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Chattahoochee Open archery tournament


Right On Target:  Novice and master horseback archers hit their marks at the 2019 Chattahoochee Open.

By Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

During the 2019 Chattahoochee Open, the archery tournament field behind the main barn at Rising Glory Farm teemed with more than a dozen horses and riders, each as different from one another as could be. From stock types in Western tack to draft mounts with embroidered browbands to ponies in English saddles, the horses all had one thing in common: a quiver full of arrows hung from every saddle, the fletched ends of each missile bristling upright in bright colors of purple, blue and red.

On July 20-21, the 2019 Chattahoochee Open Horseback Archery Competition welcomed mounted archery enthusiasts from across the southeast to compete at Rising Glory Farm in Lewisburg, Tennessee. From a challenging Hungarian-style course consisting of three closely grouped targets to a short cross-country course, the event tested the abilities of horses and riders in all divisions, from novice to master.

According to novice competitor Miko McFarland of Lexington, Kentucky, mounted archery has a way of uniting riders from a variety of disciplines, and that’s part of the fun.

“There’s such a diversity of people from different backgrounds here at the competition,” Miko said. “I come from rodeo, but there are endurance riders, hunter jumpers and ropers here, too. It’s such a cool thing to see people come from all different backgrounds to offer cross-disciplinary advice on how to do your best in this sport.”

Miko, a former professional trick rider, competed at the event on her Paint Horse, Bandit, a 19-year-old chestnut overo gelding. Although it was Bandit’s first competition in mounted archery, the flashy gelding barely batted an eye as he cantered down the track on the Hungarian course, allowing Miko to drop her reins and focus on making each of her shots count.

“The Hungarian course can be really tricky because of the angle of the targets, the distances you have to shoot, and then the final back shot, where you have to twist your entire body in the saddle to shoot behind you,” Miko explained. “The targets are also close together, so you’ve got to be able to load your arrows quickly. It’s probably one of the more technically complicated courses.”

Like many of the competitors at the Chattahoochee Open, Miko learned about mounted archery from Elizabeth Tinnan, president of Chattahoochee Horse Archers. After retiring from trick riding and Roman riding, Miko wanted to try something new with her horses. Mounted archery fit the bill perfectly.

“Elizabeth Tinnan was offering a clinic in my area a couple years ago with Jessie Collins of Bluegrass Horse Archers, and I thought, well, my horse needs a job, so let’s try this out,” Miko said. “I’d never shot a bow before I met Liz, but as soon as I did, I was hooked. We’ve been shooting for almost two years now and this is my third competition.”

Mounted archery is a popular and fast-growing sport in the United States, and it’s not hard to figure out why. In addition to the fun of learning a new skill like archery, there’s the added bonus of elevating your relationship with your horse to another level. Building trust with her mount is part of what intermediate archer Tara Esslinger of Birmingham, Alabama, loves about the sport.

“I think my favorite thing about mounted archery is the connection you have with the animal,” Tara said. “It’s an amazing relationship when you can let go a little bit, but you’re also taking care of each other, looking out for one another, and connecting with a creature that speaks an entirely different language.”

Tara and her husband, Brandon Esslinger, both compete in mounted archery competitions, and have attended multiple mounted archery events at Rising Glory Farm.

“The community here at Rising Glory Farm and Tennessee Valley Archery is amazing, and they put 110% into this facility and how everything is run,” Tara said. “They want to make sure everyone is safe. I just can’t say enough good things about this place.”

Lauren Christian of Marietta, Georgia, competed in the intermediate division on Jagger, a 12-year-old gray Mustang gelding. While Lauren loves the challenge and fun of the sport, she also appreciates the sense of community and support she’s experienced at mounted archery events like the 2019 Chattahoochee Open.

“Everyone supports everyone else, especially when you’re struggling,” Lauren said. “It’s a great community, that’s for sure, and it’s so fun. I’ve always liked archery and when I found out I could combine horses with archery, even better! If you’re interested in starting mounted archery, find a club and find someone to show you the ropes. After that, just keep shooting your bow.”

For updates on upcoming mounted archery clinics and competitions at Tennessee Valley Archery, visit @TNValleyArchery on Facebook. To learn more about the Chattahoochee Horse Archers, visit

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