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Learning medieval riding and skills at arms at Rohan
Another riding dream came true in October 2012, when we drove 140 km’s to Rohan Tallit (see also facebook), a stable specialized in medieval riding and shows, situated in Västanfjärd, Kemiö Island on the South-Western coast of Finland. The owners of the stable, Jaakko and Anu Nuotio, besides touring around Northern Europe all summer with their medieval horse show (which they apparently consider holiday!) organize various courses and events on their farm outside the tournament season. Among them are two-day ‘clinics’ on medieval riding and skills at arms, organized on request for small groups of experienced riders.
Eager to plunge myself into yet another new horse experience, I had the required minimum group of four together in no time, and after a few emails, text messages, and a phone call it was all fixed. Finally, one Friday night in late October, we arrived to our place of stay – a golf club called Bjarkas Gård about three km’s from Rohan – one night in advance to be ready for the challenges of the following two days.
What ensued was a unique, magical, and at the same time really challenging experience all in all. We spent about eight hours in Rohan each day, out of that six hours in the saddle, learning to control the horse with body weight, single handedly, while handling different kinds of ancient weapons with the other hand.
Staying in the deep saddle was easy but unlearning certain aspects of classic riding, such as the light seat, pressing heels down, and taking support from the stirrups, took some time – in medieval riding toes point down, stirrups are kept long and rarely used for support, and any air between the saddle and the riders bottom is a mistake in all circumstances.
My first horse was Roope, a very sensitive and agile 20-year old Arabian full breed gelding, one of the impressive horses I had seen perform in the tournament show of the Riders of Rohan in Häme medieval fair. After lunch we swopped horses, and I had Leevi, a bit less sensitive, less responsive, and quite a bit more stubborn but straightforward Finnish horse gelding, who nevertheless remembered well how to shoot off galloping full speed from one end of the arena and stop punctually in the other like he had done in the shows.
I had Leevi only for a short while before joining with big, handsome Fere, a very sensitive but also a bit temperamental Tori gelding. At one point he got spooked all of a sudden and bucked me off the saddle into the soggy ground. Left side covered in muck but unharmed I climbed back in the saddle, and by the time we started the medieval horse game called ‘mêleé’ later in the afternoon we had already become an excellent team with Fere. In the game one rider carried a rag at the tip of his/her raised (wooden) sword and the others, holding their swords up all the time, are supposed to steal it from there. What is ingenious about the game is that, focusing on the game and completely forgetting to think about the riding, it seems that you and your horse become one mind.
However, I must admit that I was pretty exhausted on the Sunday morning already, and not just because I only managed to sleep for 3-4 hours after the exciting events of Saturday, a bit too much wine and beer after sauna, and a full moon waking me up at three in the night and not letting me sleep anymore. On sunday I started with Fere again, but since I felt too sleepy to stay alert with him, swopped him for yet another new horse acquaintance, a young Finnish horse mare called Gitta, with whom I stayed until the end of the course.
Luckily I gradually got some of my energies back after lunch and was able to finish our unforgettable medieval weekend enjoying another lovely game of mêlée with Gitta. On the way back home I was already dreaming about our next visit to Rohan. It is bound to happen sooner or later, because I cannot imagine many better methods of really learning to ride than practicing the medieval riding arts.