The very first Equestrian Spotlight is on a topic I’ve wanted to explore for a while. I was delighted when Lucy Summers agreed to share some insight, and her interview makes for delightfully inspiring reading!
Lucy is a mounted archer, lifelong equestrian, and fantasy enthusiast – born and raised in California, USA. As a former archery coach, she began teaching herself mounted archery for the sake of better immersion in her writings. She has a passion for medieval times, and is currently writing her first book, Storm of Thieves.
Tell us about your current horse and how you got into horses/riding in the first place?
I currently own one mare, a purebred Arabian named Dreamer. While she’s not my first horse, she’s definitely the horse that owns my heart. We’ve been partners for nine years and have a distinct bond between us, a mutual trust built up. She’s a superstar and a barn favourite. Despite her bloodline being known as hot tempered, she’s quite the saint and tolerates just about everything and anything I want to do. I have been riding horses for over 20+ years and its never died. When you love something that much, it becomes so deeply rooted in you. I was that little kid asking for a pony for Christmas every year and never “grew out” of that. I was The Horse Girl in school, a badge I wore with pride. Throughout my riding life, I have done a little bit of everything. I grew up doing only western and trail riding on over 100,000 acres. The horses were not stalled and roamed free, so I got to see them in a very natural environment. It taught me so much about horse behaviour and social pecking order. Later in life I began taking English lessons at a local stable and eventually learned to jump. I switched barns again where I eventually met Dreamer. Getting her to be all mine and owning her was a crazy time all in itself, but that’s a story for another time.
For those that don’t know you, how did you get into horseback archery, and how easy or difficult has it been to learn?
This has been the ultimate adventure for me, let me tell you! Anyone who knows me just kind of nods their heads that I’m doing this and tells me it suits me perfectly. I had always had such a deep passion for horses, but there has been a love of fantasy in me, too. I blame Lord of the Rings. No really, I do. Those movies sparked something in me that became a wild fire that couldn’t be put out. Because of them, I signed up for a local archery club and started taking lessons. I did it weekly for a long time, then took a few years off. Eventually I became a coach in it and did it off and on throughout the years. So for me, the groundwork and foundation of archery was already there. I had fooled around with it with my mare a few times, but nothing serious. Then I started writing my fantasy series, Storm of Thieves (not yet published). I realised I had the means to really try it out and learn what it felt like to do, so I could write one of my characters doing it better. I had this incredible horse who was pretty easy to train for it, and that was that, I started taking it more seriously. For a while, I was simply self taught, combining my passions together and expanding my skills. Then back in October I found out there was a local lady who gives lessons in mounted archery. Due to work changes and schedule conflicts, I’ve had less than ten lessons, but each one I learn so much more and then can go home and practice. It challenges me like nothing else, trying to get the right balance, flow, use of proper muscles and so much more. But it’s everything I love.
If someone wanted to get into horseback archery, should they start by learning to shoot from the ground first? Are there any other tips you have for a beginner looking to take up mounted archery?
First let me say you need a good horse. And not just any horse, you need one that is calm, responsive to the rider, and willing. And your horse needs to be trained for this sport. You cannot simply mount up and ride and expect the horse to be totally fine with you shooting projectiles from their back. But I’ll also say having a ground archery foundation definitely helps. We practice on the ground all the time before mounting up. The techniques are different, between ground and mounted. Don’t try to rush it. You have to go slow to go fast. Mounted archery is all about speed. You should be able to shoot 3 arrows in 5 seconds. But to get there, take things slow. Get used to drawing out the arrow and nocking it. Get used to pulling the string. Sometimes I’ll do nothing more than practice drawing an arrow from my quiver and getting it on the string. The same comes for riding. Shoot from a halt before anything else. Then a walk. Get used to the feel of it. Don’t worry about being fast just yet. The sport itself is designed for speed, but only once you’re ready.
What are some interesting things you’ve learned doing mounted archery?
I had a hard time learning on my own that the proper position to shoot in was to actually stand in the stirrups. I thought it was either sitting or a two-point. In my very first lesson, I learned you actually fully stand up, stretching tall. Let your knees be your shock absorbers and take the momentum so your upper body can stay stable. Once I learned this, everything became so much smoother and easier for me. Also make sure to fully expose your horse to everything, not just the sound of the bow or having arrows fly off their back, but the sound of the arrow loudly hitting the target (especially in an echo-y indoor area) can be scary to them. This sport is an incredible challenge and takes a strong rider both physically and mentally. You should not attempt it if you cannot hold a two point for at least a minute at the canter and ride with no hands. Balance is everything, and you’re going to be busy focusing on so much. It helped a lot to have some background in Hunter Jumpers because of the multitasking that requires. This is ten times greater because you’re not just focused on the ride, but the horse, your body, and the shot itself.
If you were being chased through a forest on horseback, and your horse is jumping over fallen logs on route – how would you still get that perfect shot into your target?
Ahh, the Merida Moment. I have to admit that it never really occurred to me to shoot and jump until I remembered that scene from Brave of Merida jumping her horse over a log. Let me tell you, this was one of the most difficult things I ever attempted just due to the intense complexity of it. The first time I did it I felt higher than the clouds. Everything complex about jumping a horse is increased about ten times more. Due to the position of the body in mounted archery, getting it right over a jump is much harder. The best time to release is when the horse’s front feet come off the ground, mid jump. You need to be so in sync with the horse’s movements so that you can time it right, count your strides, know when they’ll be over the jump before they do, pull your arrow, nock it, draw, and be ready to release. It is one of the most thrilling feelings in the world.
What is your biggest equestrian related achievement to date?
That’s probably a combination of owning my mare and getting to be her partner for the rest of our lives, or jumping and shooting at the same time. That had been a goal of mine for a long time and to reach that achievement was something so fulfilling.
What are your plans for this year?
I started mounted archery seriously because of a book I’m writing. My love for fantasy creeps in to my every day life. My book is a dark fantasy tale involving heists, assassins, criminals, and a touch of magic. The book is called Storm of Thieves. I made sure my mounted archery scenes – and any scenes with horses really – are accurately written and portrayed. It might be fantasy but I believe in having realism in where it is appropriate. I have been working hard to rewrite the draft to make it a stronger story. I’d really like to see that completed this year and published. I was also offered a spot to go train in Poland with a world renown mounted archer. My coach is only taking a handful of hand selected people and while I’m still pretty new to the sport, she thinks I’m worthy of going. So I’m really looking forward to that later on this year. I hope to start competing in mounted archery afterwards!
What advice would you give to people thinking about trying something new like mounted archery or even starting their own novel?
Be willing to accept the bad days. No practice run is going to be perfect 100% of the time. There’s going to be times you have a bad ride, have a bad run, write a bad scene, or anything else. The best you can do isn’t to analyse it for how poorly you did, but look at it as a training opportunity to do better next time. If today didn’t turn out great, all it means is that next time there is going to be a chance for something better. And learn as much as you can. Having someone else help is the best thing in the world. I have a coach for mounted archery, and friends to help read and discuss elements of my novels. You don’t have to do it alone!
Is there anything else you’d like the readers to know?
Definitely have a trained horse. If your horse isn’t trained for mounted archery, look up videos or articles on how to train them, beyond the ability to just ride them. An inexperienced horse can cause you issues. Maintaining control of your horse should come before any shot you take, and it’s better to stay safe and compromise a shot than take risks. This is not a sport for beginner riders. Know your equipment. The types of quivers. The fletch of arrows. The different bows. Hand, finger, and arm guards. Because this combines two sports into one, it’s not enough to only know archery and not horses or only know how to ride and nothing about shooting. If you’ve never shot a bow, learn on the ground first long before mounting up. You can mimic the actions of drawing and shooting without the equipment for practice while you train up. Once you’re both ready, then try it all at once. There are several different styles of mounted archery, each with their own set of rules. Start with just the basics. And reward your horse! That’s your partner in this. One of you can’t do it without the other. The communication between horse and rider needs to be flawless. Once you have that, it’s as good as hitting a bulls-eye every time!
And be sure to check out my fantasy novel’s work in progress and some of our photos on my Instagram account. I’m constantly posting updates and little tidbits of what I’m working on. I enjoy cosplaying my characters, so there’s plenty of photos of hooded archers, armed assassins, and of course some mounted archery pics in costumes I’ve pieced together myself to really give the vibe of the story.
You can learn more and keep up to date with Lucy by checking out her socials and website below!
Instagram at www.instagram.com/storm_of_thieves
Facebook at www.facebooks.com/stormofthieves
Find her website at www.stormofthieves.com