Leaving Jordan, I determined that I did not want to do that badly again. I’ve made a few mid-year resolutions:
1. Practise more. I have always coached Claire in her shooting but have generally not shot very much. In particular I don’t shoot in the house. Claire trains by putting a boss on the kitchen table and standing at the other end of the kitchen. It’s only 6yds or so but good for technique. I’ve not done it because my bow would shoot straight through the target and damage the wall. I now use Claire’s bow. It’s the wrong draw weight but it does at least let me work on technique. I also go to the woods when I can, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes on the way to work.
2. Carbon arrows. The Hungarian event involves shots of up to 45yds. Whilst my bamboo arrows are perfectly capable of shooting that far, carbon is lighter, faster and more uniform. This makes aiming easier as you get a straighter arrow flight and don’t need to estimate the arc of the arrow as much. I’ve always balked at carbon arrows from a traditional bow but after a discussion with a friend from Al Faris, I agreed with him that the sport is moving on and it’s time to take advantage of the best materials. I am comforted by the notion that the horseback archers of history would almost certainly have used carbon if it had been available. To that extent it represents the evolution of the sport rather than taking it in a whole new direction.
3. New bow. I tried a Saluki in Jordan. Fell in love. I’ve also been in contact with a top British bowyer to see about getting a bow made. They made my flatbow, which is a fabulous piece of kit. As much as I enjoy shooting my Grozer Turkish bow, it doesn’t compare with these top level weapons for pure speed and stability, which are essential attributes.
4. Holding the arrows. I’ve been using the Ottoman technique of holding the arrows in the draw hand for a while and can do it quite quickly with 3 arrows. I’m getting there with 4. Having seen a video of Lukas Novotny holding them in the bow hand but still using thumb draw, I’m experimenting with a way of doing this. If I can hold 2 Ottoman style and 3 against the bow (with one already nocked) then I’ll be able to shoot 6 arrows fairly swiftly, which would be a massive improvement for my Hungarian style.
5. The Sassanid draw. This involves placing the arrow on the same side of the bow as for thumb draw but pulling with the fingers. Rather than using all 3 fingers, however, you pull with the middle and ring fingers while the index finger holds the arrow against the bow to counter the effect of twisting the string (this is a very light hold – the aim is not to twist the string). Early experiments led to nice close groups but a marked deflection to the right. I’ve now overcome this by relaxing the bow wrist at release, almost snapping it out of the way of the arrow. The technique may or may not result in significant gains in nocking speed and/or accuracy. I’m enjoying it for now and will be trying it from horseback next week. We shall see what we shall see…
Perhaps the greatest change has been mental. I’m a great believer in visualisation as a training method (when you only get to a horse every month or so you kinda have to rely on visualisation!). I’m spending more time thinking and writing about horseback archery. I’m watching it on youtube and DVD. I’ve dug out my archery instructional books and DVDs. I have made myself a promise: if I’m going to represent my country at this sport then I’m going to do it properly and I will never again have to talk about a competition by saying that I had a brilliant week but performed dreadfully because of underpreparation and lack of focus.