Viking Series Sleipner Arrows

Recently, my thoughts have been on arrows.  In particular, they have been on carbon arrows.  I have so far tested three types; some time ago I wrote an article here comparing my Easton Apollos and my Easton PoweFlights.  At the Grunwald competition I took delivery of a dozen new shafts supplied by Emil Eriksson: the Viking Series Sleipners.

First, I shall declare an interest.  Emil is an old friend for whom I have immense respect and liking.  Plus he’s arranging to provide me with some excellent Finnish black vodka at our next competition – long story.  That said, I do not intend to let these factors affect my review and if I do then I shall say so.


First thing’s first: the look and feel of these arrows is lovely.  They are a silky smooth carbon, without the slight abrasiveness of some carbon shafts.  The ones I have are decorated with a Viking broadsword, but I understand that in future they will bear the logo of Sleipner (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, my erudite readers, that Sleipner was the 8-legged horse of Odin in Norse mythology.  And before anybody complains about the spelling, “Sleipnir” is the more common English rendering of the name but “Sleipner” is the Swedish version).  Both logos are pretty cool.

Weight: the arrows were cut to an AMO length of 29.5” (AMO measurement for arrows is the distance from the throat of the nock (i.e. the point of contact with the string) to the end of the shaft where the point emerges).  They come with inserts, 100 grain points (that’s what I chose but you can order higher or lower) and nocks and thus equipped they weighed 312 grains.  This weight was uniform across all the shafts (which is what you’d hope for but sadly not always what you find).  Once fletched with 3” parabolic feathers the mass was 321 grains +/-1 grain (being the variation in the mass of the feathers and fletching tape – it is essentially negligible).  By way of comparison, my Easton PowerFlights, cut to the same length and with the same fittings, weighed 351gns, making them 30gns heavier than the Sleipners.  The reason I weighed them already fletched, by the way, was that I was at a competition and had therefore fletched most of them straight away so that I could use them.

My preference is for a nock that fits the string relatively tightly.  Those supplied were too loose on my string for my liking (although probably about what most horseback archers prefer).  I therefore swapped them for the Easton nocks that I use in my PowerFlights.  This caused some minor (probably superficial) cracks in the carbon.  A dab of superglue fixed this with no further issues.  I am checking the internal diameters of the shafts to see whether the apparent difference is deliberate or not.

And so to flight.  The Sleipners fly beautifully.  Sometimes you shoot an arrow and just get a feeling that it is right.  So it was with the Sleipners.  This is hardly a scientific approach but it’s worth something in a sport like ours and in my defence I will add that I am not the only person to have come to this conclusion.  I know of at least one other person who shot a few arrows and immediately announced his intention to buy some.

Chronograph Testing

This afternoon I tested the arrows through the chronograph.  I shot Sleipners and Powerflights, all fitted with the same nocks and points.  I shot two groups of five of each type of arrow, so the average figures quoted are the mean speed of ten arrows shot in two groups of five (excluding a few arrows that came up as errors).  I shot one group of Sleipners first, then the Powerflights, then the Powerflights again and finally the Sleipners again.  I tried my best to keep a consistent draw and while this is not usually my strongpoint, I am encouraged that the difference between highest and lowest speeds in each group was no more than about 5fps.  The only exception was a single PowerFlight that was significantly faster than the rest of the group.  Since this raises the average speed of the PowerFlights, it does not favour the Sleipners, which was my main concern: I was actively trying to avoid unconscious bias towards the new arrows.

The results were startling: the PowerFlights averaged 178.25 fps (the two groups averaging within 3fps of each other, suggesting good consistency).

The Sleipners averaged 193.11 fps.  The consistency wasn’t so good here: the first group were all within 5fps of each other but the second group contained three errors and the two results it gave an average of 186.19 fps.  This is still significantly faster than the Powerflights, but is worryingly lower than the other results for the Sleipners.  I suspect that the lower result is due to a change in the light conditions at about that time.  As a matter of fairness, however, I have included those two scores in the overall average speed of the Sleipners: the first, consistent group gave an average speed of 195.87 fps!

As a matter of curiosity, I also tested my Easton Apollos at the end: a single group of 8 arrows gave an average speed of 171.95 fps (with just under 6 fps between fastest and slowest, the light having steadied again).


The Viking Series Sleipners are beautiful arrows to look and they feel and fly nicely as well.  They are significantly lighter than the Easton PowerFlight and that seems to translate into increased arrow speed – despite allowing in the upwards outliers of the PF and the downwards outliers of the Sleipner, the Sleipner is nearly 15fps faster than the PowerFlight.

I personally intend to buy a load more of these arrows and use them as my main arrow.  I thoroughly recommend giving them a go.  To get some, speak to Emil Eriksson on Facebook or message me and I’ll put you in touch.

Grunwald 2015 – Training Course

A week ago I got back from the first stage of the European Grand Prix in Grunwald, Poland.  The whole time I was there I kept thinking “I must update the blog”.  And then I’d either fall asleep or be handed some Soplica (Polish hazelnut vodka), which I would drink until I fell asleep.  So here, somewhat later than anticipated, is the first part of my review of the week.

I actually flew to Poland knowing that there was no space for me in the competition but intending to watch and support.  More importantly, however, I was going for 4 days’ training under the watchful eye of Michal Choczaj of AMM Archery.  This would be the first formal coaching I had received in this sport since I first took it up some 5 years ago.  That time it consisted of a quick demonstration of the thumb draw and a few riding lessons.

The program for the training days was intense: a relatively civilised start time of 10am led on to 2 hours of ground archery training, followed by a half-hour break and a further 2 hours of horseback work (including Ana Sokolska’s rather gleeful insistence that we take our feet out of the stirrups and use our thigh muscles to “stand up”.  For somebody who rides as rarely as I do, that gets old really quickly.  Lunch was served at the beautiful house where we were staying, followed by a repeat of the morning’s program in the afternoon, often not finishing until after 8pm, at which point a collection of knackered horseback archers would collapse back in the house, eat dinner and sit back to enjoy the roaring fire and the free-flowing alcohol.

Speaking personally, I learned a huge amount in those few days.  My riding in particular is much better now than it used to be (for which a fair amount of thanks must also go to Simon Harding and to Oisin Curtis, the BHAA’s Development Officer, who is also a riding and horseback archery instructor at Old Mill Stables in St Ives.  I have always known that I hunch over my bow more than I like but by the end of the training week I was sitting noticeably straighter, drawing further and was generally more relaxed.

Standing tall!

Standing tall!

The pivoting wooden horse is a fantastic training aid.

The pivoting wooden horse is a fantastic training aid.

I heartily recommend AMM training courses to anybody hoping to improve their horseback archery.  Closer to home, I also recommend Oisin’s lessons.

Photobombing level: ninja.

Photobombing level: ninja.

And so to the competition.  Those who read this blog last year will be familiar with the Grand Prix, in which GB took silver last year.  This year the competition has expanded with the addition of France, Germany and Hungary bringing the number of teams to 7 (although Finland were unable to field a side this week).  To accommodate these numbers, the teams have been reduced from 4 to 3 people.  Otherwise the concept remains broadly similar: 3 stages spread throughout the year; 3 events per stage (Korean, Hungarian and another chosen by the host nation) and points scored for your placing as a team within each event.

On the eve of the competition I was informed that there was a space for me after all, riding Irys, my war pony from last year.  I would not be in the Grand Prix team (since we already had a full team) but I would get to ride.  Given that the third event was to be a combination Grunwald Battle and Polish event, getting to ride was a big plus – it’s one of the most fun events out there.

War Pony!

War Pony!

As to how the competition went, I’ll deal with that in my next post.

Arrow Speed – Graphic Predictions

In my last post I wrote about the testing of my various arrow through my shiny new chronograph.  Since then I have bought two different types of all carbon shaft to try: Easton Apollo 560 and Easton PowerFlight 500.  For the PowerFlights I have a choice of points: 60gn or 100gn points (the Apollos have 100gn points).  Is it possible to predict the speed of these arrows?  Since I have had a flare-up of an old back injury and for the last 48 hours haven’t been able to stand upright or walk without a limp (and ideally a stick) I am going to attempt to do exactly that.

The first big caveat is the one pointed out by Steve Ruis in his comment to my last post: correct arrow spine is critical to speed.  In particular, dynamic spine is important.  As regular readers will know, this is the extent to which the arrow bends as it is shot, as opposed to static spine, which is how much it bends when a weight is suspended from it at rest.  These three variants (Apollo, PF with 60gn and PF with 100gn) are going to have different dynamic spines.  The Apollo, as a .560 spine, is weaker in static spine than the .500 PFs (I am going by the marked spine for these purposes).  With their 100gn points they are likely to remain weaker than the PFs.  The PFs have the same static spine (being identical shafts) but the 100gn points make the dynamic spine weaker than the 60gn points do.  This may well have an effect on speed.  I shall be able to correct for this factor to a limited extent by shooting each variant as a bareshaft first (I am also going to do this with the other arrow types I tested in the previous article).  Having shot the Apollo bareshaft already, I can say that they are a touch weak but not too bad.  They are stiffer than most of the aluminium arrows I tested in the last article (though not than the A/C/Cs, which might explain that arrow’s slightly high performance).

Leaving spine hypothetically to one side, what predictions can we make?  Well, the new arrows weigh as follows (+/- 0.5gn):

Apollo: 360gn

PF w/100gn: 350gn

PF w/60gn: 310gn

We would therefore predict that they would all fly faster than even the fastest (and lightest) of the arrows in other test (which weighed 372gn).  We would expect the PowerFlights to be faster still, with the 60gn tips being fastest (subject, as I say, to the effect of spine).

What is the relationship between mass and speed?  Applying our favourite formula, F=ma, we should expect a linear relationship.  That is to say, since a=F/m, where F is a constant (the stored energy in the bow), we should expect speed to rise in inverse proportion to the drop in arrow mass.  Note that this does not mean that if we half arrow mass we double arrow speed.  The mass that is being propelled by the bow includes the mass of the bow’s limbs and the string.  With that clarification in mind, however, we should expect to see a straight line if anybody were to be sad and geeky enough to draw a graph of arrow mass against arrow speed.  Like the one below, for example.

Arrow speed graph

As you can see, the arrows I tested last time form a straight line, subject to some pretty sizable error bars caused by poor shooting form, variations in spine etc.

I have added dotted lines to represent the three new arrow variants that I intend to shoot in the next few days.  The prediction from the graph (apologies for the unclear numbers on the y-axis: it was late when I drew this graph) is that the Apollos will fly at 192fps, the PF with 100gn points will go at just under 195fps and the PFs with 60gn points will be around 204fps.

As you will have gathered from the various caveats (variations in spine; less than perfect consistency in my shooting technique; differing nocks; drawing a graph at midnight in a childrens’ drawing pad etc) mean that this is not exactly perfect science.  I am not, as one should do, isolating one variable.  My prediction, however, is that factors such as spine difference will not affect the speeds to an extent that trumps weight.  I expect to see the order of speeds as predicted and I do not think that the actual speeds will be out by more than about 5fps.

And as soon as my back heals, I shall test it and let you know!

My New Chronograph

I have just bought myself a chronograph.  Specifically, a Chrony F1 with lighting set.  The lights let you use it indoors but I have no intention of so doing.  It’s just that it was on sale and getting it with lights worked out cheaper than getting it without.

For those who don’t know, a chronograph is a device for measuring the speed of an arrow (or bullet, pellet, paintball etc).  It’s basically a long box with a laser at each end that beams upwards.  It starts an internal stopwatch as the front of the arrow goes through the first beam and stops it as it goes through the second beam.  Using the recorded time and the distance between the beams, it works out the speed of the arrow.  This is a brilliantly useful tool: every time you change something – fletchings, brace height, string material, arrow shaft etc – you can shoot before and after through the chrono and see what effect the change has on your arrow speed (and therefore on your trajectory and point of aim: see earlier posts on arrow speed).  I explained all this to Claire, my loving and long-suffering wife.  She replied “you want it because you’re an archery geek and it’s a cool new toy”.  She was, of course, entirely right; but it is also a really useful piece of kit.


The chronograph is famous among archers for its disappointments.  We all expect our favourite bow to be whipping arrows out at 200 fps or faster.  Then we get to a chronograph and discover that we are barely touching 180.  Like all good science, it can be a cruel destroyer of our cherished illusions, but one that should lead us to make informed changes to improve our situation.

Today the chrono arrived and I took it down the woods for a play, together with my Border Ghillie Dhu and a variety of arrows to test.  I ended up comparing the following (all made by Easton and listed: type; spine; mass in grains; grains per pound of draw weight (gpp)):
XX75 Platinum Plus; 2016; 431gn; 11.65gpp
XX75 Tribute; 2016; 429gn; 11.59gpp
X7 Eclipse; 2014; 372gn; 10.05gpp
X7 Eclipse; 2114; 390gn; 10.54gpp
A/C/C; 3-39; 384gn; 10.38gpp

Note: I have assumed for these purposes that I was drawing 37lbs.  This is the marked weight of the bow at 28″.  I did not measure the draw weight or my draw length for these purposes, since the aim was to compare arrows rather than necessarily give accurate gpp readings.

Judging purely by arrow mass, therefore, we would expect the Platinum Plus and the Tribute to be of similar speed, with the Tributes maybe a tiny bit faster.  We would then expect the 2114 Eclipse to be faster than those two, with the 2014 faster still.  We would expect the A/C/C to be somewhere between the two sizes of Eclipse.  Sounding a note of caution here, I will say that I had limited numbers of the X7 Eclipses and had a few error readings (basically I missed the beam).  This means that the speeds for the X7s may be less reliable than the others.

There are other variables beside mass.  One is the nocks.  Nocks can be tremendously important to arrow speed.  The nocks on all of these arrows were the same, except for the A/C/C, which has a rather better (and more expensive) nock.  The remainder all used the same nocks.  The situation is complicated a little by the fact that the nocks on the aluminium arrows (i.e. all except the A/C/C) have been splayed and this can mean that they vary slightly in fit.  We shall keep this at the back of our minds while remembering that I shot at least 3 of each type of arrow and then took an average, which should mean that differences in nock splaying cancel each other out.

Air resistance can be a big factor in arrow speed.  It is determined by a variety of factors including thickness or shaft and size/setup of fletchings.  The aluminium shafts all have the same fletching but in any event we would not expect resistance to make a significant difference at the short range here (I was standing about 3ft from the chronograph).

The average speed of the arrows is noted below (in feet per second):
Platinum Plus: 173.53 fps
Tribute: 177.59 fps
2014 Eclipse : 188.16 fps
2114 Eclipse : 182.38 fps
A/C/C: 194.42 fps

As we expected, then, the Tribute marginally outshoot the PP.  Both are outshot by the  Eclipses, with the lighter Eclipse faster than the heavier one.  The anomaly is the A/C/C.  This went faster than expected from the simple masses.  One explanation may be the nocks.  Another can be seen when the raw data is examined.  On one shot I really went for it, nailing the release, pushing the bow hand forward and probably drawing quite a bit further than usual.  The result was an arrow that went at 208 fps!  If you remove that arrow and stick with a fair comparison of regular draws, the A/C/Cs drop to 187.65, which is in the expected range, slightly higher than we might expect, but that’s likely to be the nocks.  This removal of the faster arrow is not some form of special pleading, by the way: it is perfectly sound to remove an anomalous result from a set of statistics.  This result varied from the mean by more than twice what any other arrow did and produced a result at odds with all of the rest of the data.  Keeping it in would be poor science.

The final adjusted results, therefore, are:
XX75 Platinum Plus; 11.65 gpp: 173.53 fps
XX75 Tribute; 11.59 gpp: 177.59 fps
2114 X7 Eclipse; 10.54 gpp: 182.38 fps
4/40 A/C/C; 10.38 gpp: 187.65 fps
2014 X7 Eclipse; 10.05 gpp: 188.16 fps

This is in accordance with our expectations of reduced mass bringing greater speed.  What lessons have I learned?  Well, for starters I shall stop buying Platinum Plus and go back to Tributes as my basic arrow.  I shall also look at investing in another set of X7s.  Quicks Archery very kindly sponsored me and Claire by giving us reduced rates on X7s before Korea last year.  These have gradually vanished into the undergrowth or been bent around trees or target frames and the time has clearly come to replace them!

I do not claim that this is anything approaching a perfect experiment.  There are various things that should be (and will be) addressed.  One is shooting more arrows so as to get a better idea of the average speed.  Another is getting somebody else to shoot it, to try to obviate any unconscious bias (although I did this to some extent by not weighing the arrows until after I had shot).  My draw length is not as consistent as it should be, although this should have evened out between the different arrows.

This is the first in what will be an ongoing series of articles where I get to play with the chronograph.  I shall set out more detailed and scientific findings in future posts, in which I hope to deal not just with the effect of changing other variables such as brace height but also to try a variety of bows and do some kind of comparison (I am intrigued by the number of relatively inexpensive bows out there that advertise speeds over 200 fps without giving a draw length, draw weight, arrow weight etc.  After reading this post, I hope that you will share my cynicism of such claims).

Checking Your Equipment: Carbon Arrows

At the risk of sounding like a commercial for a cancer charity, it is very important to check your equipment regularly and not just when you think there is a problem.  In this post I want to write about checking your shafts.  No, seriously.

There has been debate about carbon arrows from the moment they were released.  On the one hand (no pun intended) there are those who say that they can splinter, explode and leave splinters of carbon in your hand.  There are others who say that this is just a scare story put about but manufacturers of aluminium arrows.  What is certain is that they are lighter, thinner and faster than any other arrow material, making them the arrow of choice for the huge majority of target archers (the exception being indoor archery, where the range is so short that people would rather use fatter shafts to get more linecutters).  But how safe are they?

The first point to make is that carbon splinters are rare.  You will meet many archers who will tell you that they have shot carbons for years and never had a problem.  That’s great.  On the other hand I’ve been driving a car for over a decade and have never had a crash.  That doesn’t mean I’m getting rid of the driver’s airbag.  It is still worth taking simple precautions to avoid injury, even if the chances of injury are slight.

IMG_20140910_163953 IMG_20140910_164026

Take a look at these photos.  They show two sides of one of my Easton A/C/C arrows (an aluminium shaft with carbon shell, and one of the better arrows on the market).  You can see that the carbon shell has split between the fletchings.  Now, I always practise what I preach so I checked this arrow before returning it to my quiver after shooting, and in doing so I noticed these cracks.  Had I not done so I suspect I would have ended up with a fairly unpleasant cut to my bow hand, even if the force of being shot didn’t cause it to splinter and fill my hand with tiny shards of carbon.

It is very rare indeed for a perfectly good arrow to break as you shoot it and damage your hand.  If you shoot a damaged arrow then injury is fairly likely.  This is true of any arrow material but damage to metal arrows is usually more obvious that damage to carbons and carbon splinters are rather nastier than wooden ones.

The moral of the story, therefore, is to make a habit of checking your arrows every time you put them in your quiver (or in your hand if you’re doing Hungarian).  For metal, this means a quick look and feel.  For wood and carbon, do that but also give it a quick twist and a gentle bend, while looking and listening for any cracks.  If you’re lucky then you will never have a problem.  More likely, you will at some point notice a loose feather or a damaged nock.  But you just might notice something like my split carbon shell.  If you do: don’t shoot it.


Horses v Zebras

There is a common saying in medicine: common illnesses are common.  What it means is that when a patient presents for diagnosis, you should start by considering whether he has manflu before testing for birdflu, Ebola or any other exotic and relatively rare disease.  The concept was wonderfully expressed by Dr Cox in the TV show Scrubs: “if you hear hoofbeats, you go ahead and think ‘horseys’, not ‘zebras'”.

So why am I writing about this, other than to take the opportunity to say how awesome Dr Cox and Scrubs are?

Well, today I went to the woods for my first training for over a week, following back problems.  Every arrow was going low.  I tried everything: check I’m coming to full draw; check I’m keeping the bow arm raised; check I’m focusing on the target…  Then, finally, I noticed that my nock point had slipped up the string and the arrow was a good 3\4″ too high.  Quick adjustment (temporary fix using tape on the string), problem solved.

Horsey, not zebra.  Check your equipment.

Relatively Fast Horses

I have written elsewhere about the balance between speed and accuracy when devising a scoring system for horseback archery.  I have also written about the application of Einstein’s special theory of relativity on the sport.  It’s time to put them together.

Lightspeed and Spacetime

Those who have read my previous articles on relativity (search for “Einstein” to read these articles) will recall that physics has shown through repeated experiment that c, the speed of light, is the same to all observers.  The usual demonstration of this is that if you stand on a train travelling at 100mph and throw a ball forwards at 100mph then the ball will appear to you to be going at 100mph but to somebody on the platform it is going at 200mph.  If you shine a beam of light, however, you and the person on the platform will both measure the light as travelling at the same speed: c.  .

Even in these ill-educated times I feel justified in saying that every schoolboy knows that speed = distance/time.  Since the two observers register the same speed but different distances (the person on the train only sees the movement along the train but the person on the platform sees that plus the movement of the train), it follows that they must measure different times for the ball’s travel.  It turns out that the faster you travel relative to somebody else, the slower time will pass for you than for them.  This fact has also been demonstrated repeatedly.  Methods include flying atomic clocks around the world and registering the fact that they measure different times.  More prosaically, the GPS system relies on special relativity.  The clocks in the satellites are set to run at a different rate from those on the ground to allow for the time-altering effects of relativity.  Without this adjustment satnavs would be hopeless: the tiny alteration in clock speed amounts to a change of about 10km per day.  (Most of this adjustment is due to the fact that time also runs differently under different strengths of gravity, but the speed of the satellites is also factored in.)

The corollary of the above effect is that space contracts at high speed.  If a moving and a stationary observer both see a photon (particle of light) travel from A to B then they will age on the speed (c) but disagree on the time (because their speeds are different relative to the photon).  They must therefore disagree about the distance traveled.  Experiment and theory agree: as you move, space becomes shorter in the direction of your travel.  Like time dilation, this effect is basically non-existent at everyday speeds but gets bigger close to the speed of light.  In a calculation that seems to make a mockery of the very concept of lightyears as a unit of distance, it can be shown that if we were to go at 99.9999999% of the speed of light we could travel 3 million lightyears (the distance to the Andromeda galaxy) in 50 years.  This is because the distance between us contracts at those high speed.

The general theory of relativity combined space and time into a single entity called (not very imaginatively) spacetime.  The predictions made by this theory have been confirmed so often and in so many different contexts that it must be considered the closest thing to “fact” that physics currently has about reality.

Can’t We All Just Agree?

The mathematics of spacetime provides a solution to the seeming chaos of time and distance being so malleable.  The solution is this: although different observers will disagree about time and space, they will agree about distances in spacetime.  This being the case, the week also agree about speed in spacetime.

Through a piece of mathematics that is a little beyond what I want to call with while typing on a touchscreen tablet after dinner, it can be shown that the relationship of time dilation and observed speed fit together in spacetime to demonstrate that everything, from photons to the stars that emit them (and everything in between, including you and me and, crucially to the title of this piece (which you have probably forgotten, given how loosely it connects to the subject matter), horses) travels at the same speed.  Thus we get to possibly my favourite physics fact: we are all traveling at the speed of light.


You read that right.  We are all moving at the speed of light.   More correctly, we are all moving at speed c.  The reason we don’t notice that is that we are moving through spacetime and we use our allocation of speed through space and time differently.  If you sit still, i.e. you don’t move in space, them you move through time at the speed c.  If you are a massless particle such as a photon then you move entirely in space and time does not pass for you at all. If you move at any lesser speed through space then your movement through time is such that your total speed in spacetime is c.

Fast Women and Slow Horses

George Best, a successful footballer and notorious drinker, once said “I blew a lot of my money on slow horses and fast women.  The rest I just squandered”.  Many horseback archers would sympathise about slow horses, having missed out on speed points.  I shall make no comment about fast women and horseback archers…

Technically speaking, there are no slow horses.  There are just horses that travel more in the time dimension than others.  A fast woman is presumably one who will go further while time seems to pass more slowly. 

I’ll leave it there…




Technically, all three of these horses are traveling at the same speed…

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.

How Horseback Archery Changed the World: Episode 1 – Carrhae

Horseback Archery in History

OK, I know I haven’t finished writing about Hungary yet, but this is a post that I’ve been working on for some time and now it’s ready it just wants to be out there.  I’ll finish Hungary later, I promise.

This is the first in a series of articles that I plan to write about the effect that horseback archery has had on world history. It grows out of the historical articles I have written for the BHAA newsletter and my researches on the history of horseback archery in Britain. This series is intended to take a different approach. I am going to focus on some of the less known (or less appreciated) effects that horseback archery has had on history.

I am not going to offer detailed examination of the battle tactics and techniques. I am going to focus on the build-up, the outcome and the effects. These are not going to be academic articles and my approach is not going to be even vaguely even-handed: I am basically going to try to demonstrate that just about the whole of world history revolves around horseback archery…

I’m going to start with my own personal favourite example: the battle of Carrhae in 53BCE.


The World Scene

The Eurasian land mass was basically divided into a few great empires, of which two are important to our story: Rome (a republic but with a vast territorial empire) ruled from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, Parthia (a monarchy) from the Euphrates to the Indus. Each had vast resources and neither trusted the other.

The empires had very different armies. Rome’s meteoric rise to power had come through her heavy infantry, protected by armour and by large shields and wielding javelins and the gladius, a short stabbing sword that was wickedly effective when deployed by Rome’s tightly-packed legions. The Parthians were a cavalry-based force. Such infantry as they had consisted mainly of ill-equipped peasants conscripted into the ranks with little training. The shock force of cataphracts (heavy cavalry) were clad in mail from head to hoof, man and horse, while the Parthians also deployed huge numbers of horseback archers.


Roman Politics

Rome had been in turmoil for about a century. On several occasions generals or rabble-rousers had seized control of the city. There had been death lists posted in the streets, confiscation of property, rioting and gang warfare, as well as outright civil war, with a Roman army marching on Rome herself. At the same time Rome had come under attack from the Kingdom of Pontus on the Black Sea, her allies in Italy had rebelled and a gladiator named Spartacus had led an uprising that had defeated three Roman armies before finally being destroyed.

Amid this turmoil three men had risen to power. The first was Marcus Licinius Crassus. He had been born wealthy and become far more so by some of the most unscrupulous business practices in history (amongst other things, he owned a private fire brigade that would rush to the scene of any fire in the wood-built city of Rome and then refuse to do anything to help until the owner of the burning building (and any neighbours) had sold their properties to Crassus at knock-down prices. If they didn’t sell then their houses would simply be allowed to burn down). In the civil war he had raised his own army and led it with some distinction and it was Crassus (played with great aplomb by Sir Laurence Olivier in the film “Spartacus”) who eventually defeated the slave revolt and crucified the renegade slaves along the Appian Way. He was, therefore, an accomplished general and a feared politician. But he was ever in the shadow of our next character.

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, known to history as Pompey the Great, was the golden boy of Rome. He had eclipsed Crassus’ fame in the civil war as a 17 year-old general who never lost a battle. He had then pacified a rebellion in Spain, returning just in time to wipe out a few stragglers from Spartacus’s army who had escaped their defeat at Crassus’ hands. Pompey wrote to the Roman Senate of how he had finished off Spartacus, stealing Crassus’ glory again. Pompey went on to clear the seas of pirates in a mere 3 months (these pirates having been powerful enough to attack the port of Rome, as well as kidnapping a young Julius Caesar). Pompey then led an expedition to the East that had doubled the size of the empire. He was hailed as the new Alexander the Great and was made consul (the highest rank in the Republic) years before becoming constitutionally eligible. Popular among the common folk, Pompey desperately wanted to be accepted by the patricians of the ruling class, many of whom were deeply suspicious of his fame and unconstitutional rise. Among these patricians could be found Crassus.

Crassus hated Pompey and thwarted him at every opportunity. The feeling had become mutual and the situation had become apparently insoluble: if Pompey backed a measure, Crassus would oppose it and vice versa. Into this inflammatory situation had come a man known as a dandy of dubious morality; a man whose family claimed descent from the goddess Venus but had fallen on hard times and now lived in the red light district. His name was Gaius Julius Caesar.

Despite being as upper class as it was possible to be, Caesar was loved by the common people and hated by his own class, who felt that he had betrayed them for the mob. His political rise had been tainted by scandal but he had procured himself military commands in Spain and Gaul and had proved himself a superb general, beloved by his troops and capable of extraordinary feats, including landing the first Roman armies on the semi-legendary island of Britannia.

Possibly even more impressive than his military campaigns was the fact that Caesar had somehow managed to broker a deal between Pompey and Crassus. The three men had effectively ruled Rome for years in an informal arrangement known to history as the First Triumvirate. Whenever the hatred between Crassus and Pompey threatened to ruin the arrangement Caesar had managed to smooth things over, securing supreme political office for the two of them while he himself stayed in Gaul conquering. At the end of their terms, Pompey and Crassus would each receive a provincial command, with Caesar’s office in Gaul being extended for a further five years.

Crassus hated Pompey. Pompey hated Crassus. They were both nervous of Caesar, who needed the two of them to work together. Each was immensely powerful but each knew that any attempt at seizing supreme power would unite the other two against him, resulting in certain failure. By this arrangement was the Republic kept safe from the civil wars and power grabs of the previous century.


Crassus’s Command

As was the custom the outgoing consuls drew lots for their provincial commands, which this time would be for extraordinarily long terms. Crassus drew the gem: a command in Syria, which presented opportunities to attack Parthia and, Crassus dreamed, to win the kind of military glory that Pompey and Caesar had earned but that had always eluded him, no matter how well he had fought in the past. The prospect was sweetened by the fabled wealth of the East and by the fact that Pompey’s fabled Eastern campaigns had failed to conquer the Parthians.

No sooner had Crassus taken up his command than he busied himself raising the extra legions and funds that he would need to invade. And across the Euphrates, the Parthians waited.

General Surena

Parthia may have been a monarchy rather than a republic but she had her own politics. The king, Orodes, had attained the throne through a civil war against his brother, the previous king (the two of them having previously murdered their father, the king before that). The civil war against his brother had been won for him by his general, a military genius from a family of generals. His name was Surena. When Crassus crossed the border and invaded Parthia, Orodes again turned to Surena to repel the attack.

Surena deployed an army purely comprised of cavalry. Most were horseback archers, backed up with a powerful force of heavy cavalry. This removed the principle weakness of Parthian armies, allowing complete manoeuvrability and removing the possibility of pinning the infantry down and drawing the cavalry in that way.


The Battle of Carrhae

Much has been written about this battle. Most accounts, based on the writings of Plutarch, portray Crassus as an incompetent blunderer. In fact he was a perfectly capable general whose decisions, while they led to disaster, were perfectly justifiable at the time.

Whether it was Crassus’ fault or not, the Roman army he commanded was destroyed. The Parthian horseback archers rained arrows down on the Roman ranks, which had to stay close-packed for fear of a charge by the Parthian heavy cataphracts. Crassus had a small but experienced cavalry wing of his own, lent to him by Caesar and consisting of veterans of Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul. They were commanded by Crassus’ son, Publius Licinius Crassus, who had commanded them in Gaul under Caesar. When this cavalry attempted to drive the horse archers off they fell victim to the classic Steppe cavalry tactic: the feigned withdrawal and sudden counter. Publius and his men were cut off and slaughtered, his head thrown at his father’s feet by a triumphant Parthian rider.

The Roman infantry withdrew and the next day Crassus and the Parthian commander agreed a parley. Something went wrong and whether through misunderstanding or treachery the Parthians killed Crassus and took his head back to the king (where it was used as an impromptu prop in a play that was being performed as the messenger arrived). Most of the Roman army was either killed or captured, with only a small force under a commander named Gaius Cassius Longinus making it back to Rome. Stories persist about the fate of the Roman captives, including that they were employed as slave labour to build the city of Merv and even (rather fancifully) that some escaped and became mercenaries in China.

Surena became a national hero. However, a successful general, famous and popular and with a history of toppling monarchs, was intolerable to the Parthian king and Surena was assassinated shortly after the battle.

Aftermath and Political Manoeuvring in Rome

Pompey’s glee at his old enemy’s demise can only be guessed at but he also made political hay. He had, years earlier, married Caesar’s daughter as a way of sealing their alliance. She had died the previous year and Pompey lost little time in remarrying. His bride? The widow of Publius Crassus. Quite apart from her marriage into Crassus’ family, she was a high aristocrat in her own right. By this marriage Pompey moved away from Caesar and cemented his ties with the aristocracy whom he had always courted (but who hated Caesar).

Suddenly Rome was no longer ruled by three men under the threat of mutually assured destruction. Now there were two: one in the capital with the Senate and aristocracy behind him; the other in Gaul with a substantial army under his command. The scene was set for civil war.

Pompey had one disadvantage: there was no army in Italy. While there were many veterans who could be called up, that would take time and money. Pompey was confident, stating that he need only stamp his foot and men would spring up all over Italy. In this he underestimated Caesar, whose generalship had always been marked by rapid movement and surprise attacks.

Caesar’s term of office in Gaul came to an end and his political enemies were ready to prosecute him the moment he returned (like all Roman governors, Caesar had been immune from prosecution while he held office but would be vulnerable when he returned, which he would need to do in order to run for further office). Pompey could have prevented this by guaranteeing immunity for Caesar but his move to the aristocratic side was complete and he instead acquiesced in the Senate’s demands that Caesar lay down his arms and return to Rome without immunity from prosecution.

Had Crassus still been alive it is doubtful whether Pompey would have taken this hardline stance against Caesar, fearing that his two rivals would join forces against him. Had he been able to convince Crassus to go against Caesar (which is unlikely) then Caesar would have been forced to surrender, not having a hope of going against both together. With Crassus’ death there was nobody to prevent Pompey from siding against Caesar. There was also nobody to dissuade Caesar from choosing to back himself and his army. He chose to gamble.

Caesar refused the Senate’s demands that he dispand his army. He marched his troops across the obscure little river that marked the edge of Roman Italy: the Rubicon. His customary lightning marching speed allowed him to approach Rome long before Pompey could raise a significant force to oppose him. Pompey and the Senate abandoned Italy and fled to Greece. A vicious civil war followed between the two sides, in which Caesar defeated his enemies. Pompey fled once more, this time to Egypt, where he was murdered. Caesar, following him thence, met the young Queen Cleopatra and was instantly smitten, having a child by here and bringing her to Rome. The war won, Caesar returned to Rome as sole ruler. The Republic, while it continued in name, was dead in fact.

 The Ides of March

Some years later, on the Ides of March (a date in the Roman calendar, not a place) Caesar was assassinated by group of conspirators, led by Brutus, the son of Caesar’s long-time lover (Brutus was rumoured to be Caesar’s child, although this is unlikely to be true). Contrary to popular belief, Caesar was not stabbed in the Senate House. He was stabbed in the building that had for some time been serving the role of temporary Senate House. It was a theatre, built using the spoils of Pompey’s Eastern expeditions and named in honour of Pompey himself. Caesar, the last of the three men who had ruled Rome for so long, died at the feet of a giant statue of Pompey, his great rival and one-time co-ruler.

What few people realise is that the other ringleader of the conspiracy against Caesar was the same Gaius Cassius Longinus who had marched with Crassus to Carrhae and had led the only Roman troops to escape the battle. The assassination took place days before Caesar was due to march away from Rome with his armies, leading them against Parthia to avenge the defeat at Carrhae.

The Fallout from Caesar’s Assassination

Caesar’s followers, led by Mark Anthony (Marcus Antonius) waged civil war against Brutus and Cassius, defeating them at Phillipi in Greece. The return of the Republic was overshadowed by a power struggle that developed between Anthony and Octavian, Caesar’s great-nephew and adopted son. This turned into outright war between Rome, under Octavian, and the forces of Egypt and the Eastern provinces under Anthony and Cleopatra. Octavian won and settled down to run the Empire under his newly-granted name: Augustus. He set the tone (as well as the family dynasty) for Imperial rule for centuries to come, so that even the name of Caesar came to mean ruler. It still does, in the German Kaiser and the Russian Czar.



Had Crassus not been defeated (and conventional armies without mounted archers very rarely defeated the Romans in this period) it is likely that the uneasy truce between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus would have continued. There would have been no civil war between Caesar and Pompey. Without this war, Caesar would never have gone to Egypt and Cleopatra would probably be a name known only to historians. There would have been no assassination on the Ides of March, no subsequent civil war between Brutus and Mark Anthony. Caesar’s great-nephew would never have risen to be emperor and Rome may well have continued as a Republic (she had survived dictatorships and tyrannies before). Instead, because of the crushing defeat inflicted by the Parthian mounted archers, the Roman Republic, which covered most of Europe and beyond, was riven by decades of war and the Roman Empire was born from the ashes.


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).
Korea 1

korea 2

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.
hunocha 1

hunocha 2

hunocha 3

hunocha 4

hunocha 5