I most assuredly have NOT done jousting, but I board with a guy who is one of the top jousters in the country. I had no idea it was still practiced, and thought he was pulling my leg at first. His horse is a 12 y.o. Percheron stallion. When they're both suited up it's a striking sight!
Don't know where you're located: we're in upstate NY.
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I've only watched it being done at renaissance festivals (the Maryland Renaissance Festival jousters actually do full-contact jousting, it isn't scripted) and the like. Never actually done it, though some of the practice games they do (jousting against targets and the like) look like fun.
I do SCA mounted games... my family's been in the SCA since before I was born. (:
What are they actually doing at your barn--a demo or setting up games for you to try with your horses? The basic authorization levels are for riding itself and for mounted games. Here are some of the most basic mounted games:
Saracen heads, or just heads, involves some sort of head-like object (usually styrofoam) mounted on top of poles or jump standards; you weave in and out and knock the "heads" off with a sword or other short weapon. Weapons are usually "boffer" (padded) or wooden/rattan. Points are for speed and accuracy.
Pig-sticking involves little pig-like objects, again usually styrofoam (some people get crafty and make them really look like pigs!), on the ground. You spear them with a long spear or sharpened stick; sometimes it's sharpened wood/rattan but most often it's metal (live steel).
Rings/ring tilt involves riding at a T-cross with wooden or metal rings hanging off of it; you spear them with a long pointed stick or narrow lance, and get points for smaller rings.
Quintain involves riding at a swinging wooden arm with a heavy lance; it's like jousting against a stationary figure. If you hit it at the correct spot, it swings around and you get points.
Spear or javelin throwing involves throwing a sharp spear/javelin at a target mounted to a haybale. Points are for accuracy.
All of those games are the most commonly done ones, and you can do them with the basic two levels of authorization, which are for riding and mounted games. You can do them at any speed, but have to demonstrate control of your mount, and you want to be pretty good at either neck reining or bridging your reins so that you have your weapon hand free.
Special authorization, padding, weapons, armour, etc. are needed for jousting and other activities. A neat middle point--my fave--is crest combat, when you have a styrofoam "crest" mounted on your helmet and you fight on horseback with another rider, each trying to knock the opponent's "crest" off with your weapon. Very fun.
Clearly you will want to do some work with desensitizing your horse to swinging/flying objects and general chaos. (:
The equestrian handbook posted above is very helpful... it should have all the specifications for the different games and authorizations... different kingdoms have specific rules, so if you'd like to share where you are, I can tell you what kingdom you're in and where to look for their information.
Oh, and about medieval looking tack... "anachronism" means that we're okay with some modern stuff being passable as long as it looks medieval. d; I put "barding" on my horse, the decorative caparisons and so on... that is really easy to make for a simple set. If you ever want more medieval-y looking tack, Spanish and Portuguese saddles tend to be closer approximations... the old McClelland saddles also look a little closer to medieval saddles.
Here are some pics from an event (our kingdom's equestrian championships, which were held at a public demo) this summer...
Lined up for the procession--you can see a little more of different styles of tack/costume... the man on the Friesian has a replica of a medieval saddle: http://inlinethumb59.webshots.com/43...600x600Q85.jpg
In the middle of dismounting, but you can see my horse's barding--the skirt part is really just a big half circle, and then for the dags going around his chest, I have a piece that slips on over a polo breastplate: http://inlinethumb24.webshots.com/31...600x600Q85.jpg
Many years ago, I played around with MD-style jousting - way fun, and totally OK to wear your helmet and whatnot - you and your horse do need to be OK with you carrying a very pointy object in one hand - so the ability to neck or squaw rein is pretty important.
I also got to try out tilting at the quintain - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quintai...ting)#Quintain - kind of like practice for jousting - major skills there are similar to the MD Jousting, but with the added fun of moving fast - rings don't swing around to whack you in the back of the head if you don't keep moving forward...
Both times, I wore a helmet, but that was about it for safety equipment. I'd be very careful attempting any other mounted medieval games without a well-trained horse and some serious protective gear (for both horse and rider) - the (ring) jousting and tilting don't really involve any other people or horses on the track with you. Full contact jousting or even mounted "combat" games are going to be much more chaotic, so if you give it a go, have fun, but INSIST on doing things safely to protect both you and your horse, and don't be afraid to bow out if things are getting to be more than you or your horse are comfortable with!
The horses that do the jousting where you are trying to knock your opponent off of their horse, seem to really like it.
My theatre professor did this. I dont think that I am brave enough for it though!
SCA jousting isn't like regular jousting, either. The SCA form is sort of jousting-lite...it's excellent for people who don't want to spend thousands on a full kit, or who want to try it before doing so, but it's done with foam lances and the goal is to get a good hit and a good splinter on your lance as opposed to unhorsing your opponent, unless they've changed it in the year I have been taking a break.
I have mixed feeling on the jousting, I think it really depends on your opponent. The games are really fun, though. I used to think the mounted combat was pretty dumb, too, but I heard they revised the rules to make it a little more active.
In short, you should definitely go to the event and check it out and talk to people. It's a fun activity to do with your horse and the people are typically very welcoming of newcomers.
Thanks, everyone! I think they're doing a demo and setting up games for us to try. After reading some of those things, I'm super excited to try! I was worried it was about getting unhorsed... and on a 17 hander, it's a LONG way down. I think I will probably use regular tack - maybe a dressage saddle - but I can go get some cheap-o fabric and make some of the trappings for the horse. Pretty sure I have an old costume somewhere from a Robin Hood production. This is going to be awesome! Just what I needed to fight a little bit of burnout I'll make sure to post pics afterward!
Evans--you might want to hold off the first time on costumes/trappings, just to wait and see how your horse reacts to everything. Extra fabric and all that can be a safety issue, so it's probably best to wait until you've done the games once or twice and your horse is used to it. Also, to be honest, SCA people can get kind of snobby sometimes about non-SCA members showing up to demos in Ren-faire-type garb--if you enjoy doing it and want to continue with the group, most "SCAdians" are very helpful about loaner garb and helping you get set up with what you need.
The dressage saddle's probably a good choice--a lot of people use them as looking a little more authentic than hunt or western tack, and a little more security. They'll definitely have loaner weapons and equipment for you to use.