HUNOCHA – A Review

HUNOCHA is by far the easier of my two competitions in Hungary to review fairly and dispassionately, so I’m going to start there.
I spoke to a journalist once at a horseback archery competition that I shall not name here. He said that one thing that surprised him was that it was not more of a celebration of the sport. At that competition there was little cheering and the mood was somewhat sombre and competitive. Those of my readers who have been to a horseback archery competition will know that this was unusual and I reassured the journalist that at most international events (and national ones), there is something of a carnival atmosphere. That’s how it was at HUNOCHA: it was a celebration. Everybody cheered everybody else on, there were raucous whoops at particularly good shots and the lower end got just as much support, possibly more, for a single hit on the Hungarian as the top people got for hitting three or four times.
Once the riding was over the happy atmosphere continued (with a certain amount of help from the reasonably priced alcohol). The competition was forgotten and everybody, from first to last place, sat around the camp fire or the beer tent and just enjoyed themselves.
There is a certain tension in the sport between those who do it basically as a hobby and travel to compete but also to have fun and those for whom the sport is more than a mere hobby. I do not speak necessarily of all professionals because I find that some professionals (such as Emil Eriksson, but he is far from alone in this) fit right into the fun set. The tension is very much in the background but occasionally it shows and while both sides are keen to have events that both can enjoy, I myself fall squarely in the fun category. There are those who feel that they would die without horseback archery. I do it because it’s fun. The day I stop enjoying it I’ll stop.
HUNOCHA was fun. For me, this competition was how horseback archery should be: a very high standard of horseback archery in an atmosphere of friendly competition and, as my journalist friend said, a celebration of the sport. HUNOCHA joins the list of competitions that I would always recommend to anybody thinking of going abroad to compete.
The judging was basically free from controversy. There was one arrow that was awarded 4 points that some people thought should have received 5 but an impartial judge awarded 4 and the matter stopped (quite rightly) there. This made no difference whatsoever to the rankings and I feel slightly churlish even mentioning it. Considering the judging problems that I have seen at some other events, HUNOCHA was basically perfect from that point of view. The rules were clearly explained and followed without incident (always a plus for a lawyer such as I).
We were almost frustrated by the weather, since rain meant that the Polish event had to be put back a couple of times but I think I’m right in saying that everybody was able to do every event. Given the forecast, I might have considered removing one of the two days of practise and starting the competition early but there was a timetable, complete with visiting government minister, so this may well not have been practicable. It all turned out fine anyway.
If I had to pick out something negative (and I kind of feel that I should, just to make it clear that I am being entirely impartial) I would say that the practice sessions, which involved all competitors training together, had 30 riders queuing at once for 3 runs down the track. Has we been put into our groups for these sessions then they would have been rather more efficient. Of course this actually boils down to the fact that we spent some time sitting on our horses chatting to our friends rather than doing the same thing sitting around a table, so it’s not like it ruined the event!

A few points now to assist those who might be thinking of attended future events:
1. I would recommend the guesthouse over camping. There were a few issues with the showers for those who camped (i.e. they didn’t always produce water) and Hungary can veer alarmingly between roasting heat and torrential rain. A good solid roof and a nice shower are the way forward.
2. If you’re looking for things to train at, start with long shots forwards and backwards (the hail of arrows involves shots of 30-90m) and cross-country (this is the hardest Polish track I have ridden).
3. The organisers, as far as I am aware, picked most people up from the airport and drove them to and from the event (certainly I was given a lift back having arrived courtesy of a friend). This makes it a very easy event to get to.
4. If at all possible, take some fruit. This applied to both of my competitions in Hungary: there was a distinct goulashy theme to the food and while this is perfectly tasty and filling (and, like the whole event, free, so let’s not moan too much) I for one found myself desperate for some fresh fruit. The pineapple pizza at the airport felt like manna from heaven. I should add that while the food for the vegetarians (not me!) was a bit thin on the ground at the start, it looked pretty good by the end. I’d recommend telling the organisers before you travel if you are a vegetarian.
5. There is WiFi available. It’s only really in an area of a couple of square feet but this makes for a social area known as WiFi Corner. It’s also a godsend for those trying to upload a blog each day.
6. You will need some Hungarian forints (the currency). The drinks were decently priced (from memory, about 250 forints for a coke and maybe twice that for a beer) and it’s worth taking more so that you have the option of the restaurant if you want to try the very fine pork steak and fries as an alternative to the standard free food.

All in all, then, HUNOCHA was a superb free event with a variety of good events, fine competitors, reasonably priced drinks (including Coke for those of us so ill they had to get all their calories through drinking) and filling if plain food (again free: there’s a perfectly good and reasonably priced restaurant on site if you want something other than the standard fare). One to add to your list if you haven’t been.

I will simply finish by thanking the Way of the Archer school and all those involved in making this excellent competition a reality. To all my friends I say that it was good to see you (whether again or for the first time), thanks for the memories (after the last night, some of you may not have memories) and I look forward to seeing you again somewhere in the world.

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HUNOCHA Day 5

A couple of days later than planned, this post is about the final day of HUNOCHA. I shall do one or two more posts later about this trip more generally, as I tend to do when I get back.
The final day of HUNOCHA dawned rather earlier than quite a few people would have liked, after what had proved a pretty epic evening and night. Being the sober, sensible one, I went to bed at around 0130 after no more than a can of beer and a few deep swigs of palinka. Some others had been helped/carried to their beds somewhat earlier in the night and a few intrepid souls stayed up for another hour or more. It was as fine a party as I can remember at a horseback archery competition (admittedly there have been finer ones, but an integral part of that is that I don’t really remember them (see Korea 2013, for example).
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Luckily, my group wasn’t first on. By the time we mounted for our rain of arrows event I was feeling tolerably well for the first time in days. It showed in my archery, which finally got back to something like its usual standard, aided by my years of field archery, which involves shooting at much longer distances than horseback archery usually does. The hail of arrows is run over a 120m track with two 120cm targets, one at 90m and angled for forwards shooting, the other at 30m and angled for backwards shooting. In the first half of the track you may only shoot at the 90m target and for the second half you shoot the 30m target. What this means is that the shortest shot is 30m (longer than any Korean event shot and further than most Hungarian shots) and they are all either forwards or backwards shots.
Although still competing with a horse that had to be kicked the whole way along the track, I managed a total of 5 hits in 6 runs, placing me in 9th place out of 30, despite the almost complete lack of speed points available to me. I was and am pretty proud of this, as it meant beating some very impressive opposition. It also confirmed to me that with proper concentration and focussing on technique I can hit at these long ranges, which is promising for future scores in the Hungarian event, quite apart from any future hail of arrows competitions.
Ours fears that the Polish track would be cancelled proved to be unfounded as the course dried out nicely and the three Brits were among the first three to go (because we had to be away before the competition itself had finished to catch our flight). What followed were three of the most exciting (not to say terrifying) rides of my life. The horse continued its plodding lope around the first half of the track, no matter how much kicking, yelling and occasional switches with an arrow I did (this is why, despite some OK shooting, I scored a grand total of 1 point in my three runs – time penalites took the rest). Upon reaching the final section, however, she took off into a fast canter into the long straight downhill run, ending in a 90 degree bend into the short home straight. Here my lack of riding experience and, frankly, my sense of self-preservation, took over. I got off one or two hasty shots but otherwise tried desperately to slow the horse and steeled myself for what seemed like inevitable death. Of course the horse was fine and doubtless had I simply had the guts to get on with shooting I would have done rather better. All in all, my low score on this course can be put down to my inability to get the horse to go faster when she wanted to go slowly and my inability to cope when she went faster than I wanted. Much more riding ability was required than is contained in me to do well over this excellent and challenging Polish course.
The other two Brits also survived with varying degrees of ease (Oisin is a riding instructor and breezed it, albeit his shooting let him down; Adam is even less experienced than I am (although also more fearless) and fell on his second run, damaging his quiver. This came apart in his third run, leaving him with a score of 8). No sooner had we finished than it was time to go. I collected my saddle (about which more in a future post) and we went up the hill to say goodbye to our friends, pausing to pose for the very kind local crowd, who gave us a rousing ovation as we passed. Then it was back to the accommodation to shower and pack before a drive to the airport.
Unfortunately our trip home was delayed by a couple of hours thanks to the late arrival of our ‘plane from its incoming flight, followed by long clearing of the ‘plane. Even when we arrived in London there was nobody to open the door for nearly half an hour, after which our luggage took an age to arrive. We had been scheduled to land at 2300. I eventually drove away from Stanstead at 0200, walking in the door at 0400 on the dot, tired but happy to be home.
So there it is, dear readers: the last day of my trip to Hungary. 12 days, two competitions covering 5 events. Overall I am disappointed that I did not shoot better but the stomach bug didn’t help and I didn’t exactly disgrace myself. These were high level competitions and I finished mid-table in both, with promising signs for the rest of the season.
I shall write a couple more posts about this trip, including an overview of each event to help future competitors and short pieces about a couple of my new pieces of equipment that I have been using. For now, though, I shall finish with a picture or two.
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HUNOCHA Day 4

Overnight rain meant that the Polish track was not safe this morning and so my group began the day doing the Korean event.  My horse was not in enthusiastic mood and the combination of stomach cramps, no breakfast (because of the stomach cramps: breakfast was available but I skipped it) and having to kick my horse along the whole way meant that I shot pretty poorly.  At least I hit on every run but only one on each run of double and then 14 out of 15 on the serial shot.  Even when my shooting improved (thanks largely to the genuinely helpful advice from Lukas Novotny in the crowd, reminding me to come to full draw) I missed out on bonus points through not getting across the line in time.  I finally managed it in my last run, by which time I was just about ready to collapse.

After am ill-advised lunch I spent the afternoon in both bed and pain, to such an extent that I withdrew from the Hail of Arrows event in the afternoon.  About 10 minutes later I manned the f*@£ up and decided that if I could walk to the start line then I could ride.  This I proceeded to do, just in time to get caught in a prodigious rainstorm that led to the cancellation of the event half way through (and before I had even saddled my horse).  Back to bed!

No dinner for me tonight, just a quiet chat with friends over a swig or five of palinka (the local spirit – think gasoline with added alcohol).  I’m drinking coke, of course…

Tomorrow we will try the Hail of Arrows again, after which it will be time to pack up and leave.  Sorry though I’ll be to leave my friend for what could be years in some cases (I haven’t seen some of these people for over 2 years), I am also ready to go home and see Claire and the boys.  It’s been a great could of weeks but reality calls.  Next post probably from good old Blighty!

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HUNOCHA Day 3

Last night was pretty horrible so for the rest of the day I opted for nothing to eat whatsoever.  I spent a leisurely morning watching the Polish track, culminating in an excellent run from Ana Sokólska, complete with offside jarmaki shot, turning to grin at the crowd between targets and even taking time out to answer Serena’s shout of “hey babe!”.  They’ve been exchanging this being about one a minute since we got here.  I have had to correct Serena’s assertion that “this never gets old”…

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My group, including all three Brits and some other friends, did our Hungarian event this afternoon.  I shot OK in the circumstances but nothing like as well as I can.  My horse will consistently run 90m in 13.5s if kicked the whole way.  Best shoot accurately for the rest of the competition, really!

I spent the rest of the afternoon taking photos on Oisin’s SLR.  Loving the panning shots:
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Others weren’t working quite so hard.
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I’ve now braved a spot of dinner and some palinka – Hungarian home-made alcohol that, appropriately enough, was given to us in a bottle labeled “ethanol”.  I had lots of other things to say, but I’ve quite forgotten them! 

Tomorrow I have the very challenging Polish track first thing, followed by the Korean in the afternoon.  Should be another fun day!

HUNOCHA Day 2

I woke up this morning feeling awful.  This was not because I drank too much, before anybody says it!  Stomach cramps and a streaming noise are not ideal for horseback archery, even for training, and I think my horse picked up on it, resulting in extra work for me as I desperately tried to get her to run at a reasonable speed.  Yesterday was better (although she’s no speedster anyway) so hopefully for the competition she will do as a lot of horses do and pick up on the energy of the event. 

Afternoon
It is now 7pm and I’m back in bed after eating a very fine dinner of chicken and cracked wheat.  I probably shouldn’t be eating with the way my stomach is playing up but I need to be able to function tomorrow and I’ve never done well at resisting food when it’s offered.  This afternoon we practised foot the opening ceremony, in which we will ride alongside some reenactors in hussar uniform (they’ll be in the uniforms, not us).  This practice consisted of lining up boot to boot and then forming two ranks and trotting in a big circle in an inclined field before reforming the single line and responding to some commands in Magyar before being inspected by a minister (government, not church).  It turns out that sitting trot in circles up and down a hill is not good for a dicky tummy and I felt distinctly unwell after a couple of goes.  Luckily I was able to derive some wry amusement from the commands to close up as close to each other as possible when at all other times we are told to keep distance between the horses because they don’t all know each other.  It all went fine, of course, but as somebody who enjoys life’s little quirks, I raised a satirical mental eyebrow.

After the parade we moved to the Polish track.  This is a demanding course, maybe 450m long and over rough and hilly terrain, including tight turns and a long final canter down a slightly-too-steep slope.  It also starts with a qabaq (upwards shot) and includes front, back and issue shots, some of which are hidden amongst trees or bushes.  After a practice walk, trot and canter runs, I’m looking forward to it but not expecting great things.  I managed to get the horse to speed up by shouting loudly but I am informed that my “yah!” sounds so very English that I may as well shout “excuse me, would you mind awfully going a bit faster?”.  I may have to shout that instead at some point…

There will shortly be a meeting to discuss groups and rules, so I will have to get up again.  On the bright side, this will mean going to the WiFi hotspot, so I can post this to my adoring readers.  I shall leave you with a couple of pictures of a little church that overlooks the competition site and forms part of the HUNOCHA logo.  I strolled up there earlier with Adam and Oisin, now that the weather is slightly less infernally hot.

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Tomorrow the competition starts.  Good luck, everybody…

HUNOCHA Day 2

I woke up this morning feeling awful.  This was not because I drank too much, before anybody says it!  Stomach cramps and a streaming noise are not ideal for horseback archery, even for training, and I think my horse picked up on it, resulting in extra work for me as I desperately tried to get her to run at a reasonable speed.  Yesterday was better (although she’s no speedster anyway) so hopefully for the competition she will do as a lot of horses do and pick up on the energy of the event. 

Afternoon
It is now 7pm and I’m back in bed after eating a very fine dinner of chicken and cracked wheat.  I probably shouldn’t be eating with the way my stomach is playing up but I need to be able to function tomorrow and I’ve never done well at resisting food when it’s offered.  This afternoon we practised foot the opening ceremony, in which we will ride alongside some reenactors in hussar uniform (they’ll be in the uniforms, not us).  This practice consisted of lining up boot to boot and then forming two ranks and trotting in a big circle in an inclined field before reforming the single line and responding to some commands in Magyar before being inspected by a minister (government, not church).  It turns out that sitting trot in circles up and down a hill is not good for a dicky tummy and I felt distinctly unwell after a couple of goes.  Luckily I was able to derive some wry amusement from the commands to close up as close to each other as possible when at all other times we are told to keep distance between the horses because they don’t all know each other.  It all went fine, of course, but as somebody who enjoys life’s little quirks, I raised a satirical mental eyebrow.

After the parade we moved to the Polish track.  This is a demanding course, maybe 450m long and over rough and hilly terrain, including tight turns and a long final canter down a slightly-too-steep slope.  It also starts with a qabaq (upwards shot) and includes front, back and issue shots, some of which are hidden amongst trees or bushes.  After a practice walk, trot and canter runs, I’m looking forward to it but not expecting great things.  I managed to get the horse to speed up by shouting loudly but I am informed that my “yah!” sounds so very English that I may as well shout “excuse me, would you mind awfully going a bit faster?”.  I may have to shout that instead at some point…

There will shortly be a meeting to discuss groups and rules, so I will have to get up again.  On the bright side, this will mean going to the WiFi hotspot, so I can post this to my adoring readers.  I shall leave you with a few pictures of a little church that overlooks the competition site and forms part of the HUNOCHA logo.  I strolled up there earlier with Adam and Oisin, now that the weather is slightly less infernally hot.
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Tomorrow the competition starts.  Good luck, everybody…

HUNOCHA Day 1

OK, so I’ve missed a couple of days and never explained what happened with the judging of Emil’s runs at the valley.  This is my holiday and if I don’t want to blog then I don’t have to…

I shall fill in the gap in due course, as I’ve had a couple of very interesting days, but not now.  I’m now at HUNOCHA, sitting outside the bar after a very fine goulash soup dinner.  This morning’s riding session was very productive and I have a very sweet mare who runs at a lovely pace without much encouragement.  Even better, she is happy (as is her owner) to let me use my new saddle.  Photos will follow tomorrow, as it looks very smart, particularly with the GB patches on the saddle pad.

This afternoon’s ride was cancelled as a fairly spectacular thunderstorm was creeping closer.  A few hardy (or foolish) souls shot on in the rain (until the lightning got a bit too close for comfort) but after that it seemed foolish not to sample the local beer, especially when I discovered that one of them is Hofbräu from Munich.  That was at around 4pm.  It’s now nearly 9, so don’t expect any deep analysis or philosophy right now.  What you can expect is a photo. This is kinda how things are around here.

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