Last weekend I was honoured to teach horse archery at the Mildura Alcheringa Pony Club's camp. This camp was HUGE! 5+ instructors with approximately 30-50 riders and horses receiving coaching in dressage, show jumping, cross country, horse archery, roping and other areas too.
The first thing I noticed as an outsider was how friendly, supportive and organised they were. Secondly I was exceedingly aware of how respectful the riders were to their ponies / horses. It was really fantastic to be part of that environment ...... but I digress from the topic!
There is a unique, almost mystical transformation that occurs when a rider shoots a bow from a horse. Firstly, the rider must be very mindful of their emotional regulation and how this impacts on their horse. Extremes of both sides of emotional regulation; hyperaroused, specifically nervousness or excitement; or on the other end of the scale hypoaroused, may impact your horse. So, importantly the rider must expend some energy on inner awareness, promoting homeostasis or an inner equilibrium. Of course with our lighting fast Limbic system and prefrontal cortex, most of this occurs outside of our fully conscious awareness. Riders feeling anxious, focused on activating their parasympathetic nervous system - using Gestalt Theory's out breath technique for this. Having an emotionally balanced rider, enabled the horse / pony to experience desensitisation to the sound and movement of the bow without an added concern of being impacted by the rider's body language and energy. How often do we, as individuals, consciously focus on inner awareness and emotional regulation as an active process? Spending this time is the first step of active empowerment.
That leads me to the next reason why horse archery is empowering: we remove the rider's reliance on the reins. As a rider, having our hands on the reins is a structured skill of control. Those two thin strips of leather or webbing creates the illusion of having control. This taps into our primitive Limbic system (that which keeps us safe, controls our emotions, behaviour, long term memory etc). Dropping the reins is almost like a shock - both freeing and scary all at the same time. If done sensitively, we then discover that there is a depth of emotional resilience that we may not have realised we had. I specifically remember a few years ago working with a Dressage Instructor giving horse archery a try - cantering down the track, arms stretched wide, head thrown back and giggling like a little girl. It was so wonderful to watch and I don't think that I'll ever forget it. As an adult that exhilaration of being free, taps into a well inside of us that can be dampened down in every day life.
Then focus on the target whilst moving, muscular tension prior to releasing the arrow and just the wonderful experience that partnership with a horse almost completes the empowerment circle. I commonly see even the most withdrawn or anxious people visibly sit taller in the saddle after experiencing this exhilaration and have this incredible, almost primal strength of presence afterwards. "WOW" is something I hear a lot of.
So what have you got to lose? Channel your inner warrior and experience emotional regulation, and inner strength in partnership with horses! You know you want to ;)