One of the most familiar images of medieval Europe is a pair of knights, thundering toward each other on massive steeds, wicked-looking lances pointed at their opponent. Jousting is considered the oldest equestrian sport in the world. It was a widely popular sport in medieval times, and today, more than 700 years later, it is still practiced by people all over the United States.
Some go all in for period costume from the age of chivalry, especially at popular Renaissance Festivals, but many others enjoy it as a family sport in a more recreational way. Rather than trying to unseat an opponent, modern competitors use their lance to spear a small ring that dangles from an archway. It is called ring jousting.
The Enfield family in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland has kept the tradition of ring jousting alive for generations.
At a recent Jousting competition in Crownsville, Maryland, Bob Enfield was defending his state championship title, which he's held three times. Last year he also won the National Champion title. But Enfield does not think he can match the wins his father made before retiring from the sport at age 75.
“Dad was an excellent rider in his day," Enfield said proudly. "He won four national championships and eight state championships.”
Leon was the one who started the Enfield jousting tradition in 1947 at his family’s dairy farm. He became the first state champion a decade later.
“At one point in time, about eight years ago, there were 11 of my family riding, competing. It was four generations,” Leon recalled.
His granddaughter, Marley, started jousting when she was only two and a half.
“It is easy to learn, but it takes a lot of time to practice and to stay good at it," she explained. "I just wanted to carry our family tradition.”
Ring jousting became the official sport of Maryland in 1962.
Viki Betts, president of the state's Jousting Tournament Association, says horsemanship and precision are the keys to success, adding that the feeling of camaraderie is just as important to the sport.
"We get together almost every weekend from May till October. But we really compete against ourselves," she said. "I have to [spear] more rings than the next person to win.”
At the final state contest of the year, 60 jousters of all ages competed in five classes, from Novice to Championship, where Bob Enfield had to defend his title. He also competed in the Professional Class with his 19-year-old son Bradley.
”He has pretty much taught me everything I know about the sport. So it is fun to go out there and ride against him and see if I can beat him,” Bradley said.
Four contestants, including both Enfields, tied in the first round of the Professional Class, in which jousters had to spear a ring two-and-a-half centimeters in diameter. In the second run, with the ring size reduced by half, Bradley won first place and his father took second.
“I am really tickled that we finished that way," Bob said. "The fact he beat me, that means a lot to me. That means I trained him well.”
Bob also lost his state champion title. But he says he is happy, as the sport keeps going in the family, and he looks forward to competing again with his son next year.