Eight Horse Melee

Originally published in Academie Duello’s blog, 5 Feb 2013German_tournament_1480

I wish I had a photo to share from last Sunday’s Mounted Combat workshop.  The stars aligned so that all participants in the workshop were strong riders, and we had enough horses for everyone, including instructors.  That meant nearly three awesome hours of trading blows from horseback!  Having eight very different horses and riders on the field for that period of time offered the chance to experiment with timing, lines of attack and defence, and measure.  So I thought I would take a break this week from our tour through the Green Spur Swordplay from the Ground, and share some of my observations.

Position, position, position

I harp on rider position in riding lessons because it is so vital to good riding and good swordplay mechanics.  On Sunday I found that while I was concentrating on the line of my cut, the point of deflection, and clearing the sword to avoid hitting my horse, my position would deteriorate.  I needed to consciously put more weight in my stirrup irons and maintain a light seat.  Not only did my legs and seat bones become quieter, giving fewer false cues to my horse, my cuts became cleaner and more powerful as my waist and shoulders could rotate freely and my arm could extend further.


With two opposing circles of four horses we traded a lot of attacks.  When both horses are walking you have to be fast to get a riposte in after deflecting the opponent’s attack.  It is far easier to get your deflection and counterattack in if one horse is halted and the other is walking.  However, it would be suicidal to simply stand there in battle, even if it did make your initial defence easier.  I found the most effective plan was to halt or slow my horse when receiving an attack, then give her a light squeeze at the moment of deflection.  This added momentum to my attack and got me quickly out of reach of my opponent.  On occasion I even reined back during an opponent’s approach, waiting for the correct measure and timing before releasing forward.



Some horses, like the two thoroughbreds, were road hogs and unwilling to yield the path to oncoming horses.  Others were reluctant to get into a close measure.  This naturally affects the types of plays that are available.  We found we often had to adapt our defences at the last second, turning from false to true edge, or from deflection to block.  It is great to test your adaptability this way, but challenging if you have to think about your best response.  I was grateful for the long hours spent on the ground practising these moves so they came straight from muscle memory without too much thought.

Know your horse

We finished the day with a grand melee of all eight horses on the field.  Most riders developed different tactics according to the abilities and temperaments of their horses.  Some horses were good at leg-yeilding and turns on the forehand to allow their riders to swing behind an opponent.  Those who weren’t relied on speed or quicker parries to protect themselves after an intial tempo.

It was a grand day, and I can hardly wait till the March Mounted Combat workshop!

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