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The art of horseback archery

Farmville offers a wide range of recreational, competitive and creative activities for all to enjoy. The list of activities continues to grow, and now, thanks to nine-year resident Tracy Perez, it includes what she noted as being one of the fastest-growing equine sports in the U.S. — horseback archery.

“Horseback archery had been used for centuries for hunting, ceremony and as a form of warfare before being replaced by vehicles and modern weaponry,” she said. “Horseback archery has since been revived for modern sport, reenactment and demonstration. There are practicing and competing horseback archers all over the world, spanning many countries and cultures.”

Perez has started a club called the Full Draw Mounted Warriors, which practices mounted archery monthly at her farm, The Bunkhouse, located off River Road.

Rewinding time to the spring of 2019, she shared how this sport became a part of her life.

“I actually saw a picture on Pinterest of a woman jumping a horse — bareback and bridleless — over a jump and shooting a target as she jumps, and I thought, ‘I want to do that,’” she said.

She just loved the all-natural character of the picture that featured no saddle or bridle. However, she noted that when horseback archers compete, they always have saddles, and those learning the sport will want to learn with the saddle.

But first, Perez began her relationship with the sport by teaching herself archery.

“I had to learn archery first, because I wasn’t an archer, but I had a good horse that was very well broke, and we were already a team, so I thought, ‘Let me see if I can do this,’” she said.

In addition to a person being a good rider and archer, the other half of the equation for a successful horseback archer involves a well-trained horse. When a horse has been trained to do mounted archery and is able to handle, at a gallop, a rider shooting arrows, it becomes known as a war pony.

And these are live arrows, as opposed to cowboy-mounted shooting, involving guns.

“With cowboy-mounted shooting, they shoot blanks,” Perez said. “And they also hold onto their reins. With mounted archery, you ride hands-free, your horse has no reins, the reins are down around the neck. And then you use a real recurve-type bow that’s made for horse archery. It’s smaller and a little bit lighter.”

Also key in horseback archery is the quality of the rider’s relationship with their horse.

“You have to have such a bond with your horse, because your hands are no longer controlling the

horse,” Perez said. “You’re totally focused on your target, so you have to have complete faith that your horse is going to do its job — maintain a canter, maintain correct straightness if you’re headed down an alleyway to a target — so you can focus on your shooting.”

The primary horse Perez practices mounted archery with is named Trigger.

“I’ve had him 14 years,” she said. “But I’ve only been doing mounted archery with him for the last year. And then I have a younger horse, who I’m also working with, and she’s coming along too. I just don’t have quite the trust. I can’t just throw caution to the wind with her. You have to have a good, reliable horse with this, because you are riding hands-free.”

Perez said she taught herself the sport for a while and then sought out instruction, which brought her to Elizabeth Tinnan, owner of Chattahoochee Horse Archers and an international competitor in the sport.

“She’s competed all over the world — Mongolia, Korea, all over the United States — and she’s like 15th in the world,” Perez said.

Tinnan was in the area this past weekend leading a clinic, which was moved from The Bunkhouse to Aspen Hill Farm in Rice due to weather.

She came to Prince Edward County due to Perez and the Full Draw Mounted Warriors, which have a goal to bring in proven clinicians like Tinnan to provide a safe and beginner-friendly learning and training environment for new and coming horse archers, Perez said.

“We’re trying to grow the club right now,” Perez said. “There is a learning curve, so it’s not just kind of like a club where people show up and they know what they’re doing. Some people know archery. Some people know how to ride. There’s people that are learning to ride as they learn archery. So we hope to host events in the future, but so far, we’ve just had the two training clinics — the one this weekend and then last September.”

The Full Draw Mounted Warriors club currently has seven members. Five members bring in their own horses.

“I have a lady that comes from Roanoke, I have another lady that comes from North Carolina and a couple people from Amelia and another person from Blackstone,” Perez said. “So we have some members from kind of all over.”

She noted the club has a Facebook page — www.facebook.com/ FullDrawMountedWarriors/ — and if people are interested in either coming out and observing a practice or bringing their horse out to see if it is something they would like to do, they are welcome.

Perez affirmed the sport has proven to be every bit as exhilarating as that picture she saw on Pinterest.

“Very much so,” she said.

Photos by Alexa Massey