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Александр Николаев из Бурятии

"I feel the spirit of steppes"

Russia, with its abundance of peoples whose roots go deep into the history of nomadic culture, is a country with the most fertile soil for the development of horseback archery as a new type of equestrian sport.


This story of Buryat rider Alexander Nikolaev is another proof and example that, if desired, it is possible to cultivate horseback archery as a sport in a separate republic just in a year.

Author: Maya KOWAL

The beginning

"I am all my life with horses, I didn’t really know how to walk, but I already rode a horse", - says Alexander, - "And I became very interested in archery four years ago".

And so, at the end of 2020, when the pandemic lockdown happened, Alexander decided to combine his two passions into one.


At first I switched to ring shooting technique, since the whole winter was ahead for retraining. At the same time, I searched the Internet for any information about horseback archery.

Due to the fact that the FHAR has been actively promoting sports for several years now through the website, publications, photos and posts on various social networks, Alexander quickly found Sergey Odinokov and Khongr Uladaev.

After talking, our hero received an invitation from Khongr to come to the next All-Russian horseback archery tournament in Elista, and also agreed with Sergey Odinokov to study at a training base in Serpukhov before it.


And on May 21, 2021, a plane from Buryatia landed in the capital of Russia, and Alexander began to learn the basics of the horseback archery under the guidance of the President of the FHAR. And after a week of training he went to his first tournament in Elista.


To be honest, it was a bit of an adventurous step: after a week of classes, to go to the All-Russian tournament... but I didn’t want to delay any longer! And then there was the Russian Championship. From the steppe to the ball...


What did I feel? I was jittered, after all, I had zero experience, but horseback archers reacted very warmly to the beginner without any superiority and disregard for the ignoramus. On the contrary, they tried to help, cheer up, showed how to do things better and shared the secrets of their skills! I was strongly imbued with the spirit of brotherhood and unity among horseback archers, and then I firmly established myself: horseback archery — it is mine!

Time to act

When the understanding came that horseback archery is what he wants to develop, there was also a determination to act actively. Following the example of Kalmykia, Alexander created the national Buryat Horseback Archery Federation and began to seek state and local support for a new type of equestrian sport.


Several leaders of the stables of the Irkutsk region and the Chairman of the Hun culture fund Oleg Bulutov responded immidiately. It provided a unique platform for holding the first ethno-cultural festival of horseback archery and further development of this tradition.



The future festival was called “Mergens of the Hunnu town”, because its apogee the first horseback archery tournament took place against the backdrop of the reconstruction of the walls of the Ivolga Hun settlement, an archaeological site of the Bronze Age.


"Mergen" is translated from Buryat into Russian as "sharpshooter", and "Moritoy Kharbagshad" means "horseback archers". This is how we named our Federation, which was officially born on March 14, 2022. At the moment, I took over the functions of its head and began to assemble the team: this year we already want to go to the Russian Championship!


We also plan to organize horseback archery tournaments and festivals in Eastern Siberia, attract equestrian and archery clubs to create horseback archery departments at their bases.

In less than a year, Alexander independently organized a training tracks in the Nukut and Olkhon regions, and is now negotiating the creation of an horseback archery department at the Irkutsk hippodrome. Four horses prepared for shooting are already actively used in training at the base in Gurulba near Ulan-Ude. It was there that it was decided to hold the very first training camp as part of the ethno-festival. And more and more new athletes are acquiring equestrian bows.

I think we have great potential in this sport, since the Buryats have a developed cult of the horse since ancient times: there are horse races, wrestling on horses... There are a lot of horse owners and excellent riders all over the republic! We also have developed archery it is generally a national sport!.. And also it is believed that we, the Buryats, are the descendants of the Huns...

Favorite affirmations of Alexander Nikolaev:

  • Always go all the way

  • If you decided, do, don't be afraid! If you afraid do not do at all.

  • Nothing is impossible in life, everything can be achieved with perseverance, work and more work!

  • Happiness is not what, but how

  • Only forward and not a step back!

  • Power is in the truth!

  • The dog barks, the caravan moves on

Spirits of the ancestors

Ancient nomadic tribes, better known as the Huns, traveled all over Eurasia from China to Europe. Their famous leader Attila, whom the Hungarians consider the ancestor of their statehood, even almost captured Rome. There are studies suggesting the original ancient Chinese origin of the Huns (from the Xiongnu tribes in the north of the Celestial Empire).  In the 5-6 centuries, when the Great Migration of Peoples happened, these tribes mixed with a thousand other nomadic and sattled peoples of Eurasia. It is possible to find similarities between the Buryats and the current ones, for example, the Hungarians or the Chinese, but only in coincidences in DNA.

Horseback archery has been known in the territory of ethnic Buryatia since ancient times, horseback archers are sung in our national epic "Geser". This is a story about a hero who fought against dark forces, was an unsurpassed rider and archer. Folk storytellers passed this myth from mouth to mouth, and only in the 20th century it was recorded and translated into Russian.  


What kind of character did I imagine myself to be when I read it? I'm having a hard time with fantasy  I even named my daughter Alexandra... Well, definitely not Geser, cause he was sent by Heaven to protect people from evil!..  But apart from jokes, now we are closely engaged in the revival and popularization this beautiful and spectacular sport. And the interest in ehorseback archery in the republic is huge, because this is our heritage, straight from the folk epic.

Horseback archery used to be an integral part of the lifestyle of the Buryats. Children (of both sexes) were put on a horse at the age of 2-2.5 years, and teached them archery from the age of four. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the Buryats used traditional bows in roundup hunting:


Roundup hunting  when the hunters take territory in a semicircle and drive all living creatures into an ambush. There, having surrounded them, a “carousel” begins: horseback archers, circling around the prey, shower it with a hail of arrows. Unfortunately, over the 20th century we have lost our art, but I believe that the festival we are doing will help attract young people and revive the traditions of horseback archery, albeit not in the hunt...


We are only at the beginning of the journey, but in front of us the examples of several  young and successful federations, their experience and the friendliest community of horseback archers. With such support, it is always easier to act!


First Festival
Alexander backs up his words with actions. From May 4 to May 8, 2022, the ethno-cultural festival of horseback archery "Mergens of the Hunnu City" was held in Buryatia.

The horses were provided by the owner of the equestrian club "Serga" Sergei Burdukovsky. A training camp worked at his base in Gurulba. Under the guidance of the head of the Federation of Horseback Archery of Kalmykia, Khongr Uladaev, and trainer-instructor of the Kalmyk national team, Aleksey Baskhanzhiev, novice horseback archers from the Irkutsk region and Buryatia learned the basics of a new sport and prepared for the tournament.


And the first horseback archery tournament in Buryatia took place on May 8 at the place of ancient Hun settlement. Surrounded by a wooden palisade and beauties in national costumes, nine horseback archers showed their skills in classical IHAA routes.


The names of the first winners of Eastern Siberia, who dared to declare themselves in a new sport, among newcomers are: Artem Galanov (1st place), Sergey Andreev (2nd place), Evgeny Shanarov (3rd place). And among the advanced riders, the Mergen Cup of Buryatia and the cash prize were won by Alexei Baskhaniev, 2nd place took Andrey Kopylov, and our hero Alexander Nikolaev won the bronze medal for himself:


Everything went just fine, and already in August this year we plan to hold another horseback archery tournament in Ulan-Ude, and make the festival "Mergeny of the Hunnu town" large and annual. We are also very pleased with the help of our comrades from Kalmykia. Buryats and Kalmyks, in principle, one people: we are all Mongols... this is the common name for us. Like Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, they are all Slavs. We have one language, one culture, one common past. Now another common sport. We all understand each other.


And, like the Kalmyks, the Buryats are also proud of their warrior-beauties. Several girls participated in the festival and the tournament, many are interested. Even one of Alexander's three daughters is a horse owner, but our hero laments that "the bow is not hers."


We were all nomads, so in our culture a woman is equal to men. Because when the men went on a campaign, the whole nomad camp fell on the shoulders of the women. They mounted a horse, took a bow and hunted, got food, protected the herds. So, all the Buryats were all excellent riders and knew how to handle weapons from childhood, regardless of gender.

Speaking of weapons. Alexander uses a Crimean-Tatar bow by Russian master Evgeny Revin and Chinese carbon arrows with a natural nib from Linkboy. Competitors were also seen with Revin's bows Buryat and Turkish and standard Alibow bows. The arrows were predominantly carbon, but some participants preferred to shoot wooden ones, like the ancestors.

Ancestors also left to the Buryats a local breed of horses, bred for centuries on the steppe grass and, apparently, genetically accustomed to bows and arrows. Unfortunately, the Buryat-Mongolian breed is now going through hard times: the livestock is small. But in the republic the races are held, where only these horses participate... Alexander thinks to help in the revival of the breed in the future:

In the bulk in Buryatia, horses are mixed, topped with trotters, thoroughbreds... The stallion I ride is half heavy-duty-half trotter, but I also have two Buryat horses: a stallion and a mare. And a few more geldings and Shetland ponies, that graze in the fields for just breeding or ride the tourists.

The local horses are unpretentious and obedient, on one of his stallions Alexander even galloped across the open ice of Lake Baikal:

It was just a flight of the soul! I crossed Baikal on ice on horseback from west to east for 40 km! And I also plan to create an army of horseback archers and go to war to Moscow. Joke. But seriously, when I shoot from a horse, I feel the strength of my kind, ancestors, the spirit of the steppes, well, I just get high... I'm not used to splashing out my emotions: we keep everything in ourselves, putting on an imperturbable mask such are Asians...


Traditions and spirits

The festival "Mergens of the Hunnu town", which was organized by Alexander, is also about Asian culture. For example, participants were taught the ancient ritual “heer shaaalgan”: breaking a bone (spinous process of the thoracic spine) of a cattle, camel or horse with just a hand blow.


Whether fun, or a hunting rite has a sacred meaning. It is believed that this process contains the soul of an animal and, breaking itы bone with a blow of a hand, a person releases the soul of animal and gives it a chance for a better rebirth.

Rebirth  it's from Buddhism, but this game is a bit pagan. In general, the western Baikal Buryats, to whom I belong, are pagans, and the eastern ones are mostly Buddhists. There are also baptized Buryats who also perform various “other” rites. So, our religions are intertwined, which is reflected in the traditions, in the games in the whole culture. For example, from childhood I remember another game called “shagenadn”.

хаэр шаалган

Small bones from horse and other pasterns of ungulates are dried, painted, and collected in packs. And then, during the game, you throw it on the table in a certain way, and depending on how these bones fall, how cleverly you threw them, it is decided who won by the combinations that fell out.


Apparently, once in his childhood Alexander threw the right combination or called the right spirits. They are now helping him with the plans, horses, bows, arrows... in steppes, mountains and a huge lake full of mysteries... Of course, the Buryat-Mongolian-Hunnic spirits are good, but for Alexander, actually, his character, attitudes and determination to act helped to achieve his result.


Therefore, this whole story (about the creation of the Federation of Horseback Archery of Buryatia, ethnographic festival and horseback archers in the middle of Siberia) is an example and motivator to action for everyone whose heart has been pierced (or still aiming) by an arrow of love for our sport. Sometimes the only the first step needs to be taken.

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