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Women warriors on horseback

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They wear T-shirts saying “Mounted Amazon Archers.” Bows in hand, arrows nocked, their horses gallop a 90-meter “run,” and as they pass in front of the target, they drop the reins and, says one, “when you hit the bulls-eye, everything just comes together — your focus, your horse, the arrow and that target. That rarely happens in real life.”

Then there’s the camaraderie, adds Roberta Beene, founder nine years ago of the Rogue Mounted Archers, who do their exciting drills and competitions on East Antelope Road near Eagle Point — and attract people from all over the world.

It’s a worldwide sport now, with 400 members of the Mounted Archery Association in the U.S. and 50 locally, says co-founder Darran Wardle.

“The trick to the sport is practice,” he says. “You try to get the arrow off at the rise, because it’s smoother. The horse is in the air then. It takes a lot of effort and practice. You can’t do it if you’re just dabbling around.”

The club is interested in getting more kids and men into the sport, but a glance around tells you it’s a thing that attracts women. He notes, “It brings out the Amazon in you. I’ve seen shy little girls do it and just go through a deep personality change, feeling so empowered.”

Why don’t more guys show up for mounted archery? Wardle dryly observes, “They want a key to a four-wheeler. The horse community has gone to middle-age women.”

“It’s a fascinating, beautiful sport,” says Canis Pratt, who is in her first year. “There’s so much to it, and it does seem like it’s a girl thing. It’s exciting, the connection between rider and horse. They know what you want and are happy to give it to you.”

Riders use plain target arrows and basic bows — no pulleys or gadgets — and must balance the arrow on a thumb in full gallop.

“Whoo-hoo-hoo,” shouts one rider, prompting Beene to observe, “That’s the sound a woman makes when she nails the bulls-eye. When she hits it, everything comes together. Everything gets quiet. The arrow is your intention. And nothing beats that experience of overcoming the fear. You’re definitely vulnerable on the run. You can get injured. So it’s a model of life and triumphing over that fear.”

Rider Arnica Montana says she was “instantly hooked” on the sport. “It helps focus the mind. There’s nothing but you and the bow and the horse. It’s like therapy, something so very stilling, and I feel so much better afterward.”

The attraction, says Brie Connor, is “the trust, the relationship you build with the horse. My quarter horse Zenna was very anxious. But this is empowering. It’s in the moment — and trust-building and takes a lot of focused practice.”

After some runs with Cruz, her Arabian, Joan Broadfoot says, “It’s the best adrenalin rush ever. It’s like whitewater rafting, so challenging. It’s not easy. You have to trust your horse to be coordinated enough you can still shoot. It’s addictive, really.”

Beene says she plans to do mounted archery with survivors of domestic violence and PTSD. She started the group “when I saw how supportive all the women were from all over the world. I was in awe at how empowering the sport was. I became acutely aware of the strength, the tenacity and the determination it would take to be a female warrior.

“Every time I swing a leg over a horse to shoot mounted archery, I recognize the power of overcoming your fears. That courage is really being humble enough to recognize your fear and brave enough to challenge it anyway, a balance the (historical) Amazons must have faced as well.”

For women only, Amazon Archers, an affiliate of the Rogue Mounted Archers, is “dedicated to the empowerment of women through horseback archery. They are strong women who know what it means to be brave, shooting bows and arrows off horseback,” the website says.

Keeping your horse, says Wardle, might cost $300 a month, and membership is $125 a year or $150 for families. You can do “spot” shooting from a trailer towed by a motor vehicle to get used to it. For details, see roguemountedarchers.com. RMA is an affiliate of the Mounted Archers of the Americas.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Joan Broadfoot of Ashland shoots from the back of Cruz during archery practice in Eagle Point. Photo by Denise Baratta
Brie Conner of White City shoots at a target while riding Zenna during archery training in Eagle Point. Photo by Denise Baratta