Hooves pound out muffled thunder in the fine, soft dust of the sage flats east of Sisters. A galloping horse, flowing smooth as a breeze across the steppe bears down, its rider swiveling in the saddle, nocking an arrow to a short recurved bow.
Twang! Hiss! Thunk! An arrow flies and slams into a round target as the horse and rider swirl past. Again. Again. Arrows fly and slice into their targets, in a martial spectacle that dates back to the ancients.
This is the scene at Holm Neumann’s Cascade International Mounted Archery Center located on a ranch in Plainview, where mounted archery enthusiasts at a variety of skill levels have come to learn from one of the elite.
Cozmei Mihai, a world champion in the discipline, was in Oregon for the Rogue Mounted Archers Competition in Medford last month. Then he headed to Cascade International Mounted Archery Center for a series of clinics.
“I was born in 1968 in the Eastern part of Romania (a region that has always been in the ancient times in close contact with the nomad riders from the great Kipchak Steppe),” Mihai says. “I have been practicing martial arts intensively for more than 30 years… In 1998 I moved to Hungary and started practicing intensively horseback archery. After a while I established myself in the countryside in Szentendre, I married a Hungarian woman, Maria Rankasz, and we have a 10-year-old daughter, Anna. In 2004, I started to teach horseback archery as founder of The Way of the Archer School.
“After many years of practice and teaching archery and horseback archery, I decided to start sharing my experience with all those who might feel the call of their hearts in this direction.”
He calls his practice Living Arrow Horseback Archery.
Mihai explained his philosophy during a demonstration last Friday.
“Traditional archery also means traditional riding,” he explained.
That means tapping the ancient and medieval traditions of Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
“In Asia, the light cavalry was the Queen of the Battlefield.”
For Mihai, mounted archery is more than mere sport – it is a martial art, and he is committed to following in the hoofprints of ancient warriors of many cultures who were capable of astonishing feats with horse and bow.
The key is the relationship with the horse.
“In horseback archery, you have to turn and be stable and you should be powerful and at the same time elastic,” he said.
Since the hands are occupied with the bow, the horse is guided with the seat and the legs. And the rider is not taking to the horse – the horse and rider must become one: the rider is the mind and the horse is his body.
Over and over Mihai emphasized, “This is my body.”
The ancient way of the horseback warrior requires training at speed – at battle tempo.
“It’s stress, adrenaline; it’s about life and death,” Mihai said.
Trey Schlichting was another elite archer on hand for the clinics, instructing in ways to improve accuracy with the bow. Founder and instructor of A Company Mounted Archery Training in New Braunfels, Texas, Schlicting is just getting back in the saddle after a horrific wreck that left his pelvis split by a saddle horn and pulled away from his spine.
Schlicting grew up a bow hunter and a horseman in Texas – then discovered that he could combine two passions.
“I read an article about a guy who shot an antelope off of a horse with a longbow and a lightbulb went off in my head and I thought ‘Why am I not doing this?'”
Since 2012 he has been traveling and competing as well as operating his own mounted archery school.
He specializes in a style of archery that dates back to the Huns of Dark Ages Europe, but he has also taken to staging competitions that recreate the archery of the Comanche people of his native Texas.
A respect and a passion for history is a key element of the practice for these inheritors of the warrior tradition.
Andrew O’Donnghaile is working at Neumann’s ranch as he furthers his training in mounted archery. He’s also coming off having completed his master’s degree in early medieval history at Cambridge.
The passion for history combined with early experience in the saddle to bring him to mounted archery.
“I’ve been riding since I was about 11 – mostly in the hunter-jumper discipline,” he said.
He is enthusiastic about mounted archery.
“It’s a martial art, first and foremost,” he said. “It’s not just a sport.”
It’s also about “preservation of traditional culture” and “it has an international goodwill cooperation component as well.”
The archers at the Cascade International Mounted Archery Center have their eyes firmly fixed on the target of the world championships in the sport, which will be held in South Korea in September and October. That’s the goal they are training toward.
Holm Neumann’s ranch in Sisters is where he and his wife, Susan, raise Mangalarga Marchadora horses. The gaited horses are ideal for mounted archery, and Mihai rode Neumann’s Quevado, a premier horse for the discipline.
Neumann is a pioneer in bringing mounted archery to a U.S. audience, and he’s helped several local archers get their start in the field.
“It’s growing,” he says. “We have a club now called the Thundering Horde.”
Neumann and other local archers have participated in several Sisters Rodeo parades.
Neumann’s passion, his quality horses and his archery course in the sagebrush have made Sisters Country a focal point for this modern iteration of an ancient warrior practice. Those interesting in learning more, including auditing a clinic, may visit www.cascademountedarchery.com.
[NOTE: Participant spaces are filled, but if you would like to audit part or all of a clinic June 29-July 3 and/or July 6-10, 2015, please see this post for more information.]