Bow Camp Day 3

I have discovered something called Mike’s Hard Black Cherry Lemonade. People tell me it’s alcoholic but I reason that it’s called lemonade so it can’t possibly count as alcoholic. I therefore felt perfectly justified in having a couple with lunch and a couple more with dinner…

Today has been a dedicated day on the horses, with beginners, intermediates and advanced groups each having a session on the track. The group that wasn’t on the horses was having a lesson in qabaq from Di and me. This all followed a very entertaining hour or so shooting at targets whilst sitting on a hay bale on a trailer being pulled along by a pickup truck. This is something we are going to have to import!

My riding session was a revelation to me. I didn’t shoot much but I learned so much. I was riding Beesh’s horse Rambo (thanks again for letting him ride him, Beesh). Rambo wanted to run but was beautifully behaved when I told him not to. I then received about a 30s lesson from Roberta about how to control the canter with my leading hip. This worked unbelievably well: I moved a little quicker and he sped up. Roll the hip slower and he slowed down. I wasn’t able to get the same results when shooting, but that was entirely my own fault: I instinctively raised my seat when I shot and so lost the communication with Rambo. My next task is to keep talking to the horse while I shoot.

Tomorrow is a rest day, with a choice of trail riding, whitewater rafting and general relaxation. Personally I’m hoping to ride out in the morning and then the afternoon will be shopping for cowboy boots!

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Bow Camp Day 2

Today started on a tragic note. Overnight we apparently had a monumental thunderstorm (I say apparently because I slept straight through it, much to everybody else’s amazement). Susan’s horse, Sundance, seems to have been scared by the storm and in his panic he broke his leg very badly and had to be put down. He was a lovely horse and I know the thoughts of the horseback archery world are with Susan just as much as ours were here.

We spent the day working on archery. Trey, Darran and I each ran a station, concentrating on technique in various ways. Trey was doing pure technique work, I mixed technique with speed, having various races, and Darran had people shooting at thrown targets.

Once we’d finished the stations, Claire and I were fortunate enough to have private riding tuition from Chrissy. I have never worked so hard at a walk as I did today but I have not learned so much about riding in one go since my first lesson with Feth two years ago when I first started the sport.

I spent a very pleasant couple of hours or so before lunch doing some fun shooting. We have a tic tac toe target (noughts and crosses, for those who speak English) and a few of us went and shot at thrown and rolling targets. The tic tac toe is still going on now, even though it is what any normal person would feel compelled to describe as far too dark for shooting. All horseback archery events have the element of shooting together and exchanging ideas but at bow camp, as well as organised tuition there is an unrivalled sense of fun while shooting. Even in Jordan, where the camaraderie was just as marked as here, everyone was ultimately aware that there was a competition at the end of it. In addition, here we are at somebody’s home. For this week it feels like all of our home. In Jordan we were a group of instant good friends staying in a hotel and training together. Here it’s an extended family learning and playing together. Neither is better than the other, but they are undeniably different.

I must finally mention the food, which has been excellent. Competing with Korea for the best horseback Archery food I’ve had. There’s not a lot in it this far, especially after today’s barbecued steak, which follows fish tacos yesterday and various wholesome breakfasts. It’s all to play for…

Bow Camp

After 22 hours’ travel and two near misses with flight connections, Claire and I have arrived at the Cascades Mounted Archery Center near Bend, Oregon. Our hosts, Holm and Susan Neumann, are the archetype of a phenomenon that you come across a lot in this sport: I consider them old and dear friends, despite having only met them 11 months ago and spent a grand total of maybe 2 weeks on the same continent as them. The hospitality here is everything I had expected. It’s like everybody here is one big family. But in a good way…

We’ve been out for a couple of trail rides on the beautiful horses, which are the easiest horses I’ve ever ridden. They are wonderfully responsive but also very forgiving. I can’t wait to shoot off them.

Today was the first day of bow camp proper. The ethos here is very much on learning and exchanging ideas. We started with a welcome address from Holm and then a lecture from Trey about the history and future of the sport, mixing fascinating insights into the development of archery from prehistoric time through to the suggestion, with which I wholeheartedly agree, that the sport is currently in a period of flux and experiment, with new rules being tried and every aspect of the sport being changed in many different ways. The changes we make now will become the precedents and the rules of the future. There are a few of us here with a keen interest in the rules and the direction of the sport and we are having some very productive discussions about the way that we would like to see the sport develop.

The rest of the morning was taken up with talks on horsemanship, from different saddle positions to reading a horse’s walk and using it to make predictions about how it will run. I learned more in two hours than I have learned in the past year.

After lunch the focus moved to bows. Trey took people through some of the mechanics of how a bow works and then he and I demonstrated bareshaft and paper tuning, with discussion of the changes that you can make to the bow and/or the arrow and the effect those changes will have on the dynamic spine. After the demonstration everybody had the opportunity to experiment with their arrow and bow tuning, addressing a common failing among horseback archers: ignoring the setup of their equipment, which we do at our peril. A few simple changes can improve the performance massively. We train and practise or archery and our riding but for some reason too many of us don’t take the time to optimise the equipment.

Two games have become popular. One is thrown targets. One person throws a disc through the air and three archers with blunts will attempt to shoot it. The other event that is popular consists of two frames, each supporting four hanging targets that are free to swing. One archer stands facing each frame and they race to see who can put an arrow in each of the four targets. The race aspect simulates the pressure of competition. Archers who could quite easily hit each target in turn without trouble suddenly find that it’s really quite difficult when you can hear the other guy hitting them faster than you are! As the sun goes goes down, of course, it gets harder still…

Anyway, this evening’s fish tacos and my two mugs of bourbon are telling me it’s time to stop typing and join the party, so I shall leave it there and post again later in the week. Apparently tomorrow we’re shooting from a trailer being pulled by a quad bike!

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