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.