Bradley Enfield brushed and saddled his horse, Chex, as he prepared for the jousting demonstration Tuesday at The Great Frederick Fair. Enfield was among eight jousters who brought Maryland’s official individual sport to a Frederick County audience.
Enfield, 22, of Washington County, is a current national jousting champion. In October, he’ll defend his title at the championship in Brunswick. Before Tuesday morning’s jousting demonstration, however, Enfield said he was more nervous about how Chex would ride during the fair’s low-stakes contest.
“The horse plays a big role. He’s an animal and has bad days too, so you both need to be in sync,” Enfield said. “There’s a lot going on here, a lot to look at, but he’s been pretty consistent so far this year.”
Consistency is key to ring jousting, according to Ron Vogel, Western Maryland Jousting Club vice president. Vogel’s club hosted Tuesday’s demonstration. Vogel has been jousting since he was 12. A neighbor and former national champion taught him. Now he helps lead the regional Western Maryland club and serves as president of the statewide Maryland Jousting Tournament Association.
Training the horse to ride straight at a good trotting pace on its own is critical to success as a jouster, Vogel said.
“If you don’t have to think about what the horse is doing, then you can focus on the rings.”
Jousting is among the oldest equestrian sports. Ring jousting evolved out of the more violent and dangerous version in which riders with long lances try to knock each other off their horses. Colonists brought ring jousting to Maryland. The Founding Fathers ring-jousted, according to Vogel.
Ring jousting has been the state’s official individual sport since the 1960s. Riders use lances of varying length and material to try to spear three successively hanged rings while riding on horseback down an 80-foot track. Jousters get three rides per round, and those in the advanced competitive classes have eight or nine seconds cross the track.
The rings range in size from 1¾ inches down to ¼ inch. If there is a tie in the first round, rings decrease in size until the tie is broken.
“This is what separates the sheep from the goats,” Vogel said, showing the Life Savers candy-sized quarter-inch rings.
Jousting equipment is mostly handmade and personalized. Young jousters use lances looking like short billiards cues. Advanced jousters ride with longer, heaver lances.
Vogel jousts with a 6-foot 9-inch stainless steel and aluminum lance.
“Lance length is a matter of the jouster’s preference,” Vogel said. “Everything is homemade. You can’t go to a store and buy this stuff.”
Enfield has been jousting since he was 5, carrying a small lance with his horse guided by an adult. He has competed in the professional class since he was 16. His father, Bob Enfield, is a former national champion. Years of practice and repetition make for a consistent and confident competitive jouster, Bradley Enfield said.
“It takes lots of practices,” he said. “If you make a mistake in baseball, you get nine innings to make that up. In jousting, if you make a small mistake, you’re out. You can’t come back from a missed ring.”
Making up a missed ring was something Enfield did not have to worry about during Tuesday’s demonstration. As he and the other professional class riders rode at the Frederick Fairgrounds bandstand, Enfield scored a perfect nine rings.