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Renaissance Faire: The Paragon of Jousting Returns to the Mid-South


Article & photos by Tommy Brannon

Full contact horseback jousting returned to the shire of Shelby at The Renaissance Faire, held at Shelby Farms in Memphis, TN on August 20-21 and August 27-28, 2016. The Renaissance Faire is a celebration of music, arts, food and frolic set in merry old England in the year 1576, when Elizabeth I was Queen. People dress in period costumes, venders hawk their wares, everyone addresses each other as Lord and Lady, and quite a number of anachronisms are added for good measure.

Included in the entertainment is horseback jousting performed by the Paragon Jousting and Adventure Theater of Aurora, New York. Husband and wife team Scott and Rebecca Rodlin put on a great performance! Scott plays the part of Sir Devon, a knight mounted on his a noble steed, a 21-year-old Morgan named Oberon (barn name Mister, Mister, registered name, Menominee Mister Yankee), who is a 14-year veteran of jousting.

Rebecca plays the part of Dame Fiona, Sir Devon’s opponent. She is the “puppy kicking, orphan making, evil Knight of Orkney.” With her bright smile and exuberant charm, she seems to be the antithesis of the acidic character that she plays. Dame Fiona rides a 17-year-old 15.3h solid Paint named Shadow (registered name Jim Dandy Shadow), who is a real sweetheart and has 9 years of jousting experience.

   The Rodlins were assisted by two young horse enthusiasts from the Memphis area, Ryann Mazur and Hope Collins, working as squires. Ryann is a mounted archery competitor who served as Squire at the 2015 Renaissance Faire and recruited Hope to help this year. Also in the troupe were Master and Mistress Of The List: Kathleen Fox, of Connecticut, on the first weekend and Marshall Anderson, from Illinois, on the second weekend. Kathleen played the part of Lady Deirdre and Marshall played the part of Sr. Solomon. Master Of The List, in middle age jousting, was the like a referee or emcee. They were mounted on a Belgian-Quarter Horse cross named Apollo.

Three performances on an August day in Memphis heat could be hard on horse and rider, especially with the knights clad in plate armor with no ventilation. Shelby Farms has plenty of shade, and the well conditioned horses were corralled in the woods to relax between the three performances, which only lasted about 20 minutes each. The first weekend was overcast with intermittent light rain, but the second weekend was sunny and hot. The veteran equine performers know when it is time to don their jousting costumes and tack and when it is time to rest under a shade tree.

The knights have a bigger challenge keeping cool. The plate armor is very heavy. Rebecca’s armor is made of stainless steel and weighs 75 pounds. Scott’s armor weighs 85 pounds. The armor plates cover most of the body and allow for little movement, but hold heat. This was not a problem for the Knights of Northern Europe, but is a problem for jousters on a hot August day in Memphis. In addition, a quilted under jacket, called a gambeson, has to be worn under the armor to keep the plates from pinching skin as they move. So Scott has a trick for this situation: he wears a Texas Cool Vest under his armor. This is a vest with front and back pockets that hold frozen gel packs. The gel packs help keep the body core temperature down under the armor long enough for at least one performance.  Still, it was very apparent how hot the knights were in the arena when they removed their helms after combat.

Scott was lamenting that he was soon going to have to retire Mister because of the horse’s age. He said they had been partners for many years and it was pretty clear from his tone how much he admired this horse. He has two six-year-old Morgans in training to take Mister’s place, but it takes a long time to train horses to joust. “These horses trust us and will do anything we ask. We have a pyrotechnic show that we perform sometimes, where fireworks are going off all around and the horses enter the arena at a gallop under a flaming arch.”

 Scott said that he starts a new horse very slowly, working with him for a year before he even introduces him to riding in armor. He said, “The first thing I look for is temperament, not breed. We only use geldings and I want an ‘alpha’ [horse] in the herd – one that is brave and is not easily rattled. The horse is a prey animal and his instinct is to run away from something loud and crashing behind him. We work in small increments, starting with flags, both on the ground and carrying one, and then introduce the horse to a lance. We may work with a horse for a full year and then find that he cannot be ridden in armor.” 

The three jousting demonstrations done each day at the Renaissance Faire were done in increments of difficulty and rancor. The first was a jousting skill demonstration, in which the Squires hold up rings of different sizes and the Knights pierce the rings with a lance at a gallop. Next, the Knights charge a Quintain, a pole mounted pivoting shield with a weight suspended on the opposite end, which is struck with a lance at a gallop. When the shield is hit, the weight rotates and swings back at the knight.

Sword skills are demonstrated by placing heads of cabbage on poles. Theses heads are “decapitated” with a single swath from horseback at speed. The poles are so close to the audience that they are pelted with the cabbage.
The second of the day’s demonstration was a Joust of Peace where the skills are ramped up a notch. The crest and baton competition is a sword skill where a Plaster of Paris crest is attached to the top of the helm. The object is to knock the crest off of the opponent’s helm for a score of 3 points.

Then the real jousting starts! The knights charge each other in full armor, with shields and lances. A solid strike gets 1 point; a broken lance gets 3 points. Scott said that the company will break as many as 60 lance tips in one weekend.

The third competition of the day is a Joust of War. This, in medieval times, was a fight to the death. The crowed is played up, jeering and shouting, and the acting gets pretty dramatic, but everyone loves it.  The Paragon of Jousting puts on a great show!           

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