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The Tradition of Shooting a Horsebow

Although these bows can be shot effectively standing still with a western three finger release, on the Steppes, however the nomadic horsemen devised the use of a thumb ring in order to be able to shoot off horseback and on the move. This of course gave them a tremendous advantage over others as a mounted cavalry which could attack its enemy from a distance, or harass retreat and attack again at full speed.

The ability to shoot with a thumb ring where the arrow is on the same side of the bow as the shooting hand made them far superior archer in comparison to the three finger release with the arrow on the opposite side of the shooting hand. The ring is an ancient mechanical release which at full draw with a slight twist of the wrist sets the arrow to the riser of the bow where it sits firmly regardless of how fast one is running or ridding, hence a steady and consistent shot occurs each time.

All finger shooters use the line of sight provided by the arrow as an aiming point. With this point of reference the bow is canted which it must be in order that the arrow stay on the riser. A thumb release of course is completely instinctive due to the fact that the archer cannot see the front of the arrow since the riser of the bow is blocking his vision. He aims as he draws. The release is instantaneous and the flight of the arrow is his best teacher. he looks through the bow as if it were made of glass and focuses on the target. The best analogy one could make is to the way a Big League pitcher throws a base ball. After much practice this type of quick release and shot become a mind set and are very advantageous in getting a quick arrow off at a moving target. Whether riding or standing still, all things are relative and the subconscious mind adapts to making the correct judgement.


Shooting with a ring one begins with good posture. As a child the bowyer's grandfather used to say that upon the impact of the first arrow one should imagine that the nock of that arrow is another bowman aiming at you. So one must present the least possible target and one does so by good posture. The body is straight up, the feet are at shoulder width apart. The opposing archer would then see a thin profile line of your body with the head turned sharply in the direction of the enemy.

These bows are war bows. They do not have arrow rests which are twentieth century inventions for weekend bowmen. There are no pistol grips which corrupt the position of ones fingers and knuckles and force one to hold the bow with an inside grip which is very incorrect.

All the arrows are four fletched , cropped very close to the shaft not more than half an inch. The feathers are of various lengths but no less than four inches.

In western archery the bowman used three fletch shafts because in battle the archer were far from the line and protected by infantry. Rarely were they in the thick of battle. Thus they had time to look at their arrow on the nock and to arrange their 'cock' feather. In horse archery one kept his head and up to avoid and anticipate the missiles of the enemy. Thus the necessity for a four fletch. One nocked an arrow by feel with no time to look for an arrow rest or 'cock' feather. Also, a narrow cropped four fletched shaft has less drag. The bowyer's grandfather called them 'speed fletches' .

The archer's side profile is 90 degrees to the target. Back is straight. Legs are shoulder width apart with the leading leg at 1 o'clock and the other at 7 o'clock. head is turned sharply toward the target and straight up.

The Grip

These bows are shot off the knuckle and have a naturally over drawn riser which fits inside the 'V' between the thumb and index finger. The top of the leather wrap should barely be visible with the rear or large thumb knuckle behind the centre of the riser. The three bottom fingers are wrapped around the riser with the tip of the thumb resting on top of the second finger and then the tip of the index finger resting on top of the thumb nail.

The grip is firm but gentle without squeezing. The bow arm is extended forward but not in full extension. The bow is held in a perfectly vertical position is maintain with a follow through forward after the arrow is loosed.

Nocking the Arrow

With the bow in a vertical position an arrow is picked up at the fletch end. The first two fingers of the bow hand are opened into a 'V'. The arrow is placed into the 'V' and is pushed along the string till it reaches the nock and is then 'clicked' back onto the string and then the nock is pushed up to meet the nocking point. All this is done by feel without looking at the string or the arrow.

The Thumbring

There are many erroneous ideas floating around the cosmos concerning the use of a thumb ring. Almost as many as the bizarre interpretations of what a thumb ring should look like. The proper ring should fit the thumb snuggly and the lip of the ring should follow the contour of the thumb. It should feel as a natural extension of the thumb. It should be smooth, delicate and constructed with a proper angle.

Some people have been led to believe that the ring holds the pressure of the string.This indeed would have been an amazing fete, considering that the ancients used bow of very heavy poundage. However, heavy poundage can be held with a 'double hook', that is, the hook of the thumb overlapped by the hook of the two fore fingers over the thumb nail. The ring is not there to hold back the potential energy stored by the bow. It is there to provide a smooth mechanical release, hence, no 'bowman's paradox' and of course, it ensures that the string does not injure the bottom of the thumb.

The Shot

When one becomes proficient with a ring one aims as he draws and rarely anchors for more than a second or two. In the woods after fleet footed game the release is instantaneous.

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