The modern horseback archery ranges on which archers compete have their styles inspired by the historical background. That is why a hungarian course involves shooting at three targets, which are actually the same target that has three round sides. To hit all three, you’d need to shoot forwards, sideways, and backwards. Points awarded for accuracy increase respectively, with the backward shot earning the greatest possible amount of points.
The japanese horseback archery discipline is called Yabusame, and is even simpler, it seems. The goal is for the archer to shoot at three targets while riding full speed along a straight, narrow track. The targets are arranged sideways, or perpendicular, to the track that is around two hundred and fifty meters long. It might sound even simpler when I tell you that the targets are about two meters away from the archer when they are passing it. The assumption is that this short distance from the target will increase the ease of aim, but the effect is quite the opposite. When you are riding at full gallop, (that’s around 30 miles per hour, by the way) it is better to have a distant target so as to have a greater time window to take aim. Having the target so close to the edge of the track means the shot must be taken at a perfect 90-degree angle on the left.
The time window for aim is really quite short so it is a real test of precision and mental calculation. So this seemingly simple exercise requires the archer to achieve several, difficult-on-their-own skills. To begin with, you must keep the horse perfectly straight. The track helps with that, but remember that the horse will respond to signals made by the legs, so accidentally kicking it on the side may result in loss of control. And the risk of involuntary movement of the legs is high. To make the shot accurately you must use your legs to absorb the undulation of the horse beneath you, which involves lifting yourself up from the saddle slightly. While this is all happening you must draw the arrow, and track the target from the side such that you are perfectly perpendicular to the target when you take the shot. Fail to stabilise yourself and you miss. Hesitate for a split second – you miss by a mile.
The Yabusame is in a way a perfect blend of the horseback archery and the classic archery. The latter requires focus and following the correct technique as perfectly as possible, while the former has a more “intuitive” approach of gauging the speed and timing the shot. Matters are further complicated by the bow itself. Unlike the Hungarian variety, the Japanise Yabusame bow is called a “daikyu”, which is a thin, light bow that is around two meters long. While there isn’t any need to shoot backwards, removing the need for cumbersome maneuvers, the length of the bow means that ignoring the proper technique to come up with a personal style is quite impossible.