As I drive across the desert from Hollywood to Scottsdale, Arizona, I find myself excited, and a bit nervous, to take part in “Duel in the Desert”, a mounted archery competition. Forty one amazing participants arrived with victory in mind from Romania, Finland, Canada, and across the USA. As I step out of my car, the cool, fresh, desert night air hits my lungs while sounds of coyotes and crickets echo thru the night. I took a moment to let it all soak in.
Does it sound a bit crazy to shoot arrows from horseback at incredible speeds? Maybe. Combining so many elements of talent, focus, horsemanship, strength, archery and style, this sport is growing fast in the USA. It is also an adrenaline boost, feeling the air rush by as you have only seconds to reach into your quiver, grasp an arrow, load, knock, aim, and shoot. Horseback archery is an art, a form of defense, and a skill sport that has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years from a time when accuracy could mean your life or the life of another. Today these competitors are meeting not for war, but for sport.
As the sun rises in the desert, the large saguaro cacti cast long looming shadows across the desert floor. The four peaks in the distance take on a warm glow as the morning activity ramps up for the first day of competition.
Riders tend quietly to their horses in preparation while others gather for a delicious catered breakfast, communing over their shared excitement for the day’s runs. I went to breakfast and stumbled upon my friend and first teacher in the sport, Holm Neumann who hosted the first USA International Competition in Bend, OR in 2010. Holm is a well respected horseback archer and teacher. We spoke about the future of the sport with great enthusiasm as Holm is one of the main advocates for these competitions in the United States.
“So much goes into a big event like this, but it is all worth it to be with such great friends, gaining experience, friendships, helpful hints, loving horses, laughter, smiles, pictures and love from such a wonderful group of outstanding horse archers,” says Diana Troyk, host of the Duel in the Desert competition. Ms. Troyk founded Desert Warriors of the Southwest (DWSW), a mounted archery club in Scottsdale, AZ. Ms. Troyk competes as a mounted archer and has won multiple awards in the sport in the US and around the world for almost a decade. This 2018 contest marks the second time she has put on this gathering to celebrate this relatively newly emerging sport.
The Duel in the Desert is a MA3 (Mounted Archery Association of the Americas) affiliated event held on a world class competition track maintained by DWSW member and instructor, Greg Ogburn. Greg currently holds the world record in the K2-3-3. The runs consist of The K2-3, The Hun, Scythian, Qabak, and an exhilarating cross country course with multiple 3D targets and wild west themed targets.
During the opening ceremonies riders displayed their elaborate costumes, each representing a different tradition in the sport. Afterward, it was time to see what these skilled riders were made of. At the starting line the first rider of the day cues their horse, eyes on the target ahead, and in a split second both are bound for glory.
“While we all give one another excellent tips to teach each other the secrets of horse archery, I’ve got to give credit to Greg Ogburn. He has been such a wonderful teacher, I don’t think I would be where I am today without his guidance. He helps expand our growth and influences horse archers daily with his motivation, passion and kindness. Not only that, he is one of the best in the world at this sport!” Erin Troyk.
“I love mounted archery because there is always something to work toward and to learn. The community and kinsmanship that we feel for each other is immediate and powerful,” said fifteen year old Sophia Felix, a horseback archer from Eagle Mountain, Utah and member of the Alpine Mounted Archery club. Sophia won an amazing six awards at this competition.
Joey Ogburn, a member and instructor of DWSW, felt the contest was a success due to the unique cooperation among the participants, “It ran very smooth due to the buddy system in my opinion. Each competitor was assigned a buddy. It kept every competitor responsible and supportive of one another. I watched some of the more experienced share tips with their buddies to help improve their next run. It’s not like this in any other sport!,” Joey explained.
Chris Yung a stunt performer featured in HBO’s Westworld and Marvel’s Black Panther, won five awards in the student division, he quoted, “I have a deep appreciation of martial archery and the war archers of the past and present.”
A highlight of the contest was World Class Champion Lukas Novotny and his record crushing performance. He broke an American record for the K2-3 at over 93 points!. Lukas is also the maker and founder of world renowned Saluki Bows.
But for every competitor there are several volunteers behind the scenes providing vital support for the contest. Cindy Forr, a volunteer came to observe and learn helping where she could; delivering food and water to the time keepers, announcers, arrow retrievers, & score keepers who couldn’t leave their tasks. “The contestants constantly supported, encouraged and cheered for one another and I am inspired to give horseback archery a try!”
BJ Smith, whose talented painting brought to life all the western themed and 3D animal targets said, ”Its so much fun! The whole point for me is having fun with all these wonderful people!” BJ is also a member and instructor with DWSW.
Another success of the day was World Class Champion Mihai Cozmei from Romania of Living Arrow Horseback Archery. Everyone loved watching him compete as he rode his way to a stellar showing with several awards.
Erin Halloran, a horseback archer all the way from Michigan, came to watch the competition. “To witness some of the world’s best competing in the US at this incredible venue was amazing! I look forward to competing next year!”
As the last group of riders completed their final runs silhouetted by the golden sunset, I realized how lucky I was to be a part of this event and family of horseback archers. When the sun sets and we must all return to our lives in the diverse corners of the world that each of us occupies, like all families, we look forward to our next meeting in fellowship and camaraderie.
Diana Troyk reflects upon the conclusion of the event, “Duel in the Desert ended on the best note of having every person and horse safe and without any accidents!”
As I washed down Sky, the wonderful steed I had the honor of riding during the event, I spoke with owner Connie Holling about the hard work, commitments and sacrifices everyone made to be a part of this event. I reflect upon the exhilaration of the competition and the satisfaction welling deep within me from the overall experience, I realize I couldn’t possibly have asked for a better sport of which to be a part.