GB v Netherlands – The BHAA International Series

Over the last weekend in May, the BHAA hosted the Horseback Archers of Holland at the Centre of Horseback Combat in Hemel Hempstead for this year’s installment of the BHAA International Series.  This is an annual event in which the BHAA fields two teams of 4 (a GB team and a GB Development team) in a triangular competition against a team from another country.  After taking home silver and bronze last year against Sweden, the British were aiming to go one better this time.

The Dutch team of 6 (plus two supporters) arrived on Friday and were immediately introduced to British customs such as the traditional traffic jam on the M25 London Orbital motorway on a Bank Holiday Friday. A quiet barbecue and a couple of drinks settled everybody in nicely and we were ready to start on Saturday morning. Of course, no Bank Holiday weekend is complete without rain so the start was delayed to 2pm, at which point we finally got going with the Hungarian event.

I will say at this point that it was a genuine pleasure to host the Dutch team.  Claire Hagen is a dear friend whom Claire and I met when we were all at our first ever international: EOCHA 2010 in Belgium.  She is another (indeed, the first) in the growing group of people in this sport whom I have meet only a few times (two weekends before this one) but with whom I feel that I have been friends for years without interruption.  The others in the team that came this weekend were all people I had not met but were exactly as I expect horseback archers to be, and I can think of few higher compliments to give.

Having said that, and without detracting from it for a moment, I intend for the rest of this post to focus primarily on the British teams, as their performances have made me very proud of what we are achieving here.

The Dutch 6 split the events between them, with a different foursome in each event.  This made group allocation something like a sudoku puzzle with horses but allowed more people to take part, which can only be a good thing.  The 12 people competing in the Hungarian event were in for a bit of a soaking, especially the second group of 6, who had to dismount, so heavy did the hail become at one point.  This and the cold and wind did not make for great shooting but even taking this into account, I don’t think I was the only person to be disappointed by my poor score.  The scores were very close after this first event, with GB just leading GB Dev and then Holland.  Then came the qabaq.  One hit for the Dutch and one for GB gave us, after time points, 6.02 points each for the event: not great but better than the 0 that all three teams managed last year!  GB Development, however, came away with nearly 25 points after two of their number each scored two hits.  Overnight, therefore, the Development side led the whole competition, much to my consternation as team selector, not to mention GB captain.  More positively, having 8 British competitors so close together is a terrific situation and I take it as validation of our active development programme.

On a beautiful sunny Sunday Team GB got it together for the Korean, producing if not their finest shooting ever then certainly their best performance of the weekend and overhauling the Development team and take a lead that was maintained through the Mamluk to give gold to GB, silver to GB Development and bronze to the Netherlands.

A few statistics to ponder from the weekend:
1. We competed in 4 events, 18 runs and 1920m of track each.  Counting the Hungarian as 3 targets per run, there were 52 targets, worth a total of 242 points.  There were also 105 speed points available.
2. Of the 8 British competitors, only 7 points separated 3rd and 8th place. 
3. Over all that competition, 4th and 5th pace were separated by 0.08 points.  One more line cutter, one tenth of a second shaved off a single run, and those places would have been reversed.

These statistics show the strength in depth that GB is building in this sport but they also show the vital importance of fighting for every fraction of a point.  One arrow can make a huge difference, as I learned in Poland when my solitary miss in the Korean cost me a certain 4th place and, had it scored 5 instead of missing, 3rd place.  The same shows here.  Had the 8th placed competitor scored a 5 instead of missing on one run of single shot, he would have finished 3rd overall.  One arrow over the course of all that competition could have changed the individual results that much. 

The other learning point for me has been an illustration of something I have always believed and have witnessed in other sports as well: never give up.  I once coached and played in a lacrosse side that was being utterly crushed after three quarters.  For the last quarter I told the team to throw caution to the wind and everybody try to be a hero.  “Go crazy.  If you’re going to make a mistake, make a big mistake but make it trying to win this game”.  We scored the winning goal with seconds to spare.  At the risk of bragging, I have always been able to play like this, whether as the last man at the crease in cricket or 10-0 down in squash.  Usually I still lose (if I were any good at these sports I wouldn’t need my refusal to give up, would I?) but I fight to the end.  This weekend, with GB in second place overnight and needing to score highly in the Korean, I missed both runs of single shot.  For a few moments all I could think was that I had blown it.  Then I took a few deep breaths and reflected on the fact that those runs are over and gone.  They cannot affect the remaining runs unless I let them. 

My friend Din once explained to me (if I understood his teaching correctly) that one should not be annoyed at where the last arrow went because that was in the control of God.  One should simply shoot the next one as well as one can.  My view, while non-religious, is essentially the same, and I believe shows different paths to a single truth.  My view is that espoused by Jim Hamm in Volume 4 of the Traditional Bowyer’s Bible: you have to believe, indeed you have to know that the next arrow will be perfect.  In training I have scored perfect hits.  I know I can do it.  All the misses are aberrations: my true shooting results in perfect hits.

There’s no way to say this without bragging, but I disregarded those two misses and determined to do it properly for the last 4.  I broke the British record for double shot then went on and broke it for 5 shot as well.  In fact, over those 4 runs I broke the record for the overall Korean 1-2-5 as well.  Never give up.

Of course, had I scored a 3 on either of my single shot runs it would have given me an HA3 score, rather than the HA2 grade I already hold.  Fight for every point and never stop training…

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GB v Sweden – International Horseback Archery in Britain!

Well, it’s been quite a while since my last post, when I finished my series on bow mechanics.  I’ve had feedback from quite a few people saying how helpful they found it, so thank you for the feedback.

The original purpose of this blog was to chart our travels in the world of horseback archery but this weekend we had a genuinely new experience: another country travelling here to compete.  A team from Sweden, led by my friend Emil Eriksson whom I met in Jordan last year, travelled to the Centre of Horseback Combat in sunny Hertfordshire for the first international horseback archery match ever on British soil.  After day 1, consisting of qabaq and Hungarian styles, Sweden led GB by 0.1pts (the equivalent of one horse running 0.1s faster over 90m in just one of the 36 runs each team had completed that day!).  On day 2 they blew us away on the Korean and  Mamluk courses to win by just over 100 points.

It goes without saying that a great time was had by all.  The Swedish team were a pleasure to shoot with and I was delighted to see good performances from several GB team members.  I shall be writing a few posts about various aspects of the match.  In this first one I shall say a few words about the concept of the International Series.

We have wanted to host an international competition for some time.  There was talk of trying to host EOCHA in 2012 to coincide with the London Olympics but ultimately we in Britain suffer from a severe lack of trained horses and this makes the Open format impossible.  It was Claire’s genius to hit on the idea of a simple match: GB v another country.  This way we need fewer matches and we can try to combat another problem that we have had in the past: the fact that we are so spread out around the country that we rarely meet.  This event has given us the opportunity to build some real team spirit.

In the event, GB fielded two teams.  This allowed us to expose more of our people to international competition and the overwhelming feedback that we got was along the lines of “everybody is so friendly that you hardly notice that we are on different teams”.  As those who compete internationally will know, that is how things always are.  I well remember Jordan last year when impromptu coaching sessions would just pop up as competitors helped each other with everything from archery techniques to fitting of tack and helping to repair broken equipment.  The attitude of most people in this sport has always been to ensure that everybody scores as highly as they can, whether they beat you or not.

This event was funded by the GB team.  I should like to thank all of them for competing and the Centre for providing the venue, horses and staff at a greatly reduced rate to make it affordable.  The next step is to secure sponsorship to enable this to turn into a regular series, with different nations bringing their experience to these shores.  Something new has started.  Now we just have to keep it going…