CANNING – It’s like something out of a story book as Lance Bishop gallops through mist on a buckskin Quarter Horse and fires an arrow at a target.
It’s a fast run and he’s a quick shot, and before you know it, it’s over. The bow is thrown to one side, the horse rounds a corner, and comes back up an incline as if nothing’s happened.
But it’s far from nothing – it’s the first club of its kind in Nova Scotia, and others are joining Bishop to learn the art.
“When I was young, I always imagined myself as a warrior atop a horse. Now, each time I do this, it feels real,” says Bishop.
More martial art than sport
Bishop races along a track and shoots four arrows – one, two, three, four, they go – a race that’s over in about 45 seconds.
The track is part of the Seawinds Horse Archers club, a group of horseback-riding archers gathered by Bishop in January alongside Amy Morrison and Cree Summer Taylor. The club practices a martial arts style of archery made popular by Lajos Kassai, which pulls from his Hungarian heritage of mounted archers.
The practice involves a mounted archer who fires a series of arrows at one rotating target while cantering on a horse, and is as much sport as it is a form of art, agrees the group.
“The breathing, and centering, and reducing tension – it’s all at interplay here,” says Taylor.
After discovering Kassai, Bishop traveled to stables in Ottawa, California and Hungary to train with Kassai himself. He returned home to build his own 99-metre ‘Kassai’ course, where the club is hosting a training camp and competition for horse archers to learn from Kassai himself.
“We’re really excited for this. We’ve been practicing for months and have a lot riding on this. Pun absolutely intended,” laughs Bishop.
Training horse and rider takes one year, or more: Bishop
With so much work put into learning and setting up the course, the trio has devoted hours and effort to getting things just right. Despite this, they insist learning has been easy, as they take things one step at a time.
Club members practice more than 20 drills that each mimic shooting from horseback. They run, they roll, they jump, and squat – all to practice shooting while in motion.
For Bishop, it was nearly a full year before shooting from a canter was comfortable. He describes learning the one moment the rider can shoot the arrow – when the horse’s hooves are all suspended in the air, mid-stride as it canters – and that riders learn to feel this moment intuitively.
“It’s the only moment you stand a chance of hitting the target,” says Bishop.
The artform is a three-tiered system – the archery, the horse, and putting both together – and training each horse also takes time as factors like running down the trench-like track and arrows flying over their ears are alarming to horses, says Bishop.
“Horses are prey animals – that is how they survived in the wild. Everything about this goes directly against those instincts,” says Bishop.
'We saw his passion:' Morrison
The club’s international ‘Kassai competition’ on August 12 will see Kassai judge nine riders attempting to hit the course’s single, rotating target with as many arrows as possible over 99 metres.
Camp participants will learn the drills and other skills as the club aims to receive official Kassai certification, and Bishop his international certification as a Kassai coach.
Taylor and Morrison describe discovering Bishop and horse archery within days of each other. Both saw a picture on Facebook of Lance shooting from horseback and were immediately intrigued.
Taylor send Bishop a message, and just days later Morrison messaged Taylor, who is her horseback riding coach.
“We discovered we could all help each other in some way, and it went from there,” laughs Taylor, as Morrison describes how they each bring something to the club.
"We saw his passion, and so we just kind of knew we were going to work on how to make that happen," says Morrison.