Jousters today are without restriction as to the type of horse they may use. Types used range from Shetland ponies for the smallest children to Quarter Horses, Arabians, Paints, even imported draft-size Friesians.
Experienced jousts on the circuit today concur on several desired characteristics: a level-headed, mid-size to small horse with an extremely smooth canter work best. A smooth gait allows riders to feel comfortable to raise their stirrups and assume a position similar to that of a jockey. This allows the motion of the horse to be absorbed by the riders' knees and lower leg. The upper body becomes virtually motionless. This position, combined with a steady hand greatly increases the rider's likelihood of spearing the rings with his lance.
Jousting requires great concentration to catch rings from the back of a galloping horse. Training and trust go hand in hand when it comes to the jousting horse. The tournament track can provide many distractions to the horse--flags waving, bands playing, children, dogs and balloons all add an element of surprise to the event. If your horse has been trained not to fear these distractions, you have the opportunity to concentrate on the rings.
Great Horses in Jousting
Jousting horses come in many breeds, sizes and colors. Years of training go into the making of a great tournament horse. Time spent in the saddle and barn is time well spent. Practice is the key to excellence in this sport. Knowing your horse and trusting him is another. Let's meet some of these exceptional jousting horses and their owners.
Misty and Comet - Quarter Horse/Tennessee Walker cross
Misty and Comet belonged to the Enfield family of Frederick County, Maryland. This photo is from the 1969 National Jousting Championships in Washington, DC. Leon and Shirley led the Grand Parade that day as the defending National Champion and his Queen. Leon purchased Misty in 1966 so that his children could begin to joust. The following year she foaled Comet. Both horses remained on the jousting circuit until their retirement in 1986. Four members of the Enfield family jousted on these two horses winning many titles during this time. Leon alone won four National Championships on Misty. Comet carried Leon's son, Bob to a Maryland State Championship title. Son, Ken, and daughter, Linda, also competed on these two steady, true horses.
Misty stood barely 14 hands 2", had the most consistent canter of any horse on the tournament track and was known for her quick starts. Comet was a determined horse that thundered down the track oblivious to balloons, flags or dogs darting into the track. Even photographers positioned too close to the track wouldn't phase him. Comet knew the track belonged to him and he consistently put his rider under the rings. Misty and Comet were tournament horses, 4-H projects, pets and members of the family. The Enfield family spent a sad Thanksgiving in 1996 when Comet died of old age. Never to be parted for long, Misty died quietly within 6 weeks. Both of these wonderful horses are greatly missed.
Stormy - Shetland Pony
Stormy belongs to Craig Minnick. His uncle, Ken Enfield gave Stormy to Craig so that he wouldn't have to share a pony with his older brother, Corey. But, fortunately, Craig did share Stormy with Corey when Corey's pony didn't work out. This very special Shetland pony has been the center of attention at the Minnick household for ten years now and is enjoying her retirement since the boys have outgrown her and moved onto bigger horses.
Kids compete on an equal basis with adults in this sport. They must spear the rings that are hung 6'9" from the ground. Little ponies and short arms sometimes make this sport difficult for youngsters. A good example of teamwork between pony and rider was Corey's first year jousting. Just after turning 8 years old, Corey won the National Novice Jousting Championship in Washington DC on Stormy. That's them in the picture on the right above. (It's a good thing that Craig was willing to share!) Corey made his rides smooth and reached up perfectly at each ring. He won out over 23 others riders including a 17 year old on an Arabian and a 63 year old gentleman on a Quarter Horse.
Both boys rode Stormy while they were in the Novice class. There is no time limit for that level of competition; the gait just has to be greater than a walk. Corey and Craig always cantered Stormy. Unfortunately, her little legs could not make the nine second time limit required for upper level competitions. Stormy is quite happy in her retirement, playing Queen of the Hill with our other horses.
Jasper - Paint
Jasper, big black and white paint horse owned by Wayne Tucker of Frederick County, Maryland carried Wayne to several Maryland and National Jousting Championship titles. This large horse was so well attuned to the sport that Wayne often had to fool Jasper at the start of the track. Jasper seemed to understand when the announcer was asking Wayne, The Knight of Beauty, to prepare to charge. He would start prancing and dancing toward the beginning of the track. This strong horse would not be held back so Wayne had to try pretend that it wasn't his turn under the very last second.
Watch for more stories to come. We will highlight several more breeds of horses as well as special horses in the sport of Jousting.