Never, ever go cow tipping at Leon Enfield's dairy farm. If he catches you, Enfield might just have to get medieval on you. Not that he's the ill-tempered sort. It's just that nobody should test the patience of a man who has practiced the knightly art of jousting for the past 51 years.
"I saw my first jousting tournament right after World War II, and I've loved it ever since," says the 66-year-old Knoxville, Md., resident, who has won four national and eight Maryland state jousting titles.
All right, so Enfield isn't a household name. And you probably haven't noticed a "Jousting 2-Night" show on ESPN2 lately. That's because there isn't one. Jousting may be old school, but it's hardly a high-profile sport. In fact, it would be easy to assume that jousting bit the dust the day that gunpowder was invented.
But nothing could be farther from the truth in the state of Maryland, where jousting reigns as the official state sport. Tournaments are held practically every weekend from April through October. They are also scheduled at county fairs, including those in Caroline County, Queen Anne's County, St. Mary's County and the Frederick Fair Exposition. At these modern competitions, riders forego knocking each other from their mounts. Instead, they test their jousting skills by spearing small rings while riding at a full gallop.
"It's a sport where you and the horse have to work together," Enfield says. "You have to know what to expect from each other."
Some jousters prefer quarter horses, while others favor Appaloosas, Tennessee walking horses or Arabians. Two of the attributes that riders look for in a steed are a smooth gait and perfect size. Size is important because of the height at which the rings are hung (6 feet 9 inches). A rider usually prefers a horse whose size makes its easier to sight the ring while holding the lance on top of the shoulder or under the arm.
Enfield has jousted using a half-dozen horses over the years. He has also seen nearly as many family members take up the sport. His two sons, a daughter and two grandsons are all regular competitors.
"As dairy farmers, Saturday afternoon was our only day off," he says. "So, we'd pack up the horses and kids and head off to a tournament. The kids grew up with it and decided they liked it, too."
The Enfields are the quintessential Maryland jousting family in that they have helped keep the sport alive by passing it down from generation to generation. Tournament days usually find truckloads of families arriving for the day's action. The horses are unloaded and prepared for the competition. Then, food and folding chairs are hauled out and set up in shady spots. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a church picnic, with lots of mingling among the competitors and their families. Some of the riders are as young as 8 years old. Others, who are too young to saddle up, might tuck sticks or sawed-off pool cues under their arms and scramble around in the grass pretending to be knights.
The steel-tipped lances that riders use are six to seven feet in length and weigh anywhere from three to 10 pounds. The tournament field is a dirt track that's 80 yards in length. Three arches sit on the track. The first arch is 20 yards from the starting line, with the other two spaced at 30-yard intervals. A metal ring wrapped in white cord hangs from the top of each arch. The ring size varies (from 1 3/4 inches to one-fourth of an inch in diameter) depending upon which class of rider is competing.
When given the signal, the rider has nine seconds to coax his horse down the track, attempting to spear each ring as he passes beneath the arches. Each knight makes three runs at rings of a certain size. The rider who spears the most rings is the winner. In the event of a tie, riders make subsequent runs at smaller rings. By the end of the day, the strongest riders are often sighting targets no larger than Life Savers.
Since hand-eye coordination, and not brute strength, is a key to success, men, women and children compete together in flighted classes: novice, amateur, semi-pro and pro.
"It doesn't take a lot of expert horsemanship," says Mary Lou Bartram, a former national champion. "The idea is to get up in the stirrups and take the movement of the horse with your knees. You have to remain steady from the waist up so that you can sight the lance at the ring."
Nobody demonstrates perfect jousting form any better than Mike Virts, a winner of nine national championships. Below the waist, Virts's legs gyrate like a set of pistons. Above the waist, though, he couldn't be any more still if he was napping in the front seat of a Mercedes sedan.
"When I was a kid, I hung rings made out of fencing wire from the clothesline," Virts says. "Then, I took my bicycle out and practiced that way for a couple of years. The first year I rode competitively, I won every tournament for the class I was designated."
Ring jousters shun suits of armor in favor of jeans and boots, but they still maintain some of the sport's pageantry by riding under a chosen title. Virts, for example, is the Knight of St. Mark's, while Bartram, who is now retired, jousted as the Maid of Bartram Manor. If a knight wins the competition, he chooses the Lady of his choice from the crowd and presents her with a floral wreath. If a Maid wins, she chooses a Knight to be crowned.
Just when did Marylanders catch the knight fever? Look back to 1634, the year that settlers arrived in Maryland. When Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, arrived, jousting was already a favorite pastime of Eastern Shore settlers who had brought the sport with them from Europe. The competitions remained loosely organized affairs until after the Civil War. Then, they were used to raise funds for war monuments, churches and civic organizations. Some of today's events, such as the Old St. Joseph's Church Joust and the Calvert County Jousting Tournament, have been held for more than 130 years.
If you check the Maryland state seal, you'll notice Lord Baltimore pictured atop his mount with a lance in his hand. Dig even deeper into a list of Maryland facts, and you'll find that jousting has been recognized as the official state sport since 1962. It has maintained its official sport status even amid challenges by duckpin-bowling lobbyists and fans of lacrosse.
But don't get the idea that Marylanders are the only joustabouts in these parts. The sport also has enthusiasts in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. In fact, the National Jousting Tournament will be held this October in Leesburg, Va.
"I love to come up to Maryland to compete, because all the riders are tough up here," says Roger Campbell, the Virginia state champion and a four-time national champion. "If you win in Maryland, you've earned it."
Ring tournaments aren't enough to slake everyone's thirst for the knightly sport. That's why some people still practice that good, old-fashioned head-busting brand of jousting. One of those people is Roy Cox, who heads a jousting troupe that competes (not performs) against one another at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
Decked out in full armor, Cox and his band of knights practice seven of the 15 styles of jousting that were employed in the early part of the 16th century.
The styles differ in the weapons used, the way the knights pass and the targets that are aimed for on the body.
"I started back in 1980," says Cox, who is based in Tennessee. "I'd always been a military and history buff, and I was an actor and stuntman as well. A fellow missed an audition one day, so someone showed me how to joust. After that, I started my own company. Now, we're on the road nine months out of the year."
It's an exciting but sometimes painful nine months. To give you an idea of how tough the sport really is, Cox's broken-bone tally rivals that of famed motorcycle-crasher Evel Knievel. And remember that Cox wears armor, not the leather Elvis suit that Evel preferred. It takes an awfully big thwack to get through all of that steel.
Cox says, "I went to have a head injury X-rayed once, and the doctor asked me when I had broken my neck. I said, `I broke my neck?' I didn't even know. It turns out the neck piece on my armor kept my head up and kept it from being worse."
Be a Sport
Maryland isn't the only state to adopt an official sport. Here is a list of existing state sports along with suggested official sports.
Official State Sports
Hawaii: canoe paddling
New Hampshire: snow skiing
Pennsylvania: fly fishing
Alaska: dog mushing
Suggested Official Sports
Washington, D.C.: pothole slalom
Northern California: Hacky Sack
Southern California: name dropping
Minnesota: professional wrestling
Louisiana: gator wrestling
Florida: standing in line at amusement parks
New Jersey: standing in line to play the slots
Alabama: speeding in a '79 Trans Am
Surely You Joust?
SUNDAY -- Caroline County Fair Joust, 4-H Park, 44 Detour Rd., Denton, Md. Begins at 1. For more information, call Joanne Wooters, 410/479-0565.
AUG. 13 -- Queen Anne's County Fair Joust, 4-H Park Rd. off Route 301, Centerville, Md. Begins at 5. For more information, call Peggy States-Edwards, 410/778-6989.
AUG. 14 -- St. Margaret's Church Joust, church grounds, 1601 Pleasant Plains Rd., Annapolis. Begins at 12:30. For more information, call Jim Knorr, 410/757-4549.
AUG. 14 -- Fifth Annual Libertytown Volunteer Fire Co. Joust, 12027 South St., Libertytown, Md. Begins at 10. For more information, call Mike Virts, 301/34-7629.
AUG. 15 -- Queen Anne's County Joust, Tuckahoe Equestrian Center, Crouse's Mill Rd., off Horseshoe Rd. near Tuckahoe State Park, Queen Anne, Md. Begins at 1. For more information, call Diane Sherwood, 410/364-5172.
AUG. 21 -- St. Mary's Church Joust and Chicken Dinner, St. Mary's Rd., off Route 4, Pylesville, Md. Begins at Noon. For more information, call Marty Cook, 410/592-7018.
AUG. 21 -- Fairplay Day's Tournament, Fairplay Ruritan Grounds, off Route 65 (Sharpsburg Pike), Fairplay, Md. Begins at noon. For more information, call Sandy Izer, 301/223-9468.
AUG. 22 -- Western Maryland Jousting Club Picnic Tournament, Fairplay Ruritan Gounds, off Route 65 (Sharpsburg Pike), Fairplay, Md. Begins at noon. For more information, call Sandy Izer, 301/223-9468.
AUG. 28 -- 133 Calvert County Jousting Tournament, Broomes Island Road, Port Republic, Md. Begins at noon. For more informaton, call Jim Yoe, 410/535-1710.
SEPT. 11 -- Annual Tuckahoe Night Joust, Tuckahoe Equestrian Center, Crouse's Mill Rd., off Horseshoe Rd. near Tuckahoe State Park, Queen Anne, Md. Begins at 7:30. For more information, call Diane Sherwood, 410/364-5172.
SEPT. 12 -- Saddle Friends Joust, Glebe Rd. near the Easton VFW, Easton, Md. Begins at 1. For more information, call Linda Gallagher, 410/634-2859.
SEPT. 18 -- Western Maryland Jousting Club Championship Joust, Carroll Manor Fire Department, 5555 Tuscarora St., off Washington St., Adamstown, Md. Begins at noon. For more information, call Ken Enfield, 301/371-4527.
SEPT. 19 -- Ridgely Joust, Martin Sutton Memorial Park, off Route 480 in Ridgely, Md. Begins at 1. For more information, call Dorsey Wooters, 410/479-0565.
SEPT. 21 -- Frederick Fair Exposition, Fair Grounds, E. Patrick St., off I-70. Frederick, Md. Begins at 2. For more information, call Leon Enfield, 301/834-7488.
SEPT. 25 -- St. Mary's County Fair Tournament, off Route 5, Leonardtown, Md. Begins at 1. for more information, call Phil Clark, 301/475-8517.
SEPT. 25 -- Eastern Shore Jousting Association Pre-Championship Joust, Tuckahoe Equestrian Center, Crouse's Mill Rd. off Horseshoe Rd. near Tuckahoe State Park, Queen Anne, Md. Begins at 10. For more information, call Paul McMullen, 410/482-2176 or Diane Sherwood, 410/364-5172.
SEPT. 25 -- Eastern Shore Jousting Association Championship Joust, Tuckahoe Equestrian Center, Crouse's Mill Rd., off Horseshoe Rd. near Tuckahoe State Park, Queen Anne, Md. Begins at 1. For more information, call Paul McMullen, 410/482-2176 or Diane Sherwood, 410/364-5172.
SEPT. 26 -- Amateur Jousting Club Championship Joust, Glen Arm Field, on Long Green Pike near intersection with Glen Arm Road, one mile from Harford Road (Route 147). Glen Arm, Md. Begins at noon. For more information, call Bob & Diane Frith, 410/557-9189.
OCT. 2 -- Maryland State Jousting Championship, Tuckahoe Equestrian Center, Crouse's Mill Rd., off Horseshoe Rd. near Tuckahoe State Park, Queen Anne, Md. Begins at 10. For more information, call Paul McMullen, 410/482-2176.
OCT. 9 -- 34th Triple Crown Tournament, Aylett Day School, 1657 Powcan Rd., off Route 360, Tappanannock, Va. Begins at 12:30. For more information, call Litney Trice, 804/769-2211.
OCT. 10 -- National Jousting Tournament, Ida Lee Park, Ida Lee Dr., off Route 15, Leesburg, Va. Begins at 10. For more information, call Buck Schuyler, 410/482-2176.
OCT. 23 -- Central Maryland Jousting Club Championship Joust, Western Regional Park, off Carrs Mill Rd., Glenwood, Md. Begins at noon. For more information, call Mike Virts, 301/834-7629.