Horse Archer

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Horse_rider_9460.jpg
Wil: "So, the archers of Sacae, they're all mounted, aren't they? I'd have trouble just staying on... If I had to shoot, too, I'd be in trouble!"
Rath: "...The beasts of Sacae are swift... If we could not shoot from the saddle, we would starve..."

Someone who shoots a bow while on horseback.

Truth in Television for numerous civilizations, of course, with many historical armies being made up partly or primarily of horse archers. Prior to the invention of the stirrup, lance warfare was impossible as it would knock the rider off the horse. The Huns and Mongols are the best-known of these, and have spawned any number of clones in fantasy literature, but almost every civilization that had horses has used these at some point, often to devastating effectiveness, and the Samurai used the dai-kyu (a type of recurved longbow) from horseback up until the Meiji Restoration.

There are basically two categories of this trope. The first category are the light horse archers, who act as skirmishers and rely on agility and speed. They often specialize in Hit-and-Run Tactics, especially with archers who can spur their horse, turn around and shoot backwards as their enemies pursue.note  Naturally, since it requires expert horsemanship, a specialty of any Born in the Saddle culture. An honorable mention goes to earlier civilizations (Persians, Egyptians, etc.) that used chariots as a shooting platform, but in those cases it was a team of both horses and men.

The second category are the heavy horse archers, who ride to the battle on close formations and shoot on volleys, intending to cause actual casualties instead of just harassing the enemy. They often support lancers and protect their flanks. The examples of the heavy horse archers are the Byzantine koursores and defensores, the Chinese cavalry, the Japanese samurai and the Ottoman Turkish sipahi. They are often willing and eager to engage in the hand-to-hand fighting as well. Even after firearms were introduced, they were somewhat difficult to use effectively from horseback, as a muzzle-loaded weapon requires stability, dexterity, and two hands to reload. The Renaissance pistoliers rather favoured to get close, fire both pistols and then charge with sword. This meant that bow-wielding horsemen held on to an advantage as skirmishers, up until the invention of the revolver and breech-loaded long arms.

The MythBusters also proved that charging towards your target on a horse while firing can impart your arrows with ~70% more kinetic energy, and increase their penetration power a bit.

Mounted archery is Difficult but Awesome, since it requires you to simultaneously control your horse without the reins, and take aim while compensating for the horse's movements. note  To work properly, this trope requires also large, unobstructed areas of flat terrain where the mounted archers could employ their mobility unhindered. Any obstructions could easily lead into a disaster, especially against heavier opponents.

In Tabletop Games and Video Games, these are often Game Breaker units, but not always. For balance reasons, they are often less powerful than archers who go on foot, and if Annoying Arrows are in place already, this can lead to them being unable to effectively damage the enemy. Given that they often trade armor for speed, they can also easily be portrayed as Fragile Speedsters. If they can attack with swords as well, it's a case of Bow and Sword, in Accord.

Likely to be used by Hordes from the East. Especially if they are Born in the Saddle.


Examples:

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     Anime/Manga  

  • Any bow-using centaur in A Centaur's Life is this by default. The main character's family is descended from the warrior class, and Hime keeps up with the tradition of using bow and arrow. Apparently she can also ride horses, but this has been alluded to instead of shown.

     Film  

  • Badass Princess Merida from Brave is an ace with a bow and arrow, and she can hit a perfect bullseye while on horseback. While jumping over a log on horseback, no less!

     Literature  

  • The Dothraki and the Dornishmen from A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • The Mongols in all books, naturally enough.
  • The various steppe tribes in Harry Turtledove's Videssos books. The Videssians themselves may also qualify, though they prefer more armor than the average horse archer.
  • In The Lord of the Rings the Rohirrim field a number of these. However most of their army seems to be lancers.
  • The Haldane Household Archers function this way in battle, as seen in The King's Justice. In that same book, Kelson himself is one when he executes Sicard by shooting an arrow through his eye.
  • In Belisarius Series, the Persians prefer steppe style bows that have a great rate of fire. The Roman Cataphracts prefer giant bows that can penetrate armor, at the expense of rate of fire. Rajputs are also notable Horse Archers, but not as good as Persians.
  • In Harald, The Westkin tribes are the lightly armored sort, and the Vales have cataphracts who wear heavier armor.
  • In the Heralds of Valdemar series, the Skybolt mercenary company is primarily composed of horse archers trained in skirmish tactics. The rest of the company are dirty tricks specialists.
    • The Heralds themselves are expert equestrians and are trained in all weaponry, though their supposed focus on archery is diminished after the original trilogy. Having a Bond Creature who doesn't require direction as a mount makes aiming much easier, of course.
  • Implied to exist in the Zlobenian army in Monstrous Regiment, since the Borogravians get hold of a powerful crossbow called a "horse-bow".
  • In 1635: The Eastern Front, one Polish general is a noted horse archer. When asked why he persists in this in an age of gunpowder, the general points out that what it really does is keep him thinking quickly and observing the terrain.
  • Yeoman in the shared-universe series Wild Cards — unfortunately depicted as using a compound bow, despite the difficulties in transporting and assembling such in an urban environment.
  • Rackhir the Red in Michael Moorcock's Multiverse
  • Aillas and Yane from Jack Vance's high fantasy epic the Lyonesse Trilogy (Suldrun's Garden, The Green Pearl and Madouc).
  • The Vardariotes from The Traitor Son Cycle, being the local Mongol Horde expies, have the horse archers as their only ranged units.

     Live Action TV  

  • In the Power Rangers Samurai TV movie "Clash of the Red Rangers", Blue Ranger Kevin uses his Hydro Bow while on horseback.

     Pinball  

  • In Seawitch, one of the witches fires a bow while riding on the back of a giant winged monster fish.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Horse archers appear frequently in Warhammer. They're pretty much always light skirmishers and harassing/flanking units, and they range from the quite normal all the way to goblins on wolves and dark elves with repeater crossbows.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Tarkir's Mardu Horde has this as one of it's specialties.
  • In Rocket Age The Chanari desert tribes of Mars frequently use bows on the backs of bahmoots, horse-sized, velociraptor-like reptiles. They're essentially alien Bedouin mixed with the Mongols.

     Video Games  

  • Mount & Blade has the Khergit faction, almost every single one of their faction troops is one of these (with the exception of heavier lancers in the Warband expansion). It's also possible to make your player character one.
    • If you choose to start in the Khergit Khanate and you don't put any points into riding or horse archery and only use infantry in your battles... Well even the small packs of roaming steppe bandits that provide low level characters exp will stomp all over you. In fact the steppes is probably the hardest starting region because of the prevalence of horse archers.
    • However, horse archers don't behave the way you'd expect them to in the game. Without a fan-made patch to correct it, they tend to rush at infantry as if they were regular cavalry units.
  • Age of Empires has them, along with several varieties such as Chariot Archers and Elephant Archers. II has Horse Archers, and two civilisations have them as unique units, namely the Mongol's Mangudai and the Spanish Conquistador (which might not count since it uses a gun, not a bow). III has Dragoons which are basically the same as the Conquistadors from the previous game, some civilisations who have actual horse archers instead of the more usual Dragoon, and the Indians even have gunners firing from camelback. The spin-off, Age of Mythology has the Turma which throws javelins from horseback, the Centaurnote , and the Chariot Archer from the original game makes a return.
  • Shining Force I and II have Lyle and May, centaur archers who are one of the best ranged characters in their respective games.
  • The Total War series has them as a staple unit for most cavalry centered factions particularly in...
    • Shogun: Total War I and II, the former of which is the very first game in the series. An alternate-history campaign centered around a successful Mongol invasion of Japan ups the ante.
    • Medieval: Total War I and II finds them among most of the non-Catholic factions.
    • Rome: Total War I and II also have them as the core unit of several eastern/steppe factions and Rome itself in the Barbarian Invasion expansion.
    • Hyrule: Total War has archers or spellcasters mounted on fictional creatures like Loftwings and Bigoctos.
    • In Total War: Attila, the Huns specialize in these, and the Sassanids and Alans also get their share. Eastern Rome also gets the Equites Sagitarii, though these are a poor cousin to the horsebowmen used by their enemies.
  • Fire Emblem has had a couple of units across the series that fill this role; additionally, this trope is regularly discussed by units of said trope in games which have support conversations. Most use the combo of Bow and Sword, in Accord. They follow as:
    • The Horseman in Fire Emblem Akaneia. A seperate, Bow-only class in the original game, Dark Dragon, it became the promotion of the Hunter class in Mystery of the Emblem. In the DS remakes, Shadow Dragon and Heroes of Light and Shadow, they gained the use of swords.
    • The Arch Knight and Bow Knight in Fire Emblem Jugdral. Similar to the Horseman from the original Akaneia games in only using Bows, albeit being able to promote. Also, there is the Master Knight, a horseback unit that could use almost every weapon in the game, also could use bows.
    • The Nomad in Fire Emblem Elibe, with its promotion the Nomadic Trooper also able to use swords. They're all implied to be Sacaens, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of various Eurasian steppe tribes, making them quite distinct from the knightly and European-esque Cavaliers (and unlike Cavaliers, their steeds have little trouble crossing difficult terrain).
    • The Ranger in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. A promotion from Mercenaries and Archers, they used both bows and swords.
    • The Bow Knight and Paladin in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. Notably, upon promotion from Bow Knight, the Paladin could choose from sword, lances or axes to wield.
      • Changed in the sequel, Radiant Dawn. The Bow Knight and Bow Paladin could only use bows until the teritary class, Silver Knight, where they gained the use of lances.
    • The Bow Knight in Fire Emblem Awakening. Despite sharing the same name as the Tellius unit, they function the same as Rangers from Sacred Stones, in being a promotion from Mercenaries and Archers and using bows and swords. This class makes a return in Fire Emblem Fates, where not only does it still promote from Mercenaries, but also promotes from Outlawnote .
    • The Kinshi Knight in Fire Emblem Fates is an extreme example, being a Kinshinote -riding class that learns to use bows in addition to lances.
      • In Fates's Birthright route, Camilla's retainer Selena first appears as a Mercenary, but in the crew's final confrontation with her lady, she shows up as a Bow Knight. Since Selena is actually an Older and Wiser version of Awakening's Severa, the Cipher card game has her Fates self as both Mercenary and Bow Knight and her fellow Mercenary Inigo/Laslow is shown as a Hero later, it's believed that Bow Knight is Selena's canon promotion in the story, though she can get some other classes when she's avaliable.
    • The Horseman and Mamluke in Tear Ring Saga. The Mamluke could use swords upon promotion. Also, there is the Arrow Knight class, the promotion from the already Bow + Sword-using Lady Knight, that gains a horse upon promotion and the King's Knight class that uses swords, lances, axes and bows. Plus the enemy-only Bow Rider/Ranger class. A Bow Solider on a horse.
  • The Night Elves in Warcraft III can promote their normal archers to Hippogryph riders, making them both mounted and flying.
    • The Hero Unit Priestess of the Moon is this with a tiger as the mount.
  • Wander in Shadow of the Colossus can do this while riding Agro.
  • Link can do this while riding Epona in some games in the The Legend of Zelda series. The prelude to the final battle of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess shows Zelda herself is also capable of this feat.
    • Also apparently a specialty skill of the Gerudo.
  • A basic mounted unit in Civilization IV. Appears as unique Mongol unit in Civilization V, while the Indians get Elephant Archers.
    • The Huns in Civilization V's first expansion get a unique unit simply called "Horse Archer".
  • A patch in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim allowed the player to become this, although it is a bit hard since you have to aim without a reticle.
  • Knights of Honor has these, though only available in provinces who have horses as a resource, so they are medium rare.
  • The centaurs in Heroes of Might and Magic I, II and V were archers (the centaurs in III were spearmen, while the ones in IV were spearthrowers).
  • The Roving Clans of Endless Legend utilize only mounted, highly mobile units; even their cities are mobile. Their mounted archer, the Kassai, is the single fastest unit in the game, being able to outrun even Drakken wyverns on the Clan's native deserts.

     Web Original  

     Web Video  
  • Lindybeige: Lindy's video Horse archers - the unbeatable troops? looks at why horse archers, while useful, were not some kind of game-breaking super unit as they are sometimes depicted to be in war games. For one thing, like all cavalry, they're rubbish at holding ground against an enemy attack or storming fortifications; that's something that only infantry can do well. As for counters, they're vulnerable to foot archers. Archers on foot can be packed together into denser formations than horsemen because horses require a lot of space, so their volume of fire can be greater. Horse archers also have a shorter accurate range than the foot archers because they're trying to aim while bouncing around on horseback, and the lightly or unarmored horses they're riding make them a bigger target than men on foot. They're great at harassing and wearing down the enemy, they can scout, they can attack groups of enemies on the march, but they're meant to be used as one part of a balanced army rather than dominating all areas of combat by themselves.

     Real Life  

  • Staple of steppe nomads who were Born in the Saddle:
    • The Mongols used horse archery to help them to take over most of Asia. About six out of every four horsemen was a lightly equipped horse archer, and the remaining four were armored lancers. Usually the horse archers' role was to wear out and weaken up the enemy first so that they would fall before the lancers' decisive charge.
    • Even before the Mongols, horse nomads were a constant threat. The later Jin dynasty was formed by a takeover by semi-nomadic horse archers. The earlier Xiongnu were able to extract tribute from the Chinese emperors and force the construction of fortifications, including the great wall.
    • Parthian horse archers were devastating against the Romans at Carrhae (53 BCE) — particularly impressive in that they did so without stirrups. (Incidentally, it's often claimed that the phrase "parting shot" is a corruption of "Parthian shot". In truth it's a coincidence and the two were coined separately.) They in turn learned it from the Scythians, who successfully prevented the armies of both Darius and Alexander the Great from expanding their empires into the Northern Ukraine and Russia through evasion and harassing.
    • The Sasanid dinasty of Persia learned it from the Parthians, and included horse archers in the combined army that eventually overthrew the Parthians.
    • Medieval Hungarians. Hungarians originated as steppe nomads before they settled in the Pannonian Plain.
    • After Carrhae (see above), the Romans themselves adopted mounted archers and based their cavalry on a careful balance of them and cataphracts (shock cavalry armed with lance and sword and equipped with armour for both horse and soldier), a tradition that continued during the Byzantine Empire. In a change, after the initial period in which they were part of the auxilia (regiments that recruited from subjects and foreign peoples) the archer regiments were raised from settled populations who had not grown up with their bows. Instead of the classic steppe Hit-and-Run Tactics, they often used mounted bows as a replacement for pila, firing volleys into the enemy before charging down on them.
  • Yabusame (流鏑馬) is the Japanese traditional sport of mounted archery.
    • And before the sport, archery on horseback was originally THE signature practice of warfare for the samurai. It started to fade from the battlefield in the second half of the Sengoku period, as spear- and firearm-wielding infantry became more important to Japanese warfare than missile cavalry. The practice didn't fade away completely, becoming something more of a ceremonial skill. And thus to this day we still have yabusame.
  • The Medieval Hungarians absolutely loved this trope, and they went Min-Maxing on it. The cavalry of their armies consisted of both unarmoured, nimble and swift horse archers, whose function was to skirmish, outflank and envelope the enemy, and super-heavy armoured knights, whose function was to deliver the killing blow. This combination was found especially effective against the Ottoman Turks.
  • The Comanches, one of the most powerful Indian tribes of the North American Great Plains, managed to roll back the northward expansion of the Spanish Empire in the 17th/18th centuries and delay the westward expansion of the United States during the 19th century with the help of horse archery. Ironically, it was the Spanish who re-introduced horses to North America, as no native before then had seen a horse before. In 1630 no Indian tribes were riding horses, but by 1700 all of the Texas Plains tribes including the Comanches had them, and the Comanches were the best warriors and horsemen of them all. In the 1830s and 40s they were a serious threat to the Texans encroaching on their lands: They could shoot arrows from the saddle extremely rapidly and accurately, and the arrow points made of scrap iron would often clinch when they hit bone, making them dangerous to extract. The Texans were at a severe firepower disadvantage since each man had at most a single-shot musket and pair of pistols for a total of three shots, and they were totally outclassed in the quality of their horses as well as their skill in riding them. Texas Ranger Jack Hays developed tactics to counter the Comanches, but it wasn't until they got their hands on some five-shot Colt Paterson revolvers that they had an answer to Comanche archery.
  • Medieval Swedish and German mounted crossbowmen. Their fire rate was slower than that of the mounted archers, but they used far more powerful bows. Unconfirmed, but some evidence has been found that Spain also used them at some point.
  • The English had a fondness for what might be called "dragoon archers". They were mounted longbowmen who dismounted to use their longbows while the knights except for a small reserve dismounted beside them to form a backup. In a way it was an extension of classic Anglo-Saxon, and Scandinavian tactics with an addition of the longbow as a major feature as opposed to the oddball weapon it was to the Norse and Saxons.
  • Chariots were the predecessor of Horse Archers, in many countries (though among the Celts they were just an Awesome Personnel Carrier). They used similar tactics to horse archers and of course had both horses and archers though they didn't have archers mounted on horses for a long time. In a famous passage from a Sanscrit epic, Aryan charioteers actually make a love song to their bows.
  • For comparative reasons, we can mention the pistolier cavalry from European battlefields of 16th and 17th Centuries. They employed tactics somewhere in-between horse archers and on-foot musketeers and were arguably adaptation of a mounted force to gunpowder warfare.


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