On horseback, Arlington woman is right on target

Katie Stearns might remind you of the red-headed Princess Merida, whose archery skills help her battle an evil lord in the Disney-Pixar animated movie “Brave.”

Stearns, 27, also has the sharp eye of the character Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” books and movies.

What Stearns knows from pop culture is that it inspires people to try new things. Archery is hip right now, especially among girls and young women.

Stearns, who teaches mounted archery at her five-acre equine ranch northeast of Arlington, also knows that employing a bow and arrow while riding a horse isn’t new and it isn’t easy.

She’s traveled to Mongolia and South Korea to learn more about this ancient sport, which is practiced by about 100 people in the United States.

A graduate of the University of Oregon with a degree in anthropology, Stearns grew up loving horses and dividing her time between her mom’s place in Bend, Ore., and her dad’s home in Mill Creek.

At some point, she became interested in Belegarth, the medieval combat society, and wanted to know more about ancient martial arts.

When she stumbled on horseback archery, her path in life was laid straight.

“Mounted archery took over,” Stearns said. “It combined all my interests.”

Stearns is making a living on her ranch, taking in students from throughout Western Washington who come to learn archery, horseback riding and, ultimately, mounted archery.

“It’s empowering,” Stearns said. “Hitting a target while riding your horse makes you feel strong and capable. It’s meditative and amazing.”

The influence of movies such as the “Avengers,” “Brave,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Hunger Games” certainly has played a part in the resurgent interest in archery among young people, Stearns said.

“For teens who love horses, mounted archery is a great outlet,” she said. “It helps you redirect and focus your mind. It’s good for you.”

In Everett, archery shop owner Bob Van Winkle also has seen a growing interest in archery.

Van Winkle, 78, carved out a spot in his family furniture store years ago for the archery shop after he decided to switch from hunting with a rifle to bow hunting.

His bow hunting clientele is what keeps the shop going, but he has seen a noted uptick in the amount of archery and target equipment sold to families with kids.

Van Winkle carries dozens of bow types, from starter sets for children that cost about $30 to hunting bows priced into the thousands of dollars.

“We get three or four young people in here a week asking about archery lessons and equipment,” Van Winkle said.

This summer, Van Winkle plans to open indoor shooting lanes in the basement of his store at Hewitt and Oakes avenues.

The sport of archery has a history in Snohomish County.

Darrington’s 34-year-old, 155-acre wooded field archery range is the only permanent world-class archery range in the country.

State, national or world competitions, attracting hundreds of archers, take place there nearly each summer. Last summer, the Darrington Archery Club hosted more children and teens than it had seen in years.

“It’s good to see the increase in the number of young people interested in archery,” Van Winkle said. “I guess we can thank that Katniss Everdeen for some of it.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

Van Winkle’s Archery, 425-259-9288; 1901 Hewitt Ave., Everett.

Katie Stearns in Arlington, 360-435-1025; katie@mountedarchery.net; www.mountedarchery.net

Darrington Archery, www.darringtonarchers.com

Next Step Archery Education Center, 425-977-2770; www.nextsteparchery.com; 22313 70th Ave. W., Suite U1A, Mountlake Terrace

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