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Attending the international mounted archery competition in Biga, Turkey
Daniel Griffin tells how he attended a mounted-archery competition in Turkey last year.
In June of last year I opened my inbox to find an invitation to an international mounted-archery competition in Biga, Turkey. From that moment on I couldn't stop thinking about the prospect of going to compete with some of the world's best! I was hooked!
> The author preparing for the Turkey event on the practice course he laid out on his home farm.
I'd been practising the sport diligently after attending the first course of its kind in our country, presented by Neil Payne and Jehad Shamis, president and secretary of the British horseback archery association. I had set up a range on the farm fully equipped for Hungarian, Korean and Turkish competition styles. I had Johnny Snyman's latest Peregrine Hunter horse bow, complete with 16 heritage shafts, spare strings and a new custom-crafted thumb ring. I'd been shown how to make Turkish string loops. I was fully set, thanks to Johnny and his patient lessons!
The next thing I knew I was in Istanbul, boarding a ferry to the southern region of Biga. The name was derived from the ancient Greek mythological word Pigalia, meaning Pegasus. I was blown away by this information. What an uncanny place for a mounted-archery competition. It was the governor of this region that hosted the all-expenses-paid event. We were met by his representatives and immediately taken to have a mean Turkish coffee with him.
< Some of the competitors had other assets besides archery skills!
I was taken aback at how beautiful it was on our way to the hotel as we passed through rolling hills with forests of indigenous oak trees – Turkey's national tree. The words on the gate of the hotel saying 'Thermal Otel" didn't quite register until later that evening when, to my delight, I discovered Turkish hot spring baths not far from my room. This was one of the many touches that made us all feel so well looked after by the governor.
Over the next two days I was privileged to be helping the competition organisers Gokmen and Neil with the course layout. It was an exciting time as we greeted all the other participants arriving from many different countries.
On the Friday we were taken to choose our horses. It amazed me that all 21 of them were Arab stallions – a rare thing indeed. That evening the competition rules were explained to the group. There were two styles, the mamluk and the qabak. The mamluk style entailed a 100-metre gallop, which had to be completed in eleven seconds. There were three targets along this stretch, the first of which was placed on the right side of the horse. This made a rather difficult shot as one had to completely twist round in the saddle to shoot it. The second target was a side shot and the third a backward shot. The qabak style also comprised a 100-metre gallop, but had only one aerial target positioned on a seven-metre-high pole. This was by far the most challenging shot, as only a direct vertical hit counted. Thus the shot had to take place one metre before the pole and no more than three metres after. Higher points were awarded for a shot taken at 90 degrees, lying along the neck of the horse while shooting upward in a backward position. This style the Turks consider to be the peak of horseback archery. It was a popular sport in its own right until the 1700s.
> The qabak style: shooting at a target on top of a seven-metre-high pole.
On the Saturday morning of the competition my nerves were tense as I put on my outfit and walked down to breakfast. It was a mesmerising sight to see most of the competitors in their traditional and historic costumes. Germany, the USA, Iran, Japan, Turkey, England, Ireland, Slovakia and of course South Africa were all represented.
The Iranian team looked by far the most professional with all their team-branded gear, which wasn't surprising as they are the current world champions. The Japanese definitely looked the most elegant with their colourful clothing and long two-metre yabusame bows. After breakfast we were taken by bus to the competition grounds, situated in the forest. The perfect setting!
We were then divided into three groups of ten and everyone had three turns in both the mamluk and qabak styles. It took the full day for all 31 competitors to have their turns. At the end of the day we were all sweaty and covered in dust, ready for a hot-spring bath followed by a pleasant dinner with live traditional music and speeches by important local officials.
On the last day we were all to give a demonstration in the village and receive our prizes. The Iranian team came first and third with my friend Jehad coming in second. All received Grozer bows for those places. I was lucky enough to finish in the seventh place and was delighted along with the others to receive a beautiful, framed ceramic tile with a historic painting of the sultan Murat performing a shot at the qabak pole in the early 1400s.
This trip has served us well, as I have been invited to represent South Africa at the Al Faris II international mounted-archery competition in Jordan by the patronage of King Abdullah II. This competition has a greater attendance by the veterans of international mounted archery, and I will be there to represent South Africa. I dream of getting a professional team together to compete internationally and see our country succeed at the sport – perhaps, if we are lucky, for the world championships in South Korea next year!