30/03/2017
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Jousting at Caerlaverock Castle – interview

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Sophie Robson of the Les Amis equine stunt team, talks to History Scotland about how the group is preparing for this summer’s events, including spectacular jousting at Caerlaverock Castle on 29 and 30 July 2017.

This summer, jousting will return to Caerlaverock Castle for the first time in ten years. The stars of the show will be the horses and riders, who have spent a long time training together in order to put on a spectacular display for the spectators.

What are the most important characteristics of a horse used for jousting?

We use mainly Andalucian and Friesian horses for their fantastic nature, ability to show off and as they are such ancient breeds they are perfect for historic accuracy.

For jousting you really want a bold horse who has a strong connection with their rider, each of our horses have their own particular character and personality, which gives them such a spark when performing in front of large audiences.

How are the horses trained?

Our horses are all trained by one member of the team, (who they have developed a good connection with). We like to keep our initial training one on one, to develop a deep bond and trust between horse and handler. The horse and handler pair will sometimes then work with another member of the team for a particular show such as jousting. 

Each horse is trained as an individual using different skills previously learnt by the handler or as we are ever learning, we study new skills and methods of training. Some of the methods we use include Natural Horsemanship, Classical training and Liberty training. 

The use of natural horsemanship style methods help to put in place the fundamental training steps necessary to develop ground work, softness in the horses and the trust and connection between horse and handler.

We then like to encourage working your horse at liberty to enhance the mental and energy connection, which is not only great fun (this opens more opportunities to your horse to show their own thoughts and feelings) but we feel improves your riding skill tremendously.

The work put in place before the horse is backed helps to develop an understanding of how to learn, which then makes teaching a horse a trick or even how to joust a natural progression.

What skills are required of your jousters?

Our jousting knights must keep themselves fit and physically strong to be able to carry heavy lances and shields. They must also practice accuracy to land a blow on their opponent as well as working on their balance, centring and riding skills so when they take a blow, perform a stunt fall or saddle drag they are able to do so without hindering the horse.

Our knights also train in western martial arts to enable them to choreograph accurate and entertaining fight performances, both mounted and un-mounted.

What happens once the jousting season is over for the summer?

During the winter when we are not regularly performing main arena stunt shows, the seven full time members work on the farm caring for the animals which include 15 horses (soon to be 16) 3 performing dogs, our performing goat and his companion. For the last two winters members of the team have worked filming on the Outlander set for series 2 and 3. 

We also perform winter indoor cabaret shows where we create an enchanting theatre show involving performing horses, dogs and Boots the goat as well as water tank escapology and knife throwing to take to venues such as Summerhall in Edinburgh and the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles.

This winter we have all been working towards building Scotland's first equestrian theatre! From building plans to ground work to the eventual erection of the actual building we are completing all of the works ourselves. For more information please visit our website.

Jousting has been returned to Caerlaverock Castle for the first time in ten years by Historic Environment Scotland. Without attendance or support this event may not continue, so if you would like to see more Equestrian Stunt shows at Historic Environment Scotland's sites come and enjoy a fantastic day at Caelaverock Castle on 29 and 30 July 2017.

Find out more about the Les Amis Stunt Team on their website.

(Images copyright Les Amis. From top: The evil Sir Checkmate, jousting at Traquair House; Stunt falls, the thrills & spills of the jousting shows; Black powder & Equestrian Theatre at Woodside Garden Centre)

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