Sourcing Horsebows & Arrows
Let us help you source your first equipment.
The wide array of online information and varieties of equipment and shooting styles for horse archery can make the task of sourcing your first equipment daunting. We want to help you find equipment to start you on your journey! By planning group orders through Seawinds Horse Archers for bows and arrows, we can save on shipping expenses and help ensure the equipment you get is well matched to your body and your budget. Contact us when you think you're ready to get your own bow and arrows!
A wide variety traditional bow types are suitable for horse archery, but the majority have three important elements: generally short in length to allow for mounted shooting mobility, generally without a shelf on the riser such that the archer must rest the arrow on the bow hand (mandatory in most competitions), and generally light in draw weight to accommodate rapid competition shooting and to encourage a very high frequency of shooting while training, all while avoiding injury related to shooting from dynamic positions.
Short Bow Length: Shorter bows offer greater dexterity on horseback. However, the shorter a bow, the earlier it’s stacking point in general, and thus shorter bows limit the draw length they will accommodate. Also, shorter bows will tend to present higher levels of “string pinch” with three finger shooting styles, thus the shortest bows are more typically used amongst thumb shooters. Horsearchery shooting styles tend to embody longer drawing techniques than popular ground archery styles. Therefore, bow length for a given horsearcher is typically selected according to the shortest size an archer with a given draw length can comfortably shoot without stacking or finger pinch. Generally, horsebows with string lengths of 115 to 140 centimeters are appropriate for most adults. The exception to this rule is with highly asymmetrical bows where the design features greater length of the upper limb, the extreme example of this being the Japanese Yumi bows used in traditional Yabusame horse archery.
Simple Riser: Most horse archery competition rules require that bows be of traditional form without cut out risers, arrow shelves, or defined grips such that the arrow must be shot off the hand. For most shooting styles, a relatively small diameter riser add many benefits, such as minimal lateral arrow deflection, ease of arrow handling, and in the case of the archer holding the arrows in the bow hand as per the Kassai style, the ability to hold multiple arrows in the bow hand with greater ease. In this later case, the curvature of the riser is also important to allow the arrows to be held with some degree of spread for easier location and pulling from the bow hand.
Light Draw Weight: Most experienced adult horse archers shoot bows that are in the range of 25-35 lbs draw weight at 28” draw. Even very strong archers who are capable of shooting 60 lbs or more rarely choose horse archery bows above 35 lbs. Lighter bows allow for greater numbers of arrows shot during practice without fatigue and muscle damage, and the development of better form. Muscle damage is a particular concern due to the dynamic nature of archery on the back of a cantering horse, and the dynamic ground training drills where the archer is often shooting while walking, running, jumping, turning, or even lying down. Some archers use multiple bows of differing draw weights during the course of a training, with a lighter bow used to warm up and cool down. Some archers use a heavier bow for strength conditioning training. Beginner bows should always be lighter weight until drawing muscles are better developed and correct form is learned.
Prices for functional horsebows vary dramatically, depending on materials and craftsmanship. The cheapest are generally made with fiberglass limbs, or poly-fiberglass blends. The most popular and higher performing bows are laminated wood or bamboo in conjunction with fiberglass and or carbon fiber, generally with hardwood risers and siyahs (ears or tips). The most traditional bow limb materials (and most labour intensive to construct) are made in the Asiatic composition style combining animal horn, wood in the center, and sinue, with comparison in speed and accuracy to the fiberglass/wood laminates more widely available. Beginner students are encouraged to buy a bow in their price range (which starts at about $100 CAD) and perhaps reserve their extra money for higher numbers of practice arrows (which average $10 each). It should be kept in mind that more arrows while training on horseback means more practice without requiring retrieval, which when training alone usually requires dismounting.
Establishing a nocking point on the string in the correct position is crucial for horse bows for good arrow performance and especially to safety while shooting off the bow hand. An arrow nocked too low relative to where it rests on the archers hand will cause feather cut as the feathers slide across the unprotected bow hand. This can be corrected easily by positioning the nocking point on the string such that the arrow is nocked 1.5-2.5 cm (5/8ths of an inch to 1") above the top of the bowhand from the point exactly perpendicular to the string. New archers finding their comfort with a horsebow are prone to allowing the bow to slip down in their grip such that the arrow again leaves feather cuts on the students hand. Students may wish to fashion a reference point as to where the they should grip the bow; adding a thin wrap of hockey tape as a guide can serve.
While traditional ground archers generally nock the arrow below the nocking point, some styles of horse archery fast loading are done by nocking above the nocking point. This is the case in the Kassai style of loading, where a thin wrap of hockey tape is used, at the width of the middle and ring finger (for comfort during high shot frequency training). Thumb shooters require a nocking point above the arrow nock.
The length of the string is generally correctly set for an ideal brace height for new bows. Brace height is the distance between the string and the riser, and can be adjusted through twisting the string. There is generally a range where the brace height setting achieves the least hand shock and bow performance. Higher brace heights also allow easier ‘between the string’ arrow loading for Kassai style shooting. Low brace height can also increase the occurrence of forearm slap, even in good form shooters. Through usage, strings may tend to stretch, reducing the brace height. Therefor this should be checked occasionally. Strings should also be kept on the bow when unstrung to reduce the chance for un-twisting.
String center serving diameter is very important in horse archery fast nocking. The serving plus strings must be fine enough to allow unobstructed, easy sliding of the arrow nock to the nocking point on the string. Many otherwise good horsebows will have to be re-served with a very fine serving thread. You can google it! Sometimes this problem can be solved through adequate widening of conventional nocks.
Arrows for Horsebows
Arrows for horse archery are available in wood, bamboo, aluminum, fiberglass, fiberglass/carbon composite, and carbon. Each material has advantages and disadvantages. Many people choose carbon arrows because of their consistency, performance, durability, relative affordability, and availability.
Points should be target or field type points but should not be too sharply pointy so as to minimize injury to horse or rider. Most points can be dulled quickly with a bench grinder or mini-grinder.
Nocks are generally plastic, relatively large, and often manipulated to enlarge the opening such that they can be loaded quickly by feel without looking at the string. Several specially designed horsearchery nocks are now available commercially online, some based on new ideas for fast loading and some based on ancient designs.
Arrows can be feathered or equipped with plastic vanes. For some shooting styles such as the Kassai method, the feathers are set forward further so as not to interfere with the particular firm gripping method taught for fast, stable loading from canter.
As with all arrows, they should be matched well for the bow and the archer’s draw length. This is particularly important for accurate shooting from horsebows due to the arrow having to bend around the riser (referred to as archers’ paradox), which is not cut out. This generally requires an arrow that is flexible enough and long enough relative to its point weight to achieve sufficient flex so as not to experience lateral deflection away from the riser at release. For many horsebows in the 20-35 lb range, a long arrow (30-33”) with 600 spine (a standard measure of flexibility) and point weight of approximately 90-125 grains will match the bow well. Arrows should be longer than the archer’s draw length to accommodate occasional overdraw without the risk of drawing the arrow past the bow riser (2 or 3 inches longer than normal full draw should suffice). However, if the arrows are too long, they become cumbersome during fast loading and may not perform well due to excess weight relative to the kinetic energy of the bow. The archer needs to keep in mind that significantly shortening these arrows will result in a relatively less flexible arrow, a result that may then only be corrected through increasing the point weight, which can also affect loading speed. This becomes even more significant when the bow weight is lighter and/or the archers draw length is shorter, so even heavier points may be required for matching the arrows to the bow in such a case.