The Austin Chronicle

This Austin Teen Is a Star of Horseback Archery (But She’ll Use a Skateboard in a Pinch)

By Morgan-Taylor Thomas, August 27, 2021, Arts

The third best junior horseback archer in the world lives right here in Austin, and she doesn't even own a horse.

Annabelle Davis joined mounted archery in the summer of 2019 after stumbling across the sport while web surfing. With three years experience in Olympic-style archery – range shooting with a bow pimped out with scopes, stabilizers, and other fancy tools – and a frequent flyer of casual horseback summer camps, the Liberal Arts and Science Academy freshman naturally found her place in the ancient martial art. Now, with only two years under her belt, she holds just about every title you can think of: Top U.S. Junior (under 18) Horseback Archer; 17th in the U.S. overall national ranking (all age divisions); youngest person to be ranked on the official U.S. ranking list; and the youngest person to be nationally graded (which, unlike ranking, only uses target scores separated by levels in order to focus on proper shooting technique).

Although some fellow mounted archers compete with Olympic style bows, as a member of the U.S. Cultural Heritage team, Davis shoots with a more sleek, historic design: a simple piece of curved wood with a string. At the time of the bow's creation in America, Native Americans took bark from "flat" trees, forcing the bow's shape. Because of the archaic warfare ploy's rich archival prominence throughout the world, many international competitors use different shaped bows and quivers representative of their country's terrain at that time.

"In Asia, there were a lot of smaller, bendier woods, so they put it together with multiple components and sinew to make a mustache shaped bow," Davis explains.

Not owning a horse in an equestrian sport might seem daunting, but the 13-year-old so far has found successful workarounds. While her coach, horseback archery legend Trey Schlichting, maintained property in New Braunfels, Davis traveled there weekly for training, using his plethora of trained equines. However, a few months into Davis' newfound passion, Schlichting gradually started moving to New Mexico, taking all his horses with him. Once she ran out of usable horses, and COVID-19 forced global isolation, Davis came up with an ingenious substitute: a skateboard.

"An important factor you don't really think about on a horse is you're moving, so your arrow will be drifting as you go. If you're just shooting in a range from a standstill, your arrows are going to probably go into the target a lot easier than if you're shooting off of a horse. You learn compensation tactics like following through. If you shoot and you keep moving, you keep your fist on the target. So on a skateboard, it allows you to kind of track the target as you move. It's a good kind of mental training," Davis says. "It also makes all the neighbors stop their cars."

Davis says the mounted archer community is a uniquely supportive one. Through competitions, she's bonded with other athletes, including fellow Texans who have allowed her to come train at their facility in Stephenville when she doesn't have a New Mexico road trip planned. As for an end goal, Davis hopes to continue to rise in the national rankings and eventually coach other aspiring archers. Having already started teaching her little sister and the neighborhood kids – using her skateboard technique, of course – she's well on her way.

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