Horses are the ultimate medieval accessory. From processions to jousting tournaments, the presence of horses enriches the atmosphere of events. There is simply no stronger statement of nobility than displaying fine riding skills, and no better medieval spectacle than a horse arrayed in colorful caparison charging down a list towards an opponent. Here are a few suggestions for those of you interested in making horses part of your An Tir experience.
If you are at an event and you see horses participating, feel free to approach the owners and introduce yourself. The people who bring horses to events love talking about horses and are always interested in meeting more people who like horses.
When approaching someone with a horse at an event, always make sure that both the human and the horse see you, and always ask for permission before interacting with the horse. While horses are generally peaceful and well socialized, they each have their personality and good and bad days, and since they are incredibly strong and can sometime behave unpredictably it’s best to not surprise them. Always ask the person responsible for the horse for permission before touching them or offering any food, and don’t be offended if they ask you to maintain some distance.
Forming relationships with your local equestrians is the best way to start spending time with horses at An Tir events. It takes a lot of resources to transport and keep a horse at an event, and a few extra hands are usually welcome — especially from folks with some experience working with horses. If you are interested in handling or riding a horse at an event, the path to this is to make friends with the owner, as they are in complete control of who gets to interact with their horse. Some horse owners make arrangements where assistance is traded for some saddle time at an event, but usually only after the owner has developed a familiar relationship with the person and knows that they would be a safe match for the horse given the context. This is always up to the judgment of the horse owner, and most horse owners need to have some familiarity and trust in the other person before they extend such an offer.
Before riding or doing any sort of games at an event, you’ll need to authorize with a marshal first. There are a couple of exceptions for this, for example being led in a procession. Authorization is just a way of demonstrating awareness and skills that indicate you are likely to be able to do that activity safely. This can be as simple as authorizing to ride at an event by showing that you can safely maneuver the horse, or as complex as authorizing for jousting wearing full armor that impairs your vision while riding an excited horse. Authorizations usually take place at equestrian practices, but can also take place at events if you make arrangements with a marshal.
If you are involved in planning an event that includes horses, there are a couple of important points from a logistical standpoint. First, you should find and work with an equestrian marshal who can help you through each stage of the process. Second, for any event involving horses the SCA equestrian insurance must be activated. This applies to events, practices, or demos — any activity sponsored by a branch that involves horse activities. There is a specific equestrian waiver that anyone likely to come into contact with horses must sign.
Lastly, there are a lot of people who participate in equestrian activities in the SCA and who don’t own a horse. Many of us got started in equestrian activities by becoming friends with people who have horses, developing these friendships, and eventually getting to a place where horse owners were familiar enough with our personalities and horsemanship skills to trust us with some time on their horses. There are also a few practices in An Tir that are held at facilities that rent horses, offering a relatively low cost way of trying out the activities. There are also tons of ways to help out with tournaments without having to bring a horse to an event, and as an added bonus you end up with the best view in the house.
Don’t be shy about approaching equestrians and asking about the horses or the activities. Being around horses at events is highly addictive, and can be one of the most memorable aspects of an event.