After 16 hours on an airplane, bags and bows in tow, 3 very excited South Africans set foot for the first time in Budapest Hungary. From there it was a forty minute drive by car to the small town of Pomaz where they would compete in the first ever IHAA Horseback Archery Open World Championship.

Johan de Bruto, his wife Marcia de Bruto and Deirdre Janse van Rensburg piled into a tiny European car (barely managing to load their entire luggage) and set off for Pomaz driving on the wrong side of the road. They arrived at Magyar Var, the competition venue and historical grounds where Genghis Khan and Atilla the Hun had once ridden in battle. Here they greeted fellow team member Jaco Jacobs and his wife Nicola having arrived there several days before the rest of the team.

The Stables at Magyar Var

A statue carved from a tree outside the dining hall
Seen in silhouette the venue resembles a medieval castle
A beautiful wall mural inside the common area

Eager to take on the next leg of their journey they quickly set up camp and off-loaded the tiny car. A 3 hour drive later (mostly on the wrong side of the road, with a harrowing moment or two on the right side of the road!!) they arrived in the small town of Kaposmero, home to the famous ‘’Valley’’ of Master Kassai Lajos. They were met by his assistant Kristina Varga at Kassai’s archery store in town. Here they marvelled at the row upon row of beautiful handmade bows, arrows, quivers, saddles and everything else that makes a mounted archer’s heart beat a little faster. After browsing and buying they hopped in the car and followed Kristina down a little dirt road leading to the Master’s Valley.

Wooden Hungarian Saddle
Leather armour
Kassai Bows
Beautiful wooden shield

Row upon row of bows in the Kassai store - an archers heaven!

Driving into the grounds of the Valley they were met by the most beautiful sight;  lush green fields of grass; a river lined with trees and a private sandy road leading up to the main gate. As they walked through the gate they felt the peace of the place descending on them. With quiet awe and respect they followed Kristina around on a guided tour. This, they could feel, was a very special place.

They had to take off their shoes when they set foot in Master Kassai’s War Room, a sacred place where the Master and council members had meetings and meditated and where his and his horses’ armour was kept.  

The valley featured a variety of animals, from water buffalo and their native cows, to peacocks, crows, Irish wolfhounds, chicken, geese, donkeys, furry pigs even furrier sheep and of course horses. The valley also had two full length indoor arenas for training archery, a lunging ring nestled in the privacy of trees, an outdoor track and two outdoor arenas.
At the end of their tour they were met by the Master himself, who invited them out to dinner at a famous restaurant named after him. Here they were treated to 3 delicious native soups while being engrossed in conversation with Master Kassai about competitions, archery and horses.

Only too soon it was time to go and the 3 said goodbye to Master Kassai and Kristina. Exhausted after a long couple of days they drove the 3 hours back to the venue in Pomaz and fell into bed.

The valley's view from the house
The valley as seen from behind

Johan and Marcia at the main gate

Horse armour - a unique one for each horse

Kristina illustrating the soothing sounds of the iron pot used in meditation and calming of the horses

The horses, all white, all geldings, all the same native breed

Indoor training arena 1

Indoor training arena 2

Another wall mural at the Kassai Fogado Restaurant

Deirdre Janse van Rensburg, Master Kassai Lajos, Johan and Marcia de Bruto

The sun rose at 4:30 in the morning, this was it, day 1, horse selection day! Choosing a horse would have to be a well thought out decision. Not only did the horse need speed for the Korean Track, it also needed to be able to be able to go slower for the Hungarian and Polish Tracks.

The horses came in all shapes, colours and sizes. Some were well trained archery horses; others had not had much exposure to archery and were used in other disciplines. Several of the competing European countries, Poland, France and the Netherlands drove all the way from their countries with their own horses. The Hungarian team also rode their own horses and did not have to take part in the horse selections. For a while, the start of the Hungarian track was like shark invested waters in a feeding frenzy, as every rider tried to ride as many horses as possible before settling on a specific horse. After much deliberation, Jaco, Johan and Deirdre all found horses that were to their liking.

Jaco chose a handsome dark bay named Ubul, Johan a fiesty chestnut named Szello and Deirdre a light bay giant named Zeusz. That afternoon they got to get to know their mounts a bit better by taking them for a trot and a gallop on the Polish track; a monster of a track, 1,1km long with twists, turns, 21 targets and tricky footing.

Hungry after a long day they were treated to a brilliant meal (Marcia found herself in 7th heaven with the traditional European food that was served throughout the competition, food that she had gotten used to as a child growing up in Slovakia). After dinner the competitors waited around for the organisers to put up the lists for competition for the next day. Three tracks in 3 days meant that they had to split the 101 Junior and Senior competitors into 3 main groups. Group A would ride the Polish track on day 1, Group B would ride the Korean Track and Group C would ride the Hungarian track and they would rotate on day 2 and day 3. All 3 the Protea riders ended up in group B, which meant that they would ride the Korean Track first. And so the sun set at 10:00pm on horse selection day.

Jaco and Ubul

Johan and Szello

Deirdre and Zeusz

Walking the Polish Track

The Korean Track for the day consisted of The Korean Double Shot on a 90m track, a modified Korean Triple Shot (first target front shot, second target side shot and third target back shot) on a 120m track and a Korean Serial Shot(5 targets) on a 150m track. Deirdre was the first of the 3 to compete and even though her horse was a little on the slow side she managed to hit most targets , had no time penalties and even had a couple of tigers (bulls-eyes) and ended up with a score of 70.247 and final ranking of 41st place for the Korean track.

Johan struggled a bit with his horse, it was acting up at the start and had a very uncomfortable gait when running down the track (Johan discovered on the second day that it was due to the saddle not being in the correct position on the horse’s back, he corrected the mistake and had a much smoother ride on day two). He ended up with a score of 39.278 and a final ranking of 71st on the Korea Track.

Jaco also did not have the best competition day, but despite difficulty getting in tune with his very fast horse he still managed a score of 85.038 and an overall placing of 30th on the Korean Track.
The South African ambassador also came to pay us a visit. He had been notified by SASCOC that the South African Team would be competing in Pomaz and was curious to meet us and see the wonderful sport of mounted archery for the very first time.

That night they were treated to a display of traditional Hungarian Folk dancing and music. They enjoyed witnessing the culture of the Hungarians, how proud they were of their Heritage and how much they enjoyed dance as part of their tradition. Then it was time for bed. For Jaco and Nicola this meant a cosy B&B in town. For Johan and Marcia it was the privacy of a small tent that they brought with them from SA. For Deirdre it was a dormitory room with 3 roommates and one of them snored like a tractor each night.

Johan in action on the Korean Triple Shot

Jaco in action on the Korean Serial Shot

Deirdre in action on the Korean Double Shot

The korean track as seen from a distance

Day two of the competition meant Polish Track day for the three Proteas. This would be the most challenging track and all three of them suffered from a case of nerves. With no way to practise for this specific track, with zero practice runs allowed and with the knowledge that this could potentially be a very dangerous track, the most that they could hope for was to hit some targets and to stay on their horses. Deirdre had a pretty good run, hitting 14 of the 21 targets. Her horse left the track twice and she lost some time bonus points but ended up with a total score of 47.510 and an overall placing of 45th on the Polish Track. Johan had a great run with his horse, hitting 14 of the 21 targets he finished with a score of 63.325 and an overall placing of 31st on the Polish Track. Jaco also had a good run despite his horse being very difficult; he had to work hard to try and slow down his horse but still ended up with a good score of 60.670 and an overall placing of 34th on the Polish Track. Happy to be alive, with a successful day of competition behind them, everyone went to bed early, it was time for some well-deserved rest!

Day three of the competition was to be the Hungarian Track. 99m long, with 9 runs for each competitor, this was the track where there was a lot of opportunity for points to be hit or missed. Deirdre opted for slower speeds with the hope of getting more arrows out. Despite missing a few easy targets she nevertheless reached her (realistic) goal and shot 93.660 with an overall placing of 40th on the Hungarian Target. Johan opted for a bit more speed and shot very well, with a total score of 98.860 and finishing 38th overall. Jaco used the speed of his horse to his benefit and had a great competition, shooting his personal best on the Hungarian track with a score of 128.910 and an overall of 18th place.

At the end of the day, as the sun was setting over the Magyar Var, 101 competitors and countless supporters from 25 nations gathered at the beautiful horse monument of Arpad. Arpad is considered to have been the founder of Hungary and there are many statues throughout Hungary depicting him on his horse. Here they witnessed some traditional chanting as well as a display of sword fighting followed by the announcement of the top ten juniors and seniors who would be competing the next day for the prestigious title of world champion.

Very happy with their results Team SA and their support team celebrated that night with a local Hungarian beer or two. Jaco finished 26th, Deirdre 44th and Johan 46th in the overall competition. South Africa had finished 7th overall out of 25 countries. This meant the end of the competition for them; they would get to watch the best of the best battle it out the next day. Just before bed they were once again treated to a show. This time a spectacular fire dancing show set to the beats of traditional Hungarian music.

Jaco on the Hungarian back shot

Johan on the Hungarian back shot

Deirdre on the Polish Track back shot

Announcing the Top Ten at the Arpad Memorial

The statue of Arpad

Arpad is considered to have been the "founder of Hungary"

Spectacular fire dancing

Complete with fireworks and coloured fire!

Day four was an exciting day to witness. The top ten had to compete again on all three tracks. The scores that they had shot on day 1-3 would count for 50% while their results on day four would count for the other 50%. They would shoot 1 run Korean Double Shot, 1 run Korean Triple Shot, 1 run Korean Serial Shot, 3 runs Hungarian and a modified Polish Track.

What was interesting to see was that regardless of which level you are shooting at, whether it is as a novice or you are one of the best in the world, is that pressure gets to everyone, it affects even the best of the best. It was brilliant to watch, the Hungarian track being the most impressive of all, and the skill of the Hungarian riders left the South Africans in awe, having realised that there is much still to learn.

At the end of the day all competitors attended the prize giving ceremony, where they were once again shown the richness of the Hungarian culture with traditional singing and drumming. Hungarian siblings Agnes Maucha (17) and Levente Maucha (19) walked away with the respective titles of Junior and Senior World Champions. This marked the end of a great competition, the South African team had had a great time, riding good horses, making a lot of new friends, eating great food and having a wonderful time enjoying Hungarian culture, they were saddened at the thought of going home.

Johan and Marcia at the Prize giving ceremony

Jaco and Nicola at the Prize giving ceremony

The 3 Proteas at the Prize giving ceremony

Agnes and Levente Maucha - Junior and Senior World Champions

The next day was their last full day in Hungary. The South Africans were treated to a sightseeing trip of Szentendre where they took part in and won a game of Murder Mystery which led them all across town. They then had lunch and a wine and palinka tasting adventure in a cellar underground. Next they took a ferry on the Danube River all the way to Budapest. Here they visited a church and had a meal and drinks at a very trendy night club. At the end of this day all were exhausted and very much in the mood to return home.

The little town of Szentendre

A beautiful statue in Budapest

A statue of Saint Mathew

The bridge crossing the Danube River

An old castle is now a parliament building

But this wasn’t the end of their adventure. The next morning Johan realised that his cell phone was missing. It had gotten stolen in the little tourist town of Szentendre. What the thieves didn’t know was that you never ever mess with a South African man in shorts! Johan used their other phone to track down his phone, caught a lift with a little old Hungarian lady, walked up to the thieves’ home and demanded that he wanted his phone back. Very much taken aback, the thief handed Johan his phone back and watched with amazement as he got back in the car and drove away, cell phone in hand.  Meanwhile Marcia and Deirdre were back at the competition venue, waiting for the taxi to pick them up and take them to the airport, fiercely hoping that Johan would return safely and in time for the taxi.

All ended well and the South African team flew back home and was greeted by their friends and archery family at OR Thambo International Airport. This would be one for the books, a trip they would never forget and cherish forever.

It's good to be home - The team is welcomed back at the airport
From left to right: Jacques Horn, Gert Horn, Maretha Kruger, Nicola Jacobs, Jaco Jacobs, Deirdre Janse van Rensburg, Deon Janse van Rensburg, Johan de Bruto, Marcia de Bruto, Michelle Nel
(and not pictured in the photo, photographer and loyal supporter Diane Horn)







Copyright © Mounted Archery Association of South Africa 2016