Thursday, 31 May 2012 14:58

Cold Steel & Sex Appeal

Written by  Audra Daugherty
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photos by Pashaa and

Like a character straight out of Chaucer's, "The Knight's Tale," Charlie Andrews charges boldly down the lyst (a roped-off enclosure where medieval knights jousted) on his Belgian warhorse, Jäegermeister. Andrews, also known as the “Angel of Death,” is the six-time World Champion of full-contact jousting. The hard-hitting sport of full-contact jousting has exploded onto the scene with the Knights of Mayhem putting the “real” back in “reality” TV. In 2011, the National Geographic Channel produced a six-part series on the original extreme sport of full-contact jousting and the Knights of Mayhem. The series highlights Andrews’ efforts to bring back the world's first extreme sport. The popularity of full-contact jousting has brought draft horses front and center on not only TV, but social media and the internet.  

Full-contact jousting isn't for everyone – it is brutal, unforgiving and dangerous. To those involved, however, it's the ultimate rush.
Andrews currently has ten draft horses in his jousting arsenal in various training stages. Jäegermeister is a rock star in the world of jousting. Jäegermeister has his own Facebook page with a large fan base following him on the social media site. Andrews gives a lot of the credit to the horse for their success. “Jäeger built all this. Without him, I wouldn't have done any of this. We started this together.” Charlie may be the knight in shining armor getting all the glory, but without the horses, they'd just be a bunch of guys out there running at each other with sticks!

Andrews looks for particular qualities for his jousting warhorses. He likes for them to be about 16.3 hh, with clean legs, good conformation, built for running and performance. A good jousting horse also has a short back. A knight in full armor may tip the scales at 300 to 400 pounds and the shorter-backed horses are able to carry the weight easier. After conformation, the next thing Andrews looks for is temperament. He likes a quiet, but brave horse that still has a fire in his soul and a great work ethic. Once he finds the horse with the right qualities, he can train them to be a great jousting horse. There have been horses that didn't have textbook qualities, but they did have the heart of a warrior. Andrews puts it this way: “You can't measure heart. You can't train it, you can't teach it, you can't make it up. People and horses have strength and are tough, or they aren’t.”

Training begins in the round pen. Andrews likes to long-line the horses in the round pen and then moves to ground driving. He takes a logical approach to his training. “If you don't build a foundation," he relates, "then you have nowhere to go back to when you take shortcuts in their training. I like to put that solid core foundation on them. Never be in a hurry.” To get the horses ready for the joust, he starts by holding a

The "lyst"consists of two side-by-side lanes in which the knights charge at each other in the joust.

lance while riding. He starts out slow, and moves it around the horse's head and brings it down on each side. He compares training a jousting horse to training a driving horse. He desensitizes the horse as much as he can with ropes, tarps, water crossings and dragging a bag of noisy aluminum cans behind it. The horses must be trained to neck-rein and be sensitive to leg cues from the rider. The main training tool for a jouster is called the quintain. Andrews explains, “You might have seen one in the movie, A Knight's Tale. It's a big shield with a target. As you ride down and hit the target, it has a weight on the other end and if you don't get through quick enough, that weight will come around and slap you in the back of the head.” The quintain teaches the jouster accuracy in his hits and the speed at which his horse needs to be traveling. According to Charlie, the quintain teaches the horse two things. “Visually, the horse sees the shield, watches it move and he sees the weight flip up and spin around. Secondly, it stimulates his auditory system, desensitizing him to the bang and impact of the lance against the shield.”    

To ensure that the horses are never injured, several measures are taken. First and most importantly, as soon as the jouster turns and heads toward his opponent, he drops the reins completely. This insures if the jouster is hit and is falling from the horse that they would never pull on the reins and injure the horse during their fall. No metal from the knight's armor ever touches the horse. The area of the rider's inner legs is purposely left open so they can feel the horse and give leg cues. Other safety precautions include very long stirrups, which better the chances of freeing the jousters' feet when hit and falling off the animal.

When you watch the horses during a joust you will notice a unique maneuver that the horses do all on their own. As the two jousters make contact with each other in the lyst, the horse naturally learns to pull his head out of the way, either by tossing it over to the side or dipping it low, all the while never shifting his body out of position.

To date, no horses have sustained any serious injuries while in the joust. The safety of the horses is the number one concern for Andrews and his Knights of Mayhem. A look in his tack room shows the equipment is all in good repair and a well-stocked medical kit for the horses is handy at all times. Jason Armstrong, another knight, says, “The Knights of Mayhem do not have a back stage. We purposefully keep our viewing area of the horses open so that everyone can see the quality of care and treatment of the horses because they are so important to us. We never want a misunderstanding that could shut us down or cast bad publicity on this amazing sport.”  

Frontman Charlie Andrews is involved in every aspect of the Knights of Mayhem.
At 6'-4” tall with movie star good looks and the personality to match, Charlie Andrews admits that he never set out to be a knight, to joust or be on reality TV. As is the case with most people, where he is now is the result of a series of chance meetings with people who put opportunities in front of him. Andrews grew up in Bass Lake by Yosemite National Park in California. He learned how to ride horses at an early age from horsemen on the ranches near his home. Andrews says, “They were men you've never heard of–no one of any real notoriety by today's standards, but they used real techniques and methodology in training horses that works for what you're doing.” Andrews does not subscribe to any one person's philosophy on training horses. He takes what works and practices it.

Andrews was starting colts and training hunter jumper and working ranch horses when he started working for Osierlea, a well-known dressage training facility in San Juan Batista, California. He was riding the stallions for Osierlea because of his reputation for taking problem horses and fixing them. Andrews was becoming disillusioned with training other people's horses as they rarely stuck with the consistent training necessary for the horse’s success. Therefore, the timing was just right when a mutual friend convinced Andrews to come to Michigan and train for a theatrical jousting show he was putting together. Andrews loaded up his horse, Jäegermeister, and after a week of training, got thrown into a show. Later, Andrews was losing interest in theatrical jousting when, by chance, he met Cliff Basset of the Knights of the Azure Cross from Sanger, California. The Knights of the Azure Cross were a full-contact jousting troupe. Instead of using lances made of easily-broken balsa wood, theirs were of hemlock. Andrews recalls, “They put me in armor, stuck me on a horse and we went out. On the first pass down the lyst, Cliff hit me and knocked me off my horse.” After he got his bearings and unhorsed a few knights of his own, he really got the bug for full-contact jousting. It appealed to the violent, combative side of him and involved all of his skills as a horseman.

Andrews saw the potential for full-contact jousting to become a professional, stand alone sport, much like PBR (Professional Bull Riders) taking bull riding out of rodeo. He has been working tirelessly since 2000 to take jousting out of Renaissance fairs and bring it to sports arenas with throngs of screaming spectators. The biggest break came with the production of the six-part docu-drama for the National Geographic Channel, which aired in the fall of 2011.  

"Modern" medieval warfare requires the same set of skills as did the ancient version: athleticism, horsemanship and bravery.
Andrew's Knights of Mayhem come from all walks of life. They all make their living at other careers but get together at their own expense to joust. Jason Armstrong is from Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. Jason spent the summers of his youth at his grandparent’s farm and it was there that he learned to ride horses. He ultimately asked to train with Andrews because of his attention to safety and how well he treats his horses. Another Knight, D.J. Coburger, an artist and actor, says, “It's a love/hate relationship. You hate to get hit, but you love the adrenaline.” D.J. describes full-contact jousting as five sports in one. “You have the adrenaline rush of sky diving or bungee jumping. You must have dexterity to keep control of your horse and lance like a hockey player or a boxer and know just when and where to place it for the big hit. When it comes down to it, it's just a big medieval demolition derby!”

Andrews currently has 12 fully-trained knights in the outfit. Based on the popularity of full-contact jousting, he recently started offering three-day training camps. The applicants are asked to submit a five-minute video showing their skills as a rider and why they want to train with the Knights of Mayhem. Andrews has a larger than life personality and he looks for those same qualities in the Knights of Mayhem. There is a standing offer to anyone who thinks they can knock him off his horse. “If I'm not the baddest man on horseback, come prove it. I'll fly you in. I'll put you in armor and I will pay you to kick your @$$!”

The physical training to be a knight involves cardio, weight training and general fitness. The knights are often in their 130-pound suits of armor for up to six hours a day during a tournament. Many of the knights are also mixed martial art fighters so they incorporate martial arts training into their regimen to be a jouster. Injuries are a daily occurrence so it is essential that they be in the best shape possible. Paramedics are on standby during a tournament to deal with carnage. Every athlete has received a serious injury at one time or another. A partial list of their injuries includes: compression fractures of the spine, concussions, multiple broken bones, broken teeth, a pulmonary embolism, hearts that have stopped and punctured lungs. Jason Armstrong explains, “Most of the jousters have a high tolerance for pain. At the end of the day, it's a dangerous sport and you will get hurt.”

In spite of the 130 pounds of armor worn by each knight, injuries can and do occur on a daily basis. Though elite athletes, every knight has their own resume of serious injuries. 

The armor worn by the Knights of Mayhem has a historical basis but they are not trying to be historically accurate. “We're not history buffs, we're not historical re-enactors, and we’re not theatrical jousters. We are just trying to revive this sport back to its golden age to what it was when it died off during the 1600s,” says the Knights of Mayhem's armorer, William Brunson, who hand-forges the armor from sheets of metal. It is specially designed for function on the field. The breastplate, for example, is flatter than it would have been in medieval times. The purpose for the flatter breastplate is to be able to lock the arm in tighter to the body, and when the lance is locked into position, the hit is harder. “All you actually have to do is reach your lance up, lock it in place and it's like a machine every time,” he says. The force of the hit is equal to being hit by a car going 20 mph with a force of approximately 5,000 to 6,000 psi (mass X acceleration=FORCE).

The knights mount their horses using a custom-designed set of stairs that allows them to easily get to stirrup height so there is no extra pressure to the horse's withers. Once mounted, the knights have very little visibility through their helmet. Jason Armstrong explains, “You can't physically see your horse when you're on him because of the cheek plate on the helmet. The only thing you can see is what is down and to the right of you. Your squire is standing at the ready to hand you your weapon. The only thing you, as a knight, are concerned with is where my weapon is and where is the person I'm going to hit?”

Full-contact jousting and The Knights of Mayhem are receiving an enormous amount of attention and front-and-center with them are their warhorses. The versatility of draft horses is, once again, shining through and with the new found popularity of this extreme sport, people are being exposed for the first time to draft horses. Time will tell if full-contact jousting will be as popular as bull riding or other extreme sports, but for now, Charlie Andrews and the Knights of Mayhem are living their dream.

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Facebook: of Mayhem “Yaegermeister” Captain of the “Knights of Mayhem”

Upcoming Events:
• Greeley Stampede, Greeley, CO, June 22–July 4, 2012
• Utah Midsummer Renaissance Faire, Cedar City, UT–July 11-14, 2012
• Ultimate Jousting Competition, Atlantic City, NJ–August 4-5, 2012 and on pay-per-view on
• Utah County Fair, Spanish Fork, UT, August 17-18, 2012
• Run to the Cascades Biker Rally, Redmond, OR–September 6-9, 2012
•  New Mexico State Fair, Albuquerque NM, September 15-16, 2012

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