Medieval Times is more than just family entertainment – the organization also works to preserve the bloodlines of the Andalusian horse, and the ancient traditions of knighthood.
Medieval Times (www.medievaltimes.com)dinner and tournament, got its start in Benidorn, Spain, and travelled to North America where it has expanded to nine locations. The dinner is an authentic medieval-style meal – you even get to eat with your hands! While you enjoy the meal, a competition takes place between six knights vying to become the King’s Champion. The audience is encouraged to cheer on their favorite knights and participate in the action. And the wonderful horses are just as much the stars as their human counterparts!
The Horses of Medieval Times
The show prominently features Andalusian horses – in fact, Medieval Times has become the leader in North America when it comes to preserving this breed. The Andalusian was considered a horse of royalty, and is authentic to the period portrayed by Medieval Times. These horses are also great performance animals due to their intelligence, responsiveness and agility, not to mention their beauty and presence.
Approximately 22 horses are involved in the show. Other featured breeds include the Friesian, Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse. “The Andalusian horses in our show are bred by Medieval Times at our ranch, Chapel Creek Ranch, in Sanger, Texas,” says trainer Javier Ortiz. “Our breeding farm is the largest PRE (Pura Raza Espanola) breeding facility in the U.S. All our horses are PRE, which means they are of pure Spanish descent. Andalusian horses are known for their elevation, intelligence, and long, fl owing manes. These horses are not only fantastic to work with; they are beautiful to watch perform.
“We also purchase horses for our shows. We usually use Quarter Horses or Quarter Horse crosses for our gaming horses. These types are bred for running short, fast distances. They are agile and quick on their feet and are usually accustomed to the lights and loud noises of a Medieval Times show.”
Developing Lifelong Partners and Performers
The Medieval Times horses are carefully and specifically trained and developed to perform in the show. “Our horses begin their career around the age of three,” says Javier. “This is when they are called upon to perform before our thousands of royal guests at our various castles. When the horses arrive at the castles, we begin setting the basic foundation for them. This consists of a solid and balanced walk, trot and canter. We then follow the Training Pyramid. The horses are all ‘worked’ or trained once a day. Those that are currently a part of the show may possibly perform three times a day during our busy season. We rotate the horses so they are not overworked, but during our busy season both our riders and horses all become very fi t because of the large number of shows per week.”
The Importance of Classical Training
The senior horses in the show are trained to a high level, and are able to perform breathtaking movements such as you would see in the dressage ring, or at the Spanish Riding School. “Our horses are trained using the Doma Classica (Classical Dressage) method of training,” says Javier. “All of our head trainers at the various castles have been trained in the style of the Spanish Riding School. We follow the Dressage Pyramid of training to implement the various levels of training and to ensure the proper steps are mastered so that our horses are properly groomed for success. It is very important that each and every horse gets a solid foundation before he is asked to do anything that involves a lot of collection, stamina or strength. Once the horses have established this, we can start the upper levels of training – called Alta Escuela (High School). These maneuvers include, but are not limited to, the passage, piaffe, Spanish walk, Spanish trot, levade, and capriole.”
The noble knights
“All knights performing at Medieval Times uphold a two-decade tradition of beginning as squires, enduring up to 500 hours of rigorous training, before achieving knighthood,” explains Nathan. “The knights fight with genuine titanium and wooden weaponry and require hours of intense daily practice with trainers and horses prior to going before a live audience. Knightly competitions, contests and duels enacted during a performance are authentically choreographed to match the medieval traditions of knighthood.”
The Partnership Between a Knight and his Steed
Building a trusting relationship with the horses is critical for the knights and for performance success. “Because of the multitude of different roles in the show, and the fact that our horses are always in varying stages of development, most senior knights will be required to ride virtually all the horses in our stables,” explains Nathan “Crew” Wiard, one of the show’s senior noble knights. “We train vigilantly to ensure we all ride in as similar a manner as possible to one another. This consistency plays a large part in the horses developing a trusting and productive relationship with all the various riders.
“That being said, the senior knights often develop particular attachments to certain horses and we encourage these close bonds,” he admits. “I have a specific affinity with a horse named Lynx. He is very athletic and a bit ‘hot’ sometimes, but I enjoy the challenge and thrill of his strength and speed.”
The Medieval Times organization places great value on their performers, and looks after its horses from their young years all the way through to retirement. “Our horses usually perform in the show until they are in their late teens,” Javier says. “At this time, we retire them to the 240 rolling acres at Chapel Creek, or donate them to organizations that will allow them to retire comfortably and happily. We also sometimes find them private homes with a single owner who will be able to properly care for and appreciate them.”