Equestrian Games / Skills

In other words... WHAT Do We Do with horses? Read below to get a brief introduction to many of the skills and games which we have practiced -- but we are always eager to try new things. I invite anyone who runs across a description of an interesting period activity to bring it to our attention. We may try that next!

Drill Games:

Tilting at rings: The horse and rider approach a series of stands from which rings of varying sizes, from 1" to 6" in diameter, are suspended. The ability to pass the point of the lance through these rings at speed indicates the skills needed to use a long lance at the joust.

Quintain is a jousting game. The rider uses a blunted lance to strike a target on a swivel. The target mimics the shield of a jousting opponent, and a good blow will result in multiple revolutions of the quintain cross-arm.

Tent-pegging / Pig Sticking involves hitting a target on the ground using a long lance. The goal is to skewer the target and succeed in picking it up off the ground.

Reeds is a sword drill in which the horse and rider pass between two lines of "reeds" spaced alternately from left to right four feet apart. The rider must strike to either side as he rides down the middle of the lane. The SCA does not use live steel swords for competition, so the reeds (small linear targets of varying sizes) are struck with a wooden sword.

Behead the enemy ("Heads") is a modified sword drill. Riders travel a series of posts supporting targets in a slalom pattern requiring the horse and rider to steer repeated turns while striking off the targets (often made of wig-stands) with a sword.

Birjas is an Arabian-based lance training drill. The rider attempts to pass a 4-6 foot long javelin through a 12" diameter ring mounted on a stand. The javelin must be thrown through the ring and caught on the other side without dislodging the ring.

Archery: utilizing the bow and arrow from horseback. In the SCA, members ride a clearly marked lane to keep the horse on track as the rider shoots at a target from a walk, trot, or canter using traditional target archery equipment.

SCA equestrians can also take part in special combat activities, such as these:

Crest combat: is a "boffer" combat activity. A boffer is a padded weapon used for simulated combat. Padded, lightweight swords are used to attempt to dislodge a small crest mounted on the top of the other rider's helm.

Heavy mounted combat: Riders and horses are well-armored, and the rider may or may not carry a shield. The swords used are made of rattan, which does not splinter when broken. All parts of the rider above the waist are target areas; the horse is not a target, but may take accidental hits, thus the armor requirement for the horse.

Jousting is the quintessential medieval tournament activity. Two equestrians ride toward each other with a lance aimed for the other's shield or chest. The SCA uses lower-contact jousting. The lance is made in three parts: a wood base, a cardboard tube midsection, and a tip of polystyrene foam. When a good hit is made, the foam breaks into pieces, providing an easy way to judge the quality of the blow, also resulting in fewer "dismounts" or "un-horsings" than with a solid lance.

Training the horse

The horse is generally introduced first to the sword, made of rattan or another wood. Since it is short and blunt, it is easier for the rider to handle and less likely to hurt the horse. The sword is shown to the horse from the ground first and swung gently near its head and neck. When the horse is settled to this, the mounted rider swings the sword around. In training the horse about the sword, purposely bang the sword gently on the horse's neck and shoulders to accustom the horse to accidental blows and let them know the blows are not punishment.

Then the lance is introduced in a similar manner n from the ground and then from the saddle. It is important to slowly lower the lance into its position beside the horse's head. The average SCA lance extends 1 to 2 feet past the horse's nose and when couched, floats beside the horse's eye. It is also necessary to bang the butt of the lance against the horse's rump to acclimate the horse to possible accidental hits.

The horse should be introduced to the stands and other equipment with the rider unencumbered by a weapon. These stands are unusual looking and some move in the breeze. Once the horse is accustomed to the stands, then the rider should gently tap a "head" or a "reed" off its stand. The horse may jump when the object falls, but will soon realize there is no danger.

By this point in training, the horse is ready to be walked through the whole game. Most horses complete this sequence in half an hour or less. Then begins the slower process of learning the courses and improving skills. The combat activities require much more extensive training for both horse and rider and are generally not initiated until both have significant experience.

Because the weapons are carried and moved around the horse's head, a head shy horse will not be suitable to SCA activities without extensive desensitization. Horses that are aggressive toward other horses or inclined to kick are not suitable for mounted combat activities, although they may be fine for training drill games and jousting.