Dream Jobs: Mounted Archer

Shooting arrows on horseback became a passion for Katie Stearns, and teaching equestrian martial arts became her equine career.

by Karen Braschayko

Katie Stearns, also known as Morwen or The Flying Dutchess, has built a business based on her love of mounted archery. She conducts clinics and gives riding lessons on her ranch in Arlington, Washington, teaching others to use bows and perform martial arts on horseback. Mounted archery, like other bow sports, has seen a surge of interest due to The Hunger Games trilogy and movie by Suzanne Collins.

Mounted archer Katie Morwen Stearns

Mounted archery is one of the many martial arts Katie Stearns practices and teaches.

Early involvement with the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. (SCA) nurtured Stearns’ love of history and medieval warfare. After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in anthropology, she attended a mounted archery clinic. Stearns was captivated, and the sport became her passion. She competes at the International Horseback Archery Competition in South Korea and has even traveled to Mongolia, where she lived with a nomadic family for nine days.

Stearns is affiliated with the Mounted Archery Association of the Americas (MA3) and the World Horseback Archery Federation (WHAF), and she’s a member of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society. She has competed with a Mangalarga Marchador stallion and now rides her beloved Arabians. As this video proves, she can hit targets saddleless, bridleless and barefoot on her Polish Arabian Jebe. Here she tells us about making a living with the horses she loves.

Karen Braschayko for Equitrekking: What is your background with horses?

Katie Stearns:
I have been riding since I was about two years old. I got my first horse when I was 11, a little rescue Arab who was barely green broke. I have had many instructors and teachers over the years in various disciplines, but that horse taught me more about riding than anyone ever could have.

Tasha is now 24 and still a little firecracker. We are very bonded. She knows what I am thinking before I tell her and vice versa. Even though she is getting older and more arthritic, in 2008 she was clocked running at 40 miles per hour by the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters crew. They filmed us for one of their myths.

Mounted archer Katie Morwen Stearns and the crew of MythBusters

Katie Stearns, far left, helped the MythBusters crew film for one of their myths.

Equitrekking: How did you get involved with mounted archery? What was your path to teaching it professionally?

Katie Stearns:
I started with combat archery in the sword fighting group called Belegarth Medieval Combat Society, which lead me to want to do archery with my horse. My first encounter with mounted archery was when I purchased a Kassai horse bow to use in my Belegarth fighting. Because of its size and light weight, the bow seemed ideal for running around and shooting at people. The bow came with a book entitled Horseback Archery, written by Kassai Lajos of Hungary. I became hooked, and immediately I began to desensitize my horses to archery.

I first learned from Lukas Novotny, who taught a clinic at my friend Holm Neumann's house. Lukas is an amazing bowyer and mounted archery teacher, as well as a good friend. I have been addicted ever since, and I’ve gone on to compete and teach others. I started by helping Holm Neumann give clinics at his ranch. Then I began to teach clinics at friends’ ranches, and it grew from there.

Equitrekking: What skills do you teach your students?

Katie Stearns:
I teach my students archery and horseback riding separately, and then we cover how to put the two together. Everyone starts with ground archery, and then shooting from the horse begins very slowly.

Mounted archer Katie Morwen Stearns practicing Mogu

Katie Stearns competing in Mogu, a type of mounted archery with a moving ball as target.

I teach group and private lessons as well as give weekend clinics. During clinics I cover ground archery, horseback archery, Korean and European course styles, rolling targets, and Mogu, a Korean style of archery that involves hitting a ball made of cotton and bamboo pulled behind another rider.

Equitrekking: What is a typical day like for you, if there is such a thing?

Katie Stearns:
I really do not have a typical day. My days vary between riding lessons, trail riding lessons, horse training, archery lessons, horseback archery lessons and weekend horseback archery clinics, all at my ranch. I also travel to other stables such as Graystone Stables in Snohomish, Washington, some days to assist a dressage horse trainer and instructor. My week is always varied and flexible, but pretty much I work seven days a week and at least 12 hours a day, unless I am away at a sword fighting event.

Mounted archer Katie Morwen Stearns

Katie Stearns competing on one of the Arabian horses she has trained for mounted archery.

Equitrekking: What’s it like to compete internationally?

Katie Stearns:
Competing internationally is exciting and exhausting. Meeting other horseback archers from all over the world is always a blast. Many of us are history buffs or into archaeology, other weapons or martial arts, so we’re a lot alike.

The unique aspect of our competitions is the friendly atmosphere. I am not a very competitive person, and I feel right at home amongst my fellow mounted archers. We are a very supportive and fun-loving group, no matter where you go. I have never been to any other kind of competition, other than in the sword fighting world, that’s like this – you come together to compete with so many people, and yet they are all cheering you on. We are a very large multicultural family. The stories are hilarious and endless.

Mounted archer Katie Morwen Stearns

Katie Stearns competes in several martial arts on horseback.

Equitrekking: What have been the most rewarding moments of your equestrian career?

Katie Stearns:
The fact that my lifetime passion and hobby is now my job – that is the most rewarding thing I have ever felt. It doesn't matter what the achievement, they are all rewarding moments. Whether it is giving a colt a good start in his working career, teaching people from little kids to the elderly to ride, the look on someone’s face when they first shoot a bull’s-eye or ride without using their hands... Everything I do and teach makes me happy because I get to see people enjoying the things I love so much.

Equitrekking: What are the biggest challenges you face in your career?

Katie Stearns:
One of the biggest challenges I am facing right now is to not give away my work for free. In this economy, people can’t afford much, and I love to teach. So I try to do a work-trade or something similar to make sure I am not just giving away my time. Being self-employed means I have to be very careful with my time management, and I need to make sure that I charge for my time and knowledge. But I love my job, and I love teaching, so I often forget that.

Over the last several years, I have had the honor of meeting some amazing women. These women have counseled me, guided me, comforted me, laughed with me, and cried with me. They have now become my lifelong warrior sisters and kindred spirits. I want to continue this tradition of sisterhood, and I hope to one day have women’s empowerment programs. My greatest goal for these weekend clinics would be to strengthen women and help them stand up to hardships in the past, present and future. I want to have a joint program, with both female empowerment through horseback martial arts and a horse rescue program. I am hoping to make this a nonprofit organization.

Horseback riding and martial arts are empowering. They inspire women to be confident, strong and independent. Working with horses teaches you leadership without force. Martial arts improve your physical health as well as mental focus. In horseback archery, women are on an even playing field to men. I have seen quiet, self-conscious women turn into strong warrior goddesses over a weekend. I‘ve seen their posture go from submissive and nervous to authoritative and confident. I get so many women emailing me, saying they saw my website and they wish they could do something like that. I always reply to them that they can, and they should!

Equitrekking: What advice would you give to someone wanting to try mounted archery?

Katie Stearns:
I suggest doing a weekend clinic with one of the few instructors we have around the U.S. You can find one on the MA3 and WHAF websites or by doing an internet search. You might have to travel for it, but a weekend of training is always the best way to get a good start.

Mounted archer Katie Morwen Stearns' ranch

Horses grazing under a rainbow at Katie Stearns' ranch in Arlington, Washington.

Then maybe you can take private lessons or just start practicing at home. After you learn the basic techniques, it takes a lot of practice to build the muscle memory. I have a lot of information about different types of mounted martial arts, medieval horse games, how to ride for them, and how to choose and train a horse on my website, mountedarchery.net.

Equitrekking: What would you tell someone wanting to work with horses as a career?

Katie Stearns:
Working with horses does not often provide for much income. But for what you don't get in income, you get in the satisfaction of doing what you love. It is hard at times, but every time I look back, I know I made the right career choice. I wake up every morning happy knowing I do not have to work in a restaurant, bank, office, or at any other job I have done.

Mounted archer Katie Morwen Stearns

Katie Morwen Streans, The Flying Dutchess, at a competition.

For those desiring a career in horses, I suggest learning as much as you can about all disciplines. Having many different teachers gives you a broader view and more understanding in general. Horsemanship is horsemanship, and it is the same all over the world. All horses speak the same language. The finesse and movements can vary, but good horsemanship is good horsemanship.

Oh, and for those who want to start colts or do horse training, I once had a horse trainer tell me, "Circle, circle, circle is about 90 percent of what you are going to do if you become a horse trainer." It is very true!

Contact Katie Stearns at katie@mountedarchery.net, and find out more about mounted archery on her website mountedarchery.net.

Karen Braschayko is a freelance writer and horse lover who lives in Michigan.