Jousting is the state sport in Maryland, but so far it has only made small inroads into Pennsylvania. A group of riders based in southern York County would like to see that change and are hoping the sport will grow through the Pennsylvania Jousting Club.
When people hear the word "jousting" most immediately think of armored knights on huge horses charging at each other with lances. The equestrian sport of jousting may have the same roots, but it is a very different activity that is a family friendly sport for all ages and all breeds of horses.
Jousting might also be called ring spearing. The object of the sport is to nab a small ring with a lance from the back of a moving horse. Any kind of English or western tack is acceptable, and formal attire is not required.
Club Founded in 1999
Bruce and Peggy Hoffman, who had been involved in the sport in Maryland before moving across the state line, founded the Pennsylvania Jousting Club in 1999. There are currently three generations of the Hoffman family participating in jousting including Bruce and Peggy, their daughter Kathie Goodman, and her sons Matt, Tyler and Christopher.
Much of the support for the PA club has come from Maryland jousters who travel for the events but the club would like to see an increase in interest among residents of this state.
Jousting is sometimes included in 4-H or Pony Club activities, so young riders may be more familiar with the sport, but it is open to all ages. Participants come from all types of riding backgrounds, as diverse as the jumper show ring and casual trail riding.
The PJA currently holds three tournaments each year with classes offered for novice, amateur, semi-pro and pro. There is also an all age leadline class offered if entries warrant. Prizes are awarded to the top four finishers in each class.
Beginner riders in the novice class may ride at the rings at any speed greater than a walk, but once a rider moves up to amateur there is a time limit of nine seconds to complete the course that normally requires a canter. For each class a rider gets three runs through the lane of three arches that hold the rings. The diameter of the rings begins at 1¾ inch, and then drops in ¼ inch increments to just 1" in the pro class.
Just because participation has been limited in Pennsylvania does not mean that our riders don't do well. The PJC offers a state championship and a junior state championship. Tiffany Ramsey, who has been jousting since 1997, earned the National Amateur Class Championship in 2004. She has also represented the PJC at the National Jousting Tournament, placing fifth in the semi-professional division. This year she moved up to the professional class, riding one of the largest horses in competition, her Belgian mare, Matilda.
Horses for jousting do not have to be big. Arabians are a popular choice for the sport, but the PJC includes horses of all breeds including Quarter Horses, thoroughbreds and even an Andalusian. Gaited horses are also allowed to compete, but the smoothness of the gait is not necessarily a factor.
"As long as you can ride in a semi-straight line, it's fine. After a while the horses get to know what to do," Ramsey said. "Once you get a bit farther and progress you go faster."
Ramsey enjoys jousting because it is a very family friendly sport. "If you need something, ask, someone is bound to have it, if there is a question they will find the answer," she said. "All anyone needs to participate is their horse ready to ride. We can lend them anything else they would need and plenty of helping advice."
Success does not always come quickly. "It took me a while," Ramsey admits. "It was a whole season before I got a ring."
The only real hurdle Ramsey sees for anyone getting involved in jousting would be if they are left handed. "The way everything is set up, it's set up for a right hander. That's the only negative to the sport," she said.
For more information on the PJC and their events as well as links to more jousting information, visit the club Web site at pennsylvaniajousting.com.