Chivalry at Its Finest
Every summer, I venture down to the Hudson Valley to attend the New York Renaissance Faire (NYRF). It’s a great venue with a lot to offer, but let’s be real—I’m a horse girl, always and forever. So for me, the jousting is my favorite part.
The group who performs this sport here, The Jousters, do so at renaissance faires across the country for most of the year. This is amazing in itself, considering we horse peeps know just how much is involved in taking our steeds down the street for a show or south for the winter. To essentially be eternal horse gypsies, adding all that comes with their grand show, is incredible.
At the NYRF, there are three jousts a day, and these involve not just feats of skill and chivalry, but also lots of hilarity. The knights and their squires are all showmen and women. They are brave, funny, and totally engaging—and every moment in their presence is a delight. I’ve enjoyed their antics for many years and always look forward to seeing them again.
The jousts themselves last about a half hour, but if you get there early, there’s a lot to see. The course gets set up, the horses come out, and sometimes if you’re really lucky the squires go rogue and entertain the crowd in a most hilarious fashion. (I’m looking at you, Sir Garrett!)
The three jousts consist of the Joust of Skill, the Royal Joust, and the Joust to the Death. The Joust of Skill is a preview of what’s to come and includes introductions to all the knights, their horses, and the rest of the performers. The Royal Joust, which is for the queen and her court, continues the merriment and leaves more to be desired when the knights get into a brawl that will recommence later. This lastly brings us to the Joust to the Death, which is exactly what it sounds like. I won’t give away the villain, but he’s diabolical in his machinations and plays this role with refreshing candor.
And the blood…for this forensics nerd, it’s a fascinating and impressive display of spatter and arterial spray that isn’t for the faint of heart. Very realistic in its presentation, this brings a subtle humor to these mortal combats.
The Knights & Their Steeds
There are two knights who compete. Sir Larison from the Order of the Sun and his wonderful steed Elliot are the champions I always root for. The other is from the Order of the Moon. On opening weekend, this knight was Sir Edgeron with his awesome horse Apollo, and then on my second visit to the faire, it was Don Vincenzo and the towering inferno of a steed that is Draxx.
To say I’m madly in love with all the horses is an understatement! They are incredible equines who are fantastic at what they do, but they also have very neat, distinct personalities that shine through. They are just as much the stars as their knights—perhaps even more so.
The horses primarily consist of draft crosses including a mix of Percheron, Shire, Friesian, and I think Draxx might be part dinosaur (he is massive!). They are all pro athletes who clearly love their jobs. It’s amazing to watch such highly tuned sport horses stand so quietly, and then as soon as they know it’s time to joust, a fire is lit and game on—their battle-ready spirits burst forth.
I’m impressed by the horsemanship of their humans and the great care they take with their noble steeds. The love they all share is very apparent and sweet to witness. But I’m also inspired by their use of bitless bridles and now intend to go this route with my own young horse.
The Jousters do a superior job explaining why they use this tack, and as someone who once taught non-horse people how to ride at a dude ranch and instructed many beginners in lesson programs, I appreciated their efforts. It’s not always easy to express to those who don’t speak our unique language how and why we do what we do. So, to be able to inform giant crowds about the specific reasons as to why they do this and in a way everyone understands is a special skill.
The layman’s version is this: They use bitless bridles so as not to inadvertently yank the horse’s mouth due to the impact of a joust pass. But, as horse people know, there’s more to it than that. If done properly, going bitless can provide more comfort to a horse and eliminate many of the negative behaviors related to bad bitting.
These bridles also have tremendous stopping power because they work off pressure points on the horse's head instead of the bars of the mouth. But it’s not for everyone, and if used improperly, it isn’t a good tool. Though, it’s definitely one to consider.
Proof of the benefits of going bitless was seen on my most recent trip to the faire when the lead horse trainer Sir Edgeron was working with a new horse named Victor, who was on the joust field for only his second day ever in one of these bitless bridles.
This knight not only taught the horse some new skills, but also educated the crowd about horses, tack, and the sport of jousting in general—and his pride in the young steed was evident. I especially loved how after each pass, Edgeron would lean down and hug Victor. That’s a great horseman.
As awesome as the knights and their steeds are, they are supported by a really great team: Countess Cordelia, Lady of Chivalry and her horses Jasmijn and Apollo, The Angel of Azarath and her horse Sasha, and squires Lady Magnolia and Sir Garrett, who are both very talented in their own right. I see a big future in this sport for these two.
This is a true family affair between two clans who run the show and those in their trope who have become family. All of these performers are like celebrities to their adoring fans who look forward to seeing them year after year.
I highly recommend following them on social media; there are a lot of cool moments they share, and it’s been great fun to tag along on their adventures. Plus, there are tons of amazing photos of the phenomenal action that ensues!
Hope to see y’all at a ren faire in the future, and if you see The Jousters, pick a knight and enjoy the fight!
For photos, videos, and more information on The Jousters, please visit: