I recently was offered tickets to the premier of the new show at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Hanover, Md. It’s hard to tell which I love more – horses or freebies.
So we went, prepared to make fun of what we thought for sure would be a kitschy outing.
But we ended up having a great deal of fun, and finding ourselves thoroughly impressed with the horses and the riders.
When we sat in the darkened “castle” while eating food off heavy plates with our fingers,– yes, you eat with your hands since silverware wasn’t around in the 11th century – I did have a moment where I felt a glimpse of what life must have been like then.
Before I go any further, let me say that these horses do get turned out – Medieval Times owns a nearby farm – and they do not spend their entire lives in the bowels of a gigantic outlet mall. I saw no sign of lameness, and the horses looked well cared for. I”m not one of those who object to horses working – it’s been my experience that horses like having a job to do.
The show opens with the “Liberty Horse,” an Andalusian stallion who performs without the use of harness or human touch.
The new show features six knights of the realm, and each section of the audience is asked to cheer for “their” knight. The knights and their horses are bedecked in their respective colors, and, as one who gets excited over a Baker plaid fly sheet, I enjoyed seeing the horses” “clothes.”
The knights have a number of contests that culminate in them being “knocked off” their horses – a carefully choreographed dismount at full speed – and fighting hand to hand with medieval weapons.
One of the contests was jousting, which I had never seen before. Horse and rider race full speed with a lance, attempting to spear a ring as they ride past it. Those who are successful progress to a smaller ring. Another contest involved a relay race where they were tossing batons back and forth while galloping.
I once rode in a quadrille class – although week after week my horse amused himself by making ugly faces and pinning his ears at the horse next to him, a subordinate pasture mate, causing that horse to leap sideways out of position. I really enjoyed seeing the quadrille at Medieval Times, although the crowd seemed to appreciate the speedier events and the sword fights.
The horses do airs above the ground on long lines, including the levade, where the horse sinks on his hocks and lifts his forelegs, and the capriole, where the horse leaps up and when all four feet are off the ground kicks out his hind legs. Under saddle, one rider gave a lovely exhibition of classical dressage movements, including a levade.
Medieval Times uses four breeds: pure Spanish horses, Quarter horses, Fresians and the Menorcan. The quarter horses were ridden by the knights, who depended on their bursts of speed in the competition.
The show also included a display of falconry and a musical score by feature film composer Daniel May. The seating is well designed at Medieval Times to offer good views of the long, narrow arena, and the experience caters to families. As for eating with your fingers, well, heed the advice to wear casual clothes, but don’t worry – you will be given a most un-Middle Ages-like wet nap.
If you go
Medieval Times is located at the Arundel Mills Mall, 7000 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover, MD 20176, about a half an hour south of Baltimore.
The menu is tomato bisque, focaccia bread, oven-roasted chicken and a large spare rib, herb-basted potato quarters and braided apple strudel. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
Reservations are required; for more information visit www.medievaltimes.com, or call 1.888.935.6878.