The Paragon of Jousting Comes to the Mid-South
There are lots of husband and wife teams in horse sports and horse businesses, but Scott and Rebecca Rodlin of Aurora, New York are probably the most unique. This couple fights almost every day – and in public, too! The Rodlins are the lead jousters in their company, Paragon Jousting and Adventure Theater.
The troupe is appropriately named, as the performance is as well choreographed as a Hollywood production. It has to be – jousting and hand-to-hand combat demonstrations can be very dangerous. The horse training and people training are the keys to successful jousting demonstrations that entertained the crowds at The Renaissance Faire, held at Shelby Farms in Memphis, TN on two weekends: August 22-23 and August 29-30, 2015.
The sport of Jousting dates back to the middle ages in Europe, when knights fought each other in battle on horseback using lances and swords. It began as purely martial training and evolved into a pageantry-laden sport. A barrier separates the mounted knights, to prevent a collision of horses as they charge toward each other with wooden lances, in an attempt to unseat the opponent.
The Paragon competitors practice full contact jousting and sword fighting with real weapons. The troupe likes to work up the audience with a little anachronistic humor, and the crowd plays their part, cheering and jeering as they would at a mid-south wrestling match.
Scott plays the part of Sir Devon, a knight mounted on his a noble steed, a 20-year-old Morgan named Oberon (registered name, Menominee Mister Yankee), who is a 13-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.” When someone in the audience shouts out, “We love you Fiona!” her response is “Yes, I love me, too.” With her bright smile and exuberant charm, she seems to be the antithesis of the acidic character that she plays. Dame Fiona rides a 16-year-old 15.3h solid Paint named Shadow (registered name Jim Dandy Shadow), who is a real sweetheart and has 8 years of jousting experience.
Rounding out the group for this performance is the announcer and referee (as it were) Sir Andrew, played by Richard Croft. Sir Andrew rides a Belgian-Quarter Horse cross named Apollo. This war horse, ironically, was an Amish draft horse, 18 years old, and has been jousting about 8 years. The real knights of the middle ages rode cold blooded horses about Apollo’s size.
Scott said, “I learned early on that the horses are the stars of our show, and developing great partnerships with the animals is the key to our success. Our horses will do anything we ask them to because they trust us and they enjoy their work."
The horses have to put up with flapping flags, noisy jostling spectators, combat, and rattling amour. They need to be able to run at each other without flinching. “They also need to be good around crowds and relaxed. We don’t use mares because we have learned that they have just enough preservation instinct that they may veer off rather than risk running into each other,” explained Scott and Rebecca. When the show is concluded, the horses are ridden over to the audience to be petted.” Our horses live together, travel together, and work together,” they said.
Rebecca rode in a Western endurance saddle with a high pommel and no horn. This saddle is used because it fits Shadow well and puts her in a secure deep seat for the impacts. She said that it has been modified to use a girth rather than a cinch because the saddle needs to be very secure and not slip in combat.
Because of movement restrictions, a Knight in full armor cannot tack up, tighten a cinch, or even mount without assistance from a squire. There is no guessing. The squire can tighten the girth to the number 4 hole and the saddle is set.
The other two horses were fitted with Spanish bull fighting saddles, which have both a high pommel and high cantle to keep the rider in place. This is a distinct advantage. Shadow and Oberon were both ridden in hackamores and Apollo had a full bridle because of his previous Amish background.
The plate armor that Rebecca wore is made of stainless steel and weighs 75 pounds. It was custom made by an armorer in Connecticut. Scott’s armor was made in the Czech Republic, weighs 85 pounds, and is made of carbon steel, thus it will rust easily. It is a copy of a suit standing in the Tower of London. The original was built in 1585.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 Europe, but could be a problem for jousters on a hot August day in Memphis.
Scott likes to start training horses to joust no younger than 5 or 6. 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.” Scott starts a new horse very slowly, working with him for a year before he even introduces him to riding in armor. “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.”
Rebecca Rodlin is the head horse trainer at Paragon. She is a graduate of Wells College in Aurora, NY where she teaches riding. She is also the Equine Manager at Ledyard Farms in King Ferry, NY where she is in charge of 55 Morgans in training. She has competed Morgans for many years in saddle seat, hunt seat, and driving. Rebecca said that the breed does well at jousting because they are very spirited, athletic, and have stamina.
This was Paragon Jousting’s first trip to the mid-south and Scott said that he felt very welcome. Both Scott and Rebecca said the purpose of Paragon Jousting is entertainment – and that they did for the audience and themselves as well.
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