Photo by Jeanne Shepherd Harford

Mounted archery draws international competitors and royal audience

Mounted archery; not your average equine sport. Unknown to many, it offers equestrians an inexplicable exhilaration that needs to be experienced to fully understand the attraction. When I mention this sport to fellow horse enthusiasts, I reference mounted archers as fighter pilots on horseback. Imagine a focused warrior firing arrows at their targets as they run at full gallop on a fearless steed; passion drives them both. I have been involved in our equine community for over 40 years and have just recently found this fascinating sport and more importantly, I have recently discovered expert mounted archers in most countries.

Photo by Al-Faris International Horseback Archery Championships

I contacted fellow Texan, Trey Schlichting, at A Company Mounted Archery in January to find out more about the sport and see where his travels would take him in 2018. He was very informative about the sport and its important cultural history. Then, he mentioned that he was selected as one of only two Americans to be invited to the 2018 Al Faris Mounted Archery World Championships in Amman, Jordan. He went on to describe this amazing event and my interest peaked. As I mentioned, this competition was by invitation only; only the best two competitors from 24 countries were selected for this pageant of excellence in front of the king himself. Without hesitation, I contacted event coordinators, secured a media package, and booked tickets for Amman, Jordan.

Photo by Vincent McLean

Upon arrival to Amman, I (as was each guest and competitor) was greeted at the airport, whisked through passport and customs like a VIP, and put into a private car for the journey to the Grand Hyatt. I knew at that very moment that this was going to be an extraordinary experience. No one knew what to expect after such extensive travel to this Middle Eastern land, in the middle of the night, for an event that you know very little about, with people you have never met . . . but all preconceptions and fear went out the window because we now knew that our Jordanian hosts of this Al-Faris competition were some the most organized and hospitable people in the world.

Photo by Jeanne Shepherd Harford

The Al-Faris International Horseback Archery Championship website offers wonderful descriptions of the event and the styles of archery used in this competition. They stated, “this event is held under the Royal Patronage of His Majesty King Abdullah II, and the leadership of HRH Prince Hashim bin Al Hussein, the Chief Councilor and Honorary Chairman of the Al-Faris Organizing Committee, in The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in an effort to preserve and revive the cultural heritage of horseback archery, which has deep roots in Arabic, Islamic, Turkish, Asian and European cultures. Al-Faris competitions usually revolve around a variety of Archery Styles – mainly three competing styles – as follows: the Oriental Style, known as “Al-Ghara” – Arabic for Raid, (a newly developed Jordanian Style that combines archery with tent-pegging), the Asian Style, known as the Korean Style - (where three different disciplines are demonstrated: the double double shots, the triple shots, and the multiple shots), and the European Style, known as the Hungarian Style.” These variety of styles allow archers from around the world their chance to show their honed skills.

The next day our plan was laid before us; organized meetings, extravagant dinners, cultural excursions, one horseback practice, and then, of course, the big two-day competition. The hotel meeting rooms were filled with an anxious energy and then, within 48 hours, I observed this large international group go from apprehensive competitors to comrades in arms. I watched in awe as they began sharing. Sharing any and all of their knowledge freely with each other; explaining, exhibiting, and describing the different techniques, styles, and equipment choices to the very persons who would like to take the prize. Winning was not the ultimate goal; they genuinely smiled and shared not only amongst themselves, but with anyone who asked to spread the amazing energy of this sport. They were true ambassadors for both mounted archery and the countries that they represented.

Photo by Al-Faris International Horseback Archery Championships

I was observing sport and competitors in true Olympic spirit from the first day in the hotel through the ending ceremonies at the royal court. The classic saying, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” held true with some spills and thrills along the way, but in the end, the team as a whole pulled together and provided the most amazing display of horsemanship and martial art the world had ever witnessed. Christoph Nemethy of Hungary was crowned the overall champion, each division had champions, and an Al Faris honorary award for chivalry and horsemanship (voted on by all competitors) was awarded to Robin Descamps of France. The 2018 Al Faris Mounted Archery World Championships in Amman, Jordan brought the world together for a few days. The history and culture of the sport were kept true, the athletes (both horse and rider) had unrivaled passions, and everyone worked towards their common goals of personal achievement and success. No one was concerned which country you were from, what politics you followed, or even in what religion you believed. The sport brought us all together and the passion made us friends for life.

Article by Jeanne Shepherd Harford, 2018