A knight’s field of dreams
An entrepreneur seeks to install a jousting center in Washoe Valley
“It’s like a dream sequence . . . everything’s slowed down. You feel the horse’s muscles ripple underneath your body. And it’s like you’re in a tunnel. And it doesn’t stop until you hit (like a car accident). Then everything speeds up again.”
-Shane Adams, describing the trance-sundering smash of jousting</right>
Shane Adams, knight errant, man-out-of-time, self-described “big, happy Canadian with friends everywhere, eh?” has conjured a noble vision of a merry patch of excitement, recreation and history—not to mention a source of tourist silver—here in the northwestern realm of our fair state.
Adams, by way of further introduction, is the world champion of jousting, which he claims as “the original Xtreme equestrian sport.” Indeed, it was the pastime of Europe for a half-millennium, when fiefdoms and moated castles, chastity belts and Dante’s nine levels of hell were daily constants. Adams, 32, is a long-of-mane, cheerful-of-mien, 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound soul of mad determination tempered by a chivalrous heart as anachronistic as, well, medieval chivalry. His is the mindset of the earnest knight whose word is his bond and honor his code. Add to that a showman’s silver tongue, and you’ve got a guy with a brilliant knack for entertaining the masses and a truly charming vision.
There are entrepreneurs who can stare at pasture in a verdant vale and see, in their minds’ eyes, a herd of Black Angus, or yet another country-club development with championship 18-hole golf course and gated community of homes with seven-digit price tags.
Then there are the dreamers like Adams, who caught sight of Washoe Valley this past June, in the company of a fair damsel he’d met during the Valhalla Renaissance Festival at Lake Tahoe’s Camp Richardson. No stranger to horse farms—Adams grew up on one in rural Ontario—his quixotic reverie spun intrepid steeds mounted by armored knights charging on either side of a tilt rail, lances aimed at each other’s shields (or, if they’re pissed, at the helmets).
Adams foresaw an indoor and outdoor arena, paddock, stables and living quarters for himself and squires—"an international jousting training center where people from all over the world can travel to and learn the ancient art.”
“Year-round,” he explained, “they could learn horse riding, horseback combat, medieval ground combat. All facets of horsemanship are welcome, but the main purpose, when it comes down to training, would be jousting. Our guests could spend a two- to three-week vacation here. Throughout the summer I’d also have camps for kids to learn about knights of the Middle Ages.”
But the centerpiece of this tableau would be the “lists.”
“We’d host international jousting competitions throughout the year,” said Adams, whose victories in World Championship Jousting Association tournaments have earned him glory as the ablest knight of modern times.
Such tournaments sanctioned by the WCJA (of which Adams is acting president) and smaller organizations have drawn crowds as large as 10,000 in Canada and upwards of 30,000 over a weekend in the United States. A big international competition near Reno could draw people from outside of northern California and the Pacific Northwest, our traditional tourist markets, Adams said.
“This type of entertainment is so unique, and so exciting and fun, that all ages love to see it, regardless if you’re 4 or going on 80. Jousting has been part of our heritage from Europe as far back as we remember. Every boy and girl has fantasized of being a knight or a princess waiting for that knight in shining armor. The jousting center will just bring that whole fantasy to reality.”
While growing up in Halton Hills, Ontario, Adams played Dungeons & Dragons and pretended he was Ivanhoe—horseback on a BMX, knocking friends off bikes with a broomstick. A vestigial proclivity may have come to the fore: Adams later traced his genealogy to Sir John A. Crocker, “defender of the crown” of King Edward II, who was—you’ll recall if you took English history in college and remained awake—a miserable failure murdered by disgruntled barons in 1327.
Adams was a standout center in minor-league hockey when, at 18, a truck accident foiled his balance or left a mental block that fouled his skating prowess. Seeking another outlet for his adrenaline jones, he raced motocross but—given his bulk—crashed most of the time. After breaking almost every bone, Adams decided to get into jousting, a sport resurrected after centuries of dormancy.
Its condensed history begins with a Frenchman, Geoffroi de Pruelli, who invented jousting in 1066—and croaked in the first tournament. The sport spread to Germany, England and southern Europe. Competitive nobles pitted their knights in these military exercises, which often degenerated into gory frays. Fortunately, rules evolved. The aim became unhorsing as many—and shattering as many lances on—opponents as possible. (The French excelled: A knight often selected a woman, preferably married to a husband of slightly higher rank, in whose honor the knight would fight. If he won, he’d get to bed her.)
Still, nobles who’d invested wealth and time in developing a knight for warfare could see their investment destroyed ridiculously. With poor medical care in the days of olde, knights succumbed not only to a fatal blow from a lance (imagine wood splinters smashing through a visor into eyes and brain), but also heat prostration, boiling in hundreds of pounds of chain mail. The lists claimed several nobles and at least one king (Henry II of France, in 1559)—triggering the demise of gauntlet-to-gauntlet jousting.
As the Modern Age dawned, guns made horseback lancers obsolete on Europe’s battlefields, so jousting as training for battle died. But tournaments with “ring jousting"—spearing small rings—and other bloodless games were held over the next few centuries. In the New World, they took hold in the American South, persisting into the 20th century.
The popularity of Renaissance faires and the Middle Ages in general led to a resurgence in the 1980s of sport jousting and the formation of various organizing bodies, including the International Jousting Association and the WCJA. WCJA rules have divisions for “light armour” (shield required) and “heavy armour” (knights wear armor plates). Points are rewarded for solid hits, broken lances, unseatings and unhorsings.
In 1993, Adams joined a polyester-and-tinsel jousting troupe, Medieval Times, then founded the Knights of Valour Medieval Roadshow using authentic armor and weapons. He put together a jousting team and a training farm—Dragon’s Valour Farm—in Ontario and competed himself, winning American Jousting Association championships in 1997 and 1998. He continued to capture titles, usually atop a black Percheron stallion named Dragon.
It’s a greater rush than skydiving, he said. “To feel the horse’s muscles rippling underneath your body, carrying the 500 pounds of knight at full charge, at 20 miles per hour against the same opposing force, knowing you’re going to get hit by that 50,000 pounds of force every time you pass.”
Jousting is a full-time job. Adams has done knightly spots on Canadian TV and supplied horses for a Dr Pepper commercial. He’s organized small jousting tournaments—and discovered that a handshake agreement with unchivalrous promoters isn’t worth the paper it’s not printed on.
“Unlike the Middle Ages, we cannot seize their castles and throw them in the dungeon,” Adams said. “So now I need to restructure my handshake agreement to actual true contracts, which is unfortunate, for I still have the old-fashioned ideals, where a man and his word are one.”
Leaving the Canadian farm in charge of his troupe, he’s seeking greener pastures. Thus, Washoe Valley. He needs to find someone selling a horse farm—maybe 50 to 100 acres. He needs investors—venture capitalists, historians “or people who just believe in dreams.”
“The sport is happening all over the world today; why not Reno, why not Washoe Valley?” he said. “There’s excellent visibility, the mountains in the background. Tahoe to your right, Reno to your left. What an ideal spot to put a jousting training center!”
Adams recited his motto: “Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams fade, the Earth would be nothing but an endless maze.”
Adams vowed his jousting center would be a success.
“Just as knights defended lords and kings for lands and titles, I would be doing the same thing, just on a modern scale,” he said. “I pledge my life to the history and to the sport of the joust.
“If you can’t trust a knight, who can you trust?"