Horseback Archery – a Medievalist Sport

Say ‘horseback archery’ and what would you think? Archaic, esoteric, oriental, arcane?

Indeed, horseback archery was and still is a vibrant tradition in Asia, from Iran and Turkey to Korea (home of the World Horseback Archer Federation) and Japan. More recently, however, horseback archery has crossed the east-west divide and is increasingly popular in Europe, the UK and the States.

The object is simple – to release arrows into a target while galloping. At the same time, there are infinite variations in rules, equipment and styles across schools and countries. You can release arrows, for instance, into a series of targets set alongside the track. Alternatively, you may be asked to shoot three arrows into the same target. Whatever the rules, speed and feeling are the key, in diference from the foot archery, where the archer has time to deliberate and aim.

Like all combined sports, horseback archery is a singularly difficult art to master. Combining two hard and rare skills, archery and riding, it is breathtakingly beautiful to watch and fascinating to practice.

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Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmasand Happy New Year!

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Matter of Epic or Romance: Comparing Castles in the UK and Latvia

As all my attention is given to an article about medieval hillforts and stone castles in Latvia which I am currently preparing, I could not but glance back to my early musings on Daugmale hillfort – and a castle in Bangor, which I once visited in very romantic circumstances


On Easter Monday, me and my husband visited Ynys Mon, or Anglesey as the Saesneg call it, on a pilgrimage.
The goal of our pilgrimage was the sacred well at which St. Seiriol, a Welsh 6-th century royal hermit once lived. Later the place became a local centre of worship, with two Celtic crosses; the crosses are still there, presently placed inside the later church building, though originally they would have stood in the open. In the twelfth century, the Celtic monastery became reorganised as a Norman Augustinian monastery. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the place into the hands of a local family, who built a dovecot and a deer park next to the priory and the church buildings. In the eighteenth century, some enthusiasts of the Celtic revival added a brick structure over the well at which side St. Seiriol would have lived. The Penmon priory is thus…

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Horseback Archery In Korea: A Traditional Sport.

Over the past couple of decades archery from the back of a horse has seen a revival as a sport and recreational activity. Countries all around the world, both those with and without a tradit…

Source: Horseback Archery In Korea: A Traditional Sport.

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Hillforts in Latvia

Today is the ‘Birthday of Latvia’, as my little son proudly announced to me coming from the kindergarten. Moreover, I was putting some spit and polish on my article about medieval castles in Latvia, so I found a collection of maps listing Latvian hillforts particularly useful.

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Medieval Welsh Horses Had Weird Names

While preparing my article on the early editions of the Welsh Arthurian material, I came across a passage from Loth’s French translation of the Welsh triads. And the first triads were, who would guess it, about horses.

Here they are, Horse triads from the Black Book of Caermarthen:

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Medieval Horses Love Water!

November has come, with its dull winter days, the first snow and cold, wet horses. Apparently, it was no problem in the fifteenth-century France, where the calendar page from the spectacular Bedford Hours show a horse splashing in a fountain:


Perseus and Pegasus, the Bedford Hours

Calendar page for November from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410–1430, Add MS 18850, f. 11r


All right, that’s Perseus and Pegasus, so they are supposed to be there. Still, to me, the picture looks very realistic, minus the wings, which appear very haphazardly slapped upon the white horse, anyway. Maybe the knight is going for a dress-up party? It’s Halloween, after all…

Still, I wonder whether they would be splashing in the water in November – might be a bit too cold for this kind of fun. I am not sure the knight looks very keen on it, nd even the horse seems slightly hesitant, probing the water with its hoof.

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What did medieval people know about Hungary?

What do the Old Norse sagas, the chronicle narrative of Jean Froissart and the Old Serbian annals have in common? How about the Dominican collection of pious exempla by Jacobus de Cessolis, Liber de moribus? Well, to give you yet another clue, think of the late French Arthurian romance of Melyador and the anonymous fifteenth-century Middle English metrical romance Capystranus. Still no nearer to the answer? Hungary and the Hungarians! Surprising as it may sound, Hungary makes a frequent and variegated appearance in a variety of medieval narrative sources across Europe, from Iceland to Italy, not to mention Germany, France, England and such close neighbours as Poland and Serbia.

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Be the Superhuman!

In the wake of the Paralympic Games in Rio, I wanted revisit the issue of athleticism for the (dis?)abled. In my previous post, I juxtaposed the video of Paralympic dressage with a quotation from Dom Duarte I’s treatise on horse-riding, where he argued that no apparent physical impediment should prevent anyone from becoming a reasonably good rider. Indeed, we see in the video extremely handicapped people who control the horses much better than most amateurs and look much more elegantly on horseback than any bunch of ordinary students at a riding school. And yet, these people are amateurs, too, for most paralympic athletes have daytime or part-time jobs and are not paid or are paid very little for being athletes.

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Not Fit to Ride? Watch Paradressage

In the fifteenth century, Dom Duarte I of Portugal wrote:

… some people think they cannot be good riders because of weakness, old age, or obesity, and therefore lose the will and give up learning what they need in order to attain knowledge. They are manifestly quite wrong in this, and in many other good things that they lose because of this despair, when they could acquire them if they had good hope. Those who feel this way ought to dismiss this belief. They should reflect that they feel badly because they don’t think they can acquire this art; but if it is due to weakness or age or some other thing, they could easily find others who are weaker and older but are quite good riders. Likewise with the other shortcomings: most people can recognize that, even if we have them, we can find others who have them to the same degree or greater, yet are not prevented from having considerable skill in riding. And when we see  that people  of equal or greater shortcomings acquire this art and practice it quite adequately, we should readily recognize that, if we have will and knowledge, the ability will not fail us, since people can do it who have less aptitude than ourselves. I truly think that if everyone believed this, few people would fail to become reasonably good riders for lack of physical aptitude.


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