Our historical concept of a knight is inseparable from horses. However in the medieval period caring for a horse, especially one trained for martial activities, was an expensive and complex pursuit; and riding horses entailed a great deal of risk. In our modern world these factors are even larger in several respects, and that has limited equestrian activities in the SCA to a small niche. Albeit a very enthusiastic and welcoming one. Equestrians face a unique challenge in that there is another living creature with a mind of its own whose knowledge and cooperation is required in order for its Human partner to perform well. In addition, while all martial arts rely on a cadre of volunteers and some equipment to make activities happen, the equestrian arts are even more demanding in terms of the number of props and ground crew required to manage them.
SCA related equestrian activities started in the mid-1980’s in Ansteorra and other parts of the US where ranches, rodeos, and other modern horse related activities were common. Edward Ean Anderson had an opportunity to try out some of the games at the SCA’s 20th Anniversary Celebration in Texas, and had so much fun that he and his lady, Ilaria Veltri degli Ansari, returned home and worked to found Caid’s equestrian program. The pair moved to An Tir in 1990 to find a few other people interested in these pursuits, so they helped start a guild here with the support of Togrul Guiscard and Donwenna la Mareschale. (She was also from Caid and had equestrian contacts throughout the Known World which were a huge asset.) Edward was the first Kingdom Equestrian Officer in An Tir and oversaw the creation of our first manual in 1993. Initially most participants were in Three Mountains, but a second concentration developed between Madrone and the Shire of Midhaven with the support of Agelos Evienece, Rapheal the Rogue, and Ynesen Ongge Xong Kerij-e. By the year 2000 there were pockets in southern Oregon, central eastern WA, and around Vancouver, BC as well. Another essential partnership was formed in 1999 with Lang’s Horse & Pony Farm in Midhaven. Even though the owners are not SCA participants, they have rented and sold horses to those in our community, and rented their space to us for stabling, practices, and events for over 15 years.
Throughout the 1990’s An Tir’s program was so small it was hard to get enough people together to compete against one another. Mostly it was a chance to ride with friends, show off some new skills, and complete whatever challenge the Society had dictated for that year so that riders could compete in the annual Known World rankings. (Heads, rings, and spearing the pig were the most common games at that time.) The year 2000 saw the East-West Pilgrimage, Summer Hunt, and the first Emprise of the Black Lion, which marked the start of equestrian focused SCA events. About 2 years later September Crown became the first general event with activities open to all attendees, and the first time our Monarchs rode into court. During this time, the Midhaven group ran some riding clinics solely for Knights (and then Laurels, Pelicans, and their families after they said they wanted to have fun too). The Emprise’s organizers would challenge a specific Knight to compete the following year, and then train them so they could make a decent showing. In some cases this resulted in new dedicated participants, but the reasoning was more that Knights become King and the Kingdom Earl Marshal, andthe equestrians wanted those individuals to understand and support their hobby because that would lead to wider support throughout the SCA.
Around 2004-06 there was a major increase in the number of equestrian participants, and it became far more common to see horses at events. A wider array of games were now in use, and a rider’s score in these was partially determined by whether their horse maintained the required pace for their skill level. Mounted archery and crest combat began, as did foam tip jousting as a way to challenge the participants, and because it’s a huge draw for the populace. Riders were now practicing actively between events so they could be competitive onsite. A great deal more research was being done into the historical aspects of equestrian activities, and how these could be presented at events. However, growth leads to challenges: More people meant more points of view, a lot of which diverged widely. Italso increased the number of people who needed training, and more activities at more events meant thatlogistics were increasingly complicated. An Tir’s vision of its program was also diverging from what the Society leadership wanted at the time, particularly in the number of marshals authorized: An Tir wanted to increase the number so they had a larger pool to manage things at events, and the Society wanted to maintain very strict standards which limited the number. There were a lot of rough momentsduring this period, and it took some time to figure out the best solutions, and for people to reconcile themselves to the new standards. On a more positive note, the 3 biggest rituals in the community beganin 2005 indicating that this sport had gone mainstream: The Riderless Horse ceremony. The first Kingdom Champion, Khaidu Naranaimorin. And a grant level award called the Lion et de la Lance, of which Rapheal was the first recipient. In addition Edward Ean Anderson was admitted to the Order of the Laurel for his work in the equestrian arts, which was very meaningful for others in that discipline.From about 2006-09 An Tir’s program coasted as we were still under tight scrutiny from the Society; although a lot of experimentation was happening elsewhere in the Known World. Then the recession hit, gas prices climbed, and participation dropped. Horse trailers consume too much gas for long trips, and even close events weren’t worthwhile unless there was a guarantee of a lot of riding. Fortunately since 2010 things have improved, and An Tir now hosts about a dozen horse focused events each year, as well as frequent practices in 6-8 locations. General events are also somewhat more likely to host equestrian activities since they add a sense of pageantry and period ambiance. The hot spots continue to be Lion’s Gate, Midhaven, Madrone, Stromgard, and Glyn Dwfn. The culture varies from one group to another in terms of their focus and how willing they are to try new things, but there’s enough happening that riders can find a good fit: Madrone is the leader in jousting, Midhaven in mounted archery, and Summits in diverse challenge courses. However, all of the groups encourage riders to be competent in a number of skills, unlike other Kingdoms which see it as normal for someone to focus on just a couple of games. Many of the new activities that have appeared in An Tir are ones other Kingdoms have used for years, but some are also new ideas particularly from Caid and Ansteorra. An Tir riders still participate in the Inter-Kingdom Equestrian Competition (IKEqC), but less often as this requires specific equipment set up in specific ways, which is labor intensive. The Emprise of the Black Lion has become the flagship event of the equestrian year, with elaborate pageantry modeled after the 1460 Treatise of Rene of Anjou. Riders decide which of several activities they want to participate in, and the panel of judges determine the victor based on conduct as much as on the point results. 15th century style armored and archery competitions have been added to draw more participants, and to demonstrate all 3 sports can happen in close proximity to one another.
The leaders in the community are now looking at how the rules can be streamlined without sacrificing safety, and how to convince Event Stewards to place horses closer to the main part of site. Recruitment of new participants is also a high priority, as it is throughout the SCA, but equestrians face the challenge of trying to convince people who already have horses to join our unique social group, or of finding ways to enable people who want to be around horses but who don’t have mounts of their own to be able to ride. Businesses like Lang’s who are willing to rent their animals and space are vital, but even more essential is the amazing generosity of current SCA riders who are willing to let others borrow their horse to learn and compete.