Getting Started in SCA Equestrian Games
This article covers some of the frequently requested advice on getting started in the SCA with your own horse. Everyone interested in SCA Equestrian activities should familiarize themselves with the East Kingdom Equestrian Regulations and Forms. The Facebook group East Kingdom Equestrians is an excellent place to get in touch with other equestrians, as is the Yahoogroup EKEquine
The main Equestrian wiki page contains a list of articles on building garb, barding, weapons and games equipment.
Preparing Your Horse for Medieval Games Training
Your horse has to be able to work off one-handed reining. He/she doesn't have to neck rein - working off seat/leg cues and a bridged rein is fine. When you first get started you don't have to be able to ride one-handed at every speed but you do have to be able to control your horse. So if he/she can't steer one-handed at the canter make certain that you can keep him/her at the trot with only one hand.
Introducing your horse to weapons and barding (medieval costumes for horses) is best done from the ground, either in a fenced arena/pen or on a lead. Start him/her on becoming familiar with having weapons swung all around. A broom, manure fork handle or a stick is good for practice. A whip already has a specific meaning to most horses so it's not a very good tool for this purpose. Work on being able to more it all around his/her body and face and touch him/her all over with it. Progress to carrying it while riding, moving it all around his head and neck at all speeds. Make sure to touch his ears, neck and rump with it until he/she understands that getting accidentally popped with it in the heat of competition isn't a big deal. We never WANT to hit our horses with a weapon but it's best to train for the worst case scenario. If you lose your balance slightly and bang him/her in the top of the hip with the back of the lance you don't want your horse to come unglued.
From either the saddle or on the ground, introduce your horse to people in long skirts. You'd be surprised how many horses freak out at humans moving around with no visible legs. This can be as simple as just wearing a long piece of fabric wrapped around your waist while you go about your usual barn chores. Even if you are male, or intend to ride in male garb, make sure you cover this step because your horse will see plenty of people in floor length skirts at typical SCA events.
When you're ready to introduce him to wearing barding, start back on the ground. One simple way to do it is to use an old bedsheet and drape it over the horse and then drag it off his sides. Flap it around. Make it touch his belly and his legs. Do everything you can think of to sack him out to the concept of fabric moving in the breeze around him, including getting tangled in his legs. Make sure he can handle all of that while moving around as well as standing still. Train for the worst case scenario you can imagine. Incidents in the past have included wind whipping a dangling bit of fabric up into a horse's groin while the rider was mounting up, barding sliding off the rump in a turn, long caparisons getting stepped on and ripped loose. If you've taught your horse to handle all of these things at home, he/she is much less likely to become upset if something goes a little wrong at an event. Once he's completely at ease with the fabric moving around, then progress to working on all the scenarios under saddle. You may find that your horse isn't ready for a full fancy costume by the time your first event rolls around - that's fine. You can just put on a pretty decorated saddle pad and he'll never even know he's wearing a costume.
If you are able, introduce your horse to the idea of other horses wearing silly costumes. If that's not something you can do at home then plan to spend some time at events working on it.
Preparing Yourself for Medieval Games Training
Can you ride and steer at all gaits with only one hand on the reins? Can you do it while carrying something in your free hand? If not, practice until you can. Learn how to safely discard a weapon [INSERT VIDEO HERE] and practice it until it's second-nature so that if your horse freaks out you can free up your hands to deal with him. Have you ever ridden in long skirts or billowing sleeves? Once your horse is accustomed to fabric flapping around him/her, get yourself used to mounting and dismounting in garb. Figure out if your garb will entangle the reins, get hooked on the horn of your saddle, or interfere with your spurs. Again, train for the worst case scenario. If you're wearing a disguised modern helmet (helmets are strongly recommended for adults, required for minors) make sure you're comfortable at all gaits with the extra "stuff" on your helmet, that you have adequate vision, that your enhancements aren't going to flap loose at speed, etc.
Bringing Your Horse to Your First SCA Equestrian Event
If you and your horse are seasoned travelers or competitors, you may find the typical SCA event to be much easier than a modern horse show. There are typically many fewer horses at events than at horse shows and the overall atmosphere is often more relaxed and friendly. Many of us do like to keep score and care whether we win or how well we did but even the most competitive of us want everyone to have a fun and successful day. There is no prize money to win and no professional careers to advance. You can bring your trainer if you want but it's not typically done. More often we help and coach each other.
The very first thing to do once you have selected the event you'd like to attend is to contact the Equestrian Marshal in Charge for that event (usually posted somewhere in the event listing on Eastkingdom.org) to let them know that you are coming and to find out what you will need in order to attend that particular event. Some events offer stalls, some require you to bring your own portable containment. Some require health certificates regardless of whether you are crossing state lines, some only require proof of negative Coggins and rabies vaccination.
Whether the site offers stalls or you have to bring your own pen, you will need to bring your own buckets for feed and water, your own grain and hay and your own shavings/bedding for your horse. Our events are not large enough for any of these supplies to be available for purchase at the event. You will want to check with the EqMiC for the event to see if you'll need to bring your own muck bucket and manure fork. Most of our sites allow for manure to be dumped on site, with only the occasional single-day event requiring us to truck it out.
If you are not already an "authorized" rider, you will need to arrange with the EqMiC for an authorization test. This is a simple safety check to ensure that you understand how to handle your horse and weapons, that you understand our rules and that you are not a danger to yourself or others. Unlike a modern horse show, the vast majority of people present at an SCA event are not horse-savvy and cannot be expected to know how to behave around an escaped or unruly horse. Riding at an SCA event has more in common with riding in a parade than riding at a horse show.