Euro horseback archery championship combines skill, history

VEROCE, Hungary Fri Aug 31, 2012 3:12pm EDT

1 of 6. Daniel Griffin of South Africa shoots during the European Open Championship of Horseback Archery in Veroce, about 60 km (37 miles) north of the capital Budapest, August 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

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VEROCE, Hungary (Reuters) - When Hungarians first arrived in Europe in the 9th century AD they surprised opposing armies with their Asian-style fighting, with lightweight bowmen on horseback riding circles around Teutonic knights in forays as far as Germany.

Their modern-day descendants have remade those battles into a sport and will display their talent at the European Open Championship of Horseback Archery at a small mountain farm 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Budapest at the weekend.

The three-day event, which resembles an eastern version of an American rodeo and attracts contestants from around the globe, features athletes in colorful historic costumes, target shoots and spectators often dressed in medieval attire.

"This sport was invented here, both the historic roots and the modern comeback," Lajos Kassai, 52, said as he prepared for his run. "Hungarians are the best at it. They teach the world."

Kassai, who began shooting and building bows and riding horses as a young boy, wrote the first rule book for the sport in the 1980s. He organized the first contests in 1994. Since then he has become a sought-after coach.

Horseback archery, which supporters say is fun and affordable, is gaining followers. Although only 14 countries have dedicated programs to teach horseback archery, the most successful nations such as Korea, Japan, Turkey, Iran and Britain have long equestrian traditions

"I live in a farm. I have horses and I do archery anyway, so for me this was a natural progression," said Daniel Griffin, who flew in from South Africa for the championship in which contestants can enter the events with no prior selection process.

"It's a martial art ... to hit your target at a gallop. It's like riding your car and shooting at a target with a pistol."

After the European Championship Griffin said he plans to train with Kassai, who is considered the master of horseback archery.

"Obviously you can't afford to go to all events around the world but there's an event almost every month," said Alp Kayserili, a Turkish contestant dressed as a 16th century warrior.

"We are friends," he added. "We keep in touch through social networks mostly."

(Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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