“I’m on a horse” is a phrase many will remember from that famous male deodorant ad. It was uttered by the main protagonist of that ad as a closer to his line of arguments as to why he is awesome. Many agreed. If you’re awesome at something, but you can also succeed at continuing being awesome at it while on horseback, that triples whatever respect you’ve earned previously.
This certainly applies to archery. On it own, standing at the range trying to remain as still as possible to hit the target is hard enough. Learning this requires determination and patience. But for some people there is room for increasing difficulty. Riding on the back of a horse while shooting arrows at targets is difficult to the point of being niche even in archery circles. You’re essentially learning to combine your command of the bow with your command of the horse and it is a rare person who excels at both. But the rich history of horseback archery, with a variety of styles in different regions, is what keeps the sport alive. And horseback archers claim that it is an enormous amount of fun as well. Horseback archery, like almost all archery, has its roots in ancient times. High-mobility soldiers that can kill at range were highly desirable in all regions of the world. The effectiveness of these units would decide the outcomes of wars, as it was considered the closest thing you could have to a blitzkrieg you could have in medieval times. On the European continent, the most famous historic example are the Hungarian horseback archers. For hundreds of years the Hungarian forces were considered the most elite in Europe. They were often employed as a special forces of sorts to defend different Europeans nations, such as Italy, Spain, Switzerland and of course the Great Moravia, the latter being modern day Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. The Hungarian Horseback Archer’s unique advantage was twofold. First, they could travel vast (by those times) distances in short periods of time. It was not unheard of for them to travel 60 miles in a single day. That meant that deploying them was relatively simple. Second, they were excellent archers even in the most demanding conditions. The skill was such that they were lethal pretty much regardless of terrain. Mountainous trails, dense forests, narrow streets of medieval cities – in all of these cases the Hungarian horseback archers remained swift and eagle-eyed.
The Hungarian horseback archers used very short bows. This was for a number of reasons, some of which are obvious. First, the weight of the bow was minimal. Second, the ability to aim quickly increased as the bow itself was not cumbersome. It is important to note that the horseback archers didn’t have the luxury of only needing to shoot straight. They needed to be able to shoot forwards, sideways and backwards equally well. This set of maneuvers would have been impossible with something like a longbow. At the same time, the archers needed to pack a punch in a compact package so the bow string was tightly strung. The force was such that the archers had to use a thumb ring, otherwise they would damage their fingers.