A former riding school reject has transformed into a star horseback archery mount, and recently claimed the national champion title with his rider Emily Massey.

Emily has ridden coloured pony Sebastian (Seb) for nearly five years, but their relationship hasn’t always been plain-sailing.

“The first time I rode him, I cried,” she told Your Horse. “He was given to the riding school where I taught, to be used in lessons, but he wasn’t very good at it.

“He had a nasty habit of bucking, so he wasn’t suitable for novices. He had one summer where he was used as a ride lead and in some private adult lessons for more capable riders, but then unfortunately he went lame and when he came back into work we couldn’t get him to behave.

“On my first time riding him, he spent the entire hack with his ears in my face and snorting. He couldn’t decide if he would go up or run off. By the end of week I didn’t hate him so much and he became a project and I soon started to love him.”

Emily, who herself was fairly new to horseback archery, decided to give it a go with Seb.

“He was brilliant,” she said. “I showed him the bow and arrow, shot standing next to him and he was like, ‘Ok’, it was no problem. He’s not once ever flinched or looked at it, it’s like he was born to do it.”

Then the pandemic hit and the country went into lockdown. The riding school could no longer use Seb after two many incidents, and he fell lame again. When he was being brought back into work they offered Emily the chance to take him on. Since doing so, Emily says he’s transformed, enjoying trips to the gallops and jumping, as well as great success in archery.

The now 14-year-old, 14.1hh “pocket rocket” gelding was even used for the Pony Club’s mounted games winter league.

“He’s been an absolutely different pony,” she said. “He’s changed so much that he does now get used at a different riding school and kids fight over who gets to ride him. He’s a little superstar these days and archery saved him.”

National champions

Emily and Seb were recently crowned national champions at the British Horseback Archery Association Nationals, where Seb also carried another rider to third.

Former riding school instructor Emily shared how she discovered the discipline.

“When I was teaching at the riding school, one of my first clients, John, came down for his first lesson and explained he needed a slow and steady horse,” she said. “He said, ‘I don’t care about 20m circles, I need to be able to stand up in stirrups in walk, trot and canter and let go of reins!’

“He explained he did horseback archery and I wanted to try, so he gave me an archery lesson. I then had a go at it in walk on a riding school cob who didn’t care in slightest. I went on to do a beginners’ weekend course in London and went from there.”

Emily, who now coaches horseback archery full time, said there is growing interest in the discipline.

“Horseback archery is great for those with a sense of adventure,” she said. “A lot of people think they need to be a really good archer before they start, but they can learn while on their horse.

“You need a willingness to learn, but anyone can do it. John is now in his mid-sixties and my youngest client is six and does it on the lead rein. You can compete at walk, trot or canter, and there is a lady in the south of England who does it from a carriage, as she is not able to ride. It’s very inclusive.

“The adrenaline rush is super duper and it’s really good fun.”

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