The Jousting Life

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Good Riding is Essential to Good Jousting

Not too long ago, some jousters got a message from a young man inquiring about learning to joust, he ended his message with,"...and don't tell me that first I need to learn how to ride a horse." Everyone in the jousting community got a good laugh out of that. Attempting to learn how to joust without first knowing how to ride, and ride well, is like attempting aerial combat without first learning how to fly a plane. Of course, jousters don't fly planes...

Jousters ride horses, and an extremely well-trained and exceptionally tolerant horse will carry you down the lyst even if you just sit on his back like a sack of potatoes... a few times. Until he realizes that you have little to no control over him and he can do whatever he wants. If you don't know how to ride a horse, once the horse decides he no longer wants to run down the lyst of his own free will, you will no longer be able to joust. Good jousters don't depend on the horse's training and willingness in order to get them down the lysts...

Jousters ride horses. They do not simply sit on something they expect to consistently carry them down the lyst like a mindless machine. Horses, unlike computers, cannot be programmed once and expected to perform the same function forever. A horse that is badly ridden will require continuous re-training. If you cannot ride well enough to keep your horse in training, you will be dependent on others to train and continually re-train your horse. And finally...

Jousters ride horses, and they know that even the best-trained and properly ridden horses do not perform as consistently as machines. Horses are living beings who behave differently at different times, and those who ride them need to be able to read and respond to how the horse is behaving that day. Horses perform best if they have a competent rider directing them, thus jousters perform best if they are competent riders.

A true jouster is first a true equestrian.

Jousting horse Ziggy (photo by Jay Baum)

It doesn't really matter what style of riding you become adept in before learning to joust. Western and English style riding can both be used as the basis for jousting. However, English riding is somewhat better suited for mounted combat. All of the fancy movements and almost invisible cues used in classical dressage were originally developed to be used on the battlefield.

Charlie Andrews, probably the best jouster in America, has ridden dressage at the Prix St. George level, which is only a few steps below the level that Olympic equestrians compete at. Most of the jousters in Europe train in dressage before taking up jousting. In the upcoming "Grand Tournament of Sankt Wendel", one of the most prestigious jousting tournaments in the world today, all of the horses "are trained to the highest level of haute école dressage" as well as having specific joust training. Thus all of the jousters competing at Sankt Wendel are required to be experienced in riding upper level dressage.

This does not mean that all jousters need to be capable of competing in upper level dressage (or upper level reining if you ride Western). Charlie Andrews and the jousters competing at Sankt Wendel are some of the best jousters in the world. You do not need to be able to ride at their level in order to joust, any more than you need to be an Olympic level athlete in order to participate in any other sport. However, in order to begin jousting, you do need to be at least a solidly competent rider, and if you want to compete at the higher levels, you need to be more than just competent.

Highly respected dressage rider and trainer Tina Walsh, who instructs several contemporary competitive jousters and who taught classes on riding at the recent Chivalric Martial Arts International symposium, suggested this video as an example of the level of riding that jousters should aspire to.

Of course, this level of horsemanship(or really any kind of competent horsemanship) cannot be achieved easily or cheaply. A fact which has not changed in hundreds of years.

"Honors on horseback cannot be achieved without efforts, without courage and without money" -- Dom Duarte, Portugal, 1346.

So, if you want to joust and joust well, you have to make sacrifices in other areas of your life. You must choose to spend money that could be spent on other things on proper training. You must choose to spend time that could be spent in other ways in diligent practice. You must first make the effort to become a good rider. Then, and only then, can you become a good jouster.

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