Victoria Pendleton is a double Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist, amateur jockey and has been a contestant on Britain’s Strictly Come Dancing. But how will she take to England’s oldest national sport of jousting? We challenged Pendleton to a jousting bootcamp at Kenilworth Castle to see how the strength and skill of one of today’s top athletes compares to those of a medieval knight. In her own words, Victoria tells us about her first jousting experience.
Ready, set, joust! – My introduction to jousting
Victoria meets English Heritage’s jousting expert Dominic Sewell who gives her an orientation of the tilt yard. She is given a demonstration of a live joust.
I’ve just arrived at Kenilworth Castle and I’m really excited. I’ve only ever seen jousting on the television before, but I’m going to try and pick up as much as possible before I have a go. I’m especially excited about wearing armour for the first time, I mean, who wouldn’t want to give that a go!
I was drawn to today’s challenge because it’s such a unique experience. How many opportunities in life do you get to dress up in armour and canter horses in an awesome medieval sport like jousting? My friends and family think I’m crazy but I’m always very keen to try new sports.
Today I watched my first live joust and I’m blown away. I’m expecting that wearing the armour and getting a handle on the coordination is going to be the most challenging, but I’m looking forward to getting started.
Horsing around – The warm up
Victoria is introduced to her horse and rides him for the first time.
Riding Duke, my steed, was fantastic. To begin with I rode him without armour, but it makes me realise how tricky it will be to actually mount the horse with the suit on. I assume it’s going to restrict my movement quite a lot.
That saddle is surprisingly comfortable, despite having no padding whatsoever. It feels a bit odd riding with straight legs, like you’re almost standing up, but hopefully it will feel a bit more familiar the next time I get on him. I’m not sure how I’m going to get my leg over the saddle once I’ve got my kit on because it’s quite high at the back and front – I think someone’s going to have to slide me on!
When I normally ride a horse I usually have a much smaller, padded saddle and you have a lot of freedom of movement wearing just a body protector and a helmet for safety. This is going to feel very different.
Am I shouting? – Dressing the part
As she dresses in armour for the first time, Victoria learns more about the history of jousting.
Wearing a full suit of armour does feel a lot more mobile than I imagined, but I have to say the weight is quite considerable and I’ve learnt that it can weigh up to 50kg a suit. It would be exhausting just to stand in this for an hour let alone do any exercise or fight.
The idea of going into battle dressed like this is quite phenomenal. It does give me an overwhelming respect for the knights who were able to do it. I feel very safe on the inside but it would be exhausting. When I was punched in the stomach as a test, it was so loud inside the suit. I had to shout just to be heard through the helmet! Imagine being hit with a lance!
Once I’m fully dressed in my armour and have the visor down, I can’t really see or hear much at all. I feel quite tired already and I haven’t really moved anywhere yet. This part is more difficult than I thought.
Getting back in the saddle – My first real joust
In full armour, Victoria rides Duke and practices jousting against a modern day knight.
I’ve now had my first go riding in armour with Duke. It really is very challenging indeed and I can’t really see much when the visor is down. We started off with a walk and then had a little bit of a canter. It’s such an incredible experience to feel what it would have been like to be a knight and to take part in a jousting competition.
As a cyclist I wouldn’t really have to wear more than a lycra suit to do my job. Ease of movement, speed and aerodynamics was all I had to think about. I was able to wear a visor but I could see through it which makes a big difference to knowing where you’re going and your perception of your body. When I’m wearing full armour I feel like I’m cocooned in another person’s body. You can’t hear much, just yourself jingling around, so this would definitely take a lot more getting used to.
I can see that taking up jousting would be an extremely challenging task to take on but it is good fun. This experience has given me a deep appreciation of what it would have been like to work in this get up, should we say. And also how wonderful the horses are, for kind of accepting me being dressed like a Tin Man.
Reflection – Will I joust again?
I’m very lucky to have been given this excellent opportunity of a training day by English Heritage. I’ve learnt a lot about the skill required to joust and what it takes to be a knight and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My experience as a jousting knight today at Kenilworth Castle has really changed my perception about what jousting is about. I think the challenges involved in the equipment you have to use and just the sheer weight and noise of wearing armour has been really eye-opening. I have a huge amount of respect for the sport now – much greater than before – and I think people would be surprised to learn how numb your senses are when dressed in armour top-to-toe.
It’s very tiring wearing armour for any length of time – I’ve only had it on for a short time today and it feels like my limbs are so heavy and I just want to have a sit down. I definitely think you need to be fit and strong to be a jousting knight. When can I do it again?