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Photos Capture a Young Girl’s Journey to Iran to Learn Horseback Archery

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Two hours west of Tehran in the Kordan Valley,  Ali Ghoorchian a 43 years old former art teacher and world champion of horseback archery trains Anna (21 years old, a student from Finland). Together, they practice mounted archery on fast Arabian horses and

It started with a Facebook message.

Mr. Ghoorchian, I just found some pictures online of you practicing horseback archery and I was wondering if you were willing to teach me your techniques.

Kind regards,
Anna

Not long after, 21-year-old Anna was on a flight from her native Finland to Iran, where she would train to become a champion horseback archer. This personal journey—the quest to master a 9th century B.C. skill in the 21st century A.D.—is what photographer Brice Portolano captured in his documentary series Persian Rush.

Anna walking next to her horse after she got down to pick up arrows she shot during her training.
Anna walking next to her horse after she got down to pick up arrows she shot during her training.
Anna and Ali riding their horse on gallop at the top of the hills as the sun sets. The Alborz mountains, a high mountain range of northern Iran can be seen in the background.
Anna and Ali riding their horse on gallop at the top of the hills as the sun sets. The Alborz mountains, a high mountain range of northern Iran can be seen in the background.

Anna’s teacher and Portolano’s second protagonist, the aforementioned Mr. Ghoorchian, is a world-class mounted archer who used to teach at the University of Tehran before he eschewed city life for the freedom the mountains afford him.

“These mountains are mine, they’re my kingdom. I can go everywhere I want,” he told Brice. “Some of my friends and family didn’t understand why I needed to leave. They told me I should stop horseback archery and focus on a more normal life.”

Needless to say, he didn’t listen. These days, Ghoorchian makes his living taking care of a few stables of hot blooded Arabian horses for some rich owners in Tehran. But while Brice was there, he was busy training Anna.

Ali screams as he plays Mogu, a traditionnal Korean game (also called Gigu (氣毬)) in which one person on horseback goes ahead dragging a ball made of bush clover and wrapped with animal. Mogu was developed in Yo dynasty (A. D. 947) and in Joseon, it was first played in Gyeonghoeru in 1424(the 6th year of king Sejong).
Ali screams as he plays Mogu, a traditionnal Korean game (also called Gigu (氣毬)) in which one person on horseback goes ahead dragging a ball made of bush clover and wrapped with animal. Mogu was developed in Yo dynasty (A. D. 947) and in Joseon, it was first played in Gyeonghoeru in 1424(the 6th year of king Sejong).
Anna practicing sword fighting on a dead tree as Ali watches her movements and makes sure she hits the tree properly. The swords are heavy and it's easy to get hurt practicing sword fighting. They're both wearing traditionnal clothing.
Anna practicing sword fighting on a dead tree as Ali watches her movements and makes sure she hits the tree properly. The swords are heavy and it’s easy to get hurt practicing sword fighting. They’re both wearing traditionnal clothing.
Ali shows Anna how to make a horse rear up in a dusty arena near the stables.
Ali shows Anna how to make a horse rear up in a dusty arena near the stables.

The training is dangerous, rigorous, and adrenaline fueled. Brice was there in the weeks before Anna’s departure to the World Championships of Horseback Archery in South Korea, capturing a little bit of what she had been going through for months beforehand.

Like his previous work featured here on PetaPixel, the photos appear unnervingly candid. Portolano has disappeared. He’s a fly on the wall in the brisk Iranian air; a witness to an art most of us will never see with our own two eyes.

His photos are fantastic.

Anna shooting an arrow at Ali as she wears a kolahxud, a traditionnal Persian warrior helmet.
Anna shooting an arrow at Ali as she wears a kolahxud, a traditionnal Persian warrior helmet.
Anna cuddling with a puppy in the Alborz mountains while Ali prepares some tea.
Anna cuddling with a puppy in the Alborz mountains while Ali prepares some tea.
Anna rides Gustaw, a pure arabian horse worth several tens of thousands euros. He won several horse beauty contests in the past but is now left in the boarding stables of Ali and rarely trained by the owners.
Anna rides Gustaw, a pure arabian horse worth several tens of thousands euros. He won several horse beauty contests in the past but is now left in the boarding stables of Ali and rarely trained by the owners.

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To see the full series, visit this link. And if you’d like to see more of Brice Portolano’s work, head over to his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.


Image credits: All photographs by Brice Portolano and used with permission.

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