BY CARLA CHRISTIAN
The Reflector Correspondent
Archery on horseback is reminiscent of Native Americans hunting buffalo in the vast grassy plains, or Mongolian warriors charging into battle on sturdy and sturdy ponies.
This 2,500-year-old martial art is experiencing a modern resurgence around the world, including right here in Brush Prairie.
The styles of mounted archery have their origins in Korean, Hungarian and Persian culture. The sport combines horseback riding with archery skills as competitors gallop a 90-yard course while losing arrows at various targets.
Volcano Ridge Mounted Archers (VRMA) is an avid horse archery club based at Arrowhead Acres in Brush Prairie. The multi-faceted organization offers training and practices at its archery range, participates in public exhibitions, participates in mounted archery competitions, offers scholarships to young people for archery. ‘bow ridden and runs a rescue horse training program.
The group was incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit this year and already has 52 active members. It is a subsidiary of the Mounted Archery Association of the Americas (MA3), the national sports organization, which provides a framework for mounted archery clubs across the country.
Ridgefield resident Susie Castle is a board member and founding member of VRMA. Castle has been a long-time rider and has ridden in many disciplines, but she is particularly passionate about mounted archery.
As difficult as it may sound, she did not find the sport particularly difficult.
âI did archery when I was a kid,â Castle said. “It’s just bringing back muscle memory.”
In addition, she did some weight training to stabilize an injured rotator cuff in her shoulder, which would otherwise be strained by the use of the bow and arrow.
Aiming with precision is one of Castle’s biggest challenges, as she has double vision due to a previous head injury. But, she said, it seems easier to aim from a galloping horse than from a stationary position; maybe the playing field is level compared to other runners.
âIt’s new, it’s exciting. It’s a bit barbaric, âshe laughed.
She loves to let go of the reins of a galloping horse to take aim.
âIt’s the freedom, the feeling that you’re just going. It brings back the feeling you had when you were a kid, you come back to that feeling, âshe said.
VRMA members have access to the training facilities at Arrowhead Acres and the group trains twice a week, weather permitting. New members must be members of MA3, carry out a skills assessment and pay an annual membership fee.
Practices focus on safety first, Castle said. Young people begin to learn to pull a lead line on horseback, and all riders train from an “iron horse”, a horse figure towed behind an ATV.
âThere’s a lot of ground shooting and practice before riding,â Castle said.
Each horse is also assessed, to ensure that it has the right level of training and basic disposition for the sport.
Ultimately, the rider will let go of the reins and the horse will charge straight into a galloping alley, while the archer takes aim at a target.
The VRMA supports horses and riders in addition to providing a training ground for mounted archers. The Horse Rescue Program welcomes two rescue horses each year and provides rehabilitation and training to prepare them for archery mount work.
In addition, the group funds scholarships for two young members, which give them access to facilities, training, competition and a horse to ride if necessary.
VRMA participates in the US Veterans Corps Mounted Color Guard to provide horses and riders for commemorative events, and has partnered with the Warrior Within program to provide horse-assisted activities for veterans.
A two tour veteran described her experience when she joined the archery group.
“I don’t know what it is,” she said, “but other veterans have to do it.”
âYou have that bond with your horse,â Castle said. âIt’s a healing feeling you get when you can trust your horse. “