Jousting was a popular sport for nearly 400 years in England during the Middle Ages. During the jousting competitions, men, typically knights or of royal lineage, would ride on horseback dressed in full armor and attempt to dismount their opponent using a lance. The sport died out over time, but has since seen a resurgence among Renaissance Faire enthusiasts, extreme sport athletes and equestrian riders alike.


Jousting tournaments originated during the middle ages during times of peace. Knights would use jousting tournaments to test their skills in battle, endurance and ability to fight when there were no foreign wars to be fought. While the knights were fiercely training for a battle, a crowd of spectators were attracted to the scene. Jousting tournaments became day-long and sometimes multiple-day spectacles of food, fun, nobles and knights, bright banners and intense battles.

There were a few varieties of early jousting in the Middle Ages. In the open field jousting, knights would ride at each other and attempt to knock the other off his horse. Sometimes, the battle would continue on foot knights would have a bloody fight to the death. Another variety included knights spearing rings with the lance while riding at a gallop. In other tournaments, the mounted riders would face off with a fence in between and use the lance to attack their opponent. Point values were assigned to different hits: one point for a hit to the body, two if the lance broke and three if the rider was dismounted.

Ring Jousting

As jousting came back into fashion, a few different varieties were born. Maryland, a state in the United States, declared jousting to be their official state sport in 1962. The Maryland version of jousting involves placing a lance through three small, hanging rings. In ring jousting, competitors are given three opportunities at each ring size. Different levels of competition utilize differently sized rings. The rings are extended by irons, which are just metal rods that hold the ring in place. The rings themselves are constructed today from brass, copper or steel and then wrapped in white cords. The large rings have a diameter of 4. cm while the smallest measure a minuscule . cm.

Ring jousting does date back to the Middle Ages as a sort of branch off of man-to-man jousting. As the latter is quite dangerous, some tournaments switched to ring jousting after a few noblemen and King Henry II of France were killed while jousting. King Henry II was killed when the lance pierced through his helmet and stabbed his temple. In the 20th Century, jousting, particularly ring jousting, began to pick up momentum in the United States. In jousting, riders sit in a fashion similar to a jockey, with raised stirrups, absorbing the horse’s canter with their knees. The upper body must be incredibly steady and the lance held completely still. The rider will miss the tiny rings with the lance if there is any shaking.

Theatre Jousting

Another modernized form of jousting that became particularly popular is the theatre jousting. The jousting reenactments involve full armor and all of the decorative accents of the Middle Ages jousting. Performers joust against one another for Renaissance Faires and other such special events. Most of these performers are highly trained and are indeed using real lances. Oftentimes, these jousting tournaments are meant to emulate the Middle Ages and the participants are in full costume and full character. The tournaments are exciting, but also educational.

These jousting tournaments try to be as authentic as possible, coming back to the chivalry of the Middle Ages. Jousting at these tournaments incorporate the use of a tilt. A tilt came in to jousting in the 14th century and was a barrier designed to separate riders and prevent collisions. The tilt came to replace open field jousting.

Full Contact Jousting

A third branch of modern jousting views the discipline more like an extreme sport. These jousters are determined to turn their sport in an arena event, rather than a fair spectacle reenacting the days of old. For these jousters, jousting is an extreme sport and should be enjoyed by more spectators than Middle Ages enthusiasts. While this style of full-contact jousting is popular among enthusiasts, there is criticism of the unnecessary levels of violence. Extreme jousters face the possibly of severe injuries and even death as a result of those injuries.

Extreme jousting is more popular in America, with some Australian participants. European jousters are unwilling to engage in this style of jousting due to the high risk of injury. In Europe, lances are made with balsa wood tips for high splintering but lower impact. The extreme jousters face such injuries as fractures and breaks, deep gashes, dislocated shoulders and concussions.

Equipment and Tack

Like other equestrian disciplines, jousting can be rather expensive to participate in. Armor is requirement for jousting as a safety precaution and can cost upwards of $5000. Plate metal is more sturdy than chain mail, and can absorb a hit better. A helmet is, of course, another necessity for jousting, including one with a narrow slit to protect the eyes. A grand guard is an extra plate that attaches to the chest piece.

Jousters, in addition, need a sturdy lance. Typically, the lance is made of wood and measures around 325cm. Some lances in early jousting features a vamplate, which served to protect the hand of its wielder. In ring jousting, lances are typically a bit shorter. Some laces are pre-split or made with balsa so the tips shatter easily, while the extreme sport enthusiasts use solid wood and the ring jousters may use a brass-pointed lance.

Jousting Horses

All different varieties of horses are used in jousting. While some jousters prefer Quarter horses, others choose Arabians or Paints. What is important in a jousting horse is one with a smooth gait. The greater the horse’s ability to ride smoothly, the easier the job of the jouster. The relationship between horse and rider must be one of deep mutual respect. The horse must trust the rider and the rider must trust the horse. Oftentimes, the rider will need to grip the horse with his/her legs and hold steady. A horse that does not react well to distractions can lead to possible injury. For this reason, a horse with a good temperament is a must for jousting.

While jousting was once a thing of the past, its resurgence across the United States, Europe and Australia will hopefully lead to more competitive jousting. Jousting is an entertaining spectacle of bravado and chivalry for spectators. It requires physical strength, bravery and intense precision, making it a challenging but fulfilling equestrian discipline. In the future, jousting will emerge as an accuracy ring jousting challenge, an extreme sport and a classic reenactment that serves to keep the past alive.