Teaching the Art of Mounted Combat | Vision

New Mexico nonprofit offers equine therapy and horseback archery lessons

The closest we’ve come to meeting “Xena the Warrior Princess” is a chance encounter with TV actor Lucy Lawless. Apart from that, there are horseback archery lessons from Kristin “Gemma Ra’Star” DiFerdinando – Gemma is Italian for gemstone – at Wumaniti Horse Sanctuary.

In June, DiFerdinando taught this ancient warrior skill. In July she is taking a break to continue her legacy as a skilled equestrian, but primarily to take on a role as an ambassador for the sport of mounted archery to provide it to the youth of Taos and hopefully , make it an Olympic sport.

In August, she will travel to Mongolia to compete in the 1,000-kilometre (622-mile) Mongolian Urtuu Race. It is a race in which each rider must ride a half-wild Mongolian horse through the ancient Mongolian messenger system and pass 34 horse stations. The goal is to spend as little time as possible in the saddle when traversing the landscape. She said experiencing the Mongolian hospitality of herding families along the way is as much a part of racing as just trying to get the best time possible.

Then, DiFerdinando will participate in the International Traditional Archery Tournament organized in the Kyrgyz Republic. This event is organized by the Federation of Salbuurun, where events such as the eagle hunt take place; imagine Attila the Hun with a giant golden eagle on his outstretched forearm, hooded eyes awaiting the command to pursue a fox. Another traditional sport in the event is kok boru, a sport in which players on horseback attempt to place a goat or calf carcass into a goal.

DiFerdinando and his horseback archery will return to Taos in October, revitalized with all the cultural immersion of Central and East Asia. The goal is to bring some of that talent from Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia – one of them can shoot arrows with his feet – back to Taos.

At the Horse Sanctuary, watching DiFerdinando soar on a majestic white horse named Gandolf and seeing her shoot arrows from her back quiver to hit a target, while letting out a terrifying battle cry, evokes many things in the popular world. culture and ancient history: Legolas in “The Lord of the Rings”, an epic battle in “Game of Thrones”, skirmishes with the Scythians on the Silk Road, and more regionally, the Comanche Wars, in which the Comanches fought withstood the Americans, Europeans and Mexicans, all over the southern plains, as experts in mounted combat.

You hear the loud clatter of hooves, the shrill screech of the war cry, the breath of the arrow, and the snap of it hitting the target. Getting to DiFerdinando’s level will take time but that’s what classes are for. DiFerdinando grew up around the Pimlico race track, where the Preakness Stakes are held.

According to his biography on the Wumaniti website, “In 2000, DiFerdinando ‘magically’ discovered Taos and traditional Pueblo ways of life.

“It was there that several Indigenous families opened their hearts and homes to her, a very broken child at the time, and offered her life-changing blessings,” the biography continues. “She began to gracefully find reasons to stay on this planet, to heal from all the trauma she had been through.

“Ms. Ra’Star had the opportunity to learn several culturally diverse artistic experiences in off-grid living, detoxification methods, working with wild mustangs, learning Qigong and Tai Chi from the Taoist, participating in earthly ceremonies and eating herbal medicinal foods with hippies.”

In 2014, she incorporated the organization as a 501(c)3 charitable organization. The universe of this community health center, located on Ledoux Street, is vast for its members. There are plenty of activities to fill the calendar, from the laying on of hands ceremony to baptisms to the quest for a spiritual journey.

A segment of their proposed activities is entirely related to horses. DiFerdinando started a separate branch to focus on horses called Mindful Movements Equine Therapy. Everything that can be done to or with a horse is there. At Mindful Movements, they can teach basic horse safety techniques: handling, riding, tying, bridle, saddling and grooming. They can teach horse breathing and massage, where they practice breathing techniques to provide calming effects to both horse and rider. They can teach the drum dance and grounding, which is a traditional indigenous pueblo “round dance” before the trek for grounding and settling energies before riding.

They also offer round pen lessons, horseback meditation, arena and trail riding, and horseback riding chi qong for youngsters. In a video of DiFerdinando leading a horse-riding chi qong class for young people, one of the students, eyes closed, rises on top of the saddle to really experience the “be here now” philosophy.

They’ve also been offering free equine therapy since 2013. If the prospect of learning the ancient warrior skill of mounted archery is too daunting, there are other activities that can still bring you closer to a horse – without the steep learning curve. Even as an accomplished jumper and archer, Gandolf, at one point during target practice, veered too close to a PVC post in a turn, which could have injured DiFerdinando’s thighs.

Those up for the challenge can line up and attend what will be primarily a beginners course, DiFerdinando said. The class leaflet mentions the history of the sport: “Horseback archery is a sport and discipline that dates back to the Scythians, a tribe over 12,000 years ago who lived according to the customs of Earth. The Scythians were true supporters of cannabis and horse riding.

One thing that can be verified about them, from a National Geographic article, is that the residue inside the containers found at Scythian Grave came back positive for traces of opium and cannabis. Then there is the quote from the Greek historian Herodotus: “…When therefore the Scythians took some seeds of this hemp, they slipped under the sheets and put these seeds on the reddened stones; but this one smokes and produces such vapor that no Greek steam bath could surpass it. The Scythians, transported by the steam, shout aloud.

Whether or not they rode horses under the influence is another story.

People with previous knowledge and experience in horse handling and/or archery will be grouped into a more advanced group. According to DiFerdinando, the class “will focus on striking (positioning the arrow against the bowstring) and rapid shooting. (It will be) very repetitive because we are learning traditional styles.

This particular traditional style will be in the traditional Turkish style. In 2019, Turkish traditional archery was declared by UNESCO on the “Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”. There are many disciplines within it. The Turkish bow is a well-crafted thoughtful bow with interwoven layers of horn, wood and sinew, held together with fish glue.

DiFerdinando recently took part in a Turkish archery competition in May. One thing you will definitely learn and master is the thumb pull, which involves placing the index finger on top of the thumb and gently releasing it. For this practice, you will wear a thumb guard (Turks wear a ring zihgir) to protect your thumb and index finger from damage. From here you will progress to moving around on horseback at a slow pace, then combining the skills of horseback riding and archery.

Mindful Movements is currently accepting donations. They have an ambitious plan for 2022, “where they want to create an indigenous medicine show and have artists travel around the country to promote Wumaniti’s mission.

“And they will also seek to create sustainable structures at the Embudo Retreat and Wellness Center.”

They are looking for badges for riders and horses, saddles for teaching and riding. They plan to have circus tents and performance space, solar-powered stables, indoor facilities for horses to feed and rest, storage for the wedding car, and troikas (a Russian vehicle pulled by a team of three horses abreast).

Their philosophy is best summed up from the words found in a Wumaniti video describing their vision of an eco-friendly paradise: “We plan large animal spaces, providing comfort for animals and humans.

“We will continue to share indigenous cultures, traditions and ceremonies and celebrate the way of the people.”

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