Jousting a festival favorite

August 18, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

Three rings in 7.4 seconds.

Not bad for a a 76-year-old guy who didn't start jousting until 11 years ago, "two days before my 65th birthday."

Arthur Siple of Fort Ashby in Mineral County, W.Va., was one of more than a dozen jousters in four different classes who competed during Fairplay Days, the community's annual festival at the Old Tilghmanton Tournament Grounds on Manor Church Road. This weekend's festival is the 29th, said Mark McCarter, board chairman of the Fairplay Ruritan Club, sponsor of the event.

Festivities included music, crafts and food.

Siple said he got into jousting because his father competed - even if was decades between his father's last ride and his first. He came from a long line of Siples who participated in the sport that dates to the 1200s and knighthood's heyday.


"I'm a third-generation jouster," he said. "My grandfather was known as the Knight of Deer Run," he said.

Deer Run, in Pendleton County, W.Va., is little more than a wide spot on the road.

"In those days, it had a post office," Siple said.

Ten years ago, arthritis forced Siple to have both knees replaced. This year, he's having them replaced again. The right one was replaced earlier this summer and the left is due for an operation in mid-October.

That will give him time to compete in the West Virginia state championships in Elkins on Oct. 5, he said.

Siple said he is hard of hearing and has trouble seeing. He uses wooden steps to climb aboard Chico, the dark bay gelding he rides in competitions.

"I depend on this horse. The horse is 90 percent of the battle in jousting," he said.

"He's quitting the end of this year. I'm seeing to that," said Bruce Sneathen, 74, also of the Fort Ashby area and a nearly lifelong pal of Siple. "I don't want to see him get all crippled up. He got thrown two months ago and he was really hurting."

Siple and Sneathen met at Potomac State College after World War II military service. They were there on the GI Bill. Both ended up working for the railroad.

"I railroaded for 38 years, then I started riding," Siple said. "Now, I ride every chance I get."

His eyes twinkled when asked if he was going to follow Sneathen's advice and quit this year.

"We'll see after the surgery," he said.

Ken Enfield, 43, of Easton, Md., won the professional class Saturday aboard Poco, his 21-year-old quarter horse gelding. Enfield, a past state and national champion, is president of the 200-member Maryland Jousting Tournament Association.

Jousting became the official Maryland state sport following a vote by the State Legislature in 1962, Enfield said. He said proponents of lacrosse have been trying to get the state to name that as the official sport, but jousters have been fighting it.

"Lacrosse started in Canada. Jousting came over with the settlers," he said.

Knights of old sharpened their aim by stabbing rings with their lances, much like their modern counterparts do today, Enfield said.

Rules of the sport require riders to stab three rings in less than 9 seconds. The rings run from 1 3/4 inches in diameter for beginners down to 1/4-inch for experts, he said.

The breed of horse is left to the discretion of the rider, Enfield said.

"There is no best kind of horse as long as it has an easy disposition and a smooth gait," he said.

Jousting is also popular in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, he said.

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