Do you fancy yourself a knight in shining armour? Are you a hopeless horse person? Is A Knight’s Tale your favourite film? Have I got the job for you… Jousting is back, and it’s reclaiming the spotlight, with international tournaments being broadcast on ESPN and Fox Sports. A combination of athleticism, horsemanship and pure nerve, we spoke to professional jousters about what it takes to make it big.
Once the ye olde equivalent of the NRL, jousting fell well out of favour by the 17th century when disciplines closer to modern equestrianism were developing. It wasn’t picked up again until the 70s, when theatrical jousting was developed as a feature show for medieval-themed attractions like Medieval Times or at British castles opened for tourism.
Soon this adrenaline-packed show started to move back towards its roots, as a number of the theatrical jousters started to compete against each other. The first proper tournament was held in Canada in 1999, and competitive jousting has only grown from there.
St Ives Medieval Festival in Sydney hosts the Southern Hemisphere’s only solid lance joust tournament, and thereby one of its most prestigious. Even in this niche sport, jousting with a solid lance is even more niche again. Most jousts both for show and for sport use a lance with a soft balsa wood tip designed to explode spectacularly on impact. It’s both easier for untrained onlookers to follow, and less strain on the knights themselves.
In solid lance jousts, however, you’re hitting – and being hit – full force. The threat of injury and even unhorsing is very real, and only high level jousters compete in these tournaments. We asked some of the competitors at the St Ives joust this September what it was like to have a job as a professional knight in armour.
What Does Professional Jousting Involve?
At its highest level, professional jousting involves some cool perks – fans, squires to manage all your gear, and international trips to compete around the world. I spoke to three of the jousters – Per Estein Prøis-Røhjell, or Pelle, who had traveled from Norway, Michaël Sadde from France and Caroline Egemalm of Sweden.
For most jousters, even at a professional level, jousting is still only an occasional pursuit. “I don’t joust very much,” Pelle told me. “I joust like three or four big tournaments a year, normally, but I’m a riding teacher so it’s sort of inseparable from my job. It’s a very big part of my life, it’s what I prepare for all year long.”
Michaël also has a background in equestrianism, having worked at the French military horse-riding academy in Paris. He later started his own equestrian center and school focused on historical horsemanship, the Domaine des Ecuyers, as well as the historical society Les Ecuyers de l’Histoire.
As for Caroline, her day job is quite different to her rather extreme hobby: “I’m a hairdresser,” she told me, though she still has a background in horsemanship, having ridden horses since she was five or six years old.
With it being Caroline’s first time in a solid lance joust, she also had to step up her training. “Ever since I got invited a year ago I’ve been training for three or four days a week on horseback, and a lot not on horseback as well.”
“You can be seriously injured if you mess up, so you really have to be sharp and on point all the time.”
Unsurprisingly for a sport that features two people dressed in over 40 kilograms of metal thundering towards each other on horses with pointy sticks, jousting can be pretty dangerous, and requires some serious fortitude. “It’s hard for the body and for the mind,” Michaël said.
Jousting is perhaps one of the only sports where competitors have to open themselves up to being struck. In fact, by the rules of the joust, not presenting a fair target to your opponent can result in penalties. Therefore jousting is not just likely to be a rough sport, it’s guaranteed.
“I’ve been unhorsed once or twice,” Pelle told me, which while uncommon is still a real danger of the sport – albeit one that comes with bragging rights for the victor. Pelle also lamented a moment that weekend when he got close to unhorsing one of his competitors, but didn’t quite manage it.
“You can be seriously injured if you mess up,” Caroline explained of the high-stakes solid lance jousting. “You really have to be sharp and on point all the time.”
To add even more difficulty, those competing internationally can’t bring their own horses with them, and have to train on provided mounts against local competitors who bring their own animals. “It’s one more challenge,” Caroline said. “But I’m really used to being on different horses, because I travel a lot while doing this.”
One more thing, in case this sport hadn’t asked for enough sacrifice already: jousting involves a lot of money.
“A good armour is twenty, thirty thousand Aussie dollars, maybe?” Pelle estimated. “A good horse could be the same, could be just a few thousand, then add a buttload of training into that.” Overall he estimated that the costs of jousting were ‘horrendously high’.
The bad news is that this isn’t really a job that pays for itself. Compared to those costs, there’s not much to be earned back from jousting, except for a lucky few.
How Do You Get Into It?
So if you’ve read this far and you still want to give it a try, here’s what you need to know.
Everyone has a different reason for getting into jousting. “I got tricked by my wife,” Pelle admitted. “We were watching the Lord Of The Rings movies, and she tricked me into riding.
“Obviously I wanted to be a fighting rider like those guys. When I found out that you could actually joust, I said ‘I’m doing that thing’.”
For others like Michaël, the combination of horsemanship, history and honour is enough of a draw to get into it, while Caroline was all about the challenge of the growing sport. “I’ve tried all the different equestrian sports,” she said. “So I wanted to challenge myself to get into something else.”
It takes a lot of grit and determination to learn to joust, and even more to get good at it. Despite being a competitive jouster and a riding teacher himself, Pelle says there are still only a few who want to learn to joust: “And of the few who come, there are very few who pass through the eye of the needle.”
He estimates that you would be able to compete in lower level competitions, ie those with soft-tipped lances, after a few years of jousting, while getting to the level at which you could compete with solid lances is more like seven to eight years.
On some estimations, there are only around 30 jousters of that level in the entire world.
The good news, however, is that jousting isn’t a sport where you have to be young to be in the game. Most jousters are in their 30s or 40s, some even older. In the professional jousting game, experience counts for far more than pure youthful energy.
If you want to go out and start jousting now, I hope you know how to ride a horse, otherwise you won’t be picking up a lance for quite some time. All the jousters agree that horsemanship is key to getting into the sport.
“The most important thing is to be safe on the horse,” Caroline said. “Learn to ride before getting to the jousting – because then you can focus on all the other stuff.”
Pelle was a little more blunt in his advice: “Start riding, and start lifting the deadlift. Right now.”
“Have a good physical shape, and a good mind, and a good spirit for the sport,” Michaël added. “Because it’s very dangerous.”