NEW BRAUNFELS — Between the blur of traffic on Interstate 35 and aircraft flying to and from the New Braunfels Municipal Airport, a band of archers on horseback trains each weekend in an ancient style of warfare.
The riders run their mounts at full gallop, reins free, bow in hand. They loose a flurry of arrows that hit targets within seconds.
One of their rising stars is 15-year-old Kayla Nash, who's trained with instructor Trey Schlichting for the past year.
"Show 'em how it's done," fellow rider Mike Sabo shouted to Kayla as she rode her horse, Chief, down the shooting lane. She drew back her bow and released an arrow at a metal panatop a pole called a Qabak, 25 feet above the ground. The arrow hit the pan with a "clang!" eliciting yells of "yeah!" as the teen stretched her arms out in triumph.
She's one of the students of A Company Mounted Archery, who train in the sport that's been compared to a small snowball gathering momentum.
"I feel like a preacher standing on the shore telling people about it," Schlicting said. "It's not as popular in the United States; there are so many things to do. The main problem is people don't even know it exists."
Schlichting founded the company in 2009 and has 25 students from ages 13 to 60. He said the sport has been in the United States since an exhibition at Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 2000. Movies such as Pixar's "Brave" and the "Hunger Games" have also contributed to recent interest, said Jade Perez, one of the event coordinators.
"This is our history," Perez said. "Mounted archery has been with us through history through the gunpowder revolution."
Archery has been Schlichting's passion since he was a child. In 2009, he received formal training in mounted archery from two-time world champion Dana Hotko, who helped him set up the school, the only one of its kind for 1,100 miles. Last year, Schlichting and Sabo competed at the world championship in Sokcho, South Korea; Sabo won the silver in the Qabak event.
At a recent training session, Kayla and her 13-year-old brother, Eric, compared notes with veteran members De Anne Ienna, 50, from Marble Falls; Todd Mathis, 60, from San Antonio's West Side; and Lu Ann Groves, a horse veterinarian from San Marcos.
"It's exhilarating." Eric said. "I want to open a school one day."
Sabo, 43, who drives in from the North Side of Austin, took up the sport four years ago after he saw an archery event while vacationing outside of Stuttgart, Germany.
"You do a lot of missing and a lot of walking retrieving arrows," he said. "It takes a while for it all to come together."
At the end of their session, Schlichting sat high on Draco, as his steel gray horse, galloped down the rutted lane. He fired at a side target and splintered Ienna's arrow.
"You brushed my bulls-eye away, Trey!" Ienna said.
"You know," Mathis said, leading his horse, Nipper, "he said he was going to do that."