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In My Boots: My medieval weekend

Why is Kristen Kovatch galloping across a football field wielding a sword and dressed in chain mail and a purple cape? She has an explanation.

From Kristen:

Like a large part of the horse nation, my Saturday was spent grooming, braiding, packing the trailer, scrabbling through the mental checklist trying to figure out if I had forgotten anything. My list, however, may have been a little bit different: bridle, saddle, pads, check. Ear plugs and bonnet, check. Sword, check. Helmet, check. Mine comes with chain mail.

No, as usual, my Saturday simply can’t be just like anyone else’s. I am, for all intents and purposes, the Saxon.

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So here I am, on my steed “Alden,” known to his friends around the barn as Gandalf our Irish sport draught, thundering around the football field whenever the home team, the Alfred University Saxons, score, or do some impressive defensive maneuver, or look like they need a little pepping-up. The theory is pretty solid; this used to be a big Alfred tradition which died out some time in the ’90s and was recently resuscitated by some interested parties in Student Affairs. For as effortless as I hope I make this look, however, it’s actually, as usual, another thing entirely.

I’ve never been to such an unusual set of meetings: we’d sit around a table and pass re-creations of medieval helmets around discussing things like historical accuracy, and most importantly, wearability (I’m still not sure we made a good case for WHY I didn’t need to wear a 10-pound solid-steel helmet and then ride a horse into a high-stress situation, but we won out in the end…) and how Gandalf’s actual Irish legacy might fit into the Saxon model. We had a contingency plan for manure-related emergencies, naturally, which always seemed to offend the football team (it’s organic, gentlemen, can’t we all just get along??) There was, of course, the worrying realization that I had a poor working knowledge of football.

Back at the barn I practiced riding this beast of a horse with one hand, swinging my right arm about holding a riding crop and then a dressage whip, getting him used to the idea of my holding a prop sword. Then there was the whole blinker snafu–miraculously there’s a company in Oklahoma that actually produces draft-sized racing hoods, thank goodness. There were costume fittings for both me and Gandalf, making sure all of our ninth-century swag billowed and flowed in the most majestic and least terrifying manner. For historical accuracy, my real half-chaps were denied and I instead had to learn how to lash deer hide around my calves with a leather thong. Don’t even get me started on the helmet and the last-minute stress of trying to get the darn thing to fit over a real riding helmet.

Then there was the trailer–I won’t go into detail on the number of attempts it took us to sardine various truck-and-trailer combinations through the mazelike alleyway beneath the bleachers at the stadium, frantic shrieks of “IT”S NOT GONNA FIT!” as the athletic staff looked on in horror. Good thing we practiced with an empty trailer.

All of these various asinine details, however, melt away when one of my Honor Guard (my nickname for a handful of student volunteers) gives me a leg up over my loyal, beautiful dappled-gray warhorse and then passes up my sword. I straighten my oversized helmet, gather my reins, point Gandalf towards the football field and charge into campus tradition and history.

With a critical game on the line, tied score and into overtime, the energy level of the stadium rises tangibly and I can feel my horse coil like a spring. I draw the sword, turn him down the endzone and let him charge as the crowd roars to life, driving our Saxons on to victory. It’s a heck of a rush and a ride like no other.

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