Hilary mid-action practicing mounted archery, photo captured by Kim Hawkins
Modern sportsmanship often includes a fusion of different sports, mixing coordination and skills across different crafts. Meet Hilary Merrill, a Californian who has been training mounted archers and performing leatherwork for four years. Get inspired and hear about Hilary's journey through mounted archery, a mix of archery and horseback riding!
How did you start out in horse archery?
I was introduced to horse archery in 2014 by my good friend and mentor, Mike Loades, who himself is a horse archer and professionally a director, author, and medieval weapons expert. We built California's first horse archery club, the California Centaurs, and I learned about the history of this art and ancient war tactic as we developed the club.
Tell us about your journey through the sport.
In 2016, I took my practice to the next level by going to train with Polish extraordinaires Wojtek Osiecki of Stajnią Grom and Ana Sokólska of AMM Archery. This experience motivated me to build a versatile training program for horses and riders in the US based on biomechanics and techniques tailored for horse archery, diverging from any other extant equestrian sport. Spending 25+ years training and competing in the traditional sport of Three-Day Eventing gave me some tools to use, but the challenge and excitement for me comes from breaking out of the traditional box and creating something new. Training riders and horses to communicate via leg, energy level, voice, and seat - without reins and often without bit or bridle - has been an incredible journey that has improved my understanding of and relationship with horses to a new, beautiful level.
What are your biggest accomplishments?
My most fulfilling accomplishment that I experience daily is training horses and riders for this event - seeing them grow and succeed, and also growing with them. Competing internationally in Poland, Germany, and South Africa has been a thrill as well. Training my mustang gelding, Carter, for horse archery and earning an IHAA HA3 ranking with him has been infinitely inspiring (and we are already ticking off the boxes for HA4!).
What are the trends in horse archery these days?
Some of the current trends in horse archery are types of saddles and quivers (carries our arrows while riding). For saddles, many shoot successfully from English jumping and dressage saddles. Endurance saddles have a nice shape and allow enough freedom of movement too. Western saddles tend to place the leg too far forward, however some models now allow the leg to sit farther back. Historical Turkish and Mongolian saddles, as well as a modernized version thereof by Wojtek Osiecki, support effective hip rotation and leg position. For quivers, the majority of horse archers use the accessible hip quiver taken from Turkish design. A front quiver, from which arrows can be very swiftly drawn across the torso, is becoming more popular. Back quivers are also becoming popular, but there is room for design improvement.
Any recommendations for aspiring horse archers?
Find a high-quality classical riding trainer, especially in any sort of jumping discipline, to hone a good position and subtle cues. Also build good pressure/release horsemanship skills with your horse - Carson James has a great, accessible online program for that. Then the technique specific to horse archery will come smoothly. Develop a soft eye. In everything you do, and especially in your archery practice, find ease and relaxation.
Hilary's suggested gear for aspiring horse archers:
Fouganza Adjustable Tree Jumping Saddle is adjustable to custom fit your horse's build with semi-deep seat for jumping and flat work, made with split calf leather.
Schooling Saddle Cloth to protect the horse's back from the saddle with cushioning and absorb perspiration.
Gel Saddle Pad for shock absorption and stability beneath the saddle.
These riding pants with two-way stretch, synthetic suede for superior grip and abrasion-resistant microfiber.
Tendon boots for your horse to absorb impact.
This horse riding saddle bag to carry your saddle with ease while protecting it and taking the best care possible to maintain its condition.
Hilary's horse Carter enjoys the comfort of our saddle, gel pad, cloth, and tendon boots.