Although I love spending time at Hanaeleh with the horses, sometimes things can get a little repetitive. The horses really seem to enjoy the structure, but I need more mental stimulation. Learning about different disciplines and meeting new people helps ensure that I am not getting into a proverbial rut with my training techniques, and it’s always fun to learn new things and meet awesome horse people! Last year I went down to San Diego County and visit the Sagittarri Horse Archers of Southern California to see if horse archery might be something I would like to try.
I drove down that morning, with Tamahome in the trailer. He was a good sport, although he gave me a look like, “OK, what are we doing NOW, human?” as he was getting into the trailer. The trip down was easy, as there was very little traffic, and we got to the arena area a little after 8am. There were already some horses there as well as some people practicing archery in the arena. I met one of the coordinators, TJ, and was introduced to everyone else there, and I have to say that I have rarely met such a welcoming group of people! Everyone was so kind and open, and I felt comfortable immediately, even though I had no idea what I was doing or really, what I was going to be doing there. I have no real experience with archery, and I wasn’t sure I was even going to be able to physically shoot the bow. Several years ago I was in a jumping accident, and my horse tripped over a jump and smashed straight into the ground. I went with her, hitting my head, spraining my neck, and tearing the tendons and muscles across my neck, back and shoulder. I spent over a year in physical therapy just to be able to put my hand over my head, and my neck and back still spasm and hurt to this day. I was not certain if I would be able to pull the bow back enough with the weakness in my neck and shoulder, or if the movement would end up creating more issues.
I walked Tamahome up to the arena where people were standing, shooting at straw bales. We stood as he watched the arrows fly, as I wanted him to get used to the noise and the movement. He looked at me and indicated he was bored, so we got closer. He was still bored. This was good, actually, although Tamahome was not convinced, and if he could have rolled his eyes, he would have. One of the people there held him as I was instructed on how to hold a bow and began shooting. Maury spent over 20 minutes with different bows, helping me find one that worked best. We used a 25 pound bow, which was still a bit heavy, and finally were able to borrow Meredith’s 20 pound bow, who is one of the coordinators of the group, who also had an old shoulder injury. Remember that I had NO archery equipment, but I still had a number of people offer to let me use their bows and arrows. It was amazing at how willing people were to help there.
Eventually I saddled Tama up and we began riding around the arena. I did not carry a bow because I was just getting him used to the arena, and cantering up the side of the arena like the shooters. He was fine, although he was a little annoyed that I would make him slow back down after each pass. We did this for several minutes, until I was certain he was comfortable. I did not want to shoot off of him until I was certain he was completely safe, however, so I asked Meredith to help me, and she and another archer spent time with me and Tama. First they show arrows next to him while I was on his back (“Boring!” says Tama). Then they held him as he stood and I shot arrows off of his back (“Still, pretty boring!” Tama said). Then, we walked around (no one holding him) an enclosed circular area while I shot arrows off of his back (“Yawn!” said Tama). Which was all wonderful, actually- I never want my horse to be scared or uncertain, but completely comfortable. Thankfully, Tama was very calm and confident throughout the entire process. For me, I hit the target every time while we were walking around, so I was happy with myself. To be honest, the most difficult part of the entire part was notching the arrow while I was riding.
We stopped after five or six arrows as my shoulder was beginning to go out, but I was still pretty happy- Tama was like, “Whatever,” I got to shoot arrows at things, and I met some truly wonderful people! If you are interested in horseback archery, I definitely recommend checking out the Sagittarri Horse Archers! For those who ride, but have no archery experience like me, there are a number of people to help. There were even some people who let others ride their horses for a nominal fee as well for those who did not have their own.
While I was there, I also got to see Finn, one of the Thoroughbreds we helped to rescue from a local stable a few years ago. We took him because his old owner was behind on the board payments, and the manager/owner called us instead of sending him to auction, where he most likely would have been sold to slaughter. His new owner is amazing, and Finn did awesome at practice. He had a bit of a spook when, during the group photo shot, the archers shot off a bunch of “flu flu” arrows (I have no idea how to spell that). Essentially, they are plastic-tipped arrows with very large feathers which make a bit of a noise. Finn did not like the fact that a person shot one off right in front of his face… and I can’t truly say I blamed him. Tama was not thrilled with these arrows, either, but they both were fine.
As for me and Tama, I’m not certain if archery will be in the cards for us. The next day I had a migraine headache from the extenuated use of my shoulder, and I had to take the day off of work. Nevertheless, I still purchased a bow and arrow online with guidance from Benson, one of the people I met there. I put up a straw bale in the arena, and every once in a while I’ll practice either on the ground or Tama and I will run around shooting evil straw bales. This past fall I had a custom hip quiver and bracer made by Teddy’s Twisted Products, so I am ready to attack any evil straw bales that I may come across.
As long as they attack on the left, of course.