Training Your Horse for Mounted Archery

equine competition horsemanship and training mounted archery Jul 09, 2024
mounted archery

Let me give you a brief feel for my absolute favorite sport with my mule, mounted archery.  If you are right handed, you have your bow in your left hand.  Your stirrups are a little shorter than you are used to typically, but that is ok, because you are lifted out of your seat.  You’re riding a saddle without a horn.  You are at a full canter.  You pull your arrow with your right hand out of your quiver, load your arrow onto your bow string, lock it in with your thumb (yes, I said thumb), all by touch without taking your eyes off the target.  You draw, release, and the crowd cheers as you score a bullseye!  If you noticed, I never mentioned your reins.  That is because you are cantering without them!  Welcome to mounted archery!!!!

There is an alley way that varies in width between 2 to 4 meters.  The narrower the alley way, the better your mule will stay straight.  However, I have seen horses go through the alley way, so you will want to make sure and construct your lane with a break away rope.

Until this year, all mounted archery had to be done at a canter.  If your equine slowed to a trot for even one stride, that would constitute a disqualification.  As of this year, a walk and a trot division have been added, however, there are no prizes awarded for walk or trot other than your name being listed on an international ranking found at

Getting my mule, JoJo, to stay straight while we were going down the alley way was originally difficult for him.  You see, I have trained my equine to be sensitive to body cues.  With every command there are three levels: ask, tell, and demand.  For example, when turning to the left the first step is to look to the left, making sure to not have weight going left.  This is the “ask”.  The “tell” is done next by placing the right calve on the mule while you are still looking the direction of travel.  If the mule has not moved, it is time for the “demand” which is the use of reins.   

In mounted archery, I basically had to teach my mule to not listen to my typical commands since I am twisting on top of him.  There are three basic types of shots:  forward, side, and back shot.  Now, of course, there are specialty shots, but for most purposes there are three main shots.  Now, here is the crazy fact:  the forward and back shots are actually side shots with the archer positioning themselves correctly.

All equine are capable to learning, and with mounted archery I had to put a second set of rules on my mule.  Before we canter I have started reaching down and grabbing his withers and giving him a specific verbal cue.  I have done that for months now and he understands that when I do this his job is to stay at a constant speed and travel straight.  Verbal cues are great for mounted archery.  When you are putting a verbal cue on any equine, you must be consistent.  Do not be a chatter box while in the saddle.  This will make it noticeable and clear to your equine.

Not all mules are designed for mounted archery, just as not all mules are designed to pull a cart or barrel race.  Seek out a mounted archery instructor.  Von Holten Ranch has created an entire line of mounted archery equipment and has plans already in action to become a hub for mounted archery in the United States.

JoJo and I are paving the way for other mules to join in the fun of mounted archery.   Not bad for a mule that had to be repossessed and was formally known as Repo Joe, before being called JoJo!


By Brandy Von Holten 

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