You Know What I Did Last Summer? A New Set of Rules for the BHAA and MA3.

I haven’t written anything on here for some time for some time because I, along with Claire and with Darran Wardle from the USA, have been very busy drafting a set of rules for mounted archery and a grading system to go with them. This started as discussions at Bow Camp in Oregon this summer and we have been working on them for the past couple of months. The broad outline was established by discussion among quite a few people, with the details being drawn up by Darran, Claire and me.

The rules have now been adopted by resolution of the Committee of the British Horseback Archery Association (BHAA) and the Board of the Mounted Archery Association of the Americas (MA3). Both bodies are currently considering the grading system.

I don’t intend to say anything more about the grading system until it has been passed or rejected by the BHAA and the MA3 (and a few others around the world who have expressed an interest in joining it). If anybody would like to see the proposed grading system then please do get in touch and I’ll send you a copy.

Instead I am, in my next few posts, going to talk about the rules. Again, if any readers would like to see full copies of the rules then please do get in touch, although they will soon be on the BHAA website (, which Claire is currently updating following its extensive overhaul by our webmaster.

This post concerns our reasons for drafting the new rules. The next post will talk about what I think I likely to be the most controversial points of our rules.

A Unified Set of Rules?
It has long been a matter of interest to me that horseback archery does not have a single set of rules, even for particular events. I am a WHAF qualified referee and yet I do not pretend to know the rules off by heart: they vary from event to event. You can go to the World Championships in Korea and shoot a Korean event by one set of rules and then go to EOCHA the following month and use a different set of rules, as I did in 2011. I then shot in the BHAA Championships using yet another set of rules. At Bow Camp in Oregon this August we used different rules from those used in Jordan in May. The same is true of qabaq. Hungarian alone of the events regularly used in international competition seems to remain untouched.

The reasons for the varying rules are manifold but two of the main reasons are the lack of understanding of the rules (we have a major problem with rules being in languages that others don’t understand) and experimentation.

It is a major theme in modern horseback archery that some people want to preserve tradition and others want to move more towards a more modern sport. Grand Master Kim Young-Sup of WHAF spends hours researching ancient disciplines for future competition whilst Abdul Majid (Christian Schrade) spends hours developing new events and new rules for old events. The horseback archery community owes a great deal to both of them and to those who do likewise. Like most people (including the gentlemen I mentioned, I am sure), I believe in striking a balance between tradition and progressiveness.

A major part of the progressive drive is the development of new rules. In particular there is a tension between awarding points for horse speed and for accuracy and where the balance should lie. There is a similar and related balance to be struck between accuracy of shooting and speed of shooting. New rules are tried and then adjusted if it seems that the balance between the various factors has been thrown out. I shall return to this point in a later post, but it is one of several areas of experimentation and adjustment.

For some people this lack of a single set of agreed rules is a major problem. We will, for example, never make it into the Olympics if we don’t have a unified set of rules. Personally, I don’t think we’ll make it to the Olympics anyway. Nonetheless it could be thought desirable to have a single set of rules.

My view, and this may sound odd from somebody who has spent two months drafting a set of rules in the hope of having them adopted, is that I love the fact that people can play around with the rules and change them. I like the creation of new events and I like the fact that event organisers can change things. If you want to encourage really quick nocking on fast horses then you can give bonus points for speed and for hitting all the targets. If you want to encourage more controlled riding and really accurate shooting you can move the targets back, reduce the points for fast riding and perhaps increase the number of points available for shooting. So long as everybody knows the rules for the particular event then there is no unfairness and I for one like having to think about how to get the most out of a particular event.

Why then have we drafted these new rules? In the first place, the BHAA and MA3 each needed a comprehensive set of rules and we felt that cooperation would help us get the best possible rules.

Second, we were keen to try to draft a system of grading and to make such a system workable we needed a set of rules that everybody would use when grading. We cannot properly compare scores unless people are using the same rules and scoring systems.

Third, we plan to introduce postal/internet matches. These are common in archery. Each person or team shoots in their own country on a given day and the scores are submitted and compared by post or email. Again, a unified set of rules is required for that.

I do not want to see an end to rules experimentation. I want to see an agreed set of rules that everybody knows and can use when a default set of rules is required. We have tried to create such a set of rules. I am quite sure that people will have objections to some parts of it – you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Even those of us who drafted the rules could not always agree and we have all made compromises. None of us would say that these rules are exactly as we would like them to be. Oscar Wilde once defined a good compromise as something that leaves everybody unhappy. We haven’t gone that far and I hope that our work will be seen as a step forward.

In some cases we were not able to agree. MA3 wish to allow one practice run for each part of an event (single shot, double shot, triple shot). The BHAA allow one run at the start of the day to let the horse experience the track, crowd etc. We do not allot shooting on this run, MA3 do. In this and similar areas we have written into the rules that national governing bodies can vary the rules. Other examples are restrictions on young horses and whether archers are permitted to draw arrows from the belt (MA3 do not allow it but we were concerned because it is the traditional yabusame method). Regional variation is permitted in those areas where agreement could not be reached. They tend to be in relatively minor areas.

I personally hope to see gradings and postal matches being run under these rules but I also look forward to competing under different rules and in a whole host of new events. For me, horseback archery is a fantastically varied sport and I hope it will always remain so.