originally published in Academie Duello’s blog on 19 Feb 2013
As wonderful as all our venues for the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium last weekend were, none of them were quite large — or rustic — enough to host a mounted combat workshop. Though we were sad not to be able to offer swordplay from horseback to the conference attendees, we did manage to bring a small group of instructors and guests to Red Colt for a mounted combat crash course.
Our participants ranged from experienced jousters and dressage riders to those who only had a few trail-rides under their belts, so we began the session with a quick riding lesson to let the riders get to know their horses and get used to reining with one hand as well as two.
Before picking up swords we worked on control and measure by exchanging the friendliest of blows — high fives on the lists.
In the program the first thing we do once we have swords in hands is sack out our horses. This involves desensitizing by passing the swords all around the horses’ bodies, slowly at first, and working up to cutting motions. Our horses are very blasé about swords, as you can tell from Jack’s expression as Nicole was testing him with the sword. Nevertheless, a quick sacking out is a good habit to get into, no matter how many times your horse has seen a sword.
Next we began moving around the arena practising simple X’s and ribbon cuts from the high and low lines. For these expert swordsmen and -women, such basic exercises would be child’s play from the ground. However, controlling a horse with your legs and left hand while controlling a sword with your right requires significant brain and body rewiring from either just riding or just using a sword. I always like to spend a few minutes doing practice cuts at all paces before beginning mounted drills.
Likewise, the sensation of receiving a blow is quite different on horseback. On the ground, when you are hit you can step backward, absorbing the impact. From horseback, you need to relax and yeild your upper body only to avoid being swept from the saddle as your horse carries on forward. Our swords are nylon trainers, which allow us to deliver blows strong enough to break the opponent’s structure without hurting each other or our horses, and we practised simply receiving blows without parrying at first.
Because our group was small, Devon and I had the luxury of teaching from the saddle which made demonstrating plays easy. From here we moved on to clearing the sword from low guards on the left and right, and eventually to follow-up attacks as our horses passed each other.
No mounted combat primer would be complete without a bit of grappling, so we worked on a few holds used to unhorse opponents.
As the light began to fade we finished up with our progression of mounted guards, and had some fun spearing rings and cutting blocks at walk trot and canter.
I was thoroughly impressed by all four participants. Nicole and Scott completely met my expectations as experienced riders. Jessica and Sean progressed amazingly fast with good seats and control by the end of the day, thanks, no doubt, to superb body awareness from their years as martial artists.
None of this would have gone as smoothly as it did without the help of our volunteer ground crew who came out early to set up, ferried people to and from Vancouver, groomed, tacked up, and assisted our riders as needed. Huge thanks to our team of squires: Aurelia, Chris, Crystal, Kirsten, Michael & Roland. You guys are awesome!
To our participants, I hope to see you all again soon!
Jennifer Landels, Maestra di Scuderia
Academie Duello Mounted Combat Program
mounted, left to right: Devon Boorman on Jack, Scott Wilson on Flavie, Sean Hayes on Chicco, Nicole Allen on Winnie, Jessica Finley on Princess.
photos: Chris Richardson