Mounted archery becomes an appealing option in equine sports
by Steven Johnson, Staff Writer
Competitive mounted archery is tough enough without having to worry about your arrows randomly disappearing.
Fortunately, Kristin Erlitz has fingered the culprit. It is Thunder, her powerful 14-year-old Percheron, who failed miserably at park police horse training but turned out to be an ideal candidate for archery.
“He was a bit of a troublemaker. He did not work out for them, but I liked the personality,” says Erlitz, who operates Roving Knights Equine Archery near Culpeper, Va. “I do have to keep an eye on him because he will steal my arrows out of my quiver, and I’ll have to go find them.”
Roving Knights was the first such club in Virginia, and Erlitz has found the sport to be a perfect complement to other equine offerings. If you’re a dressage rider, for instance, you can stay with that and add archery on the side, she says.
“Folks usually come out because they’re already riding and they want to try mounted archery, or they’re already archers and they want to try riding.When they hit that spark and they decide, ‘Yeah, this is pretty cool; I want to continue,’ they usually end up joining the club.”
BITTEN BY THE BUG
Erlitz followed her own serendipitous path. She started riding horses in New Jersey when she was eight, has studied natural horsemanship and biomechanics, and has been involved in horse-related fundraisers and events, including a turn as president of the Prince William Horse Show Association.
About six years ago, with many of her rides approaching retirement age, she was browsing for information when she came across Diana Olds, a traveling clinician who runs an archery-focused equine program near Philadelphia.
“I had never heard of it up until that point. It looked really cool and interesting. So, I contacted her and after I talked to her for about 30 minutes on the phone I said, ‘I have to try this,’” she says.
Olds subsequently conducted a clinic in Virginia with Erlitz and about 10 other interested people.
“I worked really intensely with her for the better part of a year to get myself solid enough to start doing beginner clinics here in Virginia,” says Erlitz, who serves as secretary of Horse Archery USA, which promotes the sport at a recreational and competitive level.
IN THE FIELD
Becoming a great archer requires a million little tweaks, tricks and adjustments. But Erlitz is a strong believer in what she refers to as the flow state, a level of energy and communication between rider and horse.
“Most of our riding is done through feel. So, while we train with physical cues, that training eventually leads up to having a feel of what your horse is doing underneath you. They can feel us way more than we can feel them,” she says. “And when you’re able to do that, you don’t have to worry about all of the biomechanics of what’s happening.”
Erlitz says she sees great growth opportunity in the field. For example, virtual shootouts were born of necessity during the pandemic, but are turning into a way of developing competition among independent archers from far-flung locales.
“It’s very rewarding to see someone who you met at a clinic who had never done this before. And now two, three years later, they’re trying their first competition,” she says. “And you get to watch that progression. It’s very satisfying.”