The pounding of hooves mingled with the thud of arrows striking true, and the accompanying applause afterward, as a team of mounted archers demonstrated the ancient martial skill for guests at the Washington State Horse Expo over the weekend.
The Brush Prairie-based nonprofit Volcano Ridge Mounted Archers put on the exhibition.
Gabrielle Massie, who owns Arrowhead Acres ranch, where the archers train, said Sunday that the group stages demonstrations up and down the Columbia River Gorge and for 4-H groups, along with now-regular appearances at the annual state horse expo.
One of the biggest parts of the group’s work, beyond training would-be riders and rehabilitating horses, is reminding people that this tradition still exists.
“Until you see it, a lot of people don’t know it’s a real thing,” she said. “We come from the bow. It’s nothing new, but it’s new to us as an organized, safe sport.”
The riders shoot 30-to-35-pound-weight recurve bows, with no arrow rests. Volcano Ridge has about 50 members, she said, all of varying skill levels.
About 70 percent of the people she’s met come into the sport from riding, while the other 30 start as archers.
Being part of the club grants access to the range and monthly guided practices. They keep an organized training and tier system, Massie said, because mounted archers are only as good as they are as riders, and vice versa.
“I definitely want that to be something that we’re known for,” she said. “It’s not just about looking pretty on your horses, you actually have to know how to ride.”
Katie Stearns rides with the Broken Arrow Mounted Archers in Arlington and joined the demonstration Sunday.
Stearns taught Massie, and others, after getting into the sport in 2005.
She majored in archaeology in college and always had an interest in medieval history and warfare. She had also been riding horses since childhood.
When she went to get a bow for her historic European martial arts hobby, it came with a book by a contemporary horse archery expert from Hungary. She took it to her archery shop, and learned about a mounted archery workshop coming to her town.
Stearns had done other mounted combat before, but something about archery was different.
“You have to have so much more of a connection with your horse, and it really appealed to me. You have to be able to separate, fully separate, your upper and lower body. “Lower body rides the horse, upper body does archery. And it’s much more challenging,” she said.
She was hooked. Since then, she’s competed internationally, riding in Korea, Jordan, Turkey, Mongolia and Hungary.
“The feeling when you really do finally get in a canter, and you shoot, and you release the arrow, and you hit your target, and it’s all this one motion — it’s one of the best feelings in the world.”