As an active equestrian, and marshal, in the SCA, I have often been asked: What types of activities do you do with your horses in the SCA? I have written articles about the various equestrian activities practiced in the SCA. But what people often want to know is: What type of weapons do you use and what level of skill is required to be an excellent SCA equestrian? This simple question does not lead to a quick or simple answer, for SCA equestrians participate in numerous and diverse activities. In fact, equestrians participate in every area of martial activity that we currently have approved for participants in our Society. Competitions often involve many of these diverse activities. Therefore, the more successful equestrians have studied and learned a wide variety of weapons systems and skills, and are not limited to a single weapon style.
The martial horsemanship skill tests (commonly called “Games”) require a rider to learn to handle a sword and lance, much as a knight was trained in the Middle Ages. The sword is used to strike at opponent-type targets, requiring strength, while other targets such as the Reeds require more precise handling and speed. Maces are used for some of these activities as well. Equestrians engage in a variety of combat on horseback. This includes a form of heavy rattan fighting known as Mounted Combat where the sword is slightly padded to protect the horse from serious injury. Mounted combatants fight in the Single Sword style as well as Sword and Shield. There is a lighter form of fighting which has been in the program for many years, known as Crest Combat. In this type of combat, the only legal target is the crest mounted on a rider’s helmet. This type of combat is challenging in that there is only one target area to defend, making it much more difficult to score successful hits.
The lance, a weapon unique in the SCA to the equestrian program, is used to skewer rings, requiring point control and precision. The heavier Quintain lances require considerable more upper body and arm strength, and their use requires the rider to control the long lance during precise targeting. Follow through is needed to prevent being struck in the back by a well-designed Quintain. Spears are used to target objects on the ground, replicating the hunt and battle.
Recently, Rapier and Cut & Thrust activities have been added to the equestrian program (though at this point only on an Experimental level). This activity is based on the Unarmored Combat or Historical Combat as practiced in Caid and other Kingdoms. (Æthelmearc has recently been approved for this activity as well.) Equestrians use the longsword or arming sword in recreating the type of combat found in historical training documents such as the Fiore and Ringeck manuscripts. With the approval of this activity, equestrians have gained another area in which to gain expertise while mounted.
Many of these weapons (with the obvious exception of the lance) are seen on the heavy list or rapier field. Equestrians use weapons which participants in the Thrown Weapons and Archery programs commonly use as well. This includes javelins which are thrown at a variety of targets and bows identical to those seen on the target archery range. Mounted archery presents horse archers with a real challenge as they must shoot from a moving platform.
Most people think of Jousting whenever they think of medieval riding, and the SCA equestrians can participate in two forms of this activity. One type uses a lance with a breakable foam tip and the rider is required to handle the lance accurately in order to strike a well scored hit. Wood Tip Jousting is still in the Experimental phase in the SCA, and requires substantial armor. The armor used by many participants in this activity closely approximates the full plate armor seen in use during the late period of the Middle Ages. The wooden lances are heavy and this level of Jousting requires a high degree of strength, skill and lance control. Riders must learn not only to handle their weapon, but also to maintain their balance while riding in armor. The helms used for Wood Jousting have small apertures for safety reasons, which greatly limits a rider’s vision and their armored hands limit their ability to feel the reins. These factors make Jousting, in either form, a challenging activity requiring a great deal of training and practice.
All these weapons skills must be exercised in addition to the rider’s use of advanced horsemanship and equitation skills to remain balanced on the horse’s back, without interfering with their mount, and also guiding that horse into the most advantageous position. Maneuvering while mounted requires a high degree of horsemanship in order to effectively use these various weapons. Riders must guide their horses with the use of a single hand on the rein and through the use of leg cues and shifts of weight. Riders who can turn their horses smoothly and efficiently have a distinct advantage when navigating a complex horsemanship course, in order to engage a variety of targets. Mounted combatants who can position their horses in an advantageous position can more easily hit an opponent, and present a more difficult target for their opponent. Bold riders will often have the advantage in both combat and horsemanship skill tests. Those who are fearless and confident in their balance and abilities can more quickly turn and move their horses.
SCA equestrians must also exercise the skills of a horse trainer. It is said that every time an equestrian is mounted on their horse, or even interacting with it on the ground, they are training the horse. In other words, they do not need to be a professional trainer to train their horse. SCA horses are often referred to as war horses because they must be trained to perform the same skills as the war horse of the medieval period. This includes tolerating the sounds of combat, the quick movement of weapons near their heads and bodies, and the noise and weight of an armored rider. This is only acquired through countless hours in the arena. A great deal of time must be spent training the warhorse, practicing maneuvering actions and achieving a high level of communication and harmony with the horse.
SCA equestrians must learn to master numerous weapons, their horses and just as importantly, themselves. This wide variety of activities presents the participants with many opportunities to test both themselves and their horses. It is both challenging and rewarding. I hope that you, the reader, will come out and watch these skilled riders and their magnificent war horses as they perform these varied and diverse activities. And that you will consider joining us!