Gilchrist Farm keeps ancient arts alive with mounted archery program

Thirteen-year-old Dessiree Donatelli attended Gilchrist Farm's mounted archery class with her Girl Scout troop on Sunday. Matt Fernandez/The Signal

The 11 girls of Girl Scout Troop 6556 were transported back in time as they learned the ancient art of mounted archery on Sunday, surrounded by the rolling green hills of Gilchrist Farm.

The weekend marked the second time Gilchrist Farm has hosted its monthly mounted archery classes, which consist of multiple two-hour sessions held from Friday to Sunday. Monica Gilchrist, owner of Gilchrist Farm, came up with the idea after she met instructor James Zoppe.

“I was introduced to James when we hosted him here for jousting for my son’s Boy Scout celebration, and we were impressed by how he was able to preserve these really ancient arts, so we just kept looking for ways to work together,” GIlchrist said. “We have an archery program here and an equestrian program so we decided that the natural step would be to put the two together and have him teach that class.”

She said since the first class in March, interest has grown in the program, with individuals of all ages and groups eager to sign up.

The class is beginner-friendly and starts by teaching participants how to shoot an arrow on the ground, then transitions to shooting arrows while walking and finally to shooting at targets from a moving horse. Though many participants had initial reservations about the safety conditions of mounted archery, Zoppe said he shared those concerns but the activity is much safer and more enjoyable than people realize.

“It’s not a contact sport like jousting, so it’s not as intimidating,” Zoppe said. “Monica has trained the horses not to be spooked by the sound of the bow and we always have people diligently watching for safety violations. Kids need to know what they’re missing. If they’re around screens all the time they don’t even know how much fun it is to shoot an arrow and work with horses. This kind of activity promotes bonds and conversations between friends and family.”

Suzie Vicuna, one of the Girl Scout troup’s leaders, said she initially wanted to bring the girls out to learn how to ride horses, but she thought mounted archery presented an even more exciting opportunity. She and the other mothers in attendance also got a chance to try the class.

“It’s a great experience and something out of the norm, and none of these girls have really done archery or horse riding so it was really exciting,” she said. “I enjoyed it as well and it made me feel very powerful. It’s a very comfortable experience that I could see built their confidence and I am going to recommend all the girls I know to try it.”

Eleven-year-old Toni Alderete said she was nervous to try the mounted archery but would like to continue learning.

“I was nervous at first that the horses were going to be rude or that I would hit someone with an arrow, but now that I did it, it’s actually easier than I thought,” Alderete said.

Both Zoppe and Gilchrist were excited about the program’s reception and want to continue to grow the program. Gilchrist wanted to incorporate it into her summer camp programs and possibly host classes more than one weekend a month and Zoppe envisioned competitions when his students become more skilled.

“Archery is immediately gratifying when you hit that target, and riding is challenging for people while not being out of the realm of possibility,” Zoppe said. “A lot of these kids need to be put out of their comfort zones… when you get them in here and give them the encouragement they deserve, they really improve. Our barometer for success is in smiles.”

To learn more about Gilchrist Farm and the mounted archery program, visit gilchristfarm.com.

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About the author

Matt Fernandez

Matt Fernandez

Matt Fernandez is a local news reporter for The Signal. He is a 2017 graduate of UCLA and his previous work experience includes the Daily Bruin newspaper and Variety magazine, where he focused on arts and entertainment news. Fernandez has lived in Santa Clarita since 1998.