Galloping on his mount under a scorching sun, Malaysian archer Zaharudin Rastam Yeop Mahidin aims at a target with his arrows, encouraged by the spectators: he practices equestrian archery.
Widely used for thousands of years for hunting and fighting, this discipline had almost disappeared with the introduction of modern firearms and combat equipment.
Dressed in the traditional dress of the Malays, the majority Muslim ethnic group in Malaysia, Zaharudin is one of 28 riders who compete in a competition in Rembau district, southern Peninsular Malaysia.
The 58-year-old veteran archer notes that it is the most difficult yet most rewarding sport he has ever played.
“It’s the best combination of brain, body and mind,” he told AFP.
“The brain must be focused on the task at hand, the body must follow (…) wielding the bow and arrows on a moving horse”.
“And the mind is also mobilized, because you have to have complete confidence in your horse”.
The riders in this tournament had to hit nine targets in 30 seconds while galloping over a 200-meter track and were judged for their accuracy and speed.
The tournament was established in 2018 and was held several times before being suspended for almost two years due to restrictions imposed due to the pandemic in Malaysia.
Equestrian archery requires intense training for riders to reach targets at full speed.
It is also a rather expensive discipline since it requires horses and it is taught in only a few sites.
But it is gaining popularity in Malaysia where around a hundred people practice it. This small community hopes to attract sponsors and the support of the authorities to make it more accessible to the general public.
This niche sport has also developed elsewhere in the world and competitions have been organized in Europe and Asia in recent years.
For Muslims in Malaysia, who make up more than half of the country’s 32 million people, the sport is also attractive because the Prophet Muhammad encouraged horseback riding and archery.
“People see this as a chance to put the + sunna into practice” (the tradition and practices of the prophet), notes Zarina Ismail, owner of the Cape Cavallho equestrian club where the competition was held.
But for many, it is the very difficulty of the sport that is attractive.
“It’s a tough sport, and Malaysians love a challenge,” said Syed Abdul Muiz Syed Alias, president of the Malaysian equestrian archery association As-Sibaq.