SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — All he can see through a narrow slit in his thick metal helmet is his opponent on the other side of the jousting field. It gets hot underneath holding a heavy lance upward. The horse starts to get restless, nervously tossing its head, waiting for the rider’s kick to take off. The Imperial Knights are ready for the jousting competition at the 20th anniversary celebration at the Valhalla Renaissance Faire, which will take place the first two weekends of June at South Lake Tahoe’s historical Camp Richardson Resort. The jousting will take place twice per day both weekends at 12:45 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.Each pass of the knights is real and so is the danger that comes with it.“Once you kick the horse to go forward, anything can happen,” said Marti Miernik, producer and manager of the Renaissance Faire. “People like Henry II of France have died in jousting,” she said. “It is definitely not a sport for everybody.”Three knights and two horses will come from the Imperial Knights Production Company located in Norco, Calif., to fight in the competitions.“We are bringing up the black knight, the green knight and the blue knight,” production company owner Thomas Montgomery said.One of them is Michael Edwards from Overland Park in Kansas, who lives in Las Vegas and was featured in a full metal jousting competition on History Channel. “Also, we are bringing two horses, Hercules, a Percheron-Quarter horse cross and Shadow, a Missouri Fox Trotter,” he said.Thomas and Andrea Montgomery, who have owned the production company for 18 years, train their horses and use mostly draft horse crossbreeds or Arabian crossbreeds for jousting.Thomas began his knighthood at Medieval Times and then continued at the King Arthur’s Tournament at the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas.“His wife, Andrea Montgomery, rides a lot of Friesians and does dressage and Spanish work with them,” Miernik said, emphasizing the importance of basic groundwork and gentling them before getting them used to lance and shield to become a jousting horse. The first steps are to find out whether the horse is skittish or can handle and compete in a stressful environment. “The horse can’t shy away from certain things, so a good way to find out if they do is to put rocks into a bottle and shake it,” Miernik said. Then the next stage of training is to get them used to the gear and the metal shaking as soon as the rider gets on them. “Usually draft horses are a little less skittish than others, but it really depends on the temperament of the horse,” Miernik said. The final stage is to practice to ride the horse with a quintain. A quintain is used to help train a knight in the effective use of the lance and consists of a shield and a dummy. Another way to practice is to use hanging rings that need to be collected with the lance to focus on accuracy. Once the horse gets used to the exercise, it can be called a trained jousting horse. This year’s Valhalla Renaissance Faire will feature four stages of continuous entertainment for both weekends.The first weekend, June 2–3, will have a primary English and Scottish theme and is geared more toward younger audiences with tons of shows, dancing, theater plays, and music. Children are invited to learn about Shakespeare or the Renaissance and can dress up for the costume contests.Characters that resemble the queens of England, McBeth or Hamlet will send visitors back in the old times of English heritage. More than 900 costumed actors, Shakespearean vignettes, or storytellers for children and adults will entertain visitors and more than 100 merchants will sell a wide array of arts and crafts, jewelry items, woodcrafts, artwork, ceramics, clothing, historic weapons and leather goods. Pirates and Barbarian Hordes will invade the festivities on the second weekend from June 9–10. Scavenger Hunts, Costume contests, and a “Talk Like a Pirate Competition” will be the highlights of the two final days. A smaller event for families will be on Friday, June 8, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. For more information, visit www.valhallafaire.com.
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