Last month a group of passionate athletes gathered for the first time in Squamish to see who could shoot from horseback with the greatest accuracy — not with a gun as you might expect in the West, but with a bow and arrow.
"The Squamish competition opened doors for people who could not make it to our horseback archery centre in Mount Currie," explained Robert Borsos, founder of The Borsos Torzs Horseback Archery Club of Mt. Currie, the only one of its kind in Canada.
Borsos opened the club in Mt. Currie in 2003. The first few years saw six members gather together to practice riding and archery.
In 2006 the group became an officially recognized Kassai Horseback Archery school after Borsos went to his homeland of Hungary and completed a series of strenuous exams on riding bareback and archery.
Kassai Lajos is the Hungarian horseback archery guru who has incited a renaissance of this forgotten tradition. Horseback archery was employed in warfare and as a way of life in many civilizations around the world before the advent of modern firearms. Borsos' journey to train at the Hungarian school allowed him to bring the contemporary version of this tradition to Canada. The competition at Diamond Head Ranch in Squamish was another step in the activity's growth.
Six members from the club turned out for the competition along with three participants from the Sea to Sky Stunt Lab in Britannia Beach. Riders cantered along the 99-metre course while shooting at five targets adjacent to the track. Scoring, which ranged from 0 to over 300, is based on speed and accuracy.
Top scores went to Borsos (82 points) and Zoltan Csontos (77 points) — both originally from Hungary.
Third place went to 61-year-old Natalyia Perchatkina, referred to by her teammates as the "Russian Champion" with a score of 59 — she's a former national alpine ski competitor. Perchatkina took up horseback archery after moving to Canada from Russia in 1998.
She has completed 12 horseback archery competitions during her time with the sport. "Usually I'm not the last one, (I'm) somewhere in the middle," she said. In 2013, she ranked 62nd in the horseback archery world competition.
"In this sport, because you have to ride without the reigns, you have to trust your horse, plus shoot the arrows," said Perchatkina.
The three other Borsos Torzs members scored over 20. Julia Rekaikyna, Maja Aro and Jeff Aro of the Sea to Sky Stunt Lab scored below 10 points —a good showing, which illustrates the level of difficulty of the sport.
Horseback archery was once used by aboriginal groups in North America, and some members of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nation are starting to pick it up once again, said Boros, who emphasized the importance of safety as riding horses can be dangerous, as can shooting arrows, and in combination the potential for harm is multiplied.
"Everybody finished the competition without an injury," he said, with a relieved sigh.
"There were three new riders joining us for the competition. They are professional stunt performers, but what they realized during these two days is that they need much more practice riding with archery, and connecting the two before they can safely hit the target while cantering from a horse."