Equestrian, or horsemanship, activities are not new to the current Middle Ages. A number of kingdoms, including Meridies, have been holding equestrian events for several years now, and interest in these activities continues to grow. For this reason this article has been written, to assist in informing those interested in riding and equestrian games of the ways open for them to participate.
For starters; No, you don't have to own a horse to participate in these activities. At most events which include them, horses are usually provided by horse owners who are attending and are willing to permit others to make use of their mounts. Often, the autocrat may have granted a concession or made other arrangements with a local stable for the use of rental horses. Nor do you have to be an experienced rider, as most activities are open to everyone, whether novice or advanced.
Just what kind of activities are practiced? Here are a few examples;
Tilting at Rings - In this game you'll ride a set number of passes at a stand which has a ring suspended from it's outstretched limb. You'll attempt to catch it on the end of your lance, and keep it there until the end of your pass. Each time you make a pass, the next ring is smaller, and the smaller the ring, the more points received for a successful pass.
The Saracen Course - With this game, you must advance down a course which has five poles, on top of which are artificial heads. You'll be making the horse weave back and forth between each pole, and you'll be using a mace to to strike off each of them as you pass. When you have rounded the last pole, you'll return straight down the length of the course to where you started. If you've missed a head or a turn, time will be added to your final score (yes, you'll be timed for this event). The rider with the shortest time wins.
Tent-pegging, or Pig-sticking - For this one, you'll ride past a row of styrofoam balls set on the ground, attempting to spear them as you pass. You are allowed 3 or 4 passes, depending on the version of the game, and you must raise each ball to a vertical position on the lance.
Riding the Quintain - This game involves the use of a device once used to train mounted knights in proper techniques of the lance. You will ride at the quintain with a lance 'couched' or leveled, in an attempt to strike the target. The quintain itself is a wooden shield (the target) mounted on the end of a revolving T-bar. A score is given based on the number of times the quintain spins around after being struck by the lance.
Still, there are other activities being practiced, among which are mounted spear throws, flag races, relays, parades, trail-rides and horsecamping, etc. Others are being developed, some of which are; Mounted archery, mounted boffer melees, etc. Competitive activities require a demonstration of an ability to stay in the saddle and exert a certain degree of control over the mount.
If you're not interested in competing on horseback but just like to ride, there is the heraldic pageantry of a mounted procession to participate in. For those who were able to participate in Argent Anniversary, you remember some of this; the rest of you may have seen pictures. The above mentioned trail-rides and camping are an excellent way of improving your own riding skills, and even if you've no desire to ever get on a horse, many arts/sciences skills lend themselves well to equestrian uses. If you are a costumer or embroiderer who likes the idea of horses in full heraldic caparisons, your skills are not only wanted, but needed. As are the talents of armorers, metal-workers, leather-workers for making period tack and saddles, bards and musicians, dancers, drummers and pipers, etc. for processions, heralds, marshals and list-runners for equestrian games, as well as chirurgeons interested in learning the specific concerns of equestrian related injuries (because despite strict safety guidelines, these are large and occasionally contrary animals we're dealing with). For those who like to plumb the lore of books, your skills at research could be very useful to others trying to recreate the correct look and use of artivacts relating to horses.
To work with horses is a labor of love, and whether you prefer to be active in research, as an artisan, a rider or a combination of any or all or these, in the Society it also involves an intense interest in bringing horses to a prominent place in our recreation of the middle ages.
For those interested in getting started with horses, contact the Kindom Seneschal, who can put you in touch with the current 'horse people'. Take care, and safe riding!!