By Suzanne Atkinson
Two thousand pounds of horseflesh is thundering straight for you; a rider's lance aimed at your gut.If you are Richard Element, P.Eng., you put spurs to horse, pick up your own lance and return the fa...
Two thousand pounds of horseflesh is thundering straight for you; a rider’s lance aimed at your gut.
If you are Richard Element, P.Eng., you put spurs to horse, pick up your own lance and return the favour! By day Element is a dedicated freelance nuclear engineer at Ontario Power Generation. He troubleshoots real time control systems. But come the weekend, this 41-year old medieval knight from Castleton, Ontario is more likely to be found practising the “sport” of jousting.
“It’s like 1,000 years of time travel,” he says. The conversations about equipment and technique could easily be happening 1,000 years ago over roast chicken and a beer.”
“I’d just try and stay on,” he says of his first horseback experiences trailriding 15 years ago. The same is true today, except that now he’s upped his weight by 80 pounds of equipment, including chain mail, a lance, shield, body vest and a steel encased kick boxing helmet — and he’s facing an opponent who wants to “unhorse” him.
This summer he competed for the first time, picking the light armour division in the Canadian national championship for his debut. He was third, and managed to finish fourth in the international component of the 2003 Dragon’s Lair International Jousting tournament in London, Ontario. It’s been a whirlwind experience for the 1988 McMaster graduate, who was hooked when he watched his first tournament just last year.
There’s no choreography, no playacting and yes, you can get hurt.
“It’s a huge, huge adrenalin rush. You feel like a gladiator. Everyone is watching and you’re trying to concentrate. You’re trying to control your fear,” he says.
Put yourself in Element’s place: you’re astride an 18-hand Shire cross (named Henry) in a sand-filled hockey arena. The stands are filled with people who have come just to watch one guy knock another guy off his horse with a spear. You pull on the helmet through which you can hardly see, drop your reins, position your shield, raise that 10-foot, 15-pounds lance and spur on your horse — all the while aiming for the centre of a plunging oncoming shield, and trying to forget everything you know about that thing called collision. Your horse must be well enough trained that he doesn’t run and hide from the oncoming freight train, yet still have the presence of mind to stop at the end of the runway or “list.”
“I don’t think you breathe until you get to the other end,” Element says. “Your body clenches into place just as you anticipate the impact. It happens really quickly. The impact can be huge — I’ve been hit so hard that I lost all my equipment. You don’t know what happens because it happens in a millisecond. It’s a blur.”
What compels Element to joust? “Engineering is good at paying the bills,” he says, “but I was almost 40 and it was time for a mid-life crisis.” He was turned down when he applied for a position with the Medieval Times troupe because he was too old.
“That was a bit of a shock,” he says. But he did his homework, found Dragon’s Lair farm near Brantford and was off and jousting.
“There are at least three guys jousting internationally in their 50s and they’re doing well at it. I’ve a good 15 years ahead of me, notwithstanding any serious injury.”
Does he have any reservations? “I look like a long haired freak,” he says. “Women and children cross the street to avoid me.”
“The next big step is that I hope to do the heavy armour as well. I just have to keep training and get better at it.”
The author is a freelance writer living in Warkworth, Ont.