Under Pressure

    Pressure Events?

The grading system originally involved a system of “pressure events”. This rule has now been removed because it was found to be too complicated. I have to say that I liked that rule, so I shall tell you a little bit about it. The essence was that to get HA3 and above you had to have shot some of your scores under pressure.

My original plan was to require actual competition scores. This would have been impractical in some places, notably the USA, since there are not enough competitions available. We therefore said that pressure events could be shot either at competitions or at special “pressure grading events”. These would produce pressure by the simple means of reducing the frequency with which you could attempt them: if you don’t shoot a good enough score at that event then you will have to wait for a month before trying again.

I had two reasons for wanting to implement this. First, I think it important that people be able to perform under pressure (I am hopeless at all sports under pressure). This is a competitive sport (and for those who view it more as a traditional event than a competitive one, remember that our forefathers were under a lot of pressure as they rode into battle!).

Second, it helps to level the playing field between those who have horses and those who do not. Let’s say that you need 4 scores of 60pts for a particular grade. If my average score is about 50pts then I might manage 60pts every now and again but if I only shoot once per month then I probably won’t get 4 scores of 60pts. You, on the other hand, might have horses and shoot every day. Your average might be 45pts but if you are shooting 20 times each month then you will probably reach 60pts 4 times. This is the law of averages in action. You may not be as good as I am but you will get a higher grade. Of course you are likely to become better than me pretty quickly with all the training but you should not get the higher grade until you are genuinely better rather than just giving luck more opportunities.

Pressure events were to be events that could only be shot once per month or in competitions. This would have reduced the advantage given by the opportunity to shoot more often. It would also test the ability to shoot under pressure because the archer would know that if they didn’t make the grade this time then they have to wait a month.

Extensive testing in the USA revealed two things:
many people found the rules about pressure events confusing;
people feel that they are under pressure as soon as they start to keep track of the score.

We therefore decided to remove the section abut pressure. Grades may be obtained at any venue so long as you shoot according to the rules, keeping times and scores, and you may submit one score per style per day.

In the long term I would like to see the pressure system introduced. That is probably some years away, however. Imagine a world in which there were enough competitions everywhere in the world to allow us all to enter as many as we want. For this we need the sport to grow. I hope that this grading system will help that to happen.

Grading System

The BHAA committee has now passed a resolution to implement the grading system that was conceived at Bow Camp 2012 and subsequently developed by Darran Wardle in the US together with me and Claire (with valuable help from others, notably Trey Schlichting, Roberta Beene and Beesh Frischman, who have been testing the system). Pin badges to be awarded for reaching each grade are in the final stages of production.

The details of the grading system, including the rules and tables, can be found on the MA3 website: http://mountedarchery.org. Click on the “Competitions” button on the menu bar. They will soon be available on the BHAA website but I am going to summarise the system, with some explanation. First though, why did we want a grading system and how did we want it to look?

    Why Have a Grading System?

We came to this project with different ideas. There were two main reasons given for wanting a system. One was the reason many sports have such a grading system (we took a lot of ideas from target archery and from shooting): to give people a marker of how well they are progressing and how far they have to go, as well as giving encouragement to keep working at improvement, especially to those just starting out.

The other reason, largely put forward by the Americans rather than the British, was the ability to allow those of similar abilities to compete against each other at competitions. My chances of beating Kassai Lajos are pretty slim (except in the Jordanian Style: beating him in that is possibly my proudest moment 🙂 ). If the competition has a category for those below a certain grade then I can compete with a decent chance of winning something.


The grading system, we all agreed, should test ability, which should include consistency. Having one good day should not suddenly give you a grade far above your ability. For one thing, this would leave you competing against people graded higher than you in future, which is what we were trying to avoid. We wanted the grades to reflect the scores you are capable of shooting consistently, not the highest score you have ever shot.
On the other hand, not everybody can shoot very often. We therefore decided that higher grades should require more scores to give a better indication of your true ability.
In the same vein, those who are new to the sport are not expected to master all the various disciplines. Those at the top are. We therefore require the higher grades to be able to shoot more different styles of event than the lower grades.
Finally, the higher grades obviously require higher scores than the lower grades. As a person advances through the grades they therefore need to shoot more different styles (Korean, Hungarian, qabaq),

    Student Grades

We have split the grades into two basic types: Student (S) and Horseback Archer (HA). The S grades are supposed to be an introduction to the sport. It is shot using the Korean event, which is generally easier than Hungarian for beginners. The big difference is in relation to speed. The allocated time is more generous than in regular Korean competition (16s over 90m rather than 14s). Points are lost for going too slowly but there are no points awarded for speed. This is a deliberate decision intended to encourage newcomers to the sport to learn to shoot accurately. Speed can come later but there is a danger that new students would simply ride a fast horse and rely on the fact that they only need one or two hits plus the speed bonus to get the grade. We were keen to avoid this.

    Horseback Archer Grades

There are 8 HA grades. The requirements get tougher as you move up through the grades. The full details are posted on the BHAA and MA3 websites, but I shall summarise them here. Regular rules are used throughout.
Obviously higher grades require higher scores. They also require more scores: HA1 and HA2 require 2 Korean and 2 Hungarian scores at the required level; HA3 and HA4 require 3 of each plus a qabaq; HA5 and HA6 require 3 of each plus 2 qabaq; HA7 and HA8 require 4 Korean, 4 Hungarian and 2 qabaq. We require consistency as well as high scores!


Not all competitions will be run according to these rules. We are not trying to take over the world and we are perfectly happy to allow gradings to be achieved at competitions using a wide variety of rules, so long as it is possible to translate the scores fairly. The targets need to be at least as far away as they are under our rules but things like bonus points for hits and speed can be calculated afterwards if you know your times and your individual arrow scores.

As ever, please do comment or email with any thoughts you may have. The grading system is now running in Britain and the USA and is being considered by others in various countries. If you would like more details then please get in touch.