to call on one rider (Emil Eriksson) whose scores often rival those of any two Brits, as well as a long list of others who are never less than good and are perfectly capable on their day of beating any of us.

We knew at the start of the year that this would be the case but we had opted anyway to allocate places on the team to as many people as possible, rather than focus on always fielding our strongest team.  The aim in doing so was to try to encourage more people to get involved in international competition, as one of the many fine things about the GP is that while al horseback archery competitions are friendly the idea of going with a team is somehow more comforting for those going to their first event, rather that just turning up somewhere where you may now very few people if anybody.  Friends are made fast (in both senses) in this sport and it is our hope that some of those who have gone abroad for the first time this year will feel more confident simply to pick a competition and go to it secure in the knowledge that there may well be people there whom they have met at the GP and that in any event everybody they will meet will make them immediately welcome.

Stage 3

A preposterously early start saw Oisin and me arrive at Gatwick by 6am and land in Stockholm around midday.  A short tour of Arlanda airport (where it was stinkingly hot) was followed by a slightly longer tour of Arlanda airport as we tried to find where Emil was parked.  This desperate feat accomplished, we set off for the beautiful farm where the competition was being held.  Rolling hills below (including one of a few hundred metres that you had to walk up to get to the competition area) and clear blue skies (complete with ridiculously hot sun) above gave the perfect (if slightly hot) backdrop to a great competition.  As is usual, the whole thing was conducted in an atmosphere of good humoured competition, with the pleasure of the sport and the company taking precedence over what was nonetheless a pretty high level competition.

For me personally, the good news began when I was told that I would be riding Barcos Fancy Cat, my trusty steed from the DHA Hunt Track Cup (see previous entries for this fantastic event).  I really cannot thank Mats and Ylwa enough for letting me ride him again and for their help over the course of the weekend, both in terms of riding advice and the more prosaic (but equally important) matters of handing up arrows and water bottles, telling me my times and picking up on errors as I went.  They and Barco were fantastic.

Such a good boy!

So there we were, the three men of Team GB looking to break out of bottom spot.  The obvious target was Hungary, who were only able to field a team of two.  Surely three of us could beat two?  Even if one was Timea Gal, a very accomplished rider and solid shot who rarely has a bad day; and the other was Aron Fedor, a man who can somehow appear totally calm and composed while shooting with vicious accuracy from the back of a horse that really shouldn’t be going that fast while its rider faces backwards to shoot?

Saturday was the Hungarian event.  Despite loosing 4 or 5 arrows per run, I was not shooting well and never managed more than 1 hit on a run.  On the positive side I did hit on every run and in a decent time (generally about 13-14s for 99m).  I got off feeling pretty disappointed with myself, only to discover that I had scored 76.8: hardly brilliant but by no means a disaster. It put me in 10th out of 24, an annoying 0.5pts behind Terese Nilsson, who may never let me forget it…  I then passed the time acting as target judge, to the hilarity of the

As a team we finished an agonising 13 points behind Hungary.  The ever-reliable Timea scored  a solid 65 and Aron won the event with a brilliant 126 shot from the back of a horse that was going like the proverbial express train.  How he hit anything, much less shoot 3 arrows and still rack up 41 hit points (which is more than I got) is quite beyond me.  Oh well, one event down, 2 to go…

Emil bringing a little style to judging the Hungarian event

Emil bringing a little style to judging the Hungarian event

The Turkish event followed for half of us (those who had to leave early the next day).  This involves picking a blunt arrow up from a stand (usually, although this time it was somebody holding it for you), shooting it upwards at the qabaq target and then shooting a second blunt in a side shot at a small (perhaps 20cm across) circular target.  I have never failed to pick up the arrow before, whether at last year’s event or in practice here.  Somehow I managed both times to knock it straight out of the holder’s hand before mine could close on it.  Still, I hit the qabaq once (using a spare arrow from the quiver) and, on a day when I struggled to hit a 90cm target in the Hungarian, I nailed the tiny side shot both times. Figures.  We would have to wait for the results of this until Sunday afternoon when the others had finished their runs.

Anders on the flying Ivan. Not only did he manage to hit a large number of targets as they blurred past, he even won the Turkish style.

Anders on the flying Ivan. Not only did he manage to hit a large number of targets as they blurred past, he even won the Turkish style.

Speaking of runs, I felt that I should probably do more triathlon training while I was there.  For those who don’t know, I am doing my first triathlon in a few weeks’ time to raise money for Horseback UK, a charity working with injured servicemen.  Do feel free to donate here.  So, in what I think I may have mentioned was disgustingly hot weather, I pulled on my running shoes and went for a 5.5km bout of torture through what turned out to be (once I’d regained my breath after the initial hill) lovely countryside.  For those who are wondering, I can confirm that running in the middle of a horseback archery competition is not a good idea.  It makes tired legs even more tired.

Saturday night passed in a blur of foreign alcohol, including Bavarian Obstler, Hungarian palinka, Polish Soplica and homemade raspberry vodka (thank you Ligi!).  Oh yes,and a traditional Swedish drink. This was poured out for everybody, after which Anders sang a song in Swedish, allegedly about Vikings.  We then all drank the aforementioned drink.  Based on the taste of this liquid, my tentative conclusion is that the “song” was actually just informing the Swedes that they should on no account drink the stuff in their glasses because it was clearly low-grade gasoline being used as a trick on the foreigners.  I have tasted many foul drinks in my time (I’m thinking here of Radek’s “herbal moonshine” last year) but this may well take the gut-burning biscuit.

On the bright side, the food was outstanding.  Really very good.  This had been true on Friday night as well.  Not many competitions can come close to the standard of food here, for which I think I speak for all competitors in thanking our hosts.  In particular Isabel, the 10 year old competitor who baked us a chocolate cake that may well be the best I have ever tasted.  She’s also a far better horseback archer than any 10 year-old should be.

And so to Sunday: the Korean event.  This is my stronger style, requiring quick nocking and repeated short range accuracy at speed rather than long range shooting.  And so naturally I missed both targets on my first run.  Suitably annoyed, I proceeded to hit both on my second, then every target in two runs of triple shot and then 9 out of 10 on the serial shot (a momentary brain fart causing me to miss target 5 on my first run, but at least I finished on a high note).  The hits were not high scoring, being mostly 2s, but they all count and, importantly, hitting multiple targets gets you bonuses.  While my arrows scored only 36 out of a possible 100 points, a total beaten by 11 other people; I picked up 16 out of 20 possible bonus points, which was more than anybody else save two.

Taking a back shot in the Korean event.

Taking a back shot in the Korean event.

The importance of hitting lots of targets to get the bonus, even if only hitting the outer zones, is well illustrated by this comparison: my hits were many but low scoring, meaning that I got, as mentioned above, 36 target points and 16 bonus points Terese, on the other hand, also got 36 target points but she did so by hitting fewer targets and hitting them very accurately. She therefore only managed 3 bonus points.  With the same scores on the target, my quick shooting with accuracy that was good enough but not pinpoint gave me a 13 point lead.  Add 6 more time points for me than for Terese and the previous day’s Hungarian result was well and truly avenged!  This is not intended to start a debate but it is a point worth thinking about for those doing Korean events: if there are bonus points on offer then get them: the Korean event rewards consistently good enough shooting at speed above really accurate shooting that is either too slow or inconsistent.

An anxious wait ended with the relief that between the three of us, GB had managed to beat the Hungarian pair.  By 10 points.  Phew!  As a welcome added bonus, it turned out that we had also beaten Germany in the Turkish.  Two 5th places and a 6th was well within our aims and we left satisfied with the results of the competition as well as having had a terrific time.

We had one more treat before we left.  Less than 2km away is a tiny museum which houses the oldest viking boat ever found.  It was dug up by a local farmer as he cut a new drainage ditch and is a fascinating  sight.  The museum also has a large selection of objects from a variety of eras in local history, including a collection of saddles used by local soldiers in Sweden’s wars.

Adam contemplating the world's oldest viking ship.

Adam contemplating the world’s oldest viking ship.

One of the fine old saddles in the museum's collection.

One of the fine old saddles in the museum’s collection.

I highly recommend a trip there to anybody who goes to an event in this area.  And if possible, go with somebody like Ligi, whose knowledge of everything from vintage saddle construction to viking shipbuilding is quite incredible.  Also, you should definitely get there in a small saloon car with 5 people inside and 2 Bavarians sat in the open boot,with Boney M’s “Daddy Cool” blaring out at top volume.  And that kind of sums up this event: outrageous fun with interesting and knowledgeable people.  And cake.

Glossary of Terms for Archery

This post is intended to be an ongoing project (and is very far from complete at the moment!): a glossary of common archery terms with basic explanations.  If there are any terms you think should be added, let me know.

Parts of the Bow

Back:  the face of the bow that points away from the archer.  

Belly:  the face of the bow that points towards the archer.

Handle/grip: the part of the bow that is held by the hand.

Limb:  the section of the bow that is not the handle.  May consist of bending and non-bending parts.

Nock:  the point on the bow where the string attaches.  May consist of grooves cut into the side of the bow (usually both sides symmetrically but on some historical bows just one side); a groove in the back of the bow (usually on a static recurve) or a protrusion from the tip for the string to fit over, with shoulders to stop the string sliding down (this is sometimes known as a pin nock).  Not to be confused with the nock at the end of an arrow, the action of attaching the arrow to the string or the nocking point on the string.

Rest:  similar to a shelf but consisting of a piece of wood, leather, metal or some other material protruding from (and usually stuck to rather than made from the same piece as) the bow.

Shelf:  a section of the bow, often the bottom of a window, that provides a stable base for the arrow to rest on.

Siyah:  the stiffened tip of a static recurve.  Also known as the ear.

Window/cutout:  a section of the bow at the top of the handle that has been removed.  This serves two major purposes: it makes the bow more centreshot and it provides a shelf.


Strings – Parts and Manufacture

Loops:  the loops at the end of the string, that fit over the end of the bow.

Nocking Point:  the point on the string where the arrow attaches.  It is important to get this position right, for optimum arrow flight and to reduce the risk of the feathers’ cutting the hand.  Nocking point also refers to a marker attached to the string to mark this point.  They often consist of small brass “U” shaped pieces that are clamped around the string but it is better to use a piece of dental floss or similar wrapping (since this is lighter and therefore allows faster string movement, as well as not cutting the drawing fingers as brass can do.

Serving:  any of various types of thread wrapped around the string.  Centre serving is the section of thread wrapped around that part of the string where the arrow will attach.  It allows the string to be built up to a thickness appropriate to the arrow without needing to have the whole string that thick (and therefore heavy and slow).  It also protects the string from friction from the arrow.  End serving, also known as loop serving is the thread wrapped around the loops.  It protects the loops from friction and also ensures that the loops stay closed.


DHA – Home Time

We are not having much luck with the airlines this trip: we arrived at the airport to find that our flight has been delayed by 2 hours.  After a pretty decent meal (paid for by the airline by way of saying sorry), we are now sitting in the airport with Adam and Wojtek.  Not a bad airport, if you’re planning to wait ages…

We had a very relaxed day, with usual post-competition hugs and farewells.  Mats and Mike then very kindly drove us from Rättvik to Stockholm (about 4 hours), including a short stop in Gävle, an old port town where Claire’s great-great-grandfather was born and lived until a great fire destroyed most of the town and orphaned him, at which point he joined a ship and ended up living in Sunderland.

I passed part of the journey reading road signs.  I find Swedish oddly easy to read (much of it is basically German and English written oddly) but almost impossible to understand a word of when spoken.  My favourite moment was spotting a sign to the town of Västerås.  I have picked up enough Swedish pronunciation to work out that this is pronounced “Westeros” (if you don’t watch (and haven’t read) Game of Thrones then you won’t understand this.  Also, you should definitely read and watch it.  But don’t get too attached to any of the characters: the author is a borderline psychopath who delights in killing people just as you get to like them…

I’m not looking forward to the late drive home, except for the fact that it will be the first time I’ve seen darkness for a week: while the sun did dip below the horizon in Rättvik it never actually got properly dark (for those who don’t know, Rättvik is at 60° 53′ North, about level with the southern point of Greenland).

I shall leave you with a few pictures.  This has been a wonderful week that has refreshed my love of horseback archery (saying nothing against the other trips I’ve made, but this had a lovely relaxed atmosphere and is a quite unique experience).  I would like to say a big thank you to Mats and Ylwa and all the helpers who made this an unforgettable week.  I shall certainly be going back.  And I’m reserving the splendid Barcos Fancy Cat as my horse again!









DHA Hunt Cup – Strava Result

As mentioned in a previous post, I did my first run of today’s competition with Strava running.  For those who don’t know, Strava is a running and cycling app that uses GPS in your phone etc to track your route, speed, elevation etc as you go.  You can also connect a heart rate monitor and it will plot that as well.

I’ve not tried sharing Strava results before, but let’s see how this works…

DHA Competition Day – Part 2

The DHA Hunt Cup is over, and what a blast it has been!  Three runs (1 practice and 2 competing) over the 1km course, with 12 targets to shoot at if you can remember to do so and are not too busy just having fun.  I missed one target for exactly that reason and another couple because my boss and I were discussing which of the two paths to take at particular junctions.  Don’t care, having too much fun.

The weather stayed beautiful for almost the entire day, with the cloudburst starting just as the final competitor (Adam) was out on the track.  It’s not clear and we are getting ready for the midsummer feast.

I’m sure that full results will be available on the DHA Facebook page or on very soon, but the one I can remember are:
1. Wojtek Osieki
2. Emil Eriksson
3. Joachim Büchau
4. Frida  Möllerberg (13 years old and this good already!)
5. Me 🙂
6. Claire (might be some time before I hear the end of this)
7. Terese Nilsson
Places 3 to 6 were very close (possibly 7 as well, I’m not sure), with no more than a couple of points between us.

Photos and video will follow when I find the SD adaptor for my tablet.  I also did my first run with a Strava running, so should be able to show speeds, GPS information and my heart rate, which peaked at 179 beats per minute, somewhat faster than my average when cycling and only 4 bpm slower than on my hot 5km run the other day!

This has been a terrific competition, to which I shall definitely come back.  And now we party…

DHA Hunt Cup – Competition Day part 1

I’m sitting at the track, a still point in a sea of activity as the final preparations are made.   Should probably be helping…

All sorts happened yesterday, and we got back far too late from the trotting races for me to update the blog.  I shall tell you about it some other time.

The track fit today looks awesome, if scary on a fast horse (such as, to take an example at random, the one Wojtek and I are riding).  I think I may try riding it with the heart rate monitor, just to see whether the pulse gets as high as on a run.

More later…


DHA Day 3 – Part 2

Rest day today!  We are supposed to be riding out to the hunt track but it’s tipping it down with rain so we are chilling out at home.  I’m taking the opportunity to fletch a few more arrows and (obviously) update the blog.

Yesterday’s trip to the Viking long house was fascinating: a local man and his family built it to the traditional model, using no nails.  Set deep in the pine forest by the lake, it’s a stunning place.  While there we also tasted water from the freshwater spring and player a couple of Viking games.  The first involved a horn with a ring tied to the bottom, the aim being to their the ring up and catch it on the horn, as demonstrated by this authentic Viking chief: 


The second, which led to a certain amount of hilarity, involves stabbing a small metal spike into a tree trunk and then trying to knock it out using a stick held between the legs, while keeping your feet flat on the ground.  Like this:


Or using a sword, like this:


But not like this:


Then came the Midsummer Night’s Dream shoot: a 350m square track with 7 targets, including a long shot, an offside and two each forward and back.  The eighth target did not count for points but won you a box of chocolates if you hit it.  Which Claire did.  There’s prioritising.


My horse, Barcos Fancy Cat (two-time winner of the DHA Hunt Cup) was running preposterously fast (quarter-horse…) for Wojtek, with whom I am sharing him.  I always get nervous before this type of track but by the end I was enjoying it immensely and an now looking forward to the real thing tomorrow. 

And now, back to the fletching…

DHA Day 3 – part 1

Just a quick post at this stage, it being 0130 and technically bedtime.  Today we had free practice on the Hungarian track before a lovely visit to a Viking longhouse in the afternoon.  This evening was the midsummer competition, which was run as a Swedish field track (like a Polish track but forming a circle around a field).  We finished at about midnight.  On any other day this would have been fine, but today it was very murky anyway so the last groups suffered a bit.  Still pretty light though!

I personally struggled with the speed of my horse but am happy with the way it went.  Claire came fourth but was the only person to you the bonus target: a box of chocolate on a stand.  She therefore won a box of chocolates!  Adam came for with his usual inimitable banzai run, somehow hitting the targets as they flash past.  The top two were separated by less than a point, with Emil Eriksson again demonstrating why he is, to my mind, the best in the world at this type of track, pipping Wojtek into second place.

Tomorrow we walk the DHA Hunt Track.  And I may post something a bit fuller…


DHA Hunt Cup Day 2

It turns out that NowTV, the service by which we were going to watch Game of Thrones, is UK only, so we couldn’t watch the season finale.  I am not trying to shield Claire from Facebook spoilers (I’ve read the books, so I know about the big shock this episode).  She reads this so no comments here either!

Last night was spent companionably fletching arrows around a camp fire while we waited for our bows to arrive, which they did at 2330.  All present and correct!  In the meantime we had prepared an experiment in arrow design and impact damage, on which more tomorrow…


Claire passed the time by riding Jeenial, Ylwa’s horse, bareback with just a neck strap.  She seemed to enjoy it…



This morning we had 4 hours of riding, with the emphasis on balance and connection with the horse.  This included cantering while holding a cup of water (which gets harder if your horse is scared of the water drops), throwing an apple up and down while riding and finally cantering along while reading from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which is easier if you know the book like I do!  Probably harder if English isn’t your first language or if, like one poor person, you didn’t put your glasses on!).

We followed that up with a session on the Hungarian track.  My horse was a bit quick so I spent most of the time working on speed target than shooting, but when I did shoot the feedback was very helpful.

After another excellent lunch I went for another run (4.7km in 23 minutes: the 10km required for September’s triathlon keeps edging closer) and now I’m going to go and watch the second group.  Later we apparently have some games.  Our hosts are away and have left Emil on charge.  This could be interesting…



DHA Hunt Cup, day 1

Having utterly failed to keep this blog up to date in Poland, I’m going to try to do it this week.  I’m in Rättvik, Sweden, for the DHA Hunt Cup, hosted by Dalecarlian Horse Adventures.  This is a trip I’ve wanted to make for a couple of years now.  Quite apart from the couple of days of clinics (this year run by Wojtek Osiecki, one of the best horseback archers in the world), the week culminates in the Hunt Cup competition, a 1km unroped track through the Swedish pine forest with targets at various ranges on both sides.  Those who haven’t seen the YouTube video posted last year by Emil Eriksson (two-time champion of this event), I recommend you give it a watch.  It looks like being not only one of the most challenging events in the sport but also one of the most fun.

Yesterday started at 4am for the drive to Gatwick, where Claire and I met up with Adam Snowball, the other Brit on the trip.  We were a bit worried by the staff at the outsized luggage belt: he needed quite a bit of help with the concept that the case contained bows that had been checked in by the airline and just needed to be put on the plane.  Still, we got past him in the end and settled in for a pleasant and on time flight.  On arrival at Stockholm we discovered that the answer to my rhetorical question “how hard can it be to put a plastic case on a plane” is “too hard for that guy”.  The bows were still in London.  Apparently they’ll be delivered later today (in the meantime we’re borrowing bows from the ever-helpful Emil, who also drove us from Stockholm to Rättvik).

After a very fine pizza dinner and a few drinks (we were reunited with soplica, the marvellous polish hazelnut vodka and with salmiakki, a Finnish liquorice vodka), I discovered that if you are tired enough then sleep is easy, even if it’s still broad daylight at 11pm.

This morning the clinics start.  I shall write more later.


The clinics today focused on ground work with the horse.  In the morning we were shown how to connect with the horse using a rope halter a long rope, turning as though working in a round pen but without the pen.  After an excellent lunch we had a go at it ourselves, under the watchful eye of Wojtek.  Many useful things learned and a really peaceful feeling with the horse.



The weather in the morning was bright but cold (after yesterday’s pouring rain) but this afternoon it warmed up just in time for a very pleasant run around the local roads to loosen my legs up after spending yesterday in the plane and the car.  The countryside here is beautiful, with rolling hills and dotted houses, which are all made of wood and painted a distinctive dark red colour.  This paint is locally made and the colour comes from the rich copper deposits (copper mining is a traditional industry here).  The houses are decades or even centuries old, the paint protecting them from the weather.  There is a definite homestead feeling to the area, comparable to that I saw in rural Oregon.

This evening’s plans include eating the dinner whose cooking smell is driving me mad, then fletching arrows until Game of Thrones comes on.  All praise the internet, which will allow us to watch the season finale in English…