Tanya Widen was originally captivated by the sport in 2008. “When I start, there is a rush of adrenaline, nerves and excitement. As I’m cantering down, I feel the horse breathing between my legs, and my eyes see very little aside from where my arrow is about to land. Hitting a target well is more than just what I see with my eyes – it’s a feeling that comes before as I release the arrow. After this point it’s undeniable happiness.” She passed this excitement on to two of her friends, who became the founders of Northwest Nomad Warriors (NWNW), a mounted archery club in Ridgefield,
Northwest Nomad Warriors was started in 2015 by Canyon Cappola and Kristen Andersen. Kristen, an avid equestrian who makes her living as an equine and portrait photographer, wanted to do mounted archery. Canyon had not shot a bow since he was 12 or ridden a horse since he was 13 and was not so sure. But he went with Kristen to watch her at another nearby club, and they put him on a horse, too.
“He really didn’t know how to ride, and so when he cued the horse, it started to canter instead of trot,” Kristen recalls, laughing a bit. “He fired that arrow and hit the bullseye. He was all smiles. When we got home, he said he wanted his own horse. He was hooked.”
A Focus on Personal Growth
Mounted archery is a growing sport with a couple of associations that organize competitions. Canyon and Kristen decided to affiliate with Horse Archery USA (HAUSA) because they are not as focused on the competition side of archery as the other organization. “Our goal is to offer competitions on the ground (no horse required), lane and field, so we try and design something for everyone based on their skill level but also their interest level,” says Canyon, who is the HAUSA regional representative for the Pacific and Mountain regions, as well as the Affiliate Club Coordinator. “Not everyone wants to run full-speed on a horse with dropped reins.”
Canyon and Kristen want everyone to be able to enjoy archery, no matter your riding level or if you even own a horse. They have members without horses and many members who only walk or walk/trot. The club’s mission statement echoes this: “To promote and popularize the sport, the art, and the culture of horseback archery in the Portland/Vancouver area by offering participation opportunities at both a recreational and competitive level, while providing a sense of community, sportsmanship, safety and horsemanship.”
Everyone starts on the ground anyway, learning how to shoot targets in a manner that works with being on a horse. “If you have done ground archery before, you will have to unlearn what you have been taught,” Canyon says. “We do things differently to accommodate the fact that eventually you will be shooting off a moving animal.” And even when you are ready to mount up, they have other ways of letting you have the experience even if you do not have a horse, including the use of an “iron horse” (fake horse pulled by an ATV).
At the end of the day, the goal with NWNW is to further yourself, or yourself and your horse, through archery. It is not necessarily about competing or getting to the point where you are racing 90 meters, shooting and hitting three targets in under nine seconds. It is also about reaching your personal goals.
“Mounted archery came into my life at a time when I really needed something to boost my confidence,” says Megan Hanselman, leader of Sherwood Forest Mounted Archers, NWNW’s sister club in Oregon. “I was going through some really heavy personal growth. Shooting my bow from horseback gave me an outlet, one that gave me a feeling of freedom, strength and courage.”
For Kristen it is about developing a relationship with her horse. “Because of the nature of the type of riding we are doing, you have to have good communication and good connection. And that process of developing that relationship with your horse to get to the point where you are comfortable riding hands free – essentially almost bridleless – can be such an empowering personal journey as you learn more about yourself as well as your horse and improve your horsemanship,” she explains.
Kristen goes on to say that the horsemanship really is the hard part. “We can teach anyone to shoot, even uncoordinated people like myself.” But since there is no set timeline or class schedule, each club member can move at his own pace, only getting in the saddle when he and his horse are ready.
“While I haven’t gotten to the mounted part so much, I love shooting from the ground. It’s relaxing and almost addicting,” says Aletha Bakke, a member of NWNW. “There is something beautiful about all the motions from drawing to firing even if my aim isn’t amazing yet. I really enjoy it! I hope to be doing more mounted archery soon. My horse Zephyr is a great fellow, and I think it will improve our bond and coordination.”
Even better, this might be the most inexpensive equestrian sport to learn. HAUSA only costs $25 annually. Northwest Nomad Warriors has no club fees for this year, and practices are inexpensive – $5 if you have our own equipment (bows/arrows), $10 if you need to rent. Currently, Northwest Nomad Warriors is offering ground-only archery practice while they get their mounted range set-up. Practice is every Sunday from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. You can get more information and R.S.V.P. for practice at the Northwest Nomad Facebook page.