Another Knight’s Tale
Chatting to Chris Paling about his work with Haverfordwest’s VC Gallery, where he is a volunteer coordinator, we discovered that he has a most unusual hobby. We are delighted that he took some time out of his busy schedule to tell us about it. Over to Chris…
One day about 10 years ago I was watching a proper full metal jousting tournament at Kenilworth Castle. It was not the usual stunt shows, the ones where you see the Black Knight versus the Good Knight with fake stage armour. I got speaking to the person who owned the horses while we were watching. She told me there were places to go to learn how to joust. That set my mind racing to find out how and whom I could do it with. At the time I didn’t even know how to ride a horse!
I grew up watching films like El Cid, the Black Shield of Falworth and the tales of King Arthur and great movies such as A Knights Tale were favourites. I loved to visit castles since I was a kid so had always had a fascination with the past.
Jousting has been part of England’s culture for hundreds of years. The jousting stunt shows that still grace our countries historic houses and palaces, castles and county fares every summer are a great testament to that legacy but are far removed from what a real sporting joust tournament is all about.
For the crowds watching 15th-century jousting tournaments it’s the equivalent of watching a premiership football match. And just as with any elite sport today, jousting requires constant training – not just for the knight but also his war horse which is called a destrier; they need to be as one.
Jousting is a sport only for the brave, the sport of kings, clad in steel, thundering toward each other on beautiful, brave war horses; conquering fear it tests man, animal and steel.
Jousting is a medieval martial art, the ultimate test of horsemanship, man and animal. They need to work as a team and be strong physically, but the joust is won in the mind. Knights must remain calm and focused and be brave to sit and give themselves up as a target at high speed. In this sport, there is no such thing as defence.
You need to learn from the ground up, understanding horses and behaviour – learning to ride and care for a horse before even getting close to armour or using a weapon from horseback. Horsemanship must be of a high standard.
Being able to ride a horse is one thing but to do it in plate armour with shield and lance, speeding at 30mph toward another knight who is trying to hit you is a totally different prospect. Knight and horse need unconditional trust in each other.
The steel suit of armour known as a ‘harness’ is designed and tailor made; it takes a about a year to get it measured up and completed to use. Only a small number of highly skilled armourers exist who keep the art of making armour alive today and who can produce a working jousting harness. The good can have a two-year waiting list before they even put hammer to metal.
Over the past few years there’s been resurgence in the interest in historical jousting. In the UK there are elite horsemen jousting in events and historical tournaments held in Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
It’s a myth that you need big horses like shires to joust; that breed didn’t even exist in the 15th century, and in fact the prized destriers of the time would have been Spanish and Arabic breeds. Today we have many breeds and horse types and the main things we look for is that the horse wants to do the job, has the right temperament, is calm and can deal with multiple sensory inputs all at once like crowds, flags and noise.
I ride every week working on riding and try to do armoured sessions at least once a month before the jousting season starts in the summer. Obviously the pandemic stopped that routine, but I have been back in armour recently and will be jousting at Pendennis Castle in August.
If anyone would like to know more I suggest they look at the website below.