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SCA Equestrian Games

by THL Anna z Pernstejna

Perhaps you are a spectator enjoying the ambiance of the horse activities at an event.  Or you may be an equestrian in your regular life and are thinking of participating with your horse in the SCA.  To aid in your understanding of our games, I have compiled a list of tips and insights on the various games most commonly played.  Enjoy!

Ring Tilting- Historical Notes:  Scenes of ring tilting can be seen in a number of period illuminations.  It was a common method used by knights to build the skill of targeting a lance.

The Game:  Tilting at the rings involves using a spear to catch rings hanging from a post.  Most generally in the SCA, a ring tilting course involves 3 standards with crossbars for the rings to hang from with Velcro or magnets.  The rings range in size from 1” to 6”, higher points being given for catching the smaller rings.  The standards are set either 21’ or 30’ apart.  The rider makes a straight run along one side of the standards, attempting to catch rings on the tip of the spear, turns around and returns on the other side of the standards, catching more rings.  The spear is loosely couched under the arm, and held either on the same side as the rings or crossing over the horse’s neck, which is harder to do.

Tips:   Hold the spear 5’ from the end, so there is no chance of poking your horse in the eye.  If you are uncomfortable with metal tips you can file down the end of the wooden spear to have a blunt tip.  ***Always hold the spear in an upright position before and after your run and while turning to position yourself for the return run.***   For safety do not let large rings slide over your hand or arm.

Variations:  Try turning the crossbar parallel to your direction of travel and add more rings.  Or apply rings to the post support and see how low you can go to catch rings. Try catching rings with a sword.

Reeds- Historical Notes:  Middle Eastern cultures would place reeds in rows in the sand and run past them, cutting several inches off the top with a sword.  After successive runs, most of the reed was gone.

The Game:  The alternating reeds course involves two rows of  posts set up 21.5’ apart in an alternating manner.  On top of the posts are wooden dowels of varying lengths (2”-12”) attached with Velcro, magnets, or weights and a lanyard.  The rider goes in a straight line between the rows, using a sword to knock over the reed tops, swinging to both the right and left.  More points are awarded for knocking over the smaller tops.

Tips:  When running the course, stay in an upright position, do not lean to either side!  Look straight ahead and use your peripheral vision to aim for the reeds.  Try to develop a rhythm as you ride the course.  The sword should be swung in a backwards motion, never forward toward the horse’s head.  When not in use, or between swings, hold the sword as if it were a torch, in an upright position.

Variations:  The course can be set up with only one row of reeds.  Or try setting the reeds closer together. 

Beheading the Enemy-  Historical Notes:  To date, the closest period documentation we have for this game are some references to placing vegetables onto stakes and cutting them with a sword.  Perhaps the most significant historical significance for the game is that it was one of the first developed for the SCA.  It is a variation on modern day pole bending. 

The Game:  Simulated “heads” are fastened to the tops of  a row of posts, similar to the reeds game.  The posts are set either 30’ or 21’ apart.  The rider then weaves between the posts, knocking off the heads with a mace or sword, turns at the end and races back to the start.  The run is timed.

Tips:  Think of running the course as a zig zag rather than an s shape.  Do not lean to reach a target or you may unbalance yourself or throw your horse off the course.

Variations:  Set up the course in a bunched group.

Pig Sticking-  Historical Notes:    A 13th century Arabic author talks of “cones” scattered on the ground and gathered on the spearhead of a lance by Mamluk riders.  Our current game is a variation of  a post medieval game called “tent pegging”.

The Game:  Objects on the ground (stuffed animals, floral foam) are stabbed with a sharp spear while riding by and brought up into the air.  To position the spear first hold it upright.  Let the tip rotate behind you in a circle until it is in front of you, whereupon the shaft of the spear should be resting on top of your forearm.  As you ride by the object, drop the spear point into it and allow the tip to rotate behind you until you bring it into an upright position, reversing your previous action.

Tips:  This is a difficult move to understand, ask someone for help and then practice.  ***It is very important to hold the spear correctly or you could launch yourself out of the saddle!***   To find out where to grip on the shaft, stand still and hold the spear so the tip touches the ground.  

Variations:  If you don’t wish to use a metal tip, a sharpened wood tip will work on floral foam.  Or you can add Velcro to the spear tip and a piece of fabric target.

Spear Throwing-  Historical Notes:  Throwing spears from horseback has been used since ancient times for both warfare and hunting.  Roman cavalry carried multiple spears as part of their standard equipment.  There are numerous period artistic depictions of spear use on horseback.

The Game:  Simple enough, throw a spear at a target.

Tips:  This is one of the more difficult skills for modern riders to master as it is not something that we normally do.  The spear needs to be thrown from a straight  line with no arcing of the arm or twisting of the wrist.  Practice while standing on the ground first.

Variations:  Targets can be high or low.  Spears can be long or short.  Axes make good throwing objects as well.

Quintain-  Historical Notes:  Jousting at the quintain began as a method for training a knight for combat. As use of cavalry in warfare declined, it evolved into a tournament contest.

The Game:  The quintain generally consists of a shield shaped target set on a rotating arm mounted on a sturdy base.  The rider uses a 10’-12’ lance couched under the arm and crossing the horse’s neck to strike the target while riding past.  This must be ridden at a trot or canter, so beginners are not allowed to do this game.  The score is generally figured by number of rotations of the target.

Tips:  The lance is very heavy, try using it on the ground before attempting to handle it on horseback.  Timing is key.  The lance is carried upright until you begin approaching the target. Then the lance tip should drop to target level just as it reaches the target.  Use the momentum of the strike to aid in lifting the lance again.

Variations:  Some quintains have a small area in the corner of the shield set with a spring.  More points are given if this area is knocked over.  “Tilting the mock knight” often involves a horizontally rotating target.

Mounted Archery-  Historical Notes:  Almost as long as there have been people riding horses and archery, there have been those who have combined the two.  Horse archery played a huge roll in Middle Eastern and Asian cultures such as the Ayyubids, Mamluks, Mongols and others.

The Game:  Setup of the course involves a lane for shooting and a target with a safe zone behind it.  The bow is generally a short recurve  with a maximum of 35 lbs of pull.  Arrows are tipped with either practice points or blunts.  During the run the rider either drops the reins or holds on loosely with the right hand, or may use a string/ring system.

Tips:  Due to the quickness of movement, instinctive shooting (drawing to the shoulder) generally works better than aiming by eye.  The bow should be at a slight angle so as not to interfere with the horse or rider.  Its also helpful to stand in the stirrups while shooting.

Variations:  Set up targets at varying heights, or do multiple shots on a single run.

Mounted Crest Combat-  Historical Notes:  King Rene’s book of tournaments shows many depictions of mounted combatants using special wood swords to fight each other.  One melee depiction shows numerous fascinating crest designs.

The Game:  2-4 riders face each other while trying to strike targets (crests) off of their opponent’s helmets.  Face and hand protection are worn,.  The horses are never targeted.

Tips:  Small mobile horses generally work better for this game. 

Variations:  There is an equivalent game where the opponent’s upper body is the target.  This version has more protective gear requirements for the horse and rider.

Jousting-  Historical Notes:  This is what everyone thinks of when you hear “knights in armor”.  The Codex Manesse shows heraldic jousters. Chaucer describes a dispute being settled by jousting.  Jousting had some use in warfare but caught on as a sport in the later periods.

The Game:  Two combatants separated by a barrier ride at each other with lances.  The object is to break a lance on your opponent.   In the SCA the lance tips are made of foam.

Tips:  As in jousting the quintain, timing is key for a good strike.  Horses should be familiarized with the idea of riding toward another horse.

Variations:  Shields or specific targets on the opponent might be used.